Review of Secrets of Heaven by Marshall Vian Summers

•September 14, 2013 • 5 Comments

 

I was asked to give a review of the new book by Marshall Vian Summers, Secrets of Heaven. I’m not familiar with the author, but I agreed and so I present to you my review.

The book is structured around a series of short messages, some more fulsome than others, that seem to have been channeled directly into the author’s mind with very little filtering or editing on his part. It touches on a number of topics which are presented seemingly in the order in which they were received, jumping from one to another without much organization or systematic examination of each. It recalls the style of books such as A Course in Miracles and Conversations with God, but more suggestive rather than precise and goal-oriented. Christian terminology is used (e.g. God, Holy Spirit, Heaven) but the book is not aimed at a Christian audience but rather a general audience. It falls clearly within the New Age camp, even declaring “Now the old age draws to an end”.

There are typically two main types of spiritual books: those that teach salvation, redemption, awakening or personal improvement within the world (including some of the more elevated self-help books), and those that teach release from the world, leaving it behind, letting it go. This book is the latter kind, clearly not focused on incremental tips and tricks to make your current life run a little better, but rather on transforming your entire notion of your purpose in life to something different by recognizing your purpose – over which you have no choice – and coming into alignment with it.

The main message, however, is kept vague and forward-looking, without getting into the details or steps of how individuals can apply these lessons in their lives starting today. The message seems to be aimed at seekers who are already advanced on the path, have tried many things in the past without success, and are ready to give up and learn a new way, to find answers where they have not found them – in other words, the wisdom of no-choice and surrender to a higher will.

Like the majority of modern spiritual books, it connects with a part of us which is familiar – namely, our discontent with the state of the world and the suffering in our own lives – and reassures us that life does not have to be this way, that there is a deeper and more meaningful journey to be undertaken, yet it gives the reader precious little in terms of describing what this journey is all about, beyond general messages of Knowledge, Teachers, Spiritual Family and the Greater Community. It is hard to disprove or find fault with the book’s message because it is kept very general and does not make any claims that are precise enough to find opposition.

 

The book’s content can be summarized as follows:

  • Leave the world behind – it has no answers and cannot be fixed.

  • We are entering a new age, with big changes coming. The world is in a state of transition, at a crossroads or turning point which will witness the end of tribalism and contact with life beyond the world.

  • In the universe there is more than meets the eye, suggesting the presence of beings and forces beyond human perception.

  • There is help / wisdom from non-earthly beings (Spiritual Family / Teachers / Greater Community). Your relationship with them is key to the transformation taking place.

  • You have no freewill. Your purpose is already established in the contract that you made before coming into the world, and has nothing to do with the goals that you have set for yourself so far. Therefore your path is one of eliminating rather than expanding choice.

 

The book stresses the importance of several things:

  • Relationship: not the usual human form of relationship but something deeper and more powerful.

  • Listening, receptivity and Knowledge, more than action; Knowledge as a priceless spiritual inheritance whose discovery is a kind of returning home as well as a doorway to true meaning and truth.

  • Transcending the old religions without attacking or degrading them.

  • Preparation for Knowledge. By ‘Knowledge’ the book means “a capacity for greater experience”, and the way we prepare for it is by emptying our proverbial cup to create space in our mind, and develop strength and stability so that we can handle Knowledge when it arrives.

  • Being unconventional is part of the process of discovering Knowledge, because we are leaving behind all of the typical human beliefs, ideas, norms. We may become estranged because of this, but finding Knowledge will resolve all of the minor personal problems we seem to have.

  • The journey toward Knowledge is a remembering of what was inside you us along, but buried under layers of social conditioning. It is not an intellectual knowledge but an experience of greater relationship in an expanded universe.

 

Secrets of Heaven mentions Teachers which exist in another dimension, who can see us but cannot be seen themselves, and are waiting for us to get ready so that we are prepared to rediscover their eternal message and usher in a transformation of life as we know it. These things may be true or false, and it’s hard to know either way. There aren’t many ‘experiments’ offered to the reader to test the validity of the book’s message in their daily lives, which for me is the litmus test of true spirituality – the relevance to real-life experience.

