Featured

Welcome!

John Daniels photoWelcome to my thoughtstream on the topic of creative change. I appreciate your visit and hope you’ll stay a while.

Tracts of Revolution explores the dynamics of human creativity as it swirls in our cells, pulses through our bodies, connects us to each other, and constructs the magnificent panoply of world cultures. You will find two distinct currents to this thoughtstream that may interest you.

“Conversations” are blog posts reflecting on the creative works of authors and artists of our present day and recent past. These creators communicated their visions of reality and the human future through words and other art-forms, partly to share them with the rest of us, but also because they finally couldn’t resist the force that seized and inspired them. I name that force “the creative spirit,” and am convinced that it inhabits all of us – while only a relatively few of us are courageous (or foolhardy) enough to “go with the flow.”

I have a lot to say about spirituality and religion, but this shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that I consider the creative spirit especially religious or “spiritual” in a more narrowly religious sense. The authors I bring into conversation are both religious and nonreligious, believers and atheists, metaphysically-minded psychonauts and down-to-earth humanists. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what ideological camp you inhabit, what country you call home, what language you speak, which way you’re oriented, or whether you are charming or abrasive. You and I are creators, and it’s time we take responsibility for this incredible power with which the universe has endowed our species.

For a more practical and therapeutic approach to creativity, check out my blog Braintracts. Over the past 30 years I have developed a life-change program that helps individuals take creative control of their lives and step more intentionally into the worlds they really want to inhabit. This approach is brain-based and solution-focused, pulling from the current research of neuroscience and the best practices in human empowerment (counseling and coaching).

The Medieval art/science of metallurgy investigated the molecular secrets of changing natural ores into metals and other alloys. The process was mysterious and the research traditions of those early scientists often took on the shroud of an almost gnostic mysticism. Mentallurgy is my attempt to remove the shroud of secrecy from the question of how the power of attention is transformed into the attitudes, beliefs, moods and drives behind human behavior. If you don’t particularly like the world you presently inhabit, then create a different one! Mentallurgy can show you how. Click over to www.braintracts.wordpress.com

An Open Letter to God

Dear God,

When I was a young child and didn’t possess a clear sense of myself or the objective existence of the world around me, Your reality was something I couldn’t conceptualize but clearly felt in the provident support and loving care of my mother and father. Though imperfect, to some sufficient degree they bestowed on me – and awakened in me – an assurance that I was in good hands. I was able to relax into being and open my awareness in wonder to the imaginarium of life.

It wasn’t long before my parents and other taller powers began talking about you, as “someone” up above, who was watching over me. I was taught how to say prayers to you – to thank you for caring and giving me what I needed, to ask for your help in times of need, to implore your understanding and forgiveness of my frequent mistakes, or just to praise you for being so awesome.

Even though I was counseled to listen for what You would have to say, I never heard any voice coming from above me – except, of course, for the voices of my taller powers. Later I learned that I should listen with my heart for a clear feeling of insight, relief from my guilt, or the certain prompting of what I should do next.

In church I studied the sacramental furniture and sacred symbols, the glowing candles and colorful banners, the Bible on the pulpit and the cross on the wall. I could see these with my eyes, though much of their meaning still eluded me. But I never saw You. Whether You were up high above the church building among the clouds looking down, or hiding in the sanctuary and looking out from behind the choir screen, I couldn’t find the kindly gentleman in flowing robes whose portrait hung in my imagination.

I kept at it for years: going to church, joining the fellowship, saying my prayers, offering my worship, and trying to be good during the week. Gradually I realized that this idea I had of You, the portrait that hung in my imagination, was lacking in verisimilitude (a fancy word I picked up in school): it was really nothing like You – or rather, You were nothing like what I imagined You to be.

Yes, that’s right, others agreed. God is invisible and has no form. But He is paying attention, so be careful.

Well then, WHO is paying attention? If You aren’t as I imagine, then what are You – or are You, even? For quite some time – another decade at least – I continued going to church (and became a pastor!), joining the fellowship, saying my prayers, offering my worship, and trying to be a “good Christian,” all the while directing my attention to someone (or something) that wasn’t up there, behind that, or possibly anywhere at all.

For all I knew, You didn’t exist, but I kept up the routine anyway.

Thankfully, by some grace of my upbringing and formation, this disillusionment of mine was less a devastating loss than a liberating revelation.

Along the way, my suspicions had been growing: that my religion is a production, that its star performer lives only in the sacred stories and active imaginations of devotees, and that its real work is not in representing You or in managing what I should believe about You. Instead, its real work – its essential task and design intention – is to awaken in me a spirit of faith and wonder, of freedom and service, of compassion, generosity, and goodwill.

I have further come to see that this spirit is not some ghost floating somewhere above me or haunting the silent sanctuary behind locked doors. It is rather a creative force flowing – or seeking to flow – through me, out to others and into my world.

It is what reached out to me as a young child in the provident care of my parents. It is what set aglow those holy symbols and sacred stories, even that early portrait of You that was hung in my imagination and later tossed in the closet.

This spirit is not mine, nor is it something else. It is a deep wellspring of inner peace, an irrepressible uprising of pure joy, and the overflowing outreach of boundless love. Like my breath [Latin spiritus], it moves through me but isn’t mine to keep. Breathing in, I am its definition; breathing out, it is my gift.

Nearer the far end of my journey, I now understand that all of this has been preparing me for the responsibility and high calling of personifying Your mystery to someone who is, just now, needing assurance that they are in good hands. Hopefully they, too, will come to know what I have taken so long to learn.

Gratefully and sincerely Yours,

Amen.

Heaven (or Hell) on Earth

Do you know what our problem is – I mean, what our problem really is as a species?

We fall into this delusion of believing that our real problems are outside ourselves, along with the corollary belief that the secret to our happiness and wellbeing is out there, too. And that’s a problem because what’s going on out there and all around us is really a manifestation of what’s inside us.

A lot of us are convinced that our unhappiness and suffering originate out in the world.

Other people, our job situation, our life circumstances – whatever it happens to be, bears the blame for how we feel. It’s almost reflexive, the way we look outside ourselves for the cause of our misery. Which of course also implies that the solution or fix to our problem will necessarily come by way of external changes.

Some pastors and therapists get into their professions by an unrecognized and ultimately damaging motivation of looking for their own happiness in saving or fixing other people whom they see as lost or broken.

