Backing into the Holy
An Unorthodox Solution to a World in Crisis
THE EARLY YEARS
Born and raised on the outskirts of Boston, Michael’s childhood was marked by a deep affinity with Nature, an active interest in sports and an intensely private exploration of what it means be oneself – as demonstrated by his beloved grandparents through a fierce independence of thought and down-to-earth style.
Early encounters with a sublime state beyond the thinking mind had no place in the rational worldview that dominates the western world, so Michael placed these discoveries in a secret interior chamber, hoping with all of his heart not to forget, even while taking part in the conventional rituals of schooling and work.
As Michael became an adult, a desperate urge to know the truth of his life launched him into graduate studies in public policy, followed by work on an international dialogue on peace and recovery in Central America, a long-shot presidential campaign and new programs to address changes to the earth’s climate.
One day in the guise of a beleaguered policy advisor in Washington, DC, Michael scanned a chaotic workplace for what needed attention next. The response had nothing to do with frequent, urgent requests from clients, nor a small group of consultants in his care, but a sense of neglect towards the core of his being.
As that simple truth sank in, a churning sensation took place in Michael’s belly center for two weeks until filing paperwork at the office, when the word greatness flashed like a visceral message from within, before disappearing without a trace, leaving an arm frozen in mid-air as he looked down in disbelief.
Despite a skeptical response from his mind, Michael felt that if such a potential did exist after so many years, then he should put it to the test by walking away from the consulting arena without a backup plan – a risk that he undertook twice before with mixed results and a mountain of educational debt to pay.
The next morning, a synchronistic job ad led Michael to meet with the founder of a national environmental group where he shared a sense that many award-winning programs were lost in their own hype – and were diverting attention from deeper schisms in our society that policy makers and voters did not want to face.
The founder agreed with every word, so Michael leaned into the heart’s core and shared his admiration for the integrity that the founder brought to the climate change debate by challenging the roots of his own thinking – a rare trait in policy circles where conversation is largely driven by advocacy and sound bites.
As if compelled by an invisible force, the founder shared a key turning point in pursuit of his own calling before likening Michael to himself ten years earlier, surmising that he was not cut out to work for anyone else and then proposing that the only option for Michael was to start his own shop, whatever that might be.
While taking time to re-engage with his heart’s desire, a contemplative book expressed the importance of “an unlimited love for the truth” on the inner journey, which provoked an instant recognition in his psyche that a strong love for the truth had been very useful, but was not enough for where he needed to go next.
As that realization sank in, Michael’s attention was drawn to a reservoir of self-pity that diverts attention from the hard work of cultivating one’s deeper gifts. Initially, this immaturity felt embarrassing to admit, yet an inner Knowing declared – take total responsibility for your experience of the world, with no excuses.
To Michael’s ears, this guidance was based on a simple recognition that any event – such as a car crash or hurricane – can be experienced in different ways, depending on the filters through which one perceives the world. So after resigning without a plan, Michael took time to make his lens of perception more visible.
THE BREAKOUT ARCHETYPE
In the midst of this introspective work, Michael’s brother passed on an academic book about a team of consultants who were training executives – and themselves – to recognize defensive patterns in the mind, such as bypassing discomfort and covering up actual behaviors that contradict one’s espoused values.
These habits of coverup and bypass were obvious when Michael looked at his responses to endless chaos in the workplace, so with curiosity about what exactly the mind’s defenses are protecting against, he climbed back into the sensations from recent events and noticed a subtle fear of facing reality head on.
At the end, the author concluded that after five years, these pioneering consultants had become more skillful in identifying the defensive routines, but did not eliminate them, neither with clients, nor in their own consulting team, a conclusion that stoked Michael’s fury – and an intense desire to do better than that.
REVOLUTION OF THE HEART
As Michael leaned into a sense of dread, the dissolution of a cherished love affair prompted an inner upheaval that is associated with ancient mystics, in which the modern sense of being a separate experiencer of the world implodes and one’s heart becomes a gateway to the inside of everything in the visual field.
While driving to Cape Cod, waves of anguish tore through Michael’s core as a flash of intuition indicated that he was involved in a ritual of initiation. Moments later, another flash of insight added that an invisible tribe of people exist who know about this wrenching ordeal from direct experience and survived to tell the tale.
