The Descent: Part 5

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If the subject of the deep world, the spiritual world, seems too abstract to be believable, then you need to know that you too are having an inner experience. Religion has too easily concluded that your resistance to the deep place is due to unbelief and this allows it to segregate the human race into us and them. You might already believe this segregation. Please don’t.

I used to do this too. In fact I often invalidated the deep inner experience of those who didn’t share or define that inner experience exactly as I did. I feel horrible about that. If your inner experience is presently one of push back rather than a helpless free fall, then I want you to know that you are in good company. It’s not that you don’t believe, its that you believe in an alternate system and probably for good cause. Either way, this inner experience is known as faith and we all share it in common.

Until we know the descent and the true self that emerges from it, we are quite likely to fear it. From our birth we grow up knowing and developing our surface self and we prepare it for the surface world. We begin in a binary world that informs us that certain things are hot or cold, light or dark, good or bad, wrong or right. We are given equations, systems, formulas, strategies and rituals that all make the surface world give up its goods. Linear and dualistic thinking separate everything in this world into tidy little categories that give us a measure of control and comfort in a very insecure environment.

The surface self tells us we want a healthy relationship, and it provides a formula for dating, or meeting someone, but the moment we fall in love, we immediately turn loose of the surface and let ourselves go deep. You see, the old spinster and the misogynist are both stuck on the surface, they distrust the turbulence and ambiguity of falling in love. It requires too much self denial, too much trust. Because of this push back, the surface self will avoid all relationships or it may settle for a relationship, but it will never admit that what it really desires most is love, and in the end it is only left with anger.

The surface self tells us that the big promotion, or fame, or recognition that we obtained is truly satisfying. Yet when we look over our lives we realize that one success never did fully satisfy us and we enrolled in more pursuits that set the bars higher and higher.  More effort, more output, more clinging, grasping, and clawing, all because the surface self has convinced us that the next success is the one that will complete us. It never does because we thought we wanted success, but what we really wanted was validation or approval and what we end up with is dissatisfaction.

If we want to buy a car we need the surface self. If we want to enjoy the drive we need to access the deep self. If you want sex, you’ll have to ascend, if you want intimacy, you’ll have to descend. If we want power and control we need the surface self, if we want peace and well-being we need to access the deep self. If we want to impress others we must leverage the surface, if we really want friendship or love we must let go and fall deep. The process for getting what we think we want is the opposite for getting what we really want.

The surface has everything we think we want. It’s a world that Buddhism calls illusion and Christianity says is fading away (1 Corinthians 7:31). Everything we truly want is in the deep world. It is actually the lasting world. Remember our love for each other transcends our life spans, thus making love the more durable reality. Love, approval, acceptance, validation, humility, and peace dwell permanently in the deep, and all of our manipulations, strategies, gimmicks and games cannot and will not ever access them. They can’t, it’s like trying to put logic on a scale, it’s a different form of reality.

Now you may say, Keven I do know what true love is, I have experienced peace and acceptance. Of course you have, because you have been deep before and you long to go back, just like I do. Every vacation we have ever planned was our effort to find the deep again. Every thing we have ever gone after or from which we have turned away has been because we are seeking the deep. The tears of joy, the tenderness of a pet or a loved one or even that song or poem that deeply moved us were all our longings for home. These mean so much to us because for a brief moment we bump into proximity, we entered the sacred space of the eternal moment. We got there by letting go of ourself or getting over our surface self. Then as soon as we got there, our surface self pulled us out and set us back in order and process and distraction.

The deep life is the one that learns the path of descent. It is the life that connects to true meaning, and learns to quiet the ever gaming surface self. The deep life is a spiritual life that discovers what is really worth our time and effort. The deep life is not afraid of the surface life and doesn’t avoid it, but tempers it and reforms it so that it no longer has the power to push back against the deep. The deep life knows sorrow, rejection and suffering because usually these are the initiators of descent, but it quickly learns that true sorrow is to live like a spinster and skim over and miss true love.

So what are we do do?

Well, this is where I may disappoint you. You see, I’m not going to give you a task or list of things to do. I’m not going to prescribe a book, or a church or a ritual. If I did, I would be no different than any religion. Instead, I’m going to give you a simple pattern of living and then you can find the best means for you to practice it. You see all religions and rituals can help get you on the way, but none can take you the whole distance. This is why the Apostle Paul says: to keep the faith that you have between yourself and God (Romans 14:22).

