In The Agenda Mother talks about a thought experiment she made with some Ashramites. She asked them if they would like their lives to continue indefinitely, but warned that this would not mean they could extend their present circumstances – their friends, relationships, activities etc – into an indefinite future. “For everything is constantly changing! And to be immortal, you have to follow this perpetual change; otherwise, what will naturally happen is what now happens – one day you will die because you can no longer follow the change.” The Ashramites, it seems, were not happy with the prospect of changing their present circumstances, for Mother reported that not one in ten of them elected to extend their lives under these conditions. It made me reflect upon how attached I am to habit, to the stability of the known, from my mid morning cup of coffee, to my evening walk, to beliefs and attitudes that I know are my default settings. At the same time, paradoxically...
Alan, I love this article. I coined a phrase to describe it - well, I thought I did, because after talking about it with various people, it turns out a lot of people came up with the same phrase: "Structure-phobia".
I remember a meeting of a "progressive/spiritual" group in New York that suffered from this disease. 500 of us had convened in 1992 to bring together "spirituality" and "social activism" - "the Compassionate Action Network", inspired by Rabbi Michael Lerner and Ram Dass. At the 2nd meeting, there were about 30 of us, and we started at 6 PM.
Do you know what we did from 6 PM to 8:45 PM? We argued about what structure we wanted for the meeting - for THAT meeting, the one we were actually participating in!! Some wanted a facilitator, others said, "oh no, no, that's the old way, it has to be **free*, you know, "non-mental" (sounds familiar?).
Finally, at 8:45, everyone agreed that the meeting needed a facilitator. I don't recall how many saw the sad humor in this.
I think a really good place to start, as a foundation, in exploring the interplay between structure and openness - the "dance" as you so wonderfully put it - is in our own spiritual practice.
"No rules!" some people say. "No, you have to meditate twice a day!" And both groups make a dogma out of their rules. And even when people decide to meditate regularly, the internal battle (dance) between structure and openness can go on. "Just surrender". "Say a mantra". "it must be Mother and Sri Aurobindo's mantra'. "no effort". "Concentrate!"
Why can't it be both, or all of the above? One of the most simple, graceful dances of meditative practice I've ever heard has been from a teacher Jan (my wife) and I have been studying with the past 8 years (he knows we're disciples of Mother and Sri Aurobindo but has been happy to teach us nonetheless - nice dancer, Roy:>). he suggests, when starting to sit to meditate, simply allow your inner aspiration to guide the practice.
Sounds like he's taking the side of openness, right?
No, because he's not dogmatic. "If your mind wanders, follow the breathe, say a mantra, whatever structure helps you."
Wait, now is he being dogmatic about structure?
No, because then he adds, "and when the mind is quiet, let go of the practice, and allow your aspiration to guide you."
"My goodness Roy, make up your mind!" Well, no, he's inviting us to listen, to pay attention, to be mindful of what is needed in the moment, using structure but not making it a dogma.
I've found, the more I can dance with this in formal meditations, the more it spills over into eating, exercise, work, relationships, well…. everything.
Happy dancing, and thank you Alan.