I kept waiting for the book to get to the core substance, but it never came. It seems to be floating above (or below) the level of everyday human experience, without much in the way of instructions. There are some interesting bits here and there, but they are hard to really pin down. The book lacks the cutting analysis of Zen writing which attacks the observer’s biases and turns the critical eye inward on itself. It hints at the existence of God’s Master Plan, but does not explain further what this may be.

It is not a systematic analysis of human experience like Ken Wilber’s Integral philosophy, nor a self-contained path toward complete liberation like ACIM, nor a guide to navigating and managing the subtler workings of one’s own psyche like psychoanalytical authors usually offer, nor a collection of channeled answers to life’s biggest questions like Conversations with God, nor a no-nonsense cut-the-bullshit hardcore spirituality like Jed McKenna. It falls in between all of these, too vague to be of much practical use to the individual who is ready to embark on a spiritual journey, and not powerful or precise enough for someone already further along the path.

The author has published several other books which have enjoyed popularity such as Steps to Knowledge, two volumes of Wisdom from the Greater Community and three volumes under the title The Allies of Humanity. Taken in the broader context of his body of work, Secrets of Heaven may be an interesting extension of the basic message, but I found that as a standalone work it was rather vague and incomplete, not offering a whole lot of value to the reader. For me, a great book is something you live and grow with, with several layers of interpretation that reveal themselves over time and which take you from where you are now to the next stage and beyond. Readers familiar with his work looking for the latest instalment may enjoy this book, but for me it didn’t quite seem to do it.

The Museum and the Mystery

•June 27, 2013 • 3 Comments

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. – Einstein

There are two ‘ways of being’ which seem to be polar opposites.

The Museum is all about BEING: fixed objects and concepts, already perfect, old, lifeless, preserved, known and understood, well-ordered, which cannot be touched and whose development is finished. Recall your past visits to museums: a collection of works of art displayed for all to see, projecting their message in a one-way communication to the audience. Beautiful, yes, but apart from few exceptions there is no interaction between subject and object, and the division is clear: the work is there, finished and untouchable, and there is nothing you can add to it. With the Museum you always know what you’re going to get because it is all out in the open. It is what Robert Pirsig might call ‘static quality’.

The Mystery is all about BECOMING: nebulous ideas and sensations, creations in the process of development, moving, dynamic, alive, uncertain, full of life and curiosity. With the Mystery you never know what you’ll get, because you are a participant in the birth of something new which is as yet undefined and still taking shape. It is never finished, never perfect, and always has room to grow, evolve and change. It cannot be defined, captured or preserved, for once a part of it is, it dies and goes into the Museum. The Mystery eludes our grasp. It is what Pirsig might call ‘dynamic quality’.

The Museum is what you get when ego tries to put a name on God’s creation, and there are countless names we have given to that which cannot be named. The Museum is humankind’s attempt to comprehend the Mystery, which is the inherent possibility of unlimited creation, forever enigmatic.

Time and Projection

In many ways our daily life can become like the Museum: stale and lifeless. The question is: how and why does it get this way? I think it is due to the old demons: fear and desire. Fear of hurt, uncertainty, and loss – particularly loss of control – and a desire to know and control the future. You see, in our everyday human understanding of the world, control and knowledge are the same thing. You cannot control something without first knowing what it is and how it works. Likewise, you cannot fully know about something unless you are able to predict its future movement, which requires control.

The future cannot be known in present terms. It is by definition unknown, since it has not happened yet. Rather than letting that be the case, we project our past experiences onto the future, to ‘make it known’ in a certain way. In this manner we filter the new fresh information that comes into our world according to the patterns and beliefs of yesterday, many of which are self-limiting and keep us stuck in repetitive cycles.

