Washing Dishes to Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

I searched under the soap bubbles 
for more things to clean
and found my own hands 
touching each other. 
I searched inside myself 
for more things to clean 
and found my small self 
touching my larger self. 

DMH, February, 2019

I have a recording of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, a pipe organ piece that I blasted out at house-shaking volume today, Sunday morning, as I washed the pots and pans from Saturday evening — a very satisfying, church-like catharsis. When I was around 11 years old, I was singing Latin hymns in a stone cathedral, standing near a massive pipe organ that penetrated the vibrations of the music into my very bones, it seems, and I’ve never forgotten that feeling. One of the reasons I joined my current congregation was the presence of a pipe organ. That instrument consistently moves my awareness from what is going on in my head to my emotional stirrings.

I haven’t been to church for months due to the pandemic, yet my life is now stirring deeply with an adventure I can easily describe as “cleansing.” It seems to have begun when, almost two months ago, I bought a hoodie that had a design printed on it called “Transforming Raven.” I’m ready for some transformation, I thought to myself, that sounds pretty good. Knowing some of the mythology of the Tlingit and Haida culture has conditioned me to associate Raven with creating the world anew.

A little over three weeks ago, I decided to take a vacation from social media, which brought boredom and loneliness into the foreground of my awareness. Then I had a scheduled colonoscopy, which requires an extreme and somewhat unpleasant cleanse of one’s entire digestive tract for 24 hours. Since then I have been disrupting and discarding some habitual patterns in my daily life, another kind of purification. I’ve been on a quest for the activities that nurture me, such as walking, gardening, yoga and connecting with old friends.

I’m taking the road less traveled, hoping to see my life with new eyes. In the midst of a pandemic and wildfires that have kept us housebound and masked, political and racial tensions that have punched us in our solar plexuses, breathing fresh air has more meaning for me than ever before. I want to remove the clouds of judgement, the over-excited, reactive tendency to evaluate life events from a narrow focus on immediate, practical consequences. I know that it is possible for me, mostly through sitting meditation, to have a much broader awareness of how I focus my attention, and to calm my overall state of being.

In our autonomic nervous system (breathing, heartbeat, digestion) we have a hard-wired process that compares and contrasts our current experience to other incidents in our lives. Sometimes we are not aware of this process, sometimes we are, yet it will always take place. It is embedded. As part of that process, we may — if we are willing — discover that our knowledge has shifted, changed or grown over time, and that we have acquired a more powerful level of wisdom. I say “powerful,” because as that wisdom grows it grants us a great deal of serenity, freedom and joy.

I would characterize that process as a gradual cleansing ourselves of unnecessary baggage from our past, psychological baggage that interferes with our ability to relax and enjoy life. Some people may describe it as a healing process that restores balanced engagement of our entire body, mind and spirit in our every present moment. Some may simply equate it with the maturity that comes after the painful lessons of youthful excess.

Many writers have analyzed human growth into distinct stages or levels, perhaps with the intention of encouraging us to stay the course when the going gets rough. It is important when reading these descriptions to keep in mind that there is no linear progression from one level to the next, the boundaries are mushy, and back-sliding is part of the game. However, we can expect over the course of our lives a general expansion of our ability to let go of doubt, despair, darkness and sadness.

Richard Rohr, who is a Christian mystic, is one of those writers. I was excited to read his overview of the stages of spiritual development this morning and decided to add to them correlations with Oscar Ichazo’s levels of consciousness. Oscar was a Bolivian mystic, loosely associated with Sufi teachings, who founded the Arica School. I am a student of both teachers. Call me a Christian Sufi if you wish.

I went to a 40-day Arica “basic training” in 1974. I learned to relax, breathe, and meditate. I became a zealous seeker of higher states of consciousness and self-awareness. I felt reborn. I cut my long hippie-hair and shaved off my beard. I learned ideas that have stayed with me: (1) the evolution of humanity occurs by attraction to higher levels of functioning, (2) it does not happen gradually but in sudden “jumps” from one level to the next, and (3) I am participating in that evolution as a seeker.

Now, 46 years later, I can look back and see how I have been re-defining who I am, over and over, never arriving at anything static, and coming around to the attitude that the journey is the destination, so I may as well step into it, wherever I happen to be. Here are the different levels as seen by Rohr and Ichazo (the “laws” that Ichazo refers to are the number of limiting conditions to which we adhere):

Richard Rohr, stage 1. My body and self-image are who I am. At the most basic stage, this is what Thomas Keating called our “programs for happiness.” These are the needs for security and survival, esteem and affection, and power and control. Though we may “transcend” to other stages, our egoic selves will always “include” these impulses, particularly under stress. 

