Table of Contents

Making progress with love
aka the ongoing work of enlightenment or self realization

Waking up a little at a time. Making progress with love is a phrase Leela gave me in 2007 to replace enlightenment. Words that suggest a static state as the goal of the spiritual quest are misleading. The spiritual quest has no endpoint. There is always more progress to be made, more enlightened to become. There are of course thresholds, magic moments when the work I've done over the past few days months or decades conspires to create a strongly noticeable difference and I feel like I'm flying, or maybe in hell. Thresholds are often unpleasant. Crossing a threshold is the worst possible time for me to slack off. I'm entering a new phase, and how things start sets the tone. The elation or terror of crossing a threshold is a sign I need to get to work right now. The work is always the same: surrender to Leela and let her guide me to what's next. Surrendering to Leela and making progress with love are essentially synonymous: two very different ways of looking at the same thing. Making progress with love was the theme of a website I wrote about the spiritual quest after I woke up a little in 2006. Waking up, surrendering to Leela, and making progress with love are all the same thing seen from different angles.

Progress with love is permanent. When I make progress with love and wake up a little, I don't go back to sleep again in that particular way. That particular battle is a battle I've won for good. Progress with love is permanent. It's more permanent than anything else I know of because progress survives my death: I take my progress with me into my next life. Leela found a way to let me know progress is permanent early on, by sometime in 2007. I needed to know that so I could hang on to my sanity through all the agonizing ups and downs headed my way. Before I began surrendering to Leela I'd had a number of moments when I thought I was waking up but my so-called progress would soon fade. My experience with isa is a good example. I got a huge buzz out of that weekend but it only lasted a few weeks. It was the same for all the other weekend retreats I did in Tallahassee: I got a buzz then it fizzled. Likewise with the dancing assignment TH gave me while I was still living in Tallahassee, and the mushroom trip he sent me on soon after I moved to Boulder: they were both just tricks that got me feeling all exalted, but then it fizzled. In all those cases I was trying to make progress by doing what I thought I should do, what some book or teacher said I should do. It doesn't work that way. To make progress I had to surrender to wisdom in me, aka Leela, and not some outside source. I finally began doing that in 2006.

An endless journey. The idea that enlightenment comes all at once is laughable. Progress comes step by step. The journey never ends. My quest consumes an uncountable number of lifetimes, but that's what everyone has. My only choice is do I make progress or do I keep living the same damn life over and over again? Making progress with love doesn't make my life easier, it makes it better, more challenging, more interesting. But I have to give up old ways to have new ones. I had to give up my crutches: no booze, no drugs, no killing time. I have to live my life unanesthetized and undistracted to make progress, and that means taking a stand in opposition to this culture, so obsessed with drugs and distraction. But making progress is the only thing that makes life worth living. The only thing that gives life meaning. Drugs and distractions don't give life meaning. Rather, they slowly (sometimes quickly) rob me of the life I have by turning my life into prepackaged shit.

Making progress is never comfortable. I take comfort in the familiar life I've created for myself; progress is pushing past that. Rather than comfort, making progress brings ecstasy. Leela let me start tasting ecstasy very early on, when I was still in my failed marriage, building strength to leave. I felt it then as a sort of sweet fire that would wash over me as I returned to the mundane conscious world. Since then I've tasted a bewildering array of ecstatic states, ranging from sublime to outright painful and terrifying. Ecstasy isn't always fun, but it always gets my attention. As a kid I made progress with love naturally because I hadn't alienated myself from Leela with drugs. She led me into spontaneous meditations through childhood. Once I shut that down my spiritual quest became a farce. I floundered, making no progress with love. But I had to do all that floundering. I had to keep trying no matter how useless it seemed. That's what I had to do to get to the point where I could begin to make progress, the point where Leela could guide me. Once I got there, my life turned into a series of crises Leela guided me into. Each crisis brought me a step closer to full surrender to Leela, to god in me. Now I see that making progress is always a crisis, it's always uncomfortable. It's breaking something down so something new can be born, and breaking part of myself down always hurts. I've made it through a lot of external crises to where I have the basics in place: I'm living my life the way Leela wants me to. Now I work on refining all those basics, a lovely unending task. And I still have internal crises. Leela engineers internal crises out of my ordinary life events, for instance an exhilarating or frustrating night's dancing, combined with say a particular movie she guides me to watch via muscle testing, to create internal dissonance and breakthrough. And now that I've finally made enough progress with love that I'm ready to love again, Leela has given me Ariel to love, aka my beloved Miss Tress. Every time we're together it fuels my progress with the jet fuel of love.

