by Rick Jarow, PhD
The poet Gary Snyder once remarked that the “inner revolution” is the mercy of the East, while the “social revolution” is the mercy of the West. In our contemporary global mandala, East and West (as well as North and South) are no longer separate entities. They interpenetrate, soften, and energize one another into a worldwide evolutionary synthesis, with new paradigms emerging like waves from a most diverse ocean of cultures. Among the major paradigms that have come into the lexicon of contemporary “secular but spiritual culture” are those of “Mindfulness,” and “Abundance.”
Mindfulness, transmitted through almost all lineages of Buddhist tradition, offers insight through awareness; through seeing into the depths of whatever is present and arising in the moment. Mindfulness asks us to cultivate a power of attention that can move us to a place of presence beyond habitual thinking and reaction. Contemporary permutations of this practice, such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, have taken traditional training methods and applied them to present day concerns: stress reduction, relaxation, body awareness, pain management, and the like. The development of mindfulness practice in the West has benefited many communities, including the medical, education, and business arenas, offering genuine tools to help people live authentically and openly.
The paradigm of Abundance, on the other hand, can be traced from Biblical quotations, to Martin Luther, to the New England transcendentalists, and on into the “New Thought” movement of the mid-nineteen fifties before emerging as the popular notion of “the law of attraction” The idea of Abundance challenges the two thousand and some year old notion that human beings are inherently deficient or loathsome, and the concomitant dependence on external authorities for self validation. “Trust yourself, look into your own heart, and act accordingly,” say the teachings of Abundance. “Do not limit yourself with beliefs and constructs that are no longer resonant with your being. Open to your creative ability to build a new world here and now through the power of your own thought.” The teachings of Abundance, therefore, focus on the powers of intention and imagination, on the ability to “go beyond” the present toward a better future.
The teachings of both Mindfulness and Manifestation are valuable, and yet, both have their potential downsides. Mindfulness that reduces itself to observation and contemplation alone may miss the inherent impulses toward creativity, innovation, progress, and self-expression that create value in the moving world of manifestation. Likewise, Abundance that only works in the manifest dimension without valuing the depths of the interior experience can all too easily take a detour into ego aggrandizement and the crass materialism and conspicuous consumption of the mass-market “abundance” that thrives in the kitch media world. The ideal of an Alchemy of Abundance, however, integrates passion and desire with awareness and alignment, weaving inner and outer realities into a tapestry of offering.
In order to deeply understand this, it may help to look at the two most common and contrasting perspectives on manifestation and living sanely and beautifully in this world and the next. There is the way of “loving what is,” and the way of “imaging what can be.” Mindfulness teachings generally focus on “what is:” on living and breathing into a deepened awareness of the present moment. The teachings of Abundance, on the other hand, focus on the cultivation of intention and vision, and on moving from one condition to another (as from poor to rich). “Alchemy,” here, refers to the synergistic weaving of both of these approaches together. As opposed to remaining envisioned in two separate camps, these complimentary polarities can inspire one another to reveal new vistas of freedom and creativity.
“Loving what is” allows one to see deeply into the complex of phenomenon and to appreciate the depth of every moment. By drawing on the great reservoir of the breath and releasing habitual evaluative judgments, every situation becomes a teaching which allows us to open to the depths of now. The now reveals itself as the forever, but this does not obliterate the details of the moving world. Opening to the depths of now need not reduce our ability to function in the world or work with the subtleties of the intellect, the pleasure of the senses, or the liquid bliss of the heart. Instead, this opening encompasses the past and the future, timeless and time, matter and spirit, life and death. Rather than being a separate observer, it springboards one into the full dance of living. What is this dance, then, but to be fully immersed in one’s life and times; to hope and tenderness as well as to fear and dread; to participate in the great march of humanity?
In a similar, but contrasting vein, to imagine what might be, to dream of better days ahead, and to hold a vision of the glorious perfection of all things is the great visionary aspiration of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic world–the messianic impulse that is at the very foundation of Western culture. Such an ethos of hope is not to be taken lightly. It is what has moved humanity to overcome prejudice, hatred, and lethargy. It gives us the ability to carry on and offer the best in our hearts and minds to our children. It is the light we see in their eyes–the telos–ever reaching toward what can be that lends nobility to the present and all of its vain drudgeries. It is this mysterious faith, a deep inner knowing that, no matter what is going on here, no matter how dark things may appear to be, there is a holy light, an ultimate truth, a place where all can rest at the end of time that is at the core of the Abundance paradigm.