To help us see our problem more clearly, the spiritual wisdom tradition makes a useful distinction between “soul” and “spirit.” Avoiding the mistake of many historical religions in defining these in terms of supernatural or metaphysical things (i.e., ghostlike entities), the Sophia Perennis uses them as metaphorical references to the grounding mystery within each of us (soul) and to the relational energy moving like breath or wind among us (spirit).

The depths of soul are accessed by the inward path of quiet reflection, centering contemplation, and mystical communion; while the dynamics of spirit move us into active engagement, transpersonal outreach, and ethical community.

The wisdom teachings further encourage and guide each of us on that inward path, in the cultivation of inner peace. A peaceful soul is a “non-anxious presence” (Edwin Friedman), resting in solitude and full surrender to the provident ground of being. The soul is not nervous and chatty, but silent and calm, since there is nothing (no thing) to talk about. Its grounding mystery eludes all our efforts to pin it down or box it up in words; it is ineffable.

Religion’s favorite nickname for this mystery, “God,” is acknowledged in the most insightful traditions as unutterably beyond name and form.

When we have peace within ourselves, we are intuitively aware that nothing in the world around us is making us feel this way. Being centered and inwardly grounded, we draw from a deep inner wellspring of eternal life – not everlasting but timeless: always Now. Our serenity of soul provides a clear view of the world around us and of the reality beyond, and we fully understand that our wellbeing (along with the happiness it supports) is totally an “inside job.”

When this soul-centered spirituality is translated into our way of being and living in the world, we know that nothing and no one out there needs to be saved or fixed before we can be happy.

A restless soul, on the other hand, is what drives many unhappy people from one relationship to another, from one job to the next, falsely believing that by changing or moving things around they will finally be happy – or at least less miserable. Happy at last, if not a happiness that lasts. In projecting their inner disquiet and spiritual dis-ease upon the world and others around them, they “send out” a spirit of blame, agitation, and violence. They are creating hell on Earth.

I’m not suggesting that the “spirit” they are sending out is some kind of demonic entity or evil ghost, even though popular culture and religions have misread the ancient myths by taking such metaphors literally. Today it is as relevant as ever to speak of our personal influence in the world – our thoughts, words, choices, commitments, actions and reactions – as an out-breath (spiritus) of creative and helpful, or destructive and hurtful, energy, moving outward from us like a rippling wave.

This energy-wave will be beneficial or malevolent, fostering community or causing division, making our world a heaven or hell, as the case may be.

It’s interesting that in most conceptions of heaven, the picture is one of many people gathered in joyous company, whereas in hell everyone is suffering, but each soul is suffering in isolated agony. As mythical visions, these contrasting pictures are not really about the postmortem conditions awaiting us when we die. Instead, they are lenses for helping us understand that what comes out of us is a power for good or evil, one that can draw us together or drive us apart.

They are, in other words, visions of what our life on Earth can be, depending on whether we are cultivating inner peace or projecting our misery into the world.

These days, many of us are looking out on a wasteland of abandoned dreams, broken promises, and rising conflict. Who’s going to save us? How can we change the world and make it better? Are we Waiting for Godot, or just hanging on till the End? It’s easy to pin the blame on some person, some party, some “principality and power” that must be responsible for our suffering.

The truth is that no one is to blame, but each of us is responsible for our own suffering – as also for our own happiness. If the world out there is hell, it’s because we are making it so. The way to heaven on Earth begins as we call back our spirit (thoughts, words, actions) of judgment, descend by that inward path to the wellspring of inner peace and drink deeply of its healing waters, and then send out a new spirit of kindness, empathy, generosity, and goodwill.

It’s been this way for a long time. Yes, it has always been this way.

Meditation on the Snow Cone

In Religion and the Snow Cone Universe (October 2014) I offered this simple image as a way of understanding the relationships among science, spirituality, and religion. The ball of our snow cone, I suggested, can stand for the great cosmic environment arching overhead and surrounding us. This is the realm of scientific research, also called “external reality,” referring to what exists outside of and separate from our mind. Underneath, but really descending inwardly to the grounding mystery of being, the cone itself represents the realm of spirituality. This I call the “inner ground,” the essential source and support of consciousness itself.

And managing the intermediate zone between external reality and the inner ground, I suggested that a main task of religion (from the Latin religare, to connect), at least until very recently, has been to facilitate a dialogue between psyche and cosmos, between our inner experience of being and its outer manifestations. The various transformations and historical development of religion reflect our expanding knowledge of external reality through advances in research technology and theoretical comprehension – as well as an intensified awareness of our own existential depths.

Religion’s relevance – its timely truth – is thus a function of how well it manages this dialogue of spirituality and science.

The unique province of religion is what many of us today recognize as the meaningful world and our lifetime of adventures inside it. Whereas primitive and archaic cultures may have been less self-aware of our human role as myth-makers and storytellers, of how our stories actually construct meaning and the meaningful worlds we inhabit, our recent shift from a modern to a “post-modern” mindset and worldview was activated on this very discovery. The intermediate zone, once managed by religion and its mythology, turns out to be a very active construction zone.

With “organized” religion losing relevance, directing its energies into dogmatic debates with science and spirituality rather than creatively facilitating a contemporary mythological experience for people today, we should be asking (and having some considerable concern over) what is taking its place.

Who is telling the stories, hanging the veils, and constructing the worlds we are living for, dying in, and trying to find our way through?

This intermediate zone (or mitwelt) isn’t going away just because organized religion has abandoned its responsibility for constructing meaning and officiating the rites of passage through a life of purpose. These added dimensions to my snow cone image, of the “quality world” and our individual “hero path,” are now on us to figure out.

This is both good news and bad news. Good because we now have an opportunity to bring science and spirituality back into dialogue again, in a worldview and way of life that hold contemporary relevance. But it’s bad news in that a great majority of us have fallen into erroneous assumptions over the centuries regarding external reality and our own inner ground.


From inside the construction zone of meaning (our quality world), external reality is seen through the lens of mythology – all the stories we use to construct the meaningful world we live in. The ancient mythology of higher cultures once educated their people to look into the sky for the heavenly abode of god, and through the narrative corridor of myth, legend, and apocalypse for a proper understanding of history.