The gap is closed by Kenosis. Kenosis is a Greek word that means self-emptying. It’s the opposite of clinging or push back.  It’s a humble willing acceptance. It’s what a mother or father does for their children. It’s what a true friend does for another. It is the pattern that God him/herself has provided in everything we see. “…though he was in the form of God (Jesus), did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of servant.” (Philippians 2:6-7). This is revolutionary! God emptied himself. Descended. One power begets another version of itself.

Science tells us that all energy never diminishes but only reorganizes into something new. The kale smoothie that is in my belly had to die so it could produce new life. A parent sacrifices him/herself so the child can thrive. One self-empties for the sake of another. One descent provides the ascent of the other. We all go to work and give of ourselves so that others in the world can benefit and we benefit from their expense. Self emptying is the cruciform pattern and no-one misses it, animals do it, stars do it, and faith does it, we just don’t call it by the same name. One energy begets another version of itself.

Everything we have ever truly wanted has come by self emptying. Everything we think we want comes by clinging. We each have either a closed fist or an open hand.

Self-emptying or kenosis will change your life by allowing to you to actually see,feel and experience it. Is your marriage struggling? Self-empty. Are you lonely, bored or distracted? Self-empty. Is your career plateauing? Self-Empty. Watch your anger problem vaporize by self-emptying. If you discover this pattern and find a means to practice it, you will find depth,meaning and purpose. You will begin to live the deep life. You will live as a deeply spiritual person, and once you trust this pattern, you will want to go deeper and that is when the New World emerges, in fact, an infinite community is awaiting your arrival.





The Descent: Part 4

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Last week I offered an exercise for us to try. We were to take a brief walk and then stop somewhere and focus our attention on something very small. Did you do it? I hope that during this exercise you were able to move slightly out of your thinking brain and access that part of your self that wonders. Did any aspect of awe come into this moment? If you gave yourself to this process, you probably became aware of another world that was much smaller than yours. I hope you didn’t dismiss it as insignificant. To do so would miss a vital component here.

This exercise was one that pops the cap off of deep spirituality. That tiny little world, as my new book Oblivious will illuminate, is actually the event horizon for the greatest thing in the universe. It’s the precipice of the deep world, the Source or fountain of everything. Even though I don’t expect you to see all of that yet, I am trusting you will. The kind of wonder or awe-thinking that keeps you in that small world is also required for you to enter the deep world, which is really as you’ll discover, an infinite dimension of this world. It requires a different kind of consciousness. It’s not unlike the thinking we had as children. Perhaps that is why Jesus tells us that the kingdom belonged to just such a type (Matt 19:14).

Spirituality is a world where what we think is far less important than how we think. All religions have a name for it: enlightenment, nirvana, even heaven. Science knows it as the quantum universe. Jesus calls it the kingdom of God and he told us it is among us, here and now and it takes a special set of eyes to see (Luke 17:20-21). It’s a place where the regular rules don’t apply. It’s under different management so to speak. This is the place where mathematics, logic, meaning, love and every aspect of non-empirically based reality collide with our material world. Empiricism is too small for this deep world. We can’t measure the circumference of the number three any more than we can create a theology big enough for God. This is the source of paradox. We must go down in order to go up. We give in order to be filled. Duality and binary systems give way to singular understandings. Beginnings and endings all converge in a single Alpha-Omega moment.

The big news is that we don’t have to die to possess it. We don’t need an earth evacuation strategy. It’s here. Within each of us.

In this deep world you will also discover that certain aspects of what you call your self can’t go either. Our surface self is poorly equipped for the deep world because ego dissolves within this kind of proximity and must be denied (Luke 9:23). We are told parts of us must die or the water of this deep world will not backfill certain space. What you will find in there is that aspect of your self that has preexisted within the mind and perfect wisdom of God. This is the part of you that existed before all creation and the part of you that can never die. The True Self. This is the one Jesus tells us to preserve (Luke 9:25). This is the realm where every loved one has been perfected and whose unique energy is refracting off of every particle. For those who think I sound New Age, consider the Hebrew scriptures before you dismiss me.

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, the as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139),

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his/her work… When he/she established the heavens, I was there…” (Proverbs 8:22-27),

I told you this place was big. It’s infinite actually. I hope you can see that the deep world is not out there. It’s not off somewhere in a distant future. It isn’t a threat to employ behavior modification. It’s simply the eternal moment that is always pressing in on us if we will simply fall into it. Effort, skill, and technique are worthless here, humble acceptance is the only key.  This present moment is not so easy to hang onto though. Our surface self prefers to live in the past or the future. It will take some letting go and some serious love to learn how to abide here (1 John 3:14). This deeper world is not really a place as much as it is an experience. It’s an inner experience that we can take with us into every outward experience in life.

