A new HIV treatment program, part 1: The background drugs

I’ve been approved for “compassionate use” of MK-0518 (Raltegravir)!

Merck will provide the drug free of charge for the duration of this access program (which basically expires once the drug receives FDA approval, probably by the end of the year). In exchange, I give Merck access to my medical information and bloodwork and they can use this information to add to the data used in making Raltegravir the most effective drug it can be.

I expect to pick up my MK-0518 as soon as tomorrow or early next week and to immediately begin a combination therapy for the HIV. This will be only the second time I’ve been on a combination therapy since May 2004. (Various toxicities and skin rashes and liver problems and other health issues and a general lack of good alternatives have prevented me from having a stable anti-HIV treatment program in place since then).

I plan to blog my experiences with this therapy as it impacts my mind, body, and spirit. I am currently feeling optimistic and hopeful, but worried, too.

I won’t be taking MK-0518 alone. I’ll also be taking three other drugs: Norvir 100 MG softgel capsules (1 capusle twice per day), Prezista 300MG (2 tablets twice per day), and Epivir (300MG Tablet, once daily).

I’m experienced with the Norvir and Epivir, and it’s a trip down memory lane that I’m not thrilled to be going down. Epivir in particular worries me, but it’s been so long since I was last on the drug I can’t remember exactly what the problem was. It might have been either pancreatitis or peripheral neuropathy (or both). If the side effects from any of the drugs are severe, then I may be forced to stop ALL the drugs so that the doctors can try to pin down which drug is responsible for the side effects. That would be a complex process and any interruption of the drug routine could bode ill for my overall success. Stopping the drugs would increase the possibilities for resistance.

 

I wish I were certain which side effect Epivir caused, but I know that I have also taken the drug in 1994 and 1995 (back when it was called simply 3TC) without any severe side effects. I’ll mention my concerns to my physicians but they’re not strong enough concerns to make me insist on replacing Epivir with another drug. Still, it’s a worry I wish I didn’t have.

Here are the three background drugs that will be joining MK-0518 in my drug pantheon…

Epivir.According to AIDSmeds.com, Epivir “is in a category of HIV medications called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). Epivir prevents HIV from altering the genetic material of healthy T-cells. It works at a stage in the HIV life cycle when the HIV is already inside the T-cell. This prevents the cells from producing new virus and decreases the amount of virus in the body.”

Sounds good, but my virus is already resistant to it. Its presence in the pantheon is to provide a balance. It’s a class of drugs that isn’t otherwise represented, so if there’s any chance that it could be partially effective it’s a good one to include. I like to think of reverse transcriptase inhibitors as sort of like a poison that stops the virus from reproducing itself. Poison for the virus, but reasonably low in toxicity to my body.

1,000 Flowers Visualization: Reverse transcriptase is like a chain, and the Epivir is a gardening shear. It is a strong shear that breaks the chain and stops the viral weed from growing…

Prezista and Norvir. These are two protease inhibitors. I’m experienced and resistant to Norvir, but Prezista is a new one for me. Ideally, Prezista prevents cells infected by HIV from producing new virus, so it works once HIV is already inside a T-cell. The drug was approved for the treatment of HIV by the US FDA on June 23, 2006, so it’s one of the most recent drugs in my pantheon. Combined with Norvir, is only approved for HIV-infected adults who have tried other anti-HIV drug regimens in the past (and done not so well). Norvir helps the Prezista to stay at high levels in the blood, which is important for the drug’s effectiveness. It should be taken with a food.

According to this site, “Some of the patients in the trials already had cross resistance to Prezista when the trial began (due to their extensive resistance to other protease inhibitors), and this resistance got worse as they used the drug — showing the importance of having more than one active antiretroviral, instead of introducing new drugs one by one as they become available, and then often losing them to resistance.” So it’s entirely possible that because I’m resistant to other protease inhibitors my body will be resistant to Prezista from day one. Resistance is also a problem with Prezista, as missing even a single dose or failing to take a dose with food could result in an increase in viral resistance. Maintaining strict adherence to the drug dosing routine is of critical importance in making Prezista as effective as possible for me.


1,000 Flowers Visualization: Protease is like a stringy cynanide-filled poison. Protease inhibitors are like vacuum tubes that just suck out the poison capsules and leave everything else in place.