This “hope for what is yet to be” builds civilizations, just as “awareness for what is” generates compassion. Geometrically, this generates an equidistant cross, over which may be placed the wheel of becoming. One perspective balances the other; the vertical climb and horizontal space of sharing inform each other. To hope without present awareness is to go off center, to concoct fantasy, and to lose the precious beauty of the moment. To be aware without hope for a better way is to forfeit the energy of progress, to miss the openings into innovation, and to lose the call of the beyond. These two movements, these two dispositions can serve one another as they beckon toward each other to set the fertile stage for the timeless revelation of the veritable new. True, they often appear in our lives as opposites as in, “Should I stay, or should I move on?” The Alchemists have told us, however, and the Depth Psychologists have confirmed, that the human being is suspended between the opposites, between “what is and what can be,” ripped and rent asunder at every moment. This is our genuine condition: the sick animal who wants more than he has, as Nietzsche put it. It is just this place, however, that can yield new birth, the pure gold of the Alchemists, the Philosopher’s Stone.
The bedrock of authentic Abundance, then, is mindfulness–awakened patience. Even if the word “Abundance” has been abused and has become suggestive of charlatan snake oil salesmanship–promising a New Age quick fix that never comes–it is all the more important to, clearly and realistically, come to terms with the powers of awakened imagination and intention. Rather than being an escape from lack and loss, the Alchemy of Abundance takes the creative powers of visualization and sustained focus and merges them with present awareness to integrate the opposites of the real and the ideal within ourselves.
This is done through a very specific three part method. First, look at the situation that has manifested. Notice, this does not say “Look what I created.” To ascribe creation to the ego or individual self alone is both inflated and uninformed. We co-create constantly with the myriad of beings that have come before us, with the powers that swell around us, and with the gifts lent to us. Creation is a deep and manifold ongoing event. We participate in it through resonance and response, not through separate individualism. To “look,” is akin to the First Noble Truth of the Buddha’s “Right Views.” It is to have the courage to see things just as they are and to remain with them. This remaining with what is, allows for the second step: release judgments. This is a lifelong task–an ongoing letting go of scaffolding that no longer supports us. A great opening occurs here, when we understand through experience how our own judgments literally block the way; how they abort the birth of the new. To release judgment is to remain suspended between the opposites, to have the softness and trust to allow Life to work on you. This allows for the third step, which is opening to the emergence of a healed vision for whatever the situation may be. The healed vision provides the blueprint for the revitalized intention and imagination to create a new reality. But this cannot be forced or manipulated. It is born out of mindful clarity and heartfelt surrender.
The practice of Abundance, then, is the willingness to hold the opposites and let them do their cleansing work, while opening to the large chords and smaller nuances of every moment, without losing hope, even if firmly embedded in the hopelessness of a task at hand. It is not enough to visualize what we want; neither does it work to abandon the image-based power of visualization. Rather, the practice of Abundance asks us to look into all the phenomena of our lives, to release evaluative loops, and to feel our phenomenal situations deeply. This allows for a healed vision to be born from this most fertile ground. The Noble prize winning Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore, once remarked that beauty makes no demands upon us. We are free to ignore it and continually count out our small gains and losses. But once one has been touched by the expanse of beauty, once one remains mindful enough to deeply savor a sunset, all doubts about the divinity of the world vanish, and the inherent image making power of the soul may be put to genuine, good use.
The Alchemy of Abundance asks us to participate fully in our phenomenal life, not as idealists, but as open, frank, honest and compassionate human beings; to really look at how we eat, how we exchange money and words, how we hold our dwellings, how we live with our children, how we participate in the erotic, the spiritual, and the vocational. It provides a structured mandala to work with the very stuff of our lives. Our task at hand is to see fearlessly, to allow ourselves to consider opposites deeply, and to open our hearts to the birth of a healed vision because we are here to heal and be healed. We stand on a precipice and gaze over the abyss. This is the place of power. This is the place of meaning. This is the place of the possible future – because we have not mortgaged the present and cast our lot for some compensatory wish fulfillment scheme. Despite the odds, despite our fears and our struggle, we have not relinquished hope, because, as the poet Suzanne Heyd has written: “something in me knew the way.”
Rick Jarow, PhD offers the Alchemy of Abundance Workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur California August 7-9, 2009. www.esalen.org