Progress with loving what? Progress with love means getting better at loving the world as it is. This world, the only one there is. Dreaming about a better world is a distraction, a waste of time. Spiritual progress is learning to love the world as it is. It's politically incorrect to love the world as it is. The more progress I make, the less agreement I have with any brand of politics, left right or middle. The existence of politics in any form is a sign our human culture is broken beyond repair.

From conscious to creative. There's a dividing line, a critical moment: the moment the work I do to make progress stops being merely conscious and starts becoming creative, a little bit at a time. For me that was the moment Leela first spoke to me and I began surrendering to my own internal authority. The progress I made before that, via purely conscious efforts, was haphazard and glacially slow. Once Leela spoke to me I started finding practical ways to be guided by my body rather than my thinking and my progress began accelerating. The more progress I made, the more making progress sped up. I'm now at the point where everything I do, all day and all night, is part of the work of making progress because I surrender to the wisdom in my body in everything I do and don't do, moment to moment. Learning to surrender has been a long rocky road. I set out on it in 2006. I finally feel like I'm doing pretty well with it but it took fifteen years of hard work to get here.

Atman is Brahman is the classic Hindu teaching of nondualism: the spark of divinity in me is not just part of, but in some inexplicable way the same thing as, universal being. I'm not just a speck, an insignificant player in this vast cosmic game, I am all this. I am the world. I have the potential to make progress with love, to become more like god because I already am god at some deep level that I can't currently reach. I lost sight of that somewhere along the way. We all did. We have to lose sight of our oneness with everything to make this a game worth playing. A game that requires an uncountable number of lifetimes to win, where winning is simply finding a deeply satisfying fulfilling life in the midst of this mess. That's a vision of heaven I can relate to, heaven right here. When Leela first insisted I contemplate Atman is Brahman I found it riveting but baffling. It became a practice, a meditation: just consider the possibility. What if it were true? It became my new koan, and like all the koans Leela has given me over the years it's been fruitful. As I contemplated nondualism, my take on it morphed from bewilderment to acceptance to growing appreciation. Leela showed me that only by making progress with love, only by making a permanent change in myself, can I break out of the endless cycle of repetition, endlessly repeating this one life forever. Making no progress forever. A fate so much worse than death, which Leela assures me is never a bad thing.

The wisdom of the moment. Attention is my secret to making progress with love. I make progress any time I turn away from thinking and pay attention to the present moment inside and out. If my head is full of thinking I can't be present because the mental noise demands my attention. But if I'm paying attention and present in any moment, I gain the wisdom of that moment. Every moment has wisdom. This is a vast topic I can't write about. I'm not trying to keep any secrets. Attention is wordless; it can't be spoken or written of. All these stories taken together are about attention.

Brutally honest self examination is what I strive for as I write these stories. Being brutally honest with myself is a crucial element for making progress with love. Looking at my whole life for what it is and pulling no punches with myself. Human lives are never pretty looked at this closely, this unflinchingly. Making progress is never comfortable. I have to find my own weak areas then hit them especially hard, going overboard if anything in owning up to my own self delusion, my own pettiness and meanness. Exposing all the things I would rather not see about myself in broad daylight. All the things booze hid from me. It's no wonder winning the game is such an unpopular option.

Pride is an enemy of making progress with love. I don't own the progress I make with love. No one owns love. Progress is nothing to take pride in. Yes, I have to work harder than I've ever worked before to make progress, but the progress I make is a sign of my surrender, not my success. Whatever progress I've made, Leela did 99% of the work. I am the one who has to give up, give way, surrender to what's real deep inside me. My ego and my pride are what I have to overcome so I can dedicate my life to Leela: that which is real in me. My thinking self, my ego wants to be proud of my progress but that's regress, it's backsliding into my own darkness, my own misery. Pride is an example of taking the game too seriously.

Contend and become. That was the name of the second website I wrote, back in the day. I thought I knew what it meant back then but I didn't. I was deluding myself. Contending means whenever an unpleasant sensation or feeling arises inside me I don't try to escape it or even ameliorate it. I turn to it, dive into it, struggle as hard as I can to grasp it, to understand what it's about. That includes physical pain of all kinds. I'm perfectly willing to use painkillers if I can satisfy myself that I know why this hurts and painkillers are the right answer. I err on the side of bearing pain and discomfort until I'm sure. That's the kind of gumption required: no easy outs. No slacking off until it's genuinely time to rest. As TH taught us, just because you're out of one kind of energy doesn't mean you're out of energy. His syntax, not mine.