I’ll blog more on the integrase inhibitor once I have it in my possession and am ready to begin taking the new treatment. In the meantime, let’s see if I can come up with a spontaneous little prayer…

Garden shears, Epivir, may you stay strong and sharp!
Cut, cut, cut the chains that bind the noxious weeds to my garden
Do not stop until all the bonds are broken and the weeds unbound
Do not grow weary overwhelmed, for you are my friend

And together we can restore beauty to the garden of One Thousand Flowers…

What strong suction power you have, Prezista and Norvir,
Suck out the protease like poison and you will slow the growth of the putrid stalks and spears

Do not lose suction, do not give up power. You are smart,
Smarter than the weeds, you can fight back and resist them, in whole not in part,
You are not alone, and you are loved and supported. Have no fears.

Soon there will be a wheel of light in the garden of One Thousand Flowers

And there will be the strength of One Thousand Powers

The Thousand Flowers: a guided visualization

HIV/AIDS patients are invited to record this visualization in their own voice, making changes appropriate for their own treatment situation if necessary, and then listen to it daily as a guided meditation. Time: approximately 10 minutes.

“The Thousand F lowers” in Microsoft Word

“The Thousand Flowers” in PDF

Once upon a time there was a garden, a beautiful field of a thousand flowers. There were purple and red and golden flowers. White flowers and blue flowers. Flowers of many petals, flowers that look like radiant starbursts, and flowers so bright they make you want to smile.

See the field of a thousand flowers! Notice the differences in their colors, sizes, and shapes. They are as wholesome as spring itself.

Smell the flowers! Smell a dozen of them. Smell the different kinds of flowers, enjoy the differences in their scent.

The flowers grew in a rich, fertile, moist soil filled with nourishing goodness from the earth.

Run! Run through the field barefoot!

Listen. Do you hear birds and the hum of insects? Do you feel a warm breeze or a cool and crisp wind?

See, smell, and feel everything, and know that it is good.

Once upon a time, there were a thousand flowers in a field, one for each T-cell inside the gardener. Then a fierce wind blew the seeds of a noxious weeds into the field of gold and purple. The weeds grew fast and ugly. They were twisty, vine-shaped, wrinkly and foul-smelling. Some grew taller than cornstalks. Their stems were thick and covered in fungus, warts, and thorns. The head of the stalk was a hideous round ball with finger-like protrusions, a mockery of beautiful flowers.

The weeds were harsh to the touch, selfish, and greedy. They cared nothing for the flowers, only for their own bottomless need to steal the sunlight and water and soil for themselves. The weeds grew tall and tried to steal all the goodness of life, refusing to share the Earth with the gentle flowers.

The gardener could no longer run through the fields of gold and purple while barefoot, for the thorns would cut the gardener.

Soon the beauty of the flowers was choked off by thousands and thousands of weeds.

The flowers began to die. For each flower that died, a hundred noxious weeds took its place.
Soon the field was dark and dreary. At first there were still hundreds of flowers, mixed with the weeds. And then there were a hundred flowers, and many, many more weeds. And then there were only about three or four dozen lonely little flowers. One by one they were picked off, and new seedlings would struggle to grow in their place. But there were so many weeds, the new flowers were quickly extinguished. The flowers were overwhelmed.

The gardener consulted botanists. They explained that the weeds needed to be managed. The weeds required special kinds of food in order to live. They explained that the gardener could safely starve the weeds of the food they needed without harming the flowers.

The weeds need reverse transcriptase. Reverse transcriptase looks like chains. Reverse transcriptase makes the weeds heavy and clunky and helps them to violently clobber flowers and other weeds.

The weeds need protease. Protease looks like tiny little cylinders, stringy little capsules of cyanide. The poison makes the weeds poisonous.

The weeds also need integrase. Integrase looks like a corkscrew, twisting, turning, tighter and tighter.

The soil beneath the flowers is good soil. The food these weeds need is not found organically in the soil. The food comes from other weeds. The botanists explained that the weeds are cannibals. They eat other weeds to make more weeds like themselves.

So the botanists created special plant foods and gardening tools that would block reverse transcriptase and protease. They made special garden shears, shears strong enough to cut the chains of reverse transcriptase. Every day the gardener had to take the shears and cut the reverse transcriptase chains.

Picture the chains of reverse transcriptase breaking. Picture the shears breaking the chains.

At last, after many years of effort, the botanists created a special tool that would block protease. Protease is a poison-containing cylinder, so the tool had to be very special. It was a vacuum tube that would suck the poison cylinder inside and dissolve it, making it inert. The gardener had to vacuum the field every day, sucking out the protease and turning it into harmless mulch.