Twelve hours later, Michael sat alone on a dark winter night and realized that a major phase of his life was over. At that point, nothing more could be done, so his body sank down to the floor where he pulled over a blanket, took a deep breath and slipped beyond the world, with no idea of what the future might bring
THE DARK GIFT
The next morning, Michael’s senses came back on line to find that every fiber of muscle and connective tissue in his torso ached, like a bomb had gone off. A very delicate breath was required to explore the interior devastation, where a pure kind of substance was trickling or bleeding from the heart’s brutalized core.
A few days later, Michael took a fragile walk when a formless realm inside his body began generating insight about this naked condition: first, humility, as if every shred of intellectual pride was stripped away; second, a natural sense of gratitude for his existence; and third, deep relief in being just like everybody else.
Michael wondered what to call these qualities as a whole when the words real human being flashed from inside his skin. Despite having no intellectual reference point for that phrase, the taste of realness in the heart was so pure and satisfying that he would not have traded it for anything in the world – like a dark gift.
Inside this reverential state, Michael felt like a dangerous man, not to other people, but to everything that is false in the mind and the world, so he looked for opportunities to lean into states that go with failure, such as shame and humiliation, to make contact with hidden beliefs and liberate that energy for better use.
Amidst the toxic tone of the national political scene, each day brought multiple tests of whether to indulge in socially-acceptable forms of aggression, such as impatience, disapproval or blame, or return to the pure exquisiteness in one’s heart, like an ancient, mythic battle that was taking place in a personal way.
In response to sudden feelings of betrayal, inquiry revealed that the animalistic core of the mind is programmed for war. Once activated by undesirable events, breaking the rationale and dark pleasure of aggression requires a tremendous act of will, like a character walking out of a movie with a certain, brutal end.
Practically speaking, the end of a small, freelance project generated some anxiety about finances, along with stress-based thoughts about returning to his former work. In response, a bold Knowing demanded to stop everything until knowing what is really going on – so Michael gathered resolve to not move an inch.
Allowing his bank account – and potential escape route – to collapse went against every instinct for survival, yet turning down a job opportunity that paid too suspiciously well felt like a secret test of Michael’s integrity and created space to confront a flicker of a terror that was dancing on the edge of his awareness.
The fact that ancient contemplatives were known to face what most of us prefer to avoid left Michael feeling in good, invisible company, even if this confrontation with the repressed contents of the psyche was taking place in the midst of a non-religious life, and without telling friends or family what was going on.
DISMANTLING THE TERROR REFLEX
As Michael dismantled his rational worldview, he awoke most mornings sprawled and disheveled, like spending the night in a washing machine. In the mirror, his beard was turning white, as if the underworld is not a literary device, but a subtle realm where one’s mind is taken apart. Even his dreams got into the act:
My body sits in the last seat of a train. Intuitively, I sense a slow motion wreck at the front, with cars tumbling into a pile of devastation ahead. At one point, a sharp piece of steel – like an upside down shark fin – cleaves through the roof and begins racing towards where I sit alone at the very rear.
My nerves tense with anxiety just before impact. However, a spontaneous wave of relaxation takes place inside the core of my being, generating an implicit sense of trust that alleviates the reflexive instinct to clench. A menacing blade stops just an inch from my face, yet inwardly, I feel completely at ease.
To Michael’s feral sensibilities, a benevolent force had introduced specific medicine – in the form of sensual, inner relaxation – to contradict the conditioned terror reflex. So, hundreds of times each day, he re-played the memory, like a subtle blessing that can soften and transform all that it touches inside one’s skin.
WORKING WITH SACRED LIGHT
As Michael’s breath merged with a raw wound in his heart, an inner eye began generating images of religious-oriented statues of hearts glowing with Light, but instead of celebrating their sacrificial love for humanity, a Knowing revealed that these images point to a pure, sacred dimension of our own hearts too.
A bit out of his comfort zone, Michael discovered a desire to help people to tap into the depth and wisdom of their own hearts, so he started talking with social innovators about re-vitalizing their vision and launching new initiatives that promote dignity and empowerment for people living on the margins of society.