It would take many centuries for us to discriminate between reality as it is (external reality) and our mythological constructs (quality world). Our disillusionment was accelerated by the resistance of institutional religion to the current discoveries and changing cosmology of science. It grew increasingly difficult to adjust the sacred stories – putting heaven outside the observable galaxy, for example, or interpreting a “day” in the Genesis myth of creation as an indefinite period of time – and still keep up with the new scientific understanding.

On top of that, science was rapidly branching off into numerous specializations, each one dissecting and analyzing reality into its more basic elements – meaningless, mindless, and lifeless – until there was no place left for human values. Many gave up on the inherited quality world and accepted this scientific picture of things, of a cosmos empty of ultimate meaning.

What struck terror in the heart of the 17th-century mathematician Blaise Pascal, as he contemplated “the eternal silence of these infinite spaces,” would leave Albert Camus in the 20th only in quiet resignation before a universe “indifferent” to human values and aspirations.

Besides serving as the lens through which premodern societies looked at and interpreted external reality, the quality world of mythology also provided a way to understand our human adventure of identity through time, in what is known as the “hero path.” This path tracks (1) our rise into self-consciousness (often depicted as a “fall”), (2) a venturing-forth from tribal customs and beliefs in search of our own way, (3) a confrontation with and recovery of the parts of ourselves (i.e., our shadow) that we had to deny, dismiss, or actively suppress in order to fit in and feel loved in our early years, and finally (4) leads us back to where we started, but now as a self-conscious, internally reconciled, and fully awakened adult.

Inside this archetypal story-cycle, many more stories were told and ritually enacted to help us address the critical concerns of our journey through life as a child, youth, adult, and elder. At whatever stage or Age in life we happened to be, the topography and symbolism arranged at the surface of those stories served to focus our awareness of the inner ground, of what we are and are evolving to become in our essential nature as a human being.

This grounding mystery was acknowledged as deeper than the personality and its quest for identity, as the true origin of our quality world; the contemplative depths of being itself. Our own life and destiny, along with the life and destiny of everyone and all things, were regarded as manifestations of this ground, thrusting us all into time as participants in the higher wholeness of a provident universe.

Analogous to the way our quality world brings into meaningful focus an external reality beyond our mind, the hero path once facilitated our gradual acquaintance with and full embodiment of the grounding mystery within us.

Along with the disenchantment of our (quality) world and the consequent loss of a meaningful universe, the lack of a coherent mythology and life-directing hero path has led to a popular belief in the soul as nothing less (and little more) than an immortal ego. The inner life of consciousness has been emptied of mystery and made into a metaphysical ghost riding inside our body until it expires (or Jesus comes), at which point it will be freed to live forever in heaven – if we managed to believe and do all the right things, as prescribed by our religion.

In the meantime, we just need to hang on and try to keep from getting dirty.

Sophia Perennis 2.0

If we think of religion as a tree, then we can appreciate how its essential nature is rooted in mystical experience, channels this experience into an organizational structure, and expresses it outwardly in the distinctive virtues of ethical life. In a condition of systemic health, religion serves the vital function of integrating these mystical, institutional, and ethical priorities.

The problem is, religions haven’t been healthy for a long time.

Approaching the eighth century BCE, religions throughout the higher cultures were growing more concerned over maintaining control of their populations, mandating what devotees believed, how they behaved, and where they belonged. Enforcing conformity became a near-preoccupation, with an increasing number of heretics, apostates, and freethinkers persecuted and killed under their regimes.

The standardization of religion had begun, and orthodoxy (“correct opinion” or true belief) came into prominence. As a consequence, many religions were cut off from their life-source and succumbed to disorders of complacency, dogmatism, division, and violence.

This is also when a transformation in culture and religion began, continuing into the second century BCE and comprising what the philosopher Karl Jaspers named the Axial Age, capturing the idea of a “great turning” or revolution in the way many people engaged with life and its deeper reality. Taking up a term coined by G.W. Leibniz in the 17th century and popularizing it for the 20th, Aldous Huxley published an anthology (1945) of stories, teachings, and insights from this “perennial philosophy” (philosophia perennis).

With this ancient yet timeless (perennial) love of wisdom (philo+sophia) reintroduced to popular consciousness, a similar critique of institutional religion as had inspired its founders millenniums earlier provoked a “New Age” in the spiritual adventure.

The perennial philosophy represents a deliberate breaking-through the floor of institutional religion – or, to invoke my earlier image of a tree, an intentional and disciplined descent of the soul’s inner life to its mystical ground of being. As the tradition developed, however, it began to take on features of institutional religion: hierarchies of authority, secret ceremonies, inner circles of initiation and membership, along with an esoteric orthodoxy of its own.

The 20th-century New Age movement was a kind of “thought carnival” in new revelations and strange cults, where anyone feeling bored or oppressed by conventional religion could find excitement and escape.

With traditional religions and mainline denominations in rapid decline these days, as far as their memberships and cultural relevance are concerned, our time is ripe for the transformation of a second Axial Age. The anticipated outcome will not amount to an updated remodeling and fresh face on the same thing as before. Our question is not about how religion today can recover itself and get back to what it once was.

This crisis of change is only a crisis as it concerns the institutional structure of religion, to what ought to be the living and flexible form that makes every religion recognizable (as a tree) yet distinct from others of its kind. Another turn along the axis of transformation demands more than a new reading of ancient texts or a contemporary (psychological) engagement with the great myths of our world cultures.

Insofar as the first Axial Age tended to lose focus and muddled around in otherworldly speculation and esoteric metaphysics, leaving religion essentially unchanged though more defensive and dogmatic than before, today religion needs to truly transform if it has any hope of speaking to our real spiritual and existential concerns.

I should pause here to reissue my running apology for religion and its crucial contribution to the health of culture and to our progress in self-actualization as a species – that is to say, when it is fully aligned and doing its job. If it happens not to be, this is no reason to reject religion outright, apart from all its dysfunctional examples and merely on principle.

In its essential work of linking (religare) the individual to his or her own inner ground, individuals to one another in community, and their community to the larger world as a force for social change, religion is properly regarded as the very substance of culture (Tillich) and not merely one of its passing forms.

Following that definition, it should be clear that the sickness and decline of religion is more likely a cause than a symptom of cultural decay, and that any attempt to surgically remove it will almost certainly result in the death of culture itself. Our challenge, then, is to cultivate the conditions for the flourishing of a mystically grounded, structurally sound, and ethically relevant religion today.