Picture the vacuum clearing the field of protease. Picture the vacuum sucking the protease out of the garden and making it disappear.

The shears and the vacuum worked for a while, but eventually the weeds learned how to weasel their way around them. The gardener saw that the weeds were coming back and grew exhausted at fighting a tiring and constant battle.

At last, after many years of effort, the botanists created a very special tool that would block integrase, too. It was a bubble-maker that would make bubbles that would surround the integrase and keep it away from the flowers. The integrase would get trapped in the bubble and float away, disappearing forever.

Picture the bubbles surrounding the weeds and protecting the flowers. See the bubbles floating away, weeds along with them, and disappearing.

With this new tool, the gardener’s hope was restored. The gardener needs only to blow into the bubble-maker and many integrase-blocking bubbles would appear. Every day the gardener blew into the bubble-maker, once in the morning and once at night.

Blow! Blow into the bubble maker.

The bubbles floated through the field of purple and gold flowers and noxious weeds, and the bubbles would surround the noxious weeds and sail them away.

Seeing the weeds surrounded and trapped in a bubble, the gardener grew very inspired and hopeful!

See the bubbles fill the field of flowers and carry away all the noxious weeds.

After much time of neglect from hopelessness, the gardener vacuumed the garden every day with the protease vacuum, and now he found the vacuum very powerful. It would pull the weeds up from the roots and they would float away in the bubble.

The gardener also was inspired to use the shears to trim the reverse transcriptase chains. Soon the chains were broken and no new chains took their place. The broken chains were pulled up into the vacuum or sailed away in the bubbles, too.

Soon young flower seedlings appeared. They were young and fragile, but they were persistent. Some were overcome by weeds (sad to say), but more flowers would spring up to replace them. Soon there were dozens of flowers… then a hundred… then many hundreds of beautiful flowers…
See the new flowers sprouting up and growing strong and healthy…

A few weeds would crop up here or there, but so long as the gardener was diligent with the trimming and vacuuming and blowing the bubbles, the flowers stayed healthy. The gardener gave the flowers plenty of good food, sunshine, and pure and refreshing water.

Every day the gardener trimmed the weeds with the shears. Every day the gardener vacuumed the weeds and sucked them away. Every day the gardener ran through the garden blowing bubbles. The bubbles would finds the new weeds coming up and enclose them, keeping them away from the flowers.

Once again the garden was beautiful. There were magenta and red and silver flowers. There were orange flowers and violet flowers. Flowers of many petals, flowers that look like beautiful wheels of light, and flowers as bright as a smiling sun. The gardener counted the flowers once and stopped when he reached a thousand.

Once in a while a weed would pop up, but the gardener didn’t worry. The gardener kept to a strict regimen: breaking the chains, vacuuming the cylinders, and blowing protective bubbles. The gardener did this routine every day, without fail.

(softer, gentler)

At last, the garden was protected, safe, welcoming, and beautiful. Why, the gardener could even run through the soft fertile soil barefoot, frolicking in the beauty of the flowers, enjoying a lovely fragrance, or resting for a while with the flowers under the sunlight, listening to the sounds of the garden, enjoying clean air, and feeling the warm and soothing raindrops of fresh water falling from the sky.

If your God is homophobic, then homophobia is your God.

A huge question in the culture war is this: Does God approve of homosexuality? Most debate today happens between folks in one of these four camps: conservative religionists, liberal religionists, secularists, and spiritualists. And all four ways of thinking about gays are wrong.

Both conservative religionists and liberal religionists claim to be talking meaningfully about such questions. Conservatives say that their scriptures or sacred traditions dictate that homosexual sex is against God’s will. Liberals say that the conservatives are misconstruing scripture and tradition. They say that when we look critically at tradition, then a gay-friendly (or at least gay-tolerant) vision of God’s will emerges.

These people think of homosexuality as a “moral issue.” They’re talking about homosexuality as a behavior and whether or not specific sexual acts are okay. Even many gay people think this way, for instance when they say that apart from what they do in the bedroom they are exactly the same as everybody else.

Religionists are joined in the debate over homosexuality by two groups that have rejected religion altogether: secularists and spiritualists. The secularists have rejected religion and with it the whole notion that there is a divinely-ordered meaning or purpose to human sexuality, finding insufficient evidence for the existence of a heavenly being. Homosexuality, they say, is a natural human variation and neutral in value. Its purpose can only be ascertained through objective empirical research by biologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and historians.

