Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's Me and What's Maya?

[This piece first appeared in my column "A to Zen" in the September/October 2014 issue of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.] 
       Most of the time, the illusion holds.
But once in a while, we catch a glimpse of our face in the mirror and honestly wonder, Who is that person looking back at me? Sure, we generally know who we are. We know our names. We remember our addresses. At work, we kind of know what to do. But on those dark nights of the soul when our very existence is called into question, the center around which all of the disparate elements of our lives orbit loses its gravitational pull. We see the parts, but can’t find the whole. The lights are on, but no one’s home.
The great 20th-century Indian spiritual teacher Ramana Maharshi used to ask his students to meditate on the question, “Who are you?” But the question often elicits a mere list of labels—a man, a woman, a husband, a wife, a parent, an athlete, an artist, an engineer. As spiritual archaeologists, we must somehow be able to dig down beneath these layers of social identity.
Knowing that real inquiry can begin only after removing all masks, Adyashanti and other contemporary teachers shift the question to “What are you?” Yet no matter how you word the query, the goal is the same—discernment. Learning to tell the difference between illusion and reality, between our myriad masks and our primal, authentic nature is the urgent task of every thinking man and woman. Without discernment, we remain forever trapped in an unexamined illusion.
When we are born, we fall immediately under the spell of the perceptual world and the inherent structures of consciousness. Our senses and our minds portray the boundless energy around us as discrete and solid objects, even though at the atomic level, so-called “solid matter” is 99.9999 percent empty space. Even our concept of self is haunted by this same vexing problem. We think we are separate. As a purely defensive move, our ego usurps control. Then fear puts us in competition with all of the other “separate” objects and entities that our addled mind concocts. Thinking itself, in other words, is the source of our confusion. The ancient Indians had a word for this shared communal delusion—maya.
Maya is the illusory nature of the perceptual field, including our surface consciousness, shaped as it is by this mistaken reading of the energy field around us. Caught in the dream of maya, we don’t see an essential truth—that we are at our core divine. Hinduism refers to this divine nature within us as Atman, or Self. The purpose of the many paths of yoga, in fact, is to see through this fog of maya that hangs between us and reality so that we can discover and realize our inner divinity. The process may seem impossible, yet there’s hope. There is a way across the ocean of this dreamworld. Discernment is our raft to the other shore.
When Unity cofounder Charles Fillmore and other New Thought leaders went looking for a way to transform the fire-and-brimstone Christianity of 19th-century America into an affirmative spiritual practice, they turned to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and the sacred literature of Hinduism for a new vocabulary with which to render the spiritual truths of their own experience. In an essay of the same name, Emerson renders the Atman as “Over-Soul,” the one, universal consciousness. When Fillmore writes of the Christ within, he is referring to this same spiritual principle.
Discernment then, it turns out, is the most important of all spiritual work. The pervasive, relentless tenacity of the illusion of ego-separation is the source of all our powerlessness, conflict, and suffering. Realizing the Christ within, our Buddha nature, our God consciousness, our Over-Soul, is a prize won only through an arduous and disciplined process of discerning truth from illusion. We are not our bodies. We are not our genes. We are not our cultural and environmental conditioning. We are shaped by those things, but not bound by them. We are more. We are one with the divine.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Amy Bolland (1926-2014) An Obituary

Amy Bolland died peacefully at home after a brief illness on June 30, 2014 at the age of 88. A memorial service will be held at 11:00 AM on Saturday, August 23, in the Santa Paula Room of the Poinsettia Pavilion, 3451 Foothill Road, Ventura, California 93003. She is survived by her three sons and daughters-in-law Eric and Patty Bolland, John and Lourana Bolland, and Peter and Lori Bolland, as well as numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Amy was born on February 11, 1926 in Haarlem, the Netherlands, the only daughter of Antonie and Christine van Niel. She was raised with her two older brothers in the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II.
Amy got her artistic talent from her father who was a sculptor by trade, striving to support his family with a satchel of wood carving chisels and an eye for design. He produced work for private patrons, public commissions, and museum showings just as Amy would in her medium of clay.
Sharing many common interests, the van Niel and the Bolland families became good friends. Amy took a particular liking to a young, shy boy named Hilbert Bolland.
Childhood came to an abrupt end in 1940 when Germany invaded Holland. Amy was only 14. As the long, hard years of Nazi occupation dragged on, things grew increasingly bleak. Starvation, the humiliation of begging for food, and the menacing threat of death dogged their every step. In 1943, Hilbert was taken by the Nazis and shipped to Germany to work as forced labor in a print shop. Amy wondered if she would ever see him again.