Oscar Ichazo, level of BELIEF, 6000 laws: Personal belief, superstition, idolatry of money, sex and power.

Richard Rohr, stage 2. My external behavior is who I am. We need to look good from the outside and to hide any “contrary evidence” from others, and eventually from ourselves. The ego’s “shadow” begins to emerge at this time.

Oscar Ichazo, level of BELIEF, 3000 laws: Social dogma, security, transactional relationships, agreement to suffer together.

Richard Rohr, stage 3. My thoughts and feelings are who I am. We begin to take pride in our “better” thoughts and feelings and learn to control them, so much so that we do not even see their self-serving nature. For nearly all of us, a major defeat, shock, or humiliation must be suffered and passed through to go beyond this stage.

Oscar Ichazo, level of BELIEF, 1500 laws: Saint ego, self-indulgence of authority and domination, orgasmic pleasure.

Richard Rohr, stage 4. My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body are who I am. This is such a breakthrough and so helpful that many of us are content to stay here, but to remain at this stage may lead to inner work or body work as a substitute for any real encounter with, or sacrifice for, the “other.”

Oscar Ichazo, level of DENIAL, 750 laws: Philosopher-charlatan, cynical theories, leadership and creativity, cleverness.

Richard Rohr, stage 5. My shadow self is who I am. This is the first “dark night of the senses”—when our weakness overwhelms us, and we finally face ourselves in our unvarnished and uncivilized state. The false self has failed to bring us all the way to God or the Oneness we seek. Without guidance, grace, and prayer, most of us go running back to previous identities.

Oscar Ichazo, level of DENIAL, 384 laws: Disillusionment, I am worthless, ostentatious waste of resources, dictatorial power.

Richard Rohr, stage 6. I am empty and powerless. Some call this sitting in “God’s Waiting Room,” but is more often known as “the dark night of the soul.” Almost any attempt at this point to save ourselves by any superior behavior, morality, or prayer technique will fail us. All we can do is to ask, wait, and trust. God is about to become real. The ego, or separate self, is dying in a major way.

Oscar Ichazo, level of DENIAL, 192 laws: Suicidal panic, nihilism, nothing works.

Richard Rohr, stage 7. I am much more than who I thought I was. We experience the permanent waning of the false self and the ascent of the True Self as the center of our being. It feels like an absence or void, even if a wonderful void. John of the Cross calls this “Luminous Darkness.” We grow not by knowing or understanding, but only by loving and trusting.

Oscar Ichazo, level of rapid samadhi, or WAKING UP, 96 laws: Minus 96 = Remorse, recognition of karma, repeating patterns and complicity. Zero 96 = Empty mind, not knowing. Plus 96 = Wisdom.

Richard Rohr, stage 8. “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). Here, there is only God. There is nothing we need to protect, promote, or prove to anyone, especially ourselves. Our false self no longer guides the ship. We have learned to let Grace and Mystery guide us—still without full (if any) comprehension.

Oscar Ichazo, level of trialectics, 48 laws: Understanding the laws of reality.

Richard Rohr, stage 9. I am who I am. I’m “just me,” warts and all. It is enough to be human without any window dressing. We are now fully detached from our own self-image and living in God’s image of us—which includes and loves both the good and the bad. We experience true serenity and freedom, but it is quite ordinary and also quite sufficient. This is the peace the world cannot give (see John 14:27) and full resting in God. “To know oneself in God and to know God in oneself,” as both Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Ávila put it. 

Oscar Ichazo, level of divine life, 24 laws: Instinctive balance, life is simply lived.

Ichazo posits three additonal levels:

Level of divine love, 12 laws: Total love for life and humanity.

Level of divine contemplation, 6 laws: Awareness of spirit without being the spirit.

Level of unity, 3 laws: Inner degrees of development of the spirit, no longer engaged with physical world.

Perhaps this conceptual model is helpful, perhaps not. Knowing that in a short space of time we can travel through all the levels unconsciously helps to explain some of our “strange days.” Learning to guess where we (or others) might be at any particular moment can help us to make better choices. The danger in thinking about this too much is the encouragement it can give the monkey-mind to attempt to manage one’s spiritual progress, and getting stuck in a particular level as a result. We can “lean” into growth and we cannot control it.

What I have learned to accept is that all levels are always everywhere, they all serve a function and with steady committed practice I can spend less time in beliefs and denial, which, as you may notice, consume an enormous amount of energy. Washing dishes to Bach can be a source of cleansing freedom, or it could be just a chore.

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