Friday, February 17, 2012

“Finding a Way to Grace”

A Review of The Gift of Grace: Awakening to Its Presence, a collection of Paul Brunton’s writings edited by Sam Cohen (Larson Publications, 2011, www.larsonpublications.com)

by Joey Madia

“Grace is received, not achieved.” (p. 134)

Now that we have entered 2012, a year when so many are looking to the Mayan, Tibetan, and Hopi prophecies that have long foretold of a new era of spiritual enlightenment for all people, it is more important than ever to keep our hearts and minds engaged and nourished with the types of insights and guiding lights represented in this collection of writings on Grace culled from The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (compiled and administered by the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation).

The man himself (1898–1981) was, like Joseph Campbell, a student of the world’s sacred wisdom teachings, and he draws on a wide range in the course of his writings on Grace, as well-evidenced in this book. Trying to encapsulate his well and broadly lived life is nearly impossible in a book review, so I encourage the reader to spend some time researching Brunton on his or her own.

Split into 13 subject sections (such as “Grace in Religious Contexts,” “Grace and Ego,” and “Grace and World Crisis”) and bookended by an “Introduction” and an essay entitled “The Progressive Stages of the Quest,” the collection is well-organized and edited by Sam Cohen, a 40-year scholar of Brunton and his works and the director of the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.

As one would expect, the book begins with a section devoted to definition, entitled “A Sense of Grace: What it is and isn’t.” Even more intriguing at the onset than any definition of Grace, however, is the use of the term Overself, which never is defined in the book (most likely because it is the subject of at least two of Brunton’s larger works). My intuition said that Overself was another name for the Soul and a quick search of Google yielded a definition of the “spiritual self.” On page 106, he refers to it as “your never absent guardian angel,” that higher-knowing self that some see as the Soul.

Because we are dealing here with a philosophical/theological abstraction in using the term “Grace” (which in no way means it does not exist!), I appreciate Cohen’s choice to be somewhat repetitive across the book, while still breaking down the definitions and conditions of Grace into component parts. This seems to be well in line with the Holographic principles of Quantum Mechanics (the nexus of Science and Spirituality) and allows the reader to build understanding slowly over time, as if in a prolonged meditation.

One of the key notions of the book is that one cannot “go out and get” Grace—it comes to the person who has made him/herself ready through meditation, good living, communion with Nature, and focused intent. This reminds me of the practices behind Like Attraction, the Secret, and the Abraham teachings espoused (channeled?) by Esther Hicks. As Shakespeare says in Hamlet, “The readiness is all.”

This notion is artfully explained in chapter 5, “Letting Grace In,” where Brunton writes “If you offer yourself to the divine, the divine will take you at your word, provided your word is sincerely meant” (p. 25). Those familiar with Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements will recognize the first Agreement, “Be impeccable with your word” clearly embodied here.

Another idea that resonates strongly in the book is the notion popularized by the Rolling Stones that you “Can’t always get what you want” (see chapter 6). It is not you that decides in what forms and with what gifts Grace will come. Brunton advises, “It is only with the wise that they always coincide; with others they may stand in sharp conflict” (p. 45). It is here that methods like Vision Boards and Like Attraction become thorny for me, and I think, for many others. Perhaps it is best to say “Thy will be done,” and leave it all to Grace to decide just if and how things might Manifest. A little non-Attachment (what Brunton calls “passive waiting”) seems to serve best.

In chapter 7, “Ways Grace can be Transmitted,” Brunton examines the role of the spiritual teacher. Although a teacher can transmit Grace, one person to another, as with a Bodisattva (including Jesus), Brunton, similar to Joe Campbell, also says that the “necessity of a teacher is much exaggerated.” We can certainly get there on our own, as detailed in the four chapters that follow, on Ego, Self-Effort, Compassion & Forgiveness, and Surrender.

Chapter 12, “Spiritual Awareness,” outlines some of the ways that we will know when Grace resides within. There is the Sufi-based idea of the “overturning of the cup of the heart”; the conscious abandonment of the quest itself; weeping for no reason; the strengthening of intuition; and a passing through a “dark night of the soul” as one ascends to higher and higher levels of Awareness. They match up well with almost any core tenets of the world’s varied spiritual systems.

The closing essay, “The Progressive Stages of the Quest,” could be seen as a summation—a quick reference guide to go back to again and again, after culling your favorite chestnuts from the preceding chapters, perhaps to use as mantras and reminders on your journey to Grace.

The Gift of Grace is highly recommended for all those trying to find a little bit of peace and a reason for hope in our current troubled times.

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