Now I know some of you have a bullshit detector that is pinging in the red zone. You wonder; “How did he get all of that from looking at a tiny little something?” I will address this wave of doubt in the next episode, so stay tuned.

In next weeks addition I will revisit your deepest desires and show you how all of them are found in this single Source. Once you tap into this Source, your life will be an abundant, overflowing, brimming over experience. Once you see it, you won’t be able to unsee it and your life will never be the same. Everyone who enters will be disappointed initially because this place has no “otherness” which means we were at best only partially right and thus it is not what we expected. I’m so glad I was so wrong. You will be too.

The Descent: Part 3

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I have heard many people criticize our culture for being shallow.  While it may be true that many or even most of us are shallow, we must be careful not to deduce that we are shallow by preference. We must be careful not to take the observation of shallow behavior to signify that our motives are shallow. This is a vital mistake that most of us make and the result is that we diminish the spiritual capacities of others and we also create an unnecessary and debilitating distinction between them and us.

Organized religion is particularly prone to making this mistake. Years ago, when I worked in a local church, I remember a common narrative was that non-churchgoers were shallow people who only wanted superficiality. Anyone who opted to ski on Sundays rather than attend services was viewed as shallow. Many who attend services are truly seeking a deeper experience, though not all. The same can be said for those who don’t attend service.

The rhythm of our week is to work five or six days and then to have the weekend off.

We call our weekends downtime.

Six days to ascend, one day to descend. The Hebrew scripture tells us that God employed the same formula. “…and he (God) rested on the seventh day from all his work.” (Genesis 2:2) You don’t need to subscribe to a particular faith system in order to subscribe to this rhythm. We all intuitively know that the majority of our life is purposeful for the expansion of our surface or horizontal life, but we all instinctively know that we must take a break from effort and output and rest.

Life is both horizontal and vertical. Both dimensions are vital to each other. We need to move away from the idea that we have a spiritual life and the rest of our life. As we mature, we learn that everything is spiritual in its origin and nature.

This is our first key to descending. The descent is rest. The descent is when effort is replaced with wonder. It is when we exchange clinging, or activating with stillness and purposeful coasting. When aiming high we must pause and turn our eyes downward (inward may be more accurate).  The view of the climb is not the same perspective as the view from the climb. Do not diminish this vital soul work. Wisdom would ask us to make regular space for this kind of reflection.

May I offer you a word of caution? Please resist the temptation to think that the more time going deeper actually makes you go deeper. Most of us would do well to go on a spiritual retreat or even a sort of hermitage or sabbatical, but these are never ends in themselves. The ascent enables the descent, and the descent empowers and clarifies the ascent. We need both and we err when we perpetually strive to exclude or minimize one or the other.

A second key is this: by not ascending, we are not by default descending. This is the reason I am doing this series. I want us to know how to go deeper. Just because we have no conference calls on Saturday, does not mean we are doing soul work. In fact, how many times have we sat on the couch all weekend, eating junk, watching junk on TV, and literally doing nothing but turning drinks into pee? The result is that we end our downtime feeling even more tired and unfulfilled. This is because plopping on the couch is actually ascent, not descent. Depression is the inability to descend, which causes the brain to rewire itself in ascent mode.

So how do we go deeper in life?

Soul work (depth) re-creates us. It is the essence of recreation. When we get down, depressed, tired, or hopeless, we need re-creation. This is why I started by emphasizing that people are not desiring shallowness. Most of our world defaults to shallow ascents because there are few teachers who can show us the downward path. A shallow culture is the byproduct of a disabled or defunct spiritual community. This should free us from the assertion that we need to go to church in order to meet or know God. The right community certainly can help you, but I’m sorry to say that many of them will only take your life, not re-create it.

The process of re-creation is always, always, always, always a God experience. It’s not a lecture, a dogma, a theology, or a framework. It is not even the ritual of praying, studying sacred text, meditating, lighting a candle, ringing a bell or singing.  All of these things are tools to help us open up the doors of our soul, but they are not it. It is always an experience, even a tiny or brief one. It is a glimpse of uncommon clarity. It can come through music, or a sermon, or a poem or something much more organic, but it is always an experience with transcendence. I call this proximity. Some might call it consciousness, or the spirit, or illumination or contemplation.

When we step outside during a lunch break in order to gain just five minutes of sunshine on our face, we need to recognize that this is an early form of soul work. We know it is because we long for it, we miss it, and when we have it, we realize that nothing is missing from that moment. We think we want the sunshine, but what we really want is the Shalom (well-being) contained within the sunshine.