The irony is that many religions and religious believers renounce the very world they are supposed to redeem, and would prefer to escape this life rather than wake up before it’s over.

For this new Axial Age we need a fresh touchstone of awareness. No doubt, we will continue to find inspiration and refreshment in the timeless wisdom of the perennial philosophy, but a contemporary and timely restatement is in order. For my reader’s consideration I offer what might be called Sophia Perennis 2.0 – a deceptively simple image and archetype (a generative form) that can prompt our deeper reflection, guide our creative dialogue, and empower our collaborative efforts as a spiritual community-in-formation.

Instead of beginning our critique with some religion or other outside of us, the important work needs to start with ourselves first, looking closely at the presence or absence, strength or weakness, coherence or confusion of religion (religare) in our own daily life.

Is our life deeply rooted in the grounding mystery of being? Are we able to release our judgments, beliefs, and thoughts – even our identity as “the one who” thinks, believes, and forms judgments? Can we descend contemplatively to that deep space within and be silently present to the mystery of our existence in this moment? Are we willing to relax into being and rest in solitude, surrendering ourselves completely to the Spiritus Vitae (the breath of life) in us?

Are we able to translate that mystical experience of our grounding mystery into constructs of thought, belief, and meaning? Can we keep the trunk, limbs, and branches of our personal life strong yet supple and flexible at the same time? Is our worldview and philosophy of life sensitive to the deeper mystery manifesting in all things? Are we thoughtfully engaged with questions that stretch us to grow and include more of reality in our horizon of concerns? Can we hold our beliefs with an open mind and not become a prisoner to our own convictions?

And finally, as we mindfully cultivate inner peace in the ground of our being and allow it to rise and fill us with the joy of life (joie de vivre), are we willing to pour our joy into the world as love? As surely as a healthy fruit tree will bear good fruit in season, is it even possible for us to hold back our inner peace and pure joy from expression in selfless acts of kindness, generosity, and goodwill? Can we accept creative authority for the positive change we hope to see in the world? (Does the fruit tree hesitate over who is deserving of its cool shade and nourishing produce?)

Inwardly grounded and mindfully aware, what is there to be afraid of? What are we pretending not to know?

Your Life In (Maybe) Five Steps

Just before you got going on this journey of life, you were whole and complete in your essential nature as a human being. Even though it would take a lot of experience and many years for you to really appreciate the dual capacity of your consciousness, in opening outward to the sensory-physical realm around you (through your body, to the Web of Life) and plunging inward to its mystical-intuitive source within (through your soul, to the Ground of Being), already back then you had all the necessary “equipment.”

Now it was just a matter of flipping the switch – or, to use a preferred term from the spiritual wisdom teachings, of “waking up” to the fullness of what you are.

But the journey proved more complicated than simply flipping a switch. It turns out that waking up is disruptive and annoying, particularly if you would rather stay asleep.

It’s important to understand that you didn’t start your journey asleep. Instead, your tribe slipped a sedative into your mother’s milk, and under its hypnotic influence you fell into a trance of believing that your supreme purpose in life is to become somebody. One of the great paradoxes is that waking up to the fullness of what you are in your essential nature requires that you first fall asleep and start dreaming about becoming somebody.

The body-and-soul wholeness of your essential nature was thus divided in two by the wedge of your ego, a conditioned self or “second nature” that your tribe engineered by a process of socialization – also known as domestication, operant conditioning, brainwashing, moral discipline and social instruction. Your ego is where the trance and hallucination of becoming somebody is rooted.

All along the way you were praised, admonished, and advised by your tribe concerning what was necessary for you to fit in, to be “one of us,” and to become somebody.

All of that is what I’m calling the “first step” on your journey in life. The point was to put you asleep and guide you inside the moral frame of a world where you could find security, identity, orientation and meaning. In a way, this process was a lot like being hypnotized by a kind of seductive lure of emotional security (the feeling of safety and belonging), which you took without thinking because in falling asleep you fell under the spell of a separate self – exposed, inadequate, and unable to make it on your own.

Fitting in, however, came at a price. Your tribe accepted parts of you but not others; it expected you to measure up to its templates, standards, and ideals of identity. What didn’t fit had to be kept out of sight, which in psychodynamic terms meant that these unacceptable parts of yourself had to be ‘suppressed’ – if fitting in was what you really wanted, and you did: you needed to fit in.

All these suppressed parts of yourself collected in a corner of your psyche to become your shadow.

To use an analogy from the teaching of Jesus, it was as if you covered the light of your lamp with a bushel basket so no one would see it.

Inside the moral frame of your world, you did your best (but sometimes, honestly, you barely tried) to measure up to those templates, standards, and ideals of identity, so that you could really become somebody. Inevitably, however, you would fall short, prompting judgments from your taller powers and social peers, as well as internal feelings of guilt and shame. Gradually, after many attempts, some success, and numerous failures, you came to settle down into your roles and daily routines.

Measuring up, falling short, and settling down comprise steps two through four of your journey in life.

For a complete picture of your journey, according to the wisdom teachings, one more step is required, but most of us never take it. The reason is in its uncompromising demand that you get over yourself – the very ‘somebody’ you worked so long and hard to become.

Let’s not forget that in becoming somebody (i.e., fitting into the frame), certain aspects of your essential nature had to be disqualified and pushed into a dark corner of your psyche. Over the years you found ways of accommodating this shadow – not reconciling with it and taking back your hidden light, but learning how to get by without the full light of your true self.

You also discovered that by projecting onto others your own internal frustration and self-judgment, you could experience a temporary relief, a welcome distraction, and a sense of moral righteousness.

Getting out of the frame and leaving your world, if not simply for another frame and a slightly different world (known as conversion), means that you will have to confront your shadow. What you have been conditioned to condemn, dismiss, or ignore in yourself must now be consciously redeemed or “bought back,” and the cost will be nothing less than the “death” of your hard-won identity: the somebody you’ve been pretending to be.

A trusting surrender to life as it is (faith), a freedom to live in the present (spontaneity), the creative construction of meaning (imagination), an unquenchable thirst for discovery (curiosity), and a delighted astonishment in the face of mystery (wonder) – all of those ‘powers’ of your essential nature which had to be squeezed out, closed off, and trimmed back to make you fit inside the frame now need to be recovered and reincorporated.

Many just like you have made their departure, only to confront their shadow (metaphorically in its ‘satanic’ aspect as adversary) and lose heart, forced back by their fear into the familiar frame of their constructed world and conditioned self. Having left with an ambition to “break free and find authentic life,” they soon abandon their quest for the security of life in a box.

Don’t let that be your story. It’s the “life of quiet desperation” that Thoreau warned about.

Take back your light. Your shadow is only the disowned powers of your essential nature. It holds your light and is waiting for you (metaphorically in its ‘luciferic’ aspect as light-bearer) on your way to the liberated life.

Life as it is

In his important work The Denial of Death (1973), Ernest Becker made a case for seeing much of Western culture as a series of “immortality projects,” where we have worked collectively to hide from ourselves (deny) the bald fact that one day we will die.

Great and small people alike have invested themselves in projects they hope and believe will outlive them; and, as in the case of religion, in the project of gaining everlasting life in heaven after they “die.”

Some believers prefer to speak of “transitioning” rather than dying, as it permits them to talk around death instead of facing its inevitable reality – as the period at the end of our life sentence.

The problem with our immortality projects, one that Karl Marx saw clearly more than a century earlier, lies in how they divert our focus of attention and care from the way life is, to life as we imagine it could (or even should) be. 2,300 years before Marx, Siddhārtha Gautama (the Buddha) had the same insight. The “immortality project” of Hindu religion held forth the promise of an individual’s elevation through numerous lifetimes of proper piety to a final liberation (moksha) of their undying self.

All of this concern over abstract metaphysics and progressive reincarnations, in Siddhārtha’s opinion, distracted devotees from the real existential task at hand, of finding liberation in this life from the wheel of suffering.

Although I’m not intending this post as a study of Buddhist teaching, one critical distinction is worth carrying forward here, which is that, according to the Buddha’s “life is suffering” doctrine (his first Noble Truth), there are certain facts about life as it is that cannot be ignored without consequence. Indeed, our attempts at ignoring them are what turn these facts into suffering – into devastating assaults on our nervous state, emotional composure, mental equanimity, and the very meaning of life itself.

It’s our refusal (or willful ignórance) to face, work with, and accept life as it is that makes us suffer.

Life as it is includes pain, illness, loss, decrepitude, and death – ending in our own. It was his observations of such facts that drove Siddhārtha from his palace home in search of liberation. His royal lifestyle had been one immortality project that apparently could not protect him from the facts of life, despite his father’s best efforts at keeping him inside the palace compound. From there he joined another immortality project, this one not of self-indulgent luxury but self-denying austerity, with monks who believed that by starving and punishing the body they could free their true self.

After some time, he left their company and came to the revelation of his “middle way” while meditating under the canopy of a Bo tree.

Although we should certainly herald the rise of individual self-consciousness as an evolutionary watershed in human history, it must be said that a lot of suffering came in its wake. Being conscious of ourselves means that we are also (or will be very soon) aware of the pain, illness, loss, decrepitude, and death that are unavoidable. Life as it is brings along all kinds of experiences that may tempt us at times to jump onboard with one immortality project or another, with some guarantee that things don’t have to be this way, that we can have life without these problems – if only in a life after this one.

Let’s admit it: We don’t want to suffer. We would rather have a life where pain, illness, loss, decrepitude, and death are simply sponged away and we can go on living problem-free forever.

And if our immortality project grants us assurance by the conviction that life’s final period is only a comma leading to the better life we imagine, then what’s the harm in that? Doesn’t our belief regarding a perfect life in heaven after we die help us bear our suffering in the meantime? If we really believe that death is merely a “transition” to something infinitely better, then our inevitable “end” is no big deal, therapeutically speaking, right?

Before we answer that question, let’s identify the various ways we “deny death,” in Becker’s terms, or otherwise refuse to engage with life as it is. We can flat-out deny what we find unacceptable and simply refuse to acknowledge its reality. We can also try to defend ourselves against it happening to us. Beyond that, we can work hard to avoid or dodge life as it is. Another tactic is to defer such problems to a later time – just not now, maybe tomorrow, and hopefully never. And finally, we can plan our escape from life as it is on the departure narrative of some heaven-bound religion.

Going deeper still, we should also inquire into what motivates all these maneuvers away from life as it is and hopefully closer to life as we imagine it should be.

Obviously, our creative imagination makes it all possible, and in some cases the life we imagine does help us to see and appreciate the longer views, larger contexts, and more nuanced textures of our experience, guiding our way through life as it is with wisdom, faith, and compassion. Holding such ideals in our imagination can keep us from falling hopelessly into our pain, illness, loss, decrepitude and death.

Still, beneath our creative imagination and serving as a principal “energy inlet” of its inspiration is our nervous system. Becker believed that one thing all human nervous systems have in common is at least a chronic twinge of insecurity, following very naturally in the wake of our emerging self-consciousness.

Stepping into our own center entails a separation from what is “not me,” and it’s here that we become aware of our exposure and vulnerability. We are all, in some degree, insecure, both in fact and feeling; and to pacify our feeling of insecurity we attach ourselves emotionally to whatever (or whomever) we hope will make us feel better – if not blissfully calm, then at least a little less anxious.

This is where Becker’s immortality projects come into play: By denying death and transferring our focus of attention and care to an imagined everlasting life somewhere else, or by identifying ourselves with something that will outlast us, our insecurity over life as it is can be assuaged – simply because death doesn’t really matter, it isn’t real. And if death doesn’t matter (because it isn’t real; it’s only a “transition”), then maybe we don’t have to face our pain, illness, loss, and decrepitude either, since the locus of value and concern has been projected out and away from life as it is.

But in our ambition to have less of life as it is – and we should make the point that this life is also our arena for experiencing inner peace, abundant joy, genuine love, and amazing grace – then we will end up losing our chance at a full life, of being fully alive.

To paraphrase Jesus: If we seek to save our life (from pain, illness, loss, decrepitude, and death) we will lose (miss out on) what makes life most precious and worth-the-while.

The Progress of Religion

My returning reader and blog follower probably has a good handle on why I keep coming back to the topic of religion. But if this is your first visit, you may well wonder why I would mount any kind of apology for religion, in a time when it happens to be a source of a lot of our social conflicts, personal suffering, and fixation on things that aren’t even real.

Can’t we just be done with religion, now that we know better?

True enough, we’d be much better off without the backwards thinking and baptized bigotry that have leeched into many forms of religion in our day. Even if I were to argue that superstitious belief and a self-righteous moralism are not inherent to a proper definition of religion, the fact remains that these are prevalent today – just as they have been for many centuries.

But simply to throw religion itself under a single categorical judgment and presume we can move on without it is dangerously short-sighted.

The diagram above provides a simple framework that can help us recover a critical appreciation of religion and its place in the longer view of human evolution. My basic working definition of religion as a driving force in human transformation proposes that the advancement towards what we can call our fulfillment as a species is not something that merely happens on its own, as it were.

Instead, it depends on the facilitation provided by a system of interlinked practices, beliefs, aspirations, and commitments – a functioning religare.

From this basic definition we should predict that the dysfunction and breakdown of religion – where it falls out of alignment with its deeper design intention – will result in the arrest of human progress and a potential foreclosure on our future as a species. If “salvation” literally refers to the process of being made whole or coming to fulfillment, then it feels warranted to say that there is no human salvation outside of or without healthy religion.

I’m not advocating here for any particular name-brand religion, but only for “an interlinked system of practices, beliefs, aspirations, and commitments” that can effectively facilitate our human progress.

My diagram identifies the four major stages of consciousness, to be understood not only as distinct “chapters” in the temporal evolution of consciousness but also as distinct “platforms” on which it engages with reality.

  • Primal consciousness is centered in our body, in its animal instincts, biorhythms, and metabolic urgencies.
  • Tribal consciousness is centered in our social group and its moral frame, where we learn how to fit in and behave ourselves.
  • Personal consciousness is centered in our identity as an actor (ego) of roles, with a subjective life all our own.
  • Communal consciousness is centered in the transpersonal realm of genuine community and higher wholeness.

Historically speaking, we can understand these four stages of consciousness as projecting the path of human cultural development over many millenniums, but also of our own individual development through a single lifetime. Each of us has “made it” to some stage and are preparing for the next – or perhaps we are stuck here for some reason.

Broad cross-sectional cultural studies suggest that a large number of us are currently in a transition of existential exile, lost and disoriented in a phase between a secure group membership (tribal stage) and our own creative authority (personal stage).

Lacking a sense of belonging, but for the most part still deficient in personal agency, we are like dazed spectators watching the world fall apart around us.

Already we should be able to see how what I’m calling healthy religion effectively facilitates human progress: in providing for a centered stability at each stage, and by offering guidance and support through each transitional phase between stages.

In fact, it is in these disruptive and disorienting phases that religion can make its most important contribution. I will go so far as to say that religion’s interlinked system of practices, beliefs, aspirations, and commitments has the design intention of supporting us through these developmental and evolutionary phases – rather than helping us find a permanent home in whatever stage we happen to be.

For that reason I have placed each major type of religion in my diagram at the critical phase-transition where its principal contribution to human progress is made.

Thus, animistic religion facilitated human progress from an original embeddedness in the natural realm, supporting us in our transition from primal to tribal consciousness. It’s important to remember that progressing from one stage to another doesn’t mean that the earlier stage is left behind in some archaic past. Instead it continues to provide a distinct mental location for consciousness to engage with reality.

In moving into the social realm of tribal and personal consciousness, in other words, we don’t leave our body behind – even though some forms of religion conjure up fantasies of doing precisely that, in their departure narratives of life after death.

It’s in the cultural space between tribal and personal consciousness that theistic religion does its work, prescribing and enforcing the moral frame of society, but also inspiring our gradual individuation as free and responsible agents (or actors). As I explore in other posts, theism itself can be analyzed into its early (ritual magic), high (orthodox belief), and late (ethical virtue) forms.

When it does its job well, theistic religion will instill in us a devotion to expressing and living out the divine virtues of patience, compassion, mercy, benevolence, and forgiveness – qualities that were earlier believed to belong uniquely to the deity and betowed on us in our formation as believers.

Post-theistic religion intends to facilitate our further progress toward fulfillment in the transpersonal (“beyond the personal”) realm. The accent of late theism on ethical virtue is now transferred from the deity (the idea of god as represented in myth, art, and theology) into our own awakened self-understanding as makers of meaning, world creators, and visionaries of optional futures.

As the name implies, post-theistic religion picks up our evolution after – or on the other side of – god (post-theos). It is not at all interested in debating (either affirming or denying) the objective existence of god, which only amounts to a needless metaphysical distraction from the real work and deeper truth of religion anyway.

Communal consciousness is participatory and consilient, where we surmount and leap beyond tribal affiliations and individual identities into the spirit of genuine community, properly conceived as the “breath” (the etymological root of spirit) that animates us, connects us, flows through us, and unites us together.

We need healthy religion to realize the full potential of our nature as human beings. If we don’t give attention to fixing what’s broken but merely toss it aside in the interest of lightening our load, the final ascent of our spiritual journey might remain forever out of reach.

Becoming Aware

To call something an “illusion” commonly assumes that it was somehow designed to deceive or mislead us into believing what isn’t true. To believe an illusion is to live in delusion, and no one wants that. What we want is the pure and simple meaning of things, without any spin or labels or partisan agendas.

The problem is that meaning itself is a spin, a narrative tapestry that our mind weaves together and drapes over the present mystery of reality.

The ultimate reality of things always stands just on the other side of our veils, essentially transcendent to whatever we may think it is or believe about it. Our veils of meaning are more or less transparent – but never completely transparent – to the present mystery of reality, separating us to some degree from the way things really are. This separation creates the necessary distance our mind needs in order to label, define, classify, and assign signficance to what’s there.

All the time and moment by moment, we are immersed in experience – in “the experience of being alive,” which Joseph Campbell insisted is ultimately what we are all, each of us, looking for. Not meaning, at least not at our core. Meaning is what we spin around our experience and the mystery of being alive, serving as context to a mystery too deep for words. By speaking of it metaphorically – as ground, source, womb, or spirit (literally the breath of life) – we can carry allusions and reminders of this ineffable experience into our construction of the world.

When we were infants and before language began to structure and organize our thoughts, the experience of being alive was all we knew, although our knowledge was intuitive and not schematic as it would increasingly become. Very soon, however, we began to construct meaning by hearing stories and telling our own. As we weaved together multiple storylines and all those veils fell into place, our world took shape. Questions of meaning and the quest for meaning soon became our preoccupation.

That’s what we mean in calling our world a “construction,” referring to a sophisticated arrangement of veils that works as a theater-in-the-round or a stained-glass cathedral, closing us inside and making life meaningful.

Storylines are illusions in the way they build assumptions and generate expectations, conjuring up the sense of a past and future. (In reality, which is always and only here-and-now, the past and future do not exist.) As the progression threshold upon which the significant action takes place, the true present of every story is where the storyline opens downward and inward by the “optic nerve” of our creative imagination and engages with our experience in the moment.

In the moving images on its veil, a story pulls consciousness out of the eternal now (i.e., the ever-present) and onto its horizontal timeline. To be so taken up into a storyline’s construction of meaning, however, we must leave the grounding mystery of our present experience. We might call this trick of good storytelling “narrative rapture”: the sensation of being taken up into the imaginal realm of story.

This paradoxical up-and-down and back-and-forth movement of consciousness between mystery and meaning, ground and world, present experience and temporal storylines reveals the topography of our spiritual adventure as human beings.

We can appreciate the great myths of religion as cultural storylines that once provided our ancestors with vast cosmic and legendary illusions (and allusions) of meaning by which they could orient their lives in time. In its function of “linking back” (Latin religare) this complex of stories (i.e., its mythology) to the present mystery of reality, religion historically was responsible for maintaining a narrative superstructure of meaning for entire societies and generations of people.

In ritual settings they recited stories, observed and handled sacred symbols that linked them to mythic time, and thereby were able to participate in both local and larger spheres of meaning while remaining grounded in (or mindfully coming back to) the present mystery of reality. They could time travel to the Beginning or End of history, to the founding events of their race and tribe, into the celestial heavens or nether regions of Earth – always coming back at the close of a ritual ceremony to their life together, somewhere at the center of it all.

The process of becoming aware, of not just becoming conscious but waking up to the deeper reality and higher significance of our lives, requires an ability to both play along the complicated storylines of life’s meaning and periodically drop back down into the grounding mystery of being.

In all of this it is essential to remember our way back to the present moment, for it is only here that we can touch reality and fully engage with the experience of being alive. As long as we remain properly grounded and centered, our veils of meaning can make life meaningful without trapping us in illusion. (I would argue that much of religion today is so trapped, due not only to a loss of presence and a failure of imagination, but even more to a mistaken and tragic insistence on the literal truth of its stories.)

The particular skills, techniques, and practices for grounding and centering ourselves in the present mystery are an integral part of the wisdom tradition that flows through yet transcends our diverse cultural zones. From time to time our veils need to be pulled aside for us to realize where we really are, that reality is indescribably perfect and perfectly meaningless, just as it is.

Your Hero Path

The design intention of our sacred stories goes far beyond explaining the universe and our place in it. Even if for so long this intention was not self-conscious, in the sense that our first storytellers did not sit down with a plan to map reality and chart the human journey through life, the product of their creative effort provided us with precisely that.

As Joseph Campbell argued, mythology arises out of the human creative imagination like the sticky thread and web-pattern emerge from the spider’s deeper nature. It would take humans thousands of years to consciously realize and begin to really understand what we had done.

It’s necessary to make a distinction between human evolution and personal development. The first term places our species within the larger context of our planet and the history of life, while the second focuses in on a fairly late stage in that longer history, from the “moment” when we became conscious of ourselves as individuals – separate, unique, exposed, and existentially on our own.

It is with this rise of our self-conscious existence as individuals that our troubles as a species officially began.

In my diagram, a purple zig-zagging arrow traces the general path of human evolution: out of the primal consciousness of animal instinct, and into the tribal consciousness of membership identity; from there into the personal consciousness of an individual ego, and finally up into the communal consciousness of spiritual wisdom, with its outstanding virtues of compassion, enlightenment, harmony, and wellbeing.

Only a few of us have completed the course from primal to communal consciousness, for reasons we’ll explore below.

Situated inside this larger evolutionary frame is another, more meandering route, but still with a clear progression of its own, known as the Hero Path. It begins inside the second womb of tribal consciousness, in what I call the “moral frame” of traditional rules and values defining what is meant by right action and a good person. Those who abide by these rules and values of conventional morality are recognized and rewarded as insiders, whereas deviants are disciplined, punished and, if necessary, excommunicated, or even in some cases executed.

The moral frame of any tribe consists of a set of instructions for bringing the behavior and beliefs of its members into conformity with its social order. Should an individual break the moral code, a prescribed penalty will likely follow. But even if the individual is not formally found out, at the very least it is expected that he or she will suffer the subjective pain of a guilty conscience. By such measures, individuals are kept in line and securely inside the tribal fold.

Some of those moral injunctions, particularly of the “Thou shalt not” variety, are intended by the tribe to close down or at least keep off-stage certain impulses and inclinations of our animal nature that would obviously conflict with its definitions of proper conduct and character (i.e., its moral frame). These can range from aggressive impulses that could upset the social order; to talents, interests, and traits that do not align with tribal gender norms and role assignments.

Whatever is not allowed on stage, whether privately discouraged or publicly condemned, ends up supressed in the personality as our shadow. Its mere existence means that we are divided within ourselves, with one part playing outward for the recognition and approval of our audience, and the other pushed down (“suppressed”), tied up, and kept out of view.

Tragically, our shadow withholds a portion of our natural light, of the human spirit within us. In Christianity, this shadow principle is personified in the figure of Lucifer, whose name literally means “light-bearer,” the one who holds (back) our light.

A good part of what is called the Hero Path entails our individual quest for the captured light or imprisoned spirit of our authentic self. Until it can be uncovered and reintegrated with our personality, our “dark side” will continue to stoke anxiety, steal our joy, undermine our health, and sabotage our relationships.

So much human agony and social conflict is the consequence of individuals and groups projecting their shadow onto others and the world around them. The Hero Path provides us with the guidance we need to find our way through.

The basic narrative plot is simple and straightforward and consists of four essential phases: (1) a departure from our tribe’s moral frame, in search of our own “individuative-reflective” (James Fowler) philosophy of life; (2) a confrontation with the shadow, manifesting our insecurities, fears, shame and self-doubt; (3) the successful reintegration of this hidden light by a process of atonement and being restored to psychic wholeness; and finally (4) our breakthrough to the transpersonal experience of a liberated life in genuine community.

There are two critical places on the Hero Path where we can lose our way. At the very beginning, when the moral frame is no longer able to contain and control the longings of our spirit, our tribe might try to foreclose on our waking aspirations with accusations of heresy, betrayal, and a failure of faith.

For many, this doubled-down tactic of authoritarian control actually works to pull us back under the covers of membership, as the predicted loss of security among our fellowship of believers is just too high a cost for the promise of fulfillment.

If our departure is successful, then the second complication comes with our need to confront the shadow and recover our spiritual light – all that bound energy of animal faith, spontaneity, imagination, creativity, curiosity, and wonder we had to push down and out of the way for the social acceptance we needed in childhood.

For many Christians, the paradoxical identity of Lucifer as one who is against us (in his aspect as adversary or Satan) and who at the same time is holding the light we had forsaken but now need to recover in order to become whole again, is impossible to reconcile with popular portrayals of the devil as one who has nothing to give us but temptation, torment, and trouble.

Obeying the moral command to refuse and renounce the devil, believers end up rejecting (all over again) the gift of their own forsaken light.

When our once-captive light is at last recovered and the division within ourselves is healed, the at-one-ment of our whole self is ready to break through and finally leave behind the limiting beliefs and compensatory attachments that had kept our life small and safe, but spiritually stifling. Now in the wide-open space of a boundless presence, we can enjoy our creative participation in the higher wholeness of genuine community.

Joy Overflowing

“Seek first the kingdom of god …” – Luke 12:31

“The kingdom of god is within you.” – Luke 17:21

The above wisdom sayings of Jesus are part of a deeper synoptic tradition, which according to scholars derived in part from an early collection of teachings called the Quelle (“source”) gospel, or “Q” for short. Although its existence is hypothetical, Q gets us even closer to the historical Jesus than the four canonical gospels, as they are more intent on constructing the situations and timeline of Jesus’ life, whereas his teachings were earlier still and are likely more true to who he was and what he was all about.

At any rate, I’m not intending this post to be about Jesus or the Bible, but rather about this particular bit of truth-telling from his essential message.

From very early on in life we are taught that we are empty inside. We might not be given this instruction in so many words, but the belief somehow gets planted in us.

Even if our parents were mindful and provident in helping us appreciate that we are perfect – or at least good enough – just as we are, we eventually had to venture outside into society where the Great Machine of consumer marketing incessantly pumps out the message of our emptiness, deficiency, inadequacy, and competitive disadvantage among our neighbors and cohorts.

We are not happy – yet: That’s the takeaway we carry with us in pursuit of what will make us happy. But because we have also been brainwashed into believing that our emptiness is more like an appetite to satisfy than a bucket to be filled, nothing can ever satisfy us for very long and our “happiness” is always gone too soon.

Maybe some more of this, a larger dose of that, an updated version (“New and Improved”) of what worked once upon a time (but not really), or a different brand of the same disappointing product, occupation, spouse, or religion – maybe that will be the answer, the key to happiness we’re looking for.

The teaching of wisdom advises us to stop looking for happiness out there, even to stop looking for happiness altogether.

Happiness is not, in fact, something we can find. No shiny new possession, fancy house, late-model car, or sexy partner will make us happy. Granted, these things might bring a flash or brief season of pleasure and excitement, but the “happiness” they might bring will not last. Paraphrasing the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “This is not the happiness you’re looking for.”

Jesus’ metaphor of the “kingdom of god” was his reference to a New World and way of life where we all love each other, where each of us is filled with a joy sourced from a wellspring deep within ourselves. Indeed, it is this internally generated joy that inspires and empowers us to love each other – even our enemy, according to Jesus. Instead of looking for love (“in all the wrong places,” as the song lyrics go), we share our love with others and the world around us.

We don’t need to go find love, but rather we take it with us on the journey of life.

So there’s the first radical insight of the Sophia Perennis – the perennial tradition of wisdom teachings that predates and transcends all the name-brand religions: Joy, as essentially different from the marketing illusion of happiness, is not derived from or found in anything outside us, even in another person. Should we be lucky to find another person to love, but we bring with us an expectation that he or she will finally make us happy, the love will eventually exhaust itself and our happiness will fade.

The reason, once again, is because real love is the outflow of joy, not its source.

For the source of joy we turn to a second insight of wisdom, which is that the kingdom of god is within us. If love is the outflow of a joy that gushes up from deeper inside us, then peace is its wellspring.

By this is meant much more than a calm and relaxed nervous state. True enough, a genuine inner peace will typically induce an experience of neurophysical composure, emotional balance, and mental clarity. But the Great Machine has tricked us into believing that simply by manipulating these symptoms of inner peace we can come to possess it.

This is yet another classic example from Western medicine where treating the symptom is presumed to address its underlying (and likely systemic) cause. We may feel better for a time, but vibrant health and wellness elude us, and we might actually be worse off farther along.

Lots of behavioral, sensory, and chemical interventions can help us relax and release the strain of everyday life. They do indeed help us feel better for the most part, but their effect is relatively short-lived. In the case of chemical interventions, whether legal, illegal, over-the-counter, or by a doctor’s prescription, we tend to need increasing amounts for the desired effect, which runs the risk of dependency, addiction, and even death.

But society (including conventional religion) has so successfully pitched our expectations outside ourselves for what will save us, that it’s nearly impossible to break free from the spell.

Here’s the truth as Wisdom sees it. We will not find lasting joy if we go looking for it in love, for love is the outflow of joy and not its wellspring. For that we must go deeper into ourselves – so deep in fact that the very sense we have of ourselves as lacking something, needing something, missing something, and looking for something is surrendered on our descent of the grounding mystery within.

As the inner wellspring of joy, this peace (as we can read in many sacred writings) “surpasses all understanding” – simply because true inner peace is found in a place where no words or even thoughts can reach, where it isn’t taken into our possession as much as our ego dissolves and we become one with it.

The paradox is that we are trying to describe something that is indescribable, to put words on an experience which is effable, utterly beyond words. Nevertheless, from deep within ourselves, in the very ground of our being, the busy retail marketplace of the Great Machine is seen-through for all its deception and futility. What we’ve been looking for has been right here, inside us, all along.

An illuminating story from the canonical Gospel According to John (4:5-14) brings it all together for us.

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”