The word “devil” does not appear in Steps to Knowledge. However, there is a voice in my head, which would have a smug smirk on its face (if it had a face) commenting on my practice of observation in step 19, and saying “So, you’re going to become more whole, more consistent, more honest, more devoted, by staring at a hockey puck, eh?”
My comeback to this voice is “The staring at the hockey puck is only part of the practice of step 19 of 365 steps. So mock my staring at the hockey puck if you feel like it. Like I care. I’m going to follow the Steps and be a competent student with a beginner’s mind, instead of a know-it-all judge.”
The practice for step 20 “I will not let doubt and confusion slow my progress,” is the same observation practice as for step 19. I used a small stone as the object for one of the observation practices. I don’t recall what I used for the second observation practice, I only recall that I did it.
Left to my own devices, I don’t just see things. The seeing of something for me is the blastoff point for a sequence of thoughts moving through my network of associations with quite a few twists and turns. This inner dialogue of preferences, aversions, judgements and assumptions is a hindrance to looking at things objectively.
A new practice is introduced in step 19 of Steps to Knowledge. The practice is to take a mundane object, and look at it. Just look at it. Just look at it without trying to come to any conclusions, without trying to make any inferences from what is seen. Spend 15 minutes in as pure observation as possible. Do that on two separate occasions.
There was a time when I took my children ice skating at a nearby hockey arena. I happened to find a hockey puck there, which I kept for no particular reason. I don’t play hockey, none of my children play hockey, and I don’t follow hockey very closely. I’m telling you this to tell you the object I selected for the first just-look-at-it exercise was the hockey puck. This hockey puck had a number of scratches on it, and I noticed that I tried to imagine how the puck got the scratches in the first place. That wasn’t observation.
The other mundane object I selected was a metal serving spoon. The observation was a little tricky, because there were objects reflected in the spoon, which I saw as I looked at the spoon. If I observed other objects reflected in the spoon, was I still observing the spoon? Perhaps I was observing the spoon’s reflectivity. I recall being not entirely clear about this when I did the exercise.
What did I come away with? Just looking at something is loving that thing. Everything in nature (including myself) will reveal its secrets to me if I look at it without trying to impose my thoughts and wishes on it.
Any student of Steps to Knowledge is going to make a significant investment of time, effort and trust. By the time a student gets to step 18, she has already made a certain investment. What will be the return on the investment? Steps to Knowledge has been somewhat terse up to this point, but in step 18, there is some elaboration:
To come into the proximity of Knowledge means that you become more and more like Knowledge itself—more whole, more consistent, more honest, more devoted, more
concentrated, more self-disciplined, more compassionate and more self-loving. All of these qualities are developed as you approach that which is the source of these qualities.
On one hand, step 18 is only 5% of the way into Steps to Knowledge. On the other hand, I take comfort in what I am told will happen as I go forward. It’s like having a travel brochure describing the terrain and climate of a place to which I am traveling.
Should the truth feel like anything? If so, why should the truth feel like anything? If not, why not? You may have heard that different people have different “learning styles,” (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.) I am clearly a visual learner. I know this because when I recall something I read, I recall the part of page it was on when I read it. Visual learning is great for some things (like spelling, for instance), and not so great for other things (like auto repair or downhill skiing). But when it comes to the truth, it’s not good enough to rely only on your dominant learning style. It’s necessary to have the witness of what you feel as well. Step 18 of Steps to Knowledge declares “Truth is something you will feel with your entire body, with your entire being.”
I’m writing to confess my bewilderment with the practice instruction for this step. I was asked to give my full attention to feeling the truth arising within myself. At the time, the very instruction seemed non-well-formed, gobbledygoop. I normally don’t think of myself as giving attention to feeling something or not feeling something. Left to my own devices, I usually just feel what I feel or don’t feel what I don’t feel. Am I being asked to feel something in my mind’s feelings, in the same way I often see things in my mind’s eye? Am I being asked to tune into a certain vibration of feelings, as if I had an internal radio dial? There was some recognition of this in the instructions, as it said “…do not be discouraged if it is difficult at first.”
I was also instructed to pursue my true goal in life during the day. I think the point of that instruction was to demonstrate that I didn’t have a clue as to what my true goal in life was, and that whatever I thought my true goal in life was, was only a body of preferences and aversions.
Step 17 of Steps to Knowledge, “Today I want to hear the truth,” is the third step so far to have the word “today” in it. It was previously encountered in Step 8, “Today I will be still” and Step 15, “I will listen to my experience today.” I mention this because I believe that what is meant by the word “today” is not “today and only today,” but “today and every day from now on.” But my mind is more comfortable at the thought of “today” as “today and today only.”
What if the truth was that you are not the person you have imagined yourself to be? What if the truth was that you were a much better person than the person you have imagined yourself to be? There would be a certain degree of shock to discover that.
Technically, a vigil is a period of staying awake during a normal period of sleep, a time to watch and pray. The word “vigil” doesn’t appear in Steps to Knowledge, but a version of the practice has been adopted by the New Message from God community.
Instead of staying awake during a normal period of sleep, there are certain seasons in the year when the New Message community gathers, both in person and online. The gathering is to celebrate certain events. One event which we celebrate is the reception of Steps to Knowledge, which took place from May 26 to June 14 in 1989. I recall seeing a picture of the highly ordinary house in Albany, New York in which Steps to Knowledge was received, during one of a number of “Steps Vigil” webcasts. It was a season of testimony to the impact of studying Steps to Knowledge. There were many testimony videos at the time, but not very many of them are still available.
The New Message community engaged in another vigil in early 2013. It was a vigil called the “Messenger’s vigil,” a seven-day celebration of the birthday of Marshall Summers. No, this was not Marshall’s idea, but that of his wife Patricia. During this time, Marshall shared some parts of his relatively ancient history of wandering in the wilderness of the American southwest.
There was an online chat going on during this webcast, and someone typed “Relics!” As if to say that the boots that Marshall wore as he roamed the wilderness would one day be considered sacred objects that multitudes of people would use as an excuse to release their faith. At this point, I prefer to think that they’ll just be boots, and that people who walk on this path will not assign credit for the release of their faith to any object.
Right around the middle of February, I misplaced the power adapter for my laptop computer. I decided to use the opportunity to limit the amount of time I spend online for the season of Lent. I didn’t do a very good job of this. I needed to tell someone who needed to be able to reach me that I didn’t have my adapter. Before too long, I had another adapter, and I was spending my usual large amounts of time online again.
I’m telling you about my half-hearted fasting from time online to tell you about another fast I was recently challenged to undertake. It is not a fast from food, drink or any other sensual pleasure. It is a fast from borrowed expression, that is, quoting someone else (like Jesus, or Solomon, or Rumi) to make a point I’m trying to make. The challenger pointed out that I do this quite habitually and unconsciously, and thus fasting from this practice would encourage more conscious self-expression and behavior. I had no answer for this, therefore I not only accept the challenge, but publicly declare that I accept, that my readers may assist me in the keeping of this fast.
How long will I keep this fast? I should say in order not to give myself an easy out. Sunrise on Easter morning, March 31, 2013. I will write a post sharing the results of this practice.