Deep homeostasis. Honest self examination and contending both point to an underlying principle Leela has taught me in the years since 2006. I hear echoes of the biological notion of homeostasis in it. I'll give a gruesome example. Sometime in the years leading up to the abrupt end of my drinking, probably around 2013, I had what I thought of at the time as my plague of boils. It started with a large pimple on my right knee, which I of course popped. Over the next month I had weeping eruptions on my arms and legs, a couple dozen at the height of it. I would get something like a pimple, then whether I popped it or not it would grow into an open but painless lesion. The big ones were two to three inches across. I tried to discipline myself not to pick at the scabs, with mixed success, but whether I picked or not the scabs would come off, often on my sheets, and new ones form. To me, the really striking element was the absence of physical or psychological pain. I've been a hypochondriac at times regarding my cardiac arrhythmias and any tingling sensations, the latter stemming from losing Sam to a stroke, and also Tim. These huge pusfilled weeping sores didn't faze me a bit. I never saw the doc because I knew the diagnosis would be idiopathic blah-de-blah and all the expensive tests inconclusive. Leela was insulating me from any associated pain. After about a month the sores all dried up and went away, leaving no scars. Even the darkened areas of skin I thought would be there forever faded away pretty quickly. I didn't figure it out until years later. My liver was being harshly bombarded by my relentless drinking but I hadn't got to the point where I'd be able to stop. So Leela, my body, chose my skin as the site of a big detox, thus keeping the toxins well away from vital organs. The underlying principle, as I understand it, is to protect and strengthen whatever's weakest or most stressed, relying on stronger organs and systems to take up the slack. Now my goal is to live my life in such a way that all my organs and systems finally fail at once, rather than being brought down by one diseased organ in an otherwise healthy body. The first steps toward that were to get myself free of booze and other drugs and to correct all my bad eating habits.

Headroom. There's no shortage of headroom on the spiritual quest. Enlightenment and words to that effect make it sound like a one-time deal: roshi whacks me on the skull and Hey, I'm enlightened! Waking up is another phrase used to name the goal. It's even worse. I think of waking up as a one-time deal because that's how I experience it: I was sleeping then I woke up. Enlightenment and waking up work fine to express the goal if I understand the process. Enlightenment means having a little more light; waking up means waking up a little more. The advantage of making progress with love: ongoing spiritual work is built in. Making progress implies no endpoint.

Like being in love. Making progress with love feels like being in love. When I fall in love I'm in tune with my sweetheart. There is a deep sense of harmony between us, a sympathetic vibration. The same thing happens on a deeper level when I make progress with love. When I make progress I'm living in harmony with Leela, living the life that leads to self realization. Nothing feels better than that. Making progress connects me with Leela's playfulness. Playfulness is missing in the dreary and laborious formal meditation practices spiritual teachers would have me do. I don't listen to them. I find my own way to make progress, with Leela's help. Her kind of playful spiritual work makes me feel like I'm in love because being in love is a scaled down version of making progress with love. Making progress with love is the fullest expression of being in love. If the work I do to make progress doesn't make me feel like I'm in love, I'm doing it wrong.

Falling in love with the world. I did an abrupt about face in my spiritual quest in 2006. Up until then I'd only ever looked outward, at the world, searching for guidance in books and teachers. I did that for an uncountable number of lifetimes. Starting in 2006 I turned inward for the truth, finding wisdom in my own body using muscle testing and body sensing. It took me fifteen years to realize it, but what happened that day in February was I started falling in love with Leela, with the world as it is. Now I'm crazy in love with the world. It's a wonderful way to be. The biggest obstacle I had to get over to get here was all the ways I thought the world needed to be fixed. But the world can't be fixed. All the ways different people think it should be fixed contradict each other, they cancel each other out. It reminds me of the story of the Tower of Babel: to keep people from getting too high and mighty god confounded the tongues, or in this case ideologies. And no god is needed; it seems to be in human nature to multiply ideologies endlessly. In the liberal camp I was born into the varieties of wokeness seem infinite, and woke people hate other woke people who profess faith almost but not quite like theirs most savagely of all. The world doesn't need fixing. It's simply what is. We can take it or leave it. Leela demands I love the world just the way it is. Learning that has been a process of surrender to Leela that began in 2006 when she first spoke to me and reached a new plateau in 2021 when I moved into my new home. Here I surrender all the details of my life to her. Now my ordinary living is making progress with love. My life is full of love because I'm living Leela's way. It's breathtakingly liberating and unspeakably sweet. The world didn't change but I did and now I adore the world. I'm so happy and grateful to be here.