Do not glance over this. I really want us to see this in an everyday example, because we will build on this as we go forward. Sorrow is being outside on our lunch break while our mind is ascending elsewhere. Two people can share the same location under the sun but not share the same experience, and all of us can tell the difference. This is our most basic introduction to proximity or the presence of God. We are told this is how God reveals him/herself to all people. We call it natural revelation and none of us can miss it, except when we are depressed or sorrowful. “For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20)

We are just beginning our descent. On your next lunch break, take a ten to fifteen minute walk. Within the first five minutes look down at the something small, like a tiny insect, a pebble, a crumb or a leaf. Spend the next five minutes or so simply observing. This is the incubator of contemplation. Notice the questions that bubble up. The tiniest thing has the power to keep you in this moment. Try and catch the experience of wanting more time in this space or notice any reactions to it. This will prove that you actually long for depth of life even if you don’t yet have the skill to possess it. Soon you will. If you catch the flow of this tiny moment, you will go back in from lunch slightly more re-created. Notice the tiny bit of inspiration that accompanies you. 

Behold, you just descended ever so slightly, and you are now on the path of life. Everything you have ever really wanted is just down the way.



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The Descent: Part 2

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If we are to learn anything about the descent we must first understand the ascent. If you recall, last week I said that everything we think we want can be had only by ascent, while everything we really want can only be had by descent.  So what is the Ascent?

Essentially, the ascent is everything you already know about how life works. Ascending is very important. It is also something that cannot and should not be avoided. While I’ll argue that the journey of going deeper in life is the function of spirituality, I’m not saying that ascending doesn’t have spiritual components to it, it most certainly does. As you’ll discover, everything is spiritual.

Ascending is an aspect of learning, and as such it is a function of how we relate to the Truth. All of our learning comes incrementally and we add a new thing on top of an old thing and it changes the whole thing. We go from first grade to second grade and so on until we graduate. We ascend in education by gaining and applying knowledge.

In our careers, we take our experience and we ascend by taking on new responsibilities and opportunities. We leverage one experience in order to get another one. We trade one job for the next while we prepare for yet another. We lock into a particular track that will deliver to us an acceptable life and we ascend there.

We ascend in relationships. We learn about people. We learn who can be trusted and who can’t. We learn the nuances of interpersonal relationships of all kinds. We learn how the opposite sex reacts to us and we adapt. We learn how peers react to us and we adapt. We ascend as we keep our distance and we ascend as we get involved.

Religious institutions provide paths for ascension as well. We utilize all the skills we developed ascending in business, relationships, academics, and sports and we employ them within the religious paradigm. We learn who holds the power, we learn what ideas are accepted and which ones are rejected. We determine if we will fit in or if we will be outsiders. The caveat in religion is that all of them provide a path upward.  Each provides a so called Stairway to Heaven, a blueprint that will supposedly give us eternal life or forgiveness or blessing. Each has a similar recipe yet each holds exclusive claims to their flight of stairs.

Ascending is clinging. Ascending is grasping or lunging. Every form of defense is ascending. Ascending is when we strive to make sense of something. Ascending is vital to life and all forms of success hinge on our skills at ascending.  Ascending is how 99.9% of all coaches, counselors, pastors, educators, and leaders tell us how to have a good life. The ascent believes that if we do more we will get more or become more. But is this the best advices there is? It seems to lack something………….DEPTH.

If a billionaire acquires another billion dollars, does he/she get a life twice as good as before? Does a jewelry box full of rings enlarge the number of fingers we have to wear them? How many people have ascended to the top of their game only to feel empty, dissatisfied, lonely or unfulfilled? The Beatles are correct, money can’t buy love. How many people come from regular family gatherings where the expectation to connect was never realized? Now we can see sorrow for what it really is. It is skimming over the depths of life and not knowing it. It’s easiest to see once we’ve ascended for a while.

The ascent gives us all those things we think we want, like toys, houses, spouses and pets, but it never gives us what we really want which is validation, satisfaction, community, acceptance, and love. It’s really obvious when we pause long enough to think about it. There is a surface life and we each have a surface self that lives there. We are told that buying certain products, or taking certain vacations or living a certain way will fill us up. But it never does…does it? The ascent to the surface life is not capable of filling us, it can only distract us. It’s composition is too large to sift into the finest pores of our deepest self.