Gay spiritualists have also rejected religion, but for a very different reason. They look at the history of religion and notice that a dramatic shift occurred about 2,500 years ago in cultures across the globe. At that time, matriarchal and goddess-worshipping spiritual traditions were replaced by patriarchal religions that enforced rigid social hierarchies of male dominance. Evidence suggests that taboos against same-sex sexual behavior were non-existent in many of the pagan cults. Indeed, same-sex behavior was frequently given a place of honor in many tribes. Persons who would today be called gay were often revered as spiritual leaders. Gay spiritualists say that gays should stay away from homophobic religions that are beyond redemption and instead reclaim a pagan spirituality.

Conservative religionists, liberal religionists, secularists, and spiritualists account for virtually all public debate about homosexuality in every religious, secular, and spiritual orientation in existence. These are ideal types, of course, and few people fit exclusively and perfectly in a single camp.

When you think about it, neither the conservatives nor the liberals are actually telling us a damn thing about God’s stand on gays. They’re only telling us about what certain religious authorities and sacred books say. Yet in rejecting religion, neither the secularists nor the spiritualists have given us satisfying answers to questions concerning the value, meaning, and purpose of homosexuality.

There’s another way of thinking about homosexuality that honors all that is true in the beliefs of each of these four camps even as it reveals their weaknesses. I call this approach integral, because it is inspired by the integral spiritual philosophy of Ken Wilber. The integral approach begins with a radical question: what if everybody’s views about homosexuality are true? Since there is so much disagreement, this thought is nearly impossible to entertain. That is, unless you consider that beliefs about homosexuality evolve in levels of increasing truth and adequacy.

Evolving levels of beliefs about homosexuality? That’s right. The integral approach recognizes the fact that human beings undergo development, including the formation of worldviews that see homosexuality in radically different ways. Evidence from developmental studies of human psychology, language, culture, and sociology provide the framework for determining the stages. In Integral Psychology, Ken Wilber summarized over 100 different psychological and spiritual models of development, and found the striking fact that many are similar.

If something like an integral approach is valid, then disagreements about homosexuality must be understood in light of the level of psychospiritual development evidenced in each worldview. Basically, there is a magical view of homosexuality, a mythic view, a rational view, a pluralistic view, and an integral view.

The magical view formed beginning about 10,000 BCE, when the first signs of same-sex expressions of love and eroticism began to emerge into consciousness. By and large, this was a time when the world was experienced as a “polytheistic” world of goddesses and gods, demons, fairies, dragons, and other fanciful creatures. Homosexual expressions were accepted as an honorable and sacred part of life in many cultures. This is the truth honored by the gay spiritualists who want to reclaim the values of this era.

About 2,500 years ago, human consciousness evolved into a mythic mode of awareness of homosexuality. It was a conformist, law-and-order way of seeing in which everything in a culture’s narrow vision was judged to be the “true” or “best.” Believers in the myths were saved, but unbelievers were condemned to hell. Homosexual expressions were frequently limited and even stigmatized in these cultures. This is the truth honored by the conservative religionists who want to return the world to this yesteryear.

Starting three hundred years ago with the Western Enlightenment and continuing to the present day, consciousness began to enter a more fully rational stage of development. Scientists coined the term homosexual and began to study gender and sexual variations in the light of reason. This is the truth honored by the secularists.

In the past 150 years, a pluralistic worldview began to emerge based on an egalitarian impulse to share rich and psychologically subtle experiences in a world free from dogma. Sexual and gender variations were recognized not merely as natural variations to be studied, but as the basis for group identities such as gay and lesbian and queer. This is the truth honored by the liberals.

About 50 years ago, a new integrative, holistic, and spiritual perspective began to arise. Unlike the previous relativistic worldview, this level of consciousness sees the unity beyond the diversity, and there is a demand to honor both pluralism and universality. Gayness is acknowledged as an entity with both surface features and deep universal structures that has developed in consciousness from the basic impulses of Stone Age peoples to contemporary worldviews and beyond. This is the truth recognized for the first time with the integral approach to homosexuality.

One of the claims most frequently made in the culture wars is that until recent times virtually every culture and religion condemned homosexuality. It is said that homosexuality was disapproved for thousands of years in the Jewish scriptures, the New Testament, the Koran, and scriptures of Eastern religions. Conservative religionists gloat when raising this uniform moral tradition and liberal scholars write dubious books that seek to undermine the historical basis for the claims.