To truly encounter the unknown with fresh eyes and an open mind and heart is exciting but terrifying because it requires surrender and defenselessness. The ego looks into the abyss and recoils in fear. Not wanting to meet its own death, it tries to know and control everything it perceives by turning it into a copy of itself. It wants to make other people more like itself – which incidentally is the source of all war and conflict – and it wants the future to resemble the past, only healed and made whole. Our whole life is spent trying to be at peace, be whole, and be free of all external forms of control, and the way we try to do this is by placing the body, the ego’s champion, at the summit and making all of time and space subservient to it. Incidentally, this is also the recipe for unhappiness, because the ego cannot become whole. Instead of becoming a life of unlimited freedom, joy and power, it becomes a self-created nightmarish Groundhog Day, a dead-end loop which we cannot escape, without excitement or joy, with dreary sameness and suffocating regularity. Whether a particular substance is involved or not, we all become addicts to the empty promises of the ego mind, unable to find happiness from sensory stimulation and clueless as to where we should go or what we should do to make things better. By trying to run our own lives, we become prisoners to them. By trying to free ourselves from bondage – political, economic, religious or otherwise – we bind ourselves by our own devices.

Most fear is of a singular type: fear of the unknown, and therefore fear of loss of control. We fear that if the ego loses control, if we surrender, then another being will come to control us – the false authority, the tyrant, the dictator, the oppressor. We may lose our money, our health, our relationships, our posessions or even our lives. This is what makes us paranoid, what makes us cling to whatever limited control we have managed to secure. It is also what makes us translate all sensory information in terms of our prexisting story, our script, so that the world makes sense and we get to keep our knowledge and a certain degree of control.

Encountering the truly unknown, the truly novel, is what we fear most, yet deep down there is something inside us that craves it because instinctively we are tired of repeating our script and want to break out of it and see the world anew. Knowledge and control turns everything dull and lifeless and sucks the joy and excitement out of life. Our economic system (here in the West) is based on projecting systems and plans into the future; in essence, controlling both space and time. Projection is necessary if you would control the materal resources of the planet, but it is not going to deliver us what we are really looking for.

How to make this moment new again

The only way to enter the dimension of enchantment and wonder is to make your life a mystery, even to yourself. This applies especially to relationships. Attraction between couples tends to fade over time because people don’t change, thus there is no ‘new information’ and the mystery is gone. If you stop recycling, reliving, re-projecting the past onto the future, and let yourself be open, fresh, unburdened and present in every moment, life will once again become a mystery to you and others around you.

Let go of your knowledge and control, sit back and enjoy the show. After all, this is God’s universe, his show, and we are the audience, not the director. By tampering with the story we only bring ugliness and suffering onto the stage. God’s plan for us is revealed once we allow it in and get ego out of the way. We are not the true creators; we are the witensses to creation. To see the real show, we need to create space, which is done through forgiveness of the past and faith in the future. In other words: no grievances, grudges or resentments, and no fixed plans or beliefs. Let it all come, and let it all go.

Think about it: in your life, you have changed opinions, beliefs and life trajectories (probably many times) upon discovering new information. You would not look back now at your younger self and say that you were wrong or stupid, would you? You were trying your best, yet clearly you had more to learn and this applies equally to your present situation. Just as you thought you knew what was best and true but did not, also now you think you know what is best and true but do not. All this is perfectly fine. Not only do you not know what’s best, you cannot know. All human perspectives are limited in space-time, by our nature, and it is not our job to know it all and fix it all, only to observe it all and learn to love it as it is.

Embrace the mystery by creating “the three spaces”:

  1. Forgive the past (memories, grudges, feelings of guilt and shame, self-judgement and blame, karma)
  2. Trust in the present (everything is perfect just the way it is – you don’t have to do anything to make things ok)
  3. Surrender the future (give up all hope of finding lasting happiness through worldly pursuits, give up your schemes, scripts and plans and trust in the master plan of the universe)

The ego cannot bring about its own demise. Only God can free us from the nightmare. Only God knows what the show is all about and where we are headed. The hardest thing to do is to give up control, completely and without condition, and let God take over your life, yet it is the only way out. There is no way to break free on your own – the enemy always rises again in a different form and cannot be defeated. Spiritual emancipation through control over the material world (such as a Marxist utopia) will not work. There is something to look forward to: embracing the Mystery leads to a re-enchantment of our world. Places and moments become curious creatures that come to play with us, rather than objects to be manipulated for gain.