As a catalyst for change, Michael balanced a warm, empathic style with fierce determination to interrupt divisive patterns of mind that undermine the integrity of organizations that are involved in social change – so that leaders can embody the freedom, empowerment and love that are espoused in their important work.
THE ART OF INNER TRANSFORMATION
This fledgling work was improvisational in nature, but key themes included listening to the heart’s desire, taking responsibility for one’s experience of the world, dismantling conditioned, mental models of reality, including progressive/spiritual biases and anchoring our lives and creative work in a unified reality in us all.
While exploring the power of silence, Michael found that breathing the sacred essence into a group could lift leaders and activists out of antagonism into their better natures, but a Knowing said that he was being tutored in the art of inner transformation and should not talk about such matters until living them more fully.
As the revelations continued, a book on mindfulness reinforced Michael’s respect for qualities of openness, non-judgment, being present and even loving-kindness, yet a Knowing revealed that he had pursued a family version of this paradigm since childhood and was being taken beyond it – into unchartered terrain.
ON THE VERGE
In the midst of helping colleagues to draw forth new vision, an activist described how he and his peers had reached the top-tier of their careers in philanthropy and social change, but were perplexed by a recognition that their success was incomplete, so Michael kept listening to the unseen for that missing piece.
Despite a string of creative breakthroughs, Michael looked on with dismay as people who were dear to his heart engaged in spasms of aggression towards themselves – and each other – as if unaware of the adverse impact that such forces have on one’s health, or on a field of attraction that formed around their work.
As Michael leaned into new frontiers, a tai chi maestro at a local health club pointed out that western culture tends to downplay the impact of emotional and psychic violence, yet these forces also reveal weak links in the energy system of one’s body where strength must be built to meet challenges that inevitably await us.
NATURE AS CATALYST
In the Spring, a friend explained that a five-day hiking trip in the Sierras was cancelled in favor of a nine-day river excursion in southeastern Utah. With magic in the air, Michael signed on and wondered what Nature might catalyze in his soul without the incessant demands of team-building and conflict resolution work.
Each day, the trip presented multiple opportunities to try something entirely new, such as paddling an overloaded canoe in swift water, walking in blazing hot canyons that are named for dead horses or scrambling up to outcroppings near the mesa above – as a way to stretch his operating system beyond its comfort zone.
As Michael’s mind resonated with the morning stillness of the canyons, he noticed a subtle desire to live in a remote, rustic setting. On a practical level, Michael had no idea of how such an arrangement could ever work, so he blessed the subtle impulse and left the unseen to work out the details – as it eventually did.
In the interim, a strange set of coincidences led Michael to an experimental gathering of leaders and innovators where the mystical notion of “no path” drew his mind beyond its root and into a vast, eternal domain, before it collapsed into primal darkness where his personal view was replaced by a Being that is Not.
From inside the luminous reality of God, nothing was left to know other than one radical Truth, shining forth in the dark, followed by a spontaneous talk about the “space beyond words” and dynamics in the group – as the culmination of an individual quest for the truth and a vital, interior solution to a world in crisis.
After several hours of absorption in that which moves the stars, an omniscient force announced the need to return – an involuntary process by which the vibration of love diminished in its intensity, followed by a link with the mind root, a minor jolt of paranoia and a comical, self-referential thought – what happened to me?
Back inside the human vantage point, Michael’s mind strained to process a range of altered states of consciousness and energetic healings that resembled anecdotes from the biblical era of human history – prompting a mix of incredulity and delight that such possibilities could be available in the modern world too.
A few questions arrived from the group about whether Michael saw any invisible spirits in the room (definitely not) or how to work with the negative side of the emotional spectrum (by building strength in the energy system of one’s body) until the participants dispersed into interactive pods of two or three people each.
In the wee hours, Michael’s body felt drained so he bid the other facilitators and guides good night and left them to their own threads of discovery, prompting a change consultant to joke that Michael came and went without a care in the world, leaving chaos in his wake – not by intent, but the byproduct of a pure love.
In the afterglow, the elders attributed dangerous or harmful qualities to certain aspects of the evening, as if unable to recognize “grace” as the guiding force. So with misunderstanding in the air, Michael held the details close to the vest and traveled back home to explore the implications for his life and creative niche.