When the war ended in 1945, Amy was 19. Soon Hilbert returned to Haarlem. Reunited, Amy and Hilbert looked toward the future with firm resolve to build a life out of the ruins around them. They were married in the Rosicrucian Temple in Haarlem in 1946. They had nothing. No one did in those years. Everyone was starting over.
When their first son Eric was born in 1948, it became increasingly clear that it was going to be challenging to raise a family in post-war Holland. The waiting list for an apartment was 14 years and sharing a home with her parents became difficult. They began to dream of America.
In 1950, they kissed their families goodbye and boarded a ship for the New York Harbor. Amy stood on the deck holding Hilbert’s hand as they watched their beloved Netherlands disappear over the horizon. She was 24 years old, had a two year old on her hip and was seven months pregnant.
Settling near Paterson, New Jersey, Amy gave birth to her second son John. Hilbert found work as a printer while Amy raised her two boys and began to learn English. Eight years later, her third son Peter was born.
In 1962, Hilbert, Amy, and the three boys loaded the Chevrolet station wagon, hitched the trailer, and drove across the country to California. When they got to Los Angeles they headed north, stopping for a break in the quiet coastal town of Ventura. As they stretched their legs in Plaza Park, Amy noticed the Star-Free Press newspaper building across the street. “Why don’t you go see if they need a type-setter,” she said. He came back a half hour later. “I start on Monday,” he said.
Later that year they bought a house on Clemson Street and planted an avocado tree in the backyard. Eric and John enrolled in junior high and Peter began kindergarten the following year. The Clemson Street house would be Amy’s home for the next 52 years. It was in that kitchen that she would prepare the family’s meals. It was in that den that she sewed for her dressmaking clients. It was in that garage studio that she mastered her artistic skills as an award-winning sculptor of clay busts. It was in that garden that she nurtured flowers and fruit trees under the California sun. It was on that dining room table that she and Hilbert had afternoon tea everyday when he came home from work. It was in those rooms that she dreamed her dreams, loved her husband, and raised her boys. And it was from that front porch that she waved goodbye to each of her sons as they drove off to college.
After their last son Peter left for college in 1978, the empty-nesters focused on traveling, community service, and the quiet life that love, health, and good fortune affords. Whether it was returning to Europe and the Netherlands to reconnect with their brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends, or crisscrossing America in their RV, Amy and Hilbert loved nothing more than learning everything they could about every place they visited and drinking in the endless beauty of the world. When they were home, Amy and Hilbert volunteered at the Ventura County Fair and the Dudley House Historical Museum. They took solace in the spirituality of nature, enjoying Sundays on the beach or taking in a Krishnamurti lecture under the oak trees at the Krotona Institute in Ojai. They lived in Ventura longer than anywhere else they had ever lived, and it was their home. They loved Ventura and wanted to give back in any way they could to the city that had given them so much.
In 2009, when Amy was 83, Hilbert was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The next years were difficult. In 2010 Hilbert was moved into a care facility where he could receive the kind of care Amy could no longer provide. She visited him constantly, but it was heartbreaking to live apart. When he finally passed away in 2012, she was truly alone for the first time after 66 years of marriage.
During her last years, Amy lived independently, drove her car, stayed active at church, and met regularly with friends for lunch and day trips. She loved her family very much, and was always checking in with everyone and staying connected as the grandchildren grew up and began having children of their own. To them she was Oma, the Dutch grandmother with the heavy accent and mischievous grin.
On June 19, 2014, Amy drove herself to the hospital, on her doctor’s advice, and checked herself in. She was experiencing jaundice symptoms and would require testing and treatment. Over the following week her condition worsened and after a number of procedures it became clear that it was time for hospice and palliative care.
On Saturday, June 28 Amy came home. A hospital bed was placed in the living room and 24 hour nursing care was established. The family gathered around. Surrounded by her father’s hand-carved furniture, her own sculpture, and with the light from her beautiful summer garden streaming in through the windows, Amy rested peacefully in the home she loved so well. She passed away quietly two days later.
            She had a long, wonderful life filled with love, beauty, creativity, challenge, and joy. She was deeply proud of her three sons and the lives they had crafted, and she was profoundly grateful for her long and loving marriage to the only man she ever loved, Hilbert. There was nothing that she wanted to achieve that she had not achieved. She had reached the goal so many long for and so few attain – she was happy. She trusted that the best would always win out, and passed that trust on to her sons. She is remembered lovingly as the lion-hearted matriarch who survived hardship and war to boldly journey around the world to make a better life for herself and her family. All who knew her, all who love her, all who survive her are grateful for her strength, generosity, and vision. Her character and love will continue to shape us in innumerable ways for the rest of our lives.