Faith

The universe has a grand plan, one that is wider, deeper, more subtle, intricate and complex than I could ever understand within my own context, my own vantage point in space-time. Thus I recognize that there will always be some things I cannot understand, and that is ok – I accept it. As for events and experiences that await me in the future, I will not always be able to see, understand, or control them before they happen, and that is ok too – I accept it. I am part of something much larger, deeper and more complex than I can ever comprehend, and I have a role to play in the unfolding of the story. It is the purpose of my life to discover my role and grow into it, to play my part. I will do the best I can in every situation that presents itself, and the rest I leave to Spirit. I look forward to the unknown twists and turns that await me. I anticipate the next chapter in the story with wonder, excitement and awe.

This is my faith.

The problem of false authority

•January 19, 2013 • Leave a Comment

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3

Many of us on the path try to extinguish the ego without fully understanding what causes ego to arise in the first place. I think ego is like an arrogant, foolish and rebellious child, not knowing which way to go yet believing that it knows, too proud to stop and ask for directions. It is a blind guide based in fear, a defense mechanism we adopt to protect ourselves against subjugation to false gods. What we fear most of all is surrendering our will to a higher authority, only to have that authority abuse us, mislead us, ignore us, or use us for its own narrow purposes. Thus ego is born.

Growing up, we are under the guidance and control of our parents. They protect us and provide for us, and also teach us everything they know about the world and how it works. We come to see them as god-like figures, creatures of great authority and importance. As we get older we realize that they are not gods, but mortals with flaws and shortcomings just like the rest of us, trying to make it in the world. At a certain point we come to feel that they are more of a burden than a blessing, imposing arbitary rules and restrictions on us. Disillusionment then sets in, followed by rebellion and rejection of the parents. We cast ourselves out into the world and begin looking for other, more legitimate authority figures to guide us along life’s journey. We come across leaders and authorities in many fields who show potential, but one by one each of these figures either exploits us, lies to us, manipulates us, or leads us astray in one way or another. We see that they all have their own private agendas, and we are objects at their disposal. We come to distrust all authority and reject anyone who tries to place themselves above us. Our life becomes a constant struggle to cast off the chains of false authority and finally achieve liberation from all forms of control. The end result is that we become our own authority, our own parent. The ego is crowned king.

It is at this point that we get stuck and our spiritual development slows to a crawl. Not knowing where to turn for guidance, we get trapped in repetitive behaviours and addictive cycles. Refusing to submit to false authority of any kind – politicians, scientific experts, business leaders, media moguls, law enforcement officers, religious figures, gurus, etc. – we close up, put on a shield of armor, protect ourselves and retrench into our individual minds. In doing so we sacrifice communion with other souls and with Spirit. This makes our lives into sad, dull, depressing, repetitive drudgery, going through the motions on a daily basis, without hope, curiosity or destination. Deep down inside us there is something that knows that there must be more to life than 9-to-5 slavery followed by the idiocy of television and the occasional interruption for family matters, yet we have lost our vision and cannot see how to move forward, how to escape. We are stuck in a trap of our own making.

This can be likened to climbing a mountain with no experience, no map, no light our sound to set our bearings to, nothing to direct our course. We are wandering blindly in the dark. We fear the sacrifice and discipline a spiritual path entails because we do not find any guarantee that all of our efforts will ‘pay off’. This is an example of linear, rational (ego) thinking, always seeing choices as transactions with a defined sacrifice and a predictable payoff. Spiritual paths are not like that. It takes faith and courage to release our concrete trappings in order to make room in our hearts and minds for a richer, deeper, more refined way of being and to sacrifice our personal will to Spiritual will. Those who expect guaranteed rewards will find this path hard to follow. Yes, others have led us astray in the past, but it doesn’t have to be like this.