Not knowing how these discoveries would translate into a professional setting, Michael started a meeting with silence to settle the energy before handing the baton to a foundation executive who explained that the anxieties and frustrations that he intended to share had disappeared from his mind for no apparent reason.
The capacity to stop the mind of another person is not well-understood or accepted in leadership circles, as it is among radical sages. However, the credit does not go to the person per se, but to the self-radiant substratum that is awake in one’s soul, so that those in the field can make contact with their deeper nature too.
LESS IS MORE
On this new edge, Michael shared the remarkable design of the gathering with a confidante at a local pub, but each time that he came to the radical inversion of mind and the collapse of “this and that”, his cognitive view dis-solved into laughter and delight – meaning that articulating the revelations would take more time to work out.
In the interim, an invitation came from an entrepreneurial, bilingual children’s center to facilitate a meeting for the founder to delegate responsibilities to a leadership team that was needed to fulfill the organization’s potential, so Michael asked the founder to speak to what was difficult about relinquishing control over her creation.
At the end of that raw, heartfelt exchange, a Board member thanked Michael on the side and mentioned that his hands-off style was unusual. Not sure what was normal anymore, he explained that when the potential in a group field is ripe, members need a nudge in the right direction and the rest takes care of itself.
ONE YEAR TO LIVE
As most of us discover, just because liberation takes place does not mean that the reality is integrated in one’s functioning as a human being, so Michael experimented with breathing the heart’s essence into the pages of a book when a message streamed through his solar plexus – live each day as if it is the last year of your life.
Soon after, Michael began rearranging his commitments with colleagues at a groundbreaking fellowship program before a cruel backlash left no choice but to move on, so he drove to a wilderness-oriented meditation center only to find a leadership team immersed in scandal and with alcohol use among the monks that rivaled a college dorm.
Not knowing what to make of the complex situation, Michael turned the truck’s ignition to depart when the engine suffered a catastrophic seizure. During the postmortem, an artisan took a break from work on a temple and hinted that the incident was a sign to stay on, but from within Michael heard be resourceful, so called for a tow.
INTO THE DESERT
With the idea of one year to live, Michael rented a cottage in New Mexico that backed up to a grove of cottonwood trees and a trickling, seasonal stream. In that quiet beauty, he strolled under a vast, high altitude sky and tended to an influx of dreams that showed resistance to being seen as one who carries the beatific vision.
At a weekend conference that wove together insights from quantum science with the world’s wisdom traditions, Michael’s placement between two chrone-aged women felt like no coincidence, so he leaned into the exquisiteness of the heart and asked if they had any advice for working with resistance to a calling with a radical twist .
The first, a south African activist and late-blooming seminary student said “just be yourself”. The other, a clairvoyant from the Monterey peninsula, laughed when her sensibilities generated the same phrase. So with a fair bit of irony, Michael was thrown back on the same ancestral wisdom that got him into this predicament to begin with.
TRIAL AND ERROR
As Michael settled into the desert, an invitation arrived to attend a gathering with colleagues who wanted to explore new frontiers in their work as mentors with fellowship programs that support up-and-coming activists. With the title of Grace, he could not decline, so traveled across country to see what possibilities might emerge there.
At one point, Michael shared the story of his truck’s breakdown and mentioned that metaphysical people in the desert say that whatever is going on with one’s vehicle is a reflection of a dynamic in one’s soul, prompting a participant to sheepishly report that she recently drove her car to the repair shop with the transmission stuck in reverse.
A bit later, a brief exercise that Michael initiated to explore dynamics in the group prompted a cadre of social justice advocates to bond in defiance, one of whom used a sympathetic voice to cloak a vindictive attack. So, the group explored how rage is often treated as a legitimate form of empowerment yet sabotages their vital work.
After returning to northern New Mexico, Michael breathed the sacred essence into the landscape as his mind began presenting a range of insults and injuries from the distant past – many of which dissolved in the reverential energy, never to rise again, while others required more tending and care to discharge from his nervous system.
A dream advised Michael to adopt an anonymous pose, so he let his professional identity lapse and hung out a shingle as a handyman. On the first assignment, a man who worked in the creative and healing arts en-rolled him to bring clutter to a transfer station up the road and said with a conspiratorial tone – “I know what you are really doing”.