The truth that is revealed by such claims in that for the past 2,500 years or so the major world religions have given expression to the mythic level of belief regarding homosexuality. Homosexuality isn’t always and everywhere condemned; it’s only condemned at the relatively primitive mythic stage of consciousness.

Another claim frequently heard about homosexuality is that everything worth knowing about gayness is revealed by scientific inquiry. It is said that homosexuality can be explained by a “gay gene,” psychoanalytic theories, or studies of socio-cultural constructions. Reacting against the incredible and outlandish claims about homosexuality by conservative religionists, secularists toss out all values and transcendental meanings. These positivists attempt to reduce gayness to that which can be perceived with the senses (or extensions of the senses by scientific instruments).

The secularists improved on the worldview of the conservative religionists, but the liberals did them one better. They sought to meld the respect for the mind with the best aspects of religion: the quest for peace, justice, and good will towards all people. They subjected myths to historical-critical analysis, they reconceived God as the Ground of Being, and they advocated tolerance and justice for all. Lesbians and gays were welcomed into open and affirming churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Gay spiritualists weren’t happy with the solution of the liberals. Why try to fix religions that are fundamentally broken? Why not return to a magical spirituality that derives from an era before the patriarchy? Let us go back in time, say leaders of the gay spirituality movement, to paganism in order to reclaim our “queer heritage.”

For all the progress over the past several thousands of years, the culture wars continue. It’s not because there isn’t enough truth about homosexuality out there. It’s because everyone has a slice of the truth and they think they have the whole pie. The spiritualists think the religionists are oppressive and the secularists are greedy materialists, liberals think the conservatives are stupid and prudish, the secularists think everyone else has gone soft in the head, and the conservatives think everyone else is going to hell.

Only an integral spiritual approach can find a way through this mess. We can come to understand that God is the fluid, dynamic consciousness that includes and goes beyond all of reality. Like life itself, God is constantly evolving into new forms and bringing about innovative potentialities.

When you think about God this way, it becomes possible to settle the culture war debates once and for all. Each of us must grow spirituality to see how we feel and think about homosexuality at higher and higher levels of consciousness. Until that happens, it is worth mentioning a simple truth that appears to be justified based on the best evidence available at this time: the more spiritually evolved you get, the less homophobic you become.

Too often gays have become mired in interminable debates that purport to examine whether or not God approves of homosexuality. Instead, we should transform the cultural debate by acknowledging that no definitive answer to these questions is possible without first bringing about deep transformations of self, culture, and society. And to heal homophobia, we must go to its root in the form of a spiritual alienation that expresses itself as a forgetfulness or outright denial of the identity between our highest self and Spirit.

The greatest taboo existing in our culture is not a prohibition against homosexuality, but a demand that we deny our own ultimate identity and highest Self. Society demands that everyone keep our unity with the Godhead or Spirit deeply in the closet. But if we are all one with a Divine reality, then that must include gays.

From an integral spiritual perspective, what is homosexuality except a particular surface manifestation of a deep universal structure that is present in and accessible to all persons? It is that which I call homophilia, that which Ken Wilber calls self-immanence (one of the four prime tenets of all holons), and that which Christian tradition calls Agape (God’s love for creation). At the integral level of consciousness, gayness is revealed to be the unfolding reflection of the Divine itself, embracing all manifest reality in an act of same-directed Love.

So long as people today think of homosexuality as just a “moral issue,” they will never understand that it’s really a “God issue.” If your God is homophobic, then homophobia is your God. Just as God is the evolving consciousness that includes and transcends everything, gay ways of loving are God’s.

It is hard to speak such scandalous truths in a homophobic world without feeling like a latter-day Friedrich Nietzsche. The German philosopher famously declared that God is dead. God isn’t dead. God is alive and well, and God is Gay.

Why homosexuality is the hot button issue, right HERE, right NOW

See my response to Chris on GS&C here. My conclusion:

My own intuition says that homosexuality is the BIG issue today not out of coincidence or meaningless chance, but because homosexuality is Christianity’s biggest shadow. Christianity is a religion dominated by homophilic symbolism and a homophilic story about the Love of a Father and a Son and how one day it became creative and produced the Holy Spirit. Homophilia is the heart of the Christian message, more so than any other major religion on the planet. Christianity’s failure to look at that issue square in the eye is the real reason why this issue has reached a boiling point in our time.

As I’ve said before, Christianity is the most homophilic of religions. Thus, the length of its homophobic shadow is among the longest of all religions.