The Way Out

Escape is possible, and the way to do it is by asking a higher power to come back into our lives – whether you call it Spirit, God, higher self, or anything else – to give us personal guidance and point us in the right direction. We cannot be our own parent, our own guide. Though we may be parents to our own children, we must always be children to a higher authority.

Adulthood does not mark the end of growth or development. It is another stage, one where inner work becomes important. To let God in, we need to let go of the idea that we know everything, that we know what is right or best, that we know where we’re going. We do not know these things, but God does. The only door that leads out of the maze is the one that goes straight to the highest authority of all. God speaks to us through our inner voices – conscience, heart, instinct and intuition – and also through the outer experiences of life, the events and people we come across. If we listen to those messages we can move forward along our journey. It helps to be like a child, curious and with an open heart and open mind.

All rebellions and revolutions must eventually transform or else they are doomed to fail by betraying their original purposes. This is because once the enemy has been defeated, we now occupy their former position, and must take on the role that they used to play. Rebellion always begins from a ‘down’ position in terms of power, authority, etc. and, if successful, ends up in an ‘up’ position. The critical question then becomes: do we continue to look up and strive for ascension, wisdom, guidance and liberation for all, or do we look down on those left behind and exercise power over them, becoming the authority barrier we fought so hard to displace? Assuming the parent role, do we let go of our childish curiosity and ambition, or do we keep and cherish it?

Barriers to Happiness

Why are we seduced by the ego’s devices: power, plans and rules? Because we have been hurt in the past at the hands of other people. We have been abused, oppressed, neglected, suffered injustices of all kinds, and we see power, plans and rules as defenses against the unjust rule of illegitimate rulers and authorities. However, once the revolution is complete and illegitimate authority has been overthrown, we must give up our power, plans and rules and surrender to a higher power, otherwise we will remain unsatisfied. The life lived according to the ego’s devices is inherently unfulfilling, because it always ends up in dead-end repetitive cycles of behaviour. You will never find happiness as long as you try to design your own experience. When you imagine an end state and try to create it, even if you succeed you won’t find much joy. True joy comes from discovery. Our hearts yearn to discover that which is unknown, and this can can only be done in a mindset of humility, receptivity, curiosity and attentiveness – child qualities. This goes far beyond the desire to feel pleasure and contentment. The most rewarding experiences are those full of surprise, mystery, wonder, novelty and learning. The least rewarding experiences are those where we repeat old patterns and habits, like a record stuck in a groove, struggling with the same familiar challenges without learning.

False power means bending other people and events according to our individual will, whereas true power means giving up all desire to control evens and people, surrendering to divine will.

False plans mean linear schemes and plans made by the individual mind, whereas true plans mean letting Spirit direct our lives, taking one step at a time and focusing on the moment at hand.

False rules mean living out a script, putting life into a box by ‘deciding before you have to decide’, setting hard limits and guidelines, whereas true rules mean getting human judgement (good/bad) and labels out of the way, observing the laws of nature and Spirit, making decisions as needed, moment by moment based on context and the necessities of the situation.

In sum, we are not in control of the big picture. We cannot see the journey that has been laid for us. Nevermind that – all we have to do is take the next step and pay attention to what we find.

The Nature of Authority

The false authority helps preserve existing values, structures and material. It is useful up to a point, by helping to prevent a slide into chaos and ruin. It also is a kind of leader, but one that leads us in circles in a dead-end loop. It finds security and control in the known, but cannot take us into new territory because it is essentially fear-based and faithless. It appears strong but is built upon weakness of character. It does not know how to leave home and take up an adventure because it is a barrier to acceptance of true authorty, true wisdom, which is God. Its perspective is limited and thus it is blind in the ways of spirit.

Authority shows up whenever we put ourselves or something at risk, to prevent harm and question our motivation. The only way to transcend the barrier of authority is to own its power by becoming it. We must absorb and include the protective nature of authority and put it in its place, allowing us to dive fearlessly into the cosmic mystery of life. In doing so, we let go of the need