Nonetheless we go through life and we buy vacations and the perfect outfit and we eat at the best restaurants and taste the best foods hoping to capture just a moment of depth. That moment when the coastal breeze and sun warms so much more than our face. It is the gaze and embrace of the beloved when that intimate tunnel vision emerges and there is no where else you want to be. It is that realization that your children are growing and the one you hold in your arms today will forever disappear within months, to be replaced with yet another fading version of themselves. These are the worth it moments.

Worth it moments are the bits of depth that bubble up onto our surface life. We all tell ourself that we want these moments to last, but then moments later we are back to the ascent. Our vacations end and we go back to the grind. Our children annoy us again and our beloved turns out to be flawed.

What if I told you there was a way to make the worth-it moments last? What if I told you that the very design of the universe is for them to last forever and ever and ever. What if I told you that you can possess those moments and take them with you into every other moment of life?  I supposed if this were true it would be really good news.

Guess what? It’s true. It’s all true. The secret is in the descent. The deeper we go the more vivid and lasting our worth-it moments will be. I’ll explain more in next weeks post.


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The Descent: Part 1

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One of my life’s greatest passions is to help people go deeper into their lives. For the longest time as a church leader I was always trying to get people out of their lives an into another life. I was wrong to do that. I found a better way when I decided I didn’t want the life someone else was offering me and instead I wanted my own life enough to actually get into it.

Some people ask me why I spend so much time working to produce all the content that I do. The answer is that I truly love sharing this aspect of life with others and I am always amazed at how transformative a contemplative life can be. I had a good laugh with my wife recently. I told her, “If getting people to mine the depths of life were a business, I would never make it on the show Shark Tank.” This is because doing this is really hard. It’s really difficult to get people to look closer, pause longer, or go deeper. We live anesthetized, numb, distracted, or blind.

This isn’t because people are shallow or stupid. It’s just that none of us can see what we can’t see. We are oblivious. When it comes to those aspects of our life that are defined in spiritual terms, or where we experience sacred space, or introspective deep thoughts, most of us are pretty good with our present status. In other words, we have all gone to a certain depth and going deeper is costly, so we usually stop at a comfortable place and just leave the touchy-feely, soft measures alone. After all, we have enough distractions in life to keep us ridiculously busy.

Every now and then something really disruptive and beautiful happens to us: we get the desire to go deeper.  Usually this is brought about by proximity to ultimate reality, such as attending a funeral, getting a dreaded diagnosis, or enduring some form of suffering.  Those kinds of events disrupt the status quo and if only for a brief time, we are able to gain clarity on all of our priorities. And in the proximity of such illumination, we begin to think differently.

We contemplate. We ask real questions. We bask in wonder. We pause long enough to feel the inward gravitational pull. However, unless we become intentional about this proximity, the clarity of this moment will pass until someone else dies or gets sick. If we are honest with ourselves, proximity scares us-but it shouldn’t.

I’m always saying that when we go deeper into something, that something becomes immensely more interesting. Furthermore, the process of going deeper is always a spiritual process. Yes, it is very spiritual to go deeper into finance, legos, food trucks, or binary code. It’s spiritual because as you mine the depths of something, you start to uncover the nuances that are invisible when skimming the surface.  The nuances are those aspects that bring out changes in our humanity because they change our perspective on things.

Whether we are into golf, or the bible, or business, our journey deeper enables us to learn that the discovery was never really about the subject at hand, instead it was about us and our maker. In other words, we started to build a business, learn a sport, play an instrument, but in the end those things built us.

Once you reach this level at something it is impossible to go back. Literally everything in the world is a springboard that can produce this kind of self-awareness and personal growth. That can be a hard pill for those who only have a particular expression of spiritual growth, but bear with me on this. If you wouldn’t use such words to describe your pastimes, then perhaps you were unaware of what lies beneath them.

This brings me to my last introductory point for this series. Once we gain proximity to that which is beyond and within us, we never want to live without it. In fact everything seems to pale in comparison. An ancient song rings true here when is says: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10). Interestingly, this is a unique portal into our depressions and our life’s deepest sorrows. As James Finely says, sorrow is the skimming over of the depths of life.

The surface doesn’t possess what we really want, though it abounds with what we think we want.  In order to possess all the things that we think we want we must ascend. We must cling and claw and employ an inordinate amount of effort and then be able to sustain that over time if we would take hold of surface things.  But all the skill of the ascent is worthless at delivering what we really want. For that, we must descend. What we all truly desire is found on another tier, strata or dimension of life. Contrary to popular religious teaching, the spiritual path is always a descent.

In the coming weeks we will examine the descent much closer and hopefully I will inspire you to let go. The only thing you have to lose is sorrow. The only thing you will gain is your true self.


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