Michael’s eyebrow raised towards the passenger seat with intrigue as this neighbor explained that “in shamanic circles, we call this work an extraction, meaning a clearing of debris so that fresh energy can flow into our lives” – a lovely metaphor for inner work that is needed for an ancient force to re-emerge in the soul.
With more than enough extra time on his hands, Michael took time to read and draw until a realtor arrived to hold an open house that was not scheduled in advance. With an ear tuned to the surprise, Michael tidied up the kitchen and overheard a call about a grant for a foundation that assists people who live with HIV and AIDS.
Once hired on, Michael asked the board members to bring an object that represented their most heartfelt commitment to the cause, then quietly held the space as stories were told about the loss of friends and lovers from the early days of the crisis to the present, mixed with deep vulnerability, grit and wicked humor.
In response to this naked honesty, a reverential glow emerged on a subtle plane, in response to which the usual collection of petty human concerns and differences of opinion gave way to instant cohesion and a re-vitalized vision – which can be derived by letting one’s contracted self be vulnerable to, and opened by, love.
INNER AND OUTER
Without much of a social identity, the bloody ache in Michael’s heart decreased in its usual poignancy and prompted concern about having taken a wrong turn along the way. In response, a dream showed that the upheaval in the heart was transforming into a more subtle, permanent condition and that it was time to re-engage with the world.
On the outer plane, a gathering of empowerment zone leaders brought Michael to the airport where a woman approached with a wide open gaze that is rare in a society that indentifies so deeply with the rationalized mind, stating that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center and that flights were canceled until further notice.
This lack of boundaries among strangers was inseparable from the tragic images that followed, yet a temporary, larger sense of “we” began competing with a dark impulse of vengeance, masquerading as essential strength and wisdom, not just among ideological thinkers and policy makers, but many who were opposed to a pre-emptive war.
In response to an impulse to write, Michael asked for a dream about the core themes to share with a client who was devoted to a guru yet took the language of dreams to be sacred. In the end, she declared with excitement and disbelief that Michael was writing about “awakening without a master” – or au naturale.
Up against a stubborn case of writer’s block, Michael took part in an improvisational theater workshop to explore a lively, expressive format for working with people – and to make contact with some lingering apprehension about inviting intense scrutiny and misunderstanding into the most private aspect of one’s life.
Several days in, chaos emerged in the group, so Michael dropped into the “space beyond words” to ground the conversation and support the workshop leader who was straining to contain the vengeful anger that dominates so much of our societal discourse, until the group broke through into a sublime state.
UNVEILING AT NOON
A few days later, the most radical aspect of Michael’s vision was obscured, so he took a break from reading to stroll towards the foothills with attention resting on a lens in the mind that turns everything into a subject-object experience, including the divine. At one point, that lens fell away and ( ) gave birth to three statements of truth:
Nothing Ever Happened
(prior to the created world),
Everything Is the Divine Expression
(made from pure, conscious Light),
The Fullness and Immensity of Life is What I AM
(cosmic identity behind one’s personal guise).
Looking towards the south, the landscape was illuminated as far as the eye can see. With nothing but juniper trees and rabbits around as witnesses, several bursts of laughter escaped about his strange fate as a freelance revealer of such matters who kept being rendering mute by the Work that he was given to do.
THE INNER NUDGE
The return of this primordial Identity resolved a tension that had been growing in Michael for weeks, but raised new questions about how to share the Work with a skeptical audience. As it turns out, a dream arrived before dawn with a reclusive sage who confirmed a structural change in the world and offered a few tips:
My body is leaning on a boulder on top of a hill where the gaze of a kind, luminous man goes to a breach in a barrier reef (mind root) around our island that is allowing a collection of small boats to pass from a wild, turbulent sea into a serene harbor area (peace and stillness beyond the mind’s grasp).
The sage surprises me by conveying his desire to share a few lessons from working with people, as if we are in the same line of work: first, that presenting this view of reality can be embarrassing (for a private person) and that based on his many years of experience, it is best just to keep the teaching simple.
Upon waking, this scene confirmed that a breakthrough in the structure of the mind is making the divine potential more available in our time, and that scholarly knowledge was not needed. In response, he launched a series of small, informal dialogues that serve as a vehicle to explore the heart’s desire and its expression in the world.
* A more detailed version of these revelations is forthcoming.