Realization, full awakening, nirvana, are not final states achieved after a long and rigorous journey of spiritual exploration. They are ever present realities. Spiritual endeavor is not about perfecting our human understanding or reaching a place called heaven. Heaven, wholeness, joy, are either here, now, or nowhere, because there is only the now. Everything else is provisional and conceptual because it is subject to time and change. The Real within us is not subject to any of these things. And yet, there is the persistent metaphor of the spiritual journey, the path up the mountain that eventually leads to Oneness.
I think this paradox is nicely expressed in the Sufi saying that states: ‘The thing we seek cannot be found by seeking, yet only seekers find it.’ Sometimes it takes a long journey with much dedication and effort to realize that no journey is necessary. The destination has always been right here under our noses. It is necessary, though, to set ourselves in the right direction if we want to experience the light.
In the meantime, we are distracted and conditioned by the way things appear to be. We buy into the inevitability of confusion and struggle as much as we subscribe to the elusiveness of their antidote.
George Harrison captures this well in his song ‘The Rising Sun’. Written in the final years of his life and released posthumously as part of the Brainwashed CD it is a startling and ultimately triumphant description of the both/and nature of journey and realization, distraction and clarity. The whole album, in fact, is an examination of Truth and illusion and the reality that alienation and fear dwell side by side with connection and transformative love. There are funny songs and Hindu chants, songs that look fearlessly at George’s likely death from lung cancer combined with a high, keening guitar that takes us to other worldly realms.
The song begins with a world weary exploration of the snares of samsara, the world of time and change, attachment and revulsion.
“On the street of villains taken for a ride
You can have the devil as your guide
Crippled by the boundaries, programmed into guilt
Till your nervous systems starts to tilt.”
We are apparently helpless, ‘taken for a ride’, programmed to be cowed and defeated, accepting boundaries that limit and define.
Why is this so? Because the illusory nature of things tricks us into believing the false to be true. The world is a series of confusing reflections. As George writes:
“In a room of mirrors you can see for miles
But everything that’s there is in disguise.”
However, all that we’ve experienced and accepted as real is now within us, in the subconscious storehouse of the mind:
“Every word you’ve uttered and every thought you’ve had
Is all inside your file the good and the bad.”
And here is a ray of hope: the good and the bad are conjoined.
The mind has faithfully recorded it all and we have the choice of interpreting it as condemnation or possibility – one way leading to depression even insanity, the other to surprising freedom.
And that freedom is magnificently portrayed in the chorus to the song where the image of the rising sun promises light, a new day, and new possibilities.
“But in the rising sun you can feel your life begin
Universe at play inside your DNA
You’re a billion years old today.
Oh the rising sun, and the place it’s coming from
Is inside of you and now your payment’s overdue
Oh the rising sun, oh the rising sun.”
We are both a billion years old – the evolutionary unfolding of intelligence manifesting through our DNA, and totally new, expressing life with all the exuberance and wonder of a child. Claim it now – your payment is overdue!
George Harrison was not just the ‘quiet Beatle’, he was the spiritual one too. He introduced the Beatles to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the mid sixties and the Beatles introduced this Indian guru and his teachings to the world. Others had explored eastern spirituality before but the power and influence of the Beatles caused a cosmic shift that we are still experiencing today with yoga studios on every corner and Hindu words and concepts like Om, guru, asanas and karma – part of our everyday vocabulary.
I remember watching a BBC documentary from around 1970 that explored the influence of Eastern Philosophy on the west, particularly in reference to pop culture and music and its effect on youth. One of those being interviewed was George Harrison. At that time, in my late teens, I was hardly on a conscious spiritual path but I was, rather haphazardly, trying to make sense of existence. If I identified with anything that could be called a higher reality it was in Nature.
As George spoke about Hindu philosophy and meditation in simple and passionate words I remember saying “Yes!” to the television screen. The idea of an energy or consciousness underlying and manifesting through everything seemed to match my own understanding. It was a world away from the God as superbeing judging humanity which was the dominant religious image of my childhood. The distant God had been replaced by a Presence that was refreshing, joyous and available to all, right now.
Looking back I can see that George’s words became one of those pivotal parts that led me to become a Unity minister. I thank him for that.
In the second verse of the Rising Sun George returns to the world of conditioning in even more personal terms.
“On the avenue of sinners I have been employed
Working there til I was near destroyed”
Few can appreciate, even fewer experience, the intense pressure of being as famous and influential as the Beatles. ith all the adulation, wealth and power comes the straight jacket of endless public view and the commodification of the artistic gift.
George died of complications related to lung cancer not long after writing this song but these next lines show his courage in responding to his diagnosis:
“I was almost a statistic inside a doctor’s case
When I heard the messenger from inner space
He was sending me a signal that for so long I had ignored
But he held on to my umbilical cord.”
The honesty of these lines is affecting and draws us to a shared humanity. All of us have faced, in one way or another, the fear associated with our own demise. In our confusion and panic we forget that there is a higher connection. Yet Spirit, Presence, whatever we name it, is gently but firmly holding us. We are continually being birthed into a greater reality. The inner voice is always waiting for us to hear its message.
“Until the ghost of memory trapped in my body mind
Came out of hiding to become alive”
Robert Browning referred to the ‘impersonal splendor’ and in Unity we talk about repentance as a rethinking or metanoia – a remembrance of things divine. Although it seems that Spirit is hiding from us, in Truth it is we who are hiding from Spirit. When we remember who we are as limitless expressions of the Universe our potential comes out of hiding and becomes radiantly alive in us.
So George’s last CD, Brainwashed, although it explores the sense of numbing alienation and hopelessness that can, at times, rule our bodymind, it is ultimately an album of victory and peacefulness. It ends with an ancient Hindu chant to Shiva sung as a duet by George and his son Dhani. Its message is clear: life is strange, often confusing and full of snares and sorrows but it is also beautiful and worthwhile. Peace is guaranteed to the open heart.
The song ends with the chorus sung twice but the penultimate chorus has some powerful verbal charges that reinforce the interior nature of awareness. ‘Turn within’, we often say in Unity as we begin our meditations; ‘the Kingdom of heaven is within you’ says Jesus in Luke 17:21. It is when we enter this inner awareness and focus on the still point at the heart of us that we appreciate that it is the truth of everywhere.
“And in the rising sun you can hear your life begin
And it’s here and there, nowhere and everywhere…
…Oh the rising sun and the place that it’s coming from
Is inside of me and now I feel it constantly.”
Two words leap out at me from these verses. First, the Presence is nowhere and everywhere. The spacious emptiness of Spirit guarantees fullness. A cup, for example, must be empty to be filled. Unconditionality, relaxing into the seeming unknown, is a sane and safe approach to life. We are all, in varying degrees control freaks. In little or big ways we want to make life certain through habit and preference. The invitation from Spirit is to let go of the futile attempts to control the magnificently uncontrollable universe. Relax, all is well, the wisdom of the Presence is always dependable and true.
It is exactly as we release and simply let be that the sun rises and showers its radiance and joy into our lives.
The other word that strikes me is ‘constantly’: ‘I feel it constantly.’ When we connect to the timeless, to the infinite moment, we realize it is a constant presence. We may forget it but it does not forget us. And the good news is that it is just a moment of remembrance away.
I like to think that George was in this awareness of Presence when he passed from this world. Whether he was there constantly or not, I know he realized its constant presence for him and for us. It is what makes this song ‘The Rising Sun’ so memorable and so inspiring.
Remember, as you go along life’s way on this apparent journey of life that you are the rising sun, the effulgence of light and love and joy that brings such beauty and soul satisfaction into our world.