Religion not The Answer, says Andrew Sullivan

On The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan writes:

Maybe religion is best understood not as The Answer to The Question, but as the only human response to the most pressing human fact – our own death. Oakeshott places religious life in the mode of practice, not in the mode of philosophy. I have struggled with this argument for a long time, but the older I get, the wiser it seems.

You and I will both die. To the question of what becomes of us then, science has a simple answer. We decompose and rot and eventually become dust. But the human mind, because it is human, resists that as the final answer to the question of our destiny. We find it very hard to think of ourselves as not being. That resistance is always there. There is no escaping it. I predict you will feel it at the hour of your death, if you have any time to contemplate it. This resistance to our own extinction is part of science and part of our genetic impulse to survive – but also why we feel ourselves connected to something eternal.

Is this sense of an after-life an illusion? We cannot know for sure. But death isn’t an illusion. And when death is nearest, faith emerges most strongly. You can either see this as a reason to pity people of faith – they’re too weak to look mortality in the face and deal with it. Or you can see this as part of the wisdom of people of faith: we know what we are, and we have reached a way of dealing with it as humans, full humans, not just arguments without minds and bodies. Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.

I agree that religion is not The Answer (to whatever question). But that all-embracing existence that goes by the name of Spirit, Brahman, Emptiness, or God–that is The Answer (to many questions, among them: Who am I? what is the nature of Life?) By failing to state this clearly and instead offering up faith as a reasonable belief in the survival of the human being outside of a body, Sullivan misses the point of The Answer entirely.

The materialistic denial of Spirit to which Sullivan responds is worthy of response, and Sullivan’s impulse towards a reasoned, post-mythic understanding of faith is more correct than not. Sullivan doesn’t err in his understanding of religion. But Sullivan doesn’t go far enough in his thinking about God (not religion). Belief that religion is essentially about denial of death is probably correct, but faith in Spirit has nothing to do with any consequence or impact on human affairs of such belief. In plain English, the matter of the immortality of the soul matters to religion, but doesn’t matter to Spirit. Spirit accepts and embraces all; Spirit is alive and existent, filled with the abundance of life, regardless of what you or I or Andrew might believe about the immortality of the soul.

Spirit is The Answer. Faith is a gift from Spirit to support human beings along the course of our development towards greater and fuller and wiser understandings of the nature of existence. Faith supports our feeble bodies and minds and souls as we grope from one less-than-perfect understanding of Life to another vision, higher and wiser but still imperfect and partial, sustaining us through the periods of darkness and nurturing us in more comfortable times. No answer to the question of religion is complete without acknowledging these truths.

Seek and you will find

“The older I get, the more it seems that everything that most people strive for is so pointless. I’m lucky enough to have a house and work and good health, but it doesn’t seem enough,” said my friend Mark.

I asked, “What would be enough? If you could do anything, be anything, no matter how crazy it sounds … what would you do differently?”

Mark looked around Starbucks to make sure that his next few words wouldn’t be overheard by anyone he knew. He pulled his chair a little closer to mine and lowered his voice. “I think I would be a spiritual guru,” he said. “Someone like Ghandi. I would want to radiate inner peace and joy.”

I knew the inner peace and joy within Mark. But I wondered if he really knew Peace. I sensed more the dissatisfaction and anxiety in his voice. And because I could recognize that voice within Mark, I knew it was a voice already within my own self. I heard the voice of my inner Seeker.

The Seeker is that part of me that restlessly hungers for more out of me and others. Life as it presents to The Seeker is never quite as fulfilling or satisfying as The Seeker imagines that it could have been or might be in the future. The Seeker often looks at the past with regret or nostalgia. Anxiousness or hopefulness is how The Seeker looks ahead to the future.

The Seeker doesn’t have much use for the ever-available, here-and-now present. There are too many distractions.

“I know what you’re probably thinking,” said Mark. “That I’m focused on the past and the future and not the present. That the seeking mind is lost in samsara (in Buddhism, the world of dissatisfaction). That I need to expunge my desires. That I need to stay attuned to the Power of Now. That I need to let go of my egoic mind, get out of my head and into my body. That I need to just learn to let go and take one day at a time. That I need to create my own reality…”
“I think there are a few spiritual-sounding cliches you haven’t mentioned,” I said. “You forgot my favorite: seek and you will find.”

“I thought your favorite slogan was the ‘Descent of Spirit.’”

“Uh, that’s not a cliche!” I said indignantly. “Not yet, anyways.”

Mark: “Well, ‘seek and ye shall find’ isn’t technically a cliche either, is it?”

“I suppose not. Not in the New Age or American Buddhist circles. But it’s more or less the same thing in Christian circles: it’s a popular and poorly understood Bible verse,” I said. “Jesus promised, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’” (Matthew 8:7)

Mark: “So what do I do with that? Who do I ask? Where do I knock? I’m not going back to church, just in case that’s where you’re going with this…”

“You know me better than that,” I said. “I wouldn’t give you advice that I’m not willing to follow myself.” (I participate in a few different spiritual communities, but still am looking for a home within Christianity, which is my own primary tradition.)

“As I see it, what’s worth noting in Jesus’s teaching is that there’s no crime, no sin, in seeking or looking or being lost or confused. There’s no sin in wanting to be more than you are, being hungry for more, being dissatisfied with life as it stands. You have to recognize your inner neediness–hug your inner Seeker, if you will–before you can move beyond confusion. But often it’s too painful to recognize our own neediness. Or, if we’ve embraced a contemporary spiritual path, we are told that it’s spiritually incorrect to be attached to confusion.”

Mark: “It’s like in a sitting meditation. The teacher says that if a thought comes to me, I should just let it go and not blame myself or worry about being distracted because that will only perpetuate the cycle of thinking.”

“Spell that out for me,” I said. “How is Jesus’s teaching like your dharma teacher’s?”
“Well…” said Mark, “when a thought comes knocking on my door when I meditate, I try to shoo it away, but it just comes back. So I ignore it. I’m not sure where I’m going with this…”
“Let me try,” I said. “Maybe your problem is that you’re identifying only with The Seeker and not The Knower. I think Jesus intended for the teaching to be understood that You are both the Asker of questions and the Knower of answers, if you get my drift. When a thought distracts you in meditation, yes, it’s knocking on your door. Don’t ignore it, any more than you would ignore a child asking for help. Step into the role of The Knower. Give the thought what it seeks so it will go away and stop bothering you.”

“What do I seek?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “You may be worried that your socks don’t match or wondering what to have for dinner, but it’s not usually about the socks or the meal, is it? Your Seeker probably wants more attention, more comfort, more acknowledgement, more acceptance, more understanding, more love. You tell me.”

“You may be right,” said Mark. “But I can’t get over the feeling that my seeking mind is trapped, somehow deluded. I feel it’s spiritually important to stop looking for answers, but I have a hard time expressing why.”

“Well, you can stop searching for a while, but for how long? There are answers, relatively better and worse answers, to spiritual questions. The Answer I’m most interested in is the Answer that is existence itself, undivided, uncreated, beyond all distinctions.”

“Listen,” I said. “Don’t expect spiritually correct or theologically orthodox opinions from me. All I can promise is to tell you how the world looks from my little window on it, right or wrong, foolish or wise. And I’m telling you it’s very important to not stop looking after the truth.”
Mark: “Spiritual writers often say that Heaven is right here, right now. We just have to look around.”

“There’s a grain of truth in there, I’m sure,” I said. “But just take a look around. That piece of Heaven we all seek–you with your dreams of having a Gandhi-like heart, me with my notion of the Descent of Spirit–nobody has yet found That, I promise you. There ain’t no Heaven on Broadway. This is the time before Heaven, the ‘until-time’.”

“Do you believe in Heaven?” asked Mark pointedly.

“All that we Seek, every Fulfillment, every Answer to every yearning in every heart, exists, fully and completely, right here and now. It’s not always easy to put into words or express in speech, but it’s no less real on that account. The Kingdom of God is here, as Jesus taught. But Heaven! As I see it, that’s another beast entirely.”

“I believe it is very likely there are subtle realms of existence in which the subtlest aspects of our life energy persist, surviving even in death in ways that defy description. The ‘bardo,’ that’s what the Tibetans call the intermediate realm between successive incarnations of the soul. Or ‘purgatory,’ as the Roman Church theologians have speculated. There’s just far too much spiritual evidence for the existence of such a realm for it to have no validity, but so far as I can tell the evidence is too tentative to say much with scientific certainty about the details. For me, I believe that these spiritual planes exist and that they must be acknowledged, but really they have very little to do with Heaven.”

“Heaven is an evolutionary potential. I believe it’s apparent that some folks grasp that potential more potently and clearly than others. Those gifted and subtle voices are the ones that I find most helpful to listen to, whether they are inside Christianity or outside of it.”

“But this, I think, is the key: until everyone has found the Kingdom of God–every person and all sentient life, even the rocks themselves–then Heaven will elude us all. So long as there are still hungry children, people living with AIDS and cancer, the spoiling of the Earth, cruelty to animals, suffering from every form of prejudice and injustice, then there is proof positive that, at this point in time, there is no Heaven. Heaven has yet to arrive, so we can’t stop seeking to better ourselves and the world. God too is a Seeker. So let us join with God.”

All is beauty and absence

Note: This post is an example of a sitting Whole Write. A sitting Whole Write proceeds from a topic and continues in a stream of consciousness recorded by the writer. At moments when the writer feels “blocked,” an inquiry is performed into the nature of that block, the nature of the topic, and a response given to get back on track and over the block.

Topic: Color

Dictionary.com: color is “the quality of an object or substance with respect to light reflected by the object, usually determined visually by measurement of hue, saturation, and brightness of the reflected light; saturation or chroma; hue.”

Everywhere we look, there is color. It surrounds us, decorates our world, allows us to find more beautiful, harmonious, or useful arrangements of the world. How we dress conveys an image. The body paint and feathers. The nun’s habits. The business person’s suit and tie.

What we eat reflects our judgment of the food’s color. Would you drink yellow milk? Would you eat a green banana? If you found a mud-colored substance in your salt shaker, would you pour it on your food? Color conveys concrete, useful meaning.

Green for go, yellow for caution, red for stop. The purple robes of a priest or monarch. The white beards of the elder men. Hunter green camoflauge uniforms of war. The blue and orange of corporate America. The green of money …

Topic: color. Color and money. What do I know about color and money?

Dollar bills are green. Silver coins. Copper coins. Nickel coins. Along with size and shape, color helps us to distinguish one thing from the other. Color helps us to be effective and efficient. Color allows us to buy things much better than we could without it, more effectively. Color is, color is …

Topic: color. What do I know about color and is, color and existence?

Color is how an object looks when clear light is reflected by it. In color, there is a triumvirate or Trinity. There is The Perceiver—my eye, your eye, this telescope, that camera. There’s The Perceived—the object in itself, not simply “just there,” but truly absent of color in itself. Then there’s Clear Light. The interplay between these three is necessary for us to see color, necessary for us to contact the Divine presence in the thick of the world.

Light is a sacrament of the Divine in our lives, the very principle that makes possible interconnectivity. Like a lover, Light allows us to see Beauty by giving us the gift of color. Like a caregiver, Light teaches us to avoid danger and attract good things … all through color.

Light seems to be immediate, yet it takes some nanoseconds to reach our eye. Time is the invisible element of the equation, the mysterious fourth person of the Trinity of Perceiver, Perceived, and Light …

Topic: color. Time and color. What do I know about color and Time?

The seasons change, the light shifts in the sky. Everything seems different from season to season. The bright, warm colors of summer. The cool, subdued colors of winter. The lively, awakening colors of spring. The darkening and decaying colors of fall. Colors shift in obvious, immediate ways that we have grown accustomed to ….

Topic: color. “Accustomed to” and color. What do I know about getting accustomed to color?

I don’t notice that which is right before my eyes. I don’t interact with green money or a clear glass or a blue sky. I just interact with money, glass, and sky. I take color for granted. But is this not a needless failure of attention?

Mindfulness calls me to notice the subtleties of tone, shade, and tine. How is this dollar’s color unique? How does this glass reflect color differently than other glasses? How is this sky different from so many thousands of skies that I’ve seen before? Attention to color is attention to the shifting presence of Spirit, manifest as Light, embodied in a spectrum of existence perceivable through our senses. Attention to color is an integral practice.

What do I know about attention to color and integral practices?

Attention: mindfulness, awakening to a broader, more expansive self beyond the ego that is the Witness.

Color: a particular reflection of light on a given object in Time. Without perceiving color, we cannot perceive the absence of color. Nor can we experience the fullness of color: immediate perception of the Divine Light as a sacrament.

Integration: becoming more fully who I am by owning that which I am not mindful of; transforming my awareness to greater sensitivity towards plurality and observing meaningful patterns that connect all things.

Practice: A meaningful activity (the aim of which is integration), done repeatedly, for the purpose of effecting a revolution of consciousness.

Attention to color is a basic mindfulness practice, a tool of the artist, the novelist, the creative self within. And it is also an integral practice, educating us to the awareness of both unity and diversity in our midst, transparency and opacity of thought and perception, beauty and its absence everywhere and for all time. Color teaches that All is Beauty and Absence.