The transformation of religion from dogma to direct mystical awakening is not limited to a small bunch of Unity churches on the West Coast of America. Richard Holloway was the Bishop of Edinburgh till he retired in 2000. His attitude toward religious life has been totally transformed since his awakening a few years ago, which he described to me with radiant innocence.
“I describe it as living in a state of expectant uncertainty. It’s a kind of potentiality toward the future and an unprogrammed excitement about it. It’s not being externally guided by some prepackaged program. It’s like a new discovery of the world, a fresh sense of wonder, as in childhood. If you like, Adam and Eve leaving Eden’s gated community, but without the sense of the “fall.” A fresh, anticipatory feeling — a new world to explore.”
He told me that he used to conceptualize God as a superbeing outside the human continuum to whom one sends letters and tries to make contact:
“I no longer have that idea of a divine object projected onto the blank screen of space with whom I can be in touch by sending letters ‘to him who lives, alas, away,’ as Hopkins put it. For me, prayer is no longer a specific activity; it’s a mode of attention, sensitivity towards the other, whether it’s a human being or a rowan tree on my beloved Pentland Hills.”
Bishop Holloway feels he can find God everywhere, behind his own eyes, and in everything he sees. The boundaries of what is spiritual and what is not have melted.
Father Alan Jones is the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The giant stone structure reminded me of Canterbury Cathedral, where I went to school. It brought back memories of listening to the catechism in the damp, dark crypt. So I was amazed at this energetic upbeat man in a God collar, sitting in his study overlooking the gothic arches, sipping his tea as he told me:
“God is being democratized. You can’t do things based just on authoritarian religion anymore; if it isn’t freely given, it is not spirituality at all. We are moving from the tribal to the transformational. We want communion with each other, but it’s not going to be based on someone else’s say-so. I love the tradition, but I think you have to be a revolutionary, you’ve got to be subversive, you’ve got to be in conversation with it all the time.”
For Christians like Holloway, Jones, and Morrissey, everything has been distilled down to the discovery of divinity within the ordinary and the human. It is not “out there” anymore. Buddhists call this the jewel in the lotus.
Says Morrissey: “We live in God. God is living and moving and having being as each one of us, and we are living and moving and having being as God. It is ever present, there’s not more of it here and less of it there. There is a beautiful experience called human life, filled with drama and comedy and pathos. The universe is evolving itself also. We are full of God. Every one of us. As we are awakening, so is the universe awakening itself, through us.”
This willingness to pay close attention to what is real now, to the actuality of the human experience, takes the “futuring” out of religion. Whatever is worthy of our worship is here in the moment, and the rest is a figment of imagination, a creation of the mind.
Eckhart Tolle talked of it like this: “Don’t seek where you cannot find, in the future. Bring the intensity that is behind the seeking into now, and seek in now. Because the portal is here. There seems to be a future, but ultimately there is no future because it never happens; it never arrives; nobody’s ever met it. The future is a mind form. Then seeking gets trapped in mind forms. If you seek in the now, at first it might be disconcerting. The now seems so insignificant, or it seems to be an obstacle to my wanting to get somewhere or to be something. Seeking is transformed into alertness. That intensity becomes alertness in which arises whatever form this now takes.”
Translucent religion is based on a deep respect for, and attention paid to, our moment-to-moment experience. Jeffrey Miller left his life in Boston in the early 1970s when he was twenty-one and traveled to India. He met many spiritual masters, including the Hindu sage Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him the name Surya Das. He lived and studied with many Tibetan masters, going on to establish Tibetan monasteries in the United States in the late seventies. In 1980 Surya completed two traditional dzogchen (literally, “great perfection”) retreats, each one lasting three years, three months, three days, and three hours: almost seven years of monastic reclusion. He was the first person born in the West to become a lama in a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Lama Surya Das is steeped in Tibetan Buddhism. He is one of a great number of people who turned their back on the religion of their upbringing and wholeheartedly embraced the religion of another culture.
But today, like Bishop Holloway, Surya Das has also come to value the essence more than the form: “I am a Buddhist deep down, but it’s not like it is the core of my being. I would like to be not too attached to that idea and to recognize that it is just one more affiliation or -ism. With -isms come schisms. That is why I think spirituality is so important today: based in personal experience, verging on mysticism, going inward and deeper, not just going outward from spirituality to religion and institutions. We have had too much of that, we are top-heavy. We are out of touch with the inner life thread, the mysticism that is the heart thread. Religions are like the body, the church, the temple, but the God that animates it is the heart.”
While translucents unanimously value spiritual experience over dogma, they also recognize that any experience can become plastic within nanoseconds. There is always the temptation to hold onto an insight or glimpse of connection, and to make it into a treasured memory. Then Iago uses moments out of time to distract us from the present moment, returning us to living in the past. It was through meeting ministers within the established church that I realized how widespread the translucent revolution has become. It is no longer a subculture, an alternative to the mainstream; it has infiltrated the mainstream itself.
When Bishop Holloway began to speak more openly about his own awakening, he found that many people in the Anglican Church were very critical, but he also experienced, in many others, an enormous sigh of relief:
“I’m not trying to persuade anyone into anything or dissuade anybody out of anything; I’m just trying to be true to my own experience. But I do find that people who read what I’ve written tell me that it has given them permission to say “yes” to what they are experiencing in their lives, to own what is happening to them as well. It’s one of those lightbulb experiences, unique only in that we are all having it in our own way. There does seem to be the sense that this is happening to a lot of people. I think that they’re discovering that the prison door was never actually locked. I don’t quite know what it is that made them get up and push it, and see it swinging open and discover that all the prison guards had disappeared. There is a sense of having been a prisoner to one’s delusions and of finally realizing that the snake is just a rope.”
I spoke to Jean Houston, Eckhart Tolle, and the ministers from churches of several denominations, encompassing congregations of tens of thousands of people. I spoke to longtime meditation teachers like Christopher Titmus. I found unanimous agreement that they have been witnessing a massive shift from dogma to direct spiritual awakening in the last ten to fifteen years. Since the phenomenal success of his Conversations with God books, Walsch has met with tens of thousands of people:
“Not only do all people have the potential for having this precise experience of connectedness with the divine, people in fact have the experience of it, but they simply do not know it. And because they do not know it, they do not experience their own experience. More and more people are giving themselves permission to truly open their eyes and see what is really there. And to believe what they are seeing. As more and more people believe that it is possible, more and more people see what was always there.”
From my 2005 #1 Bestseller The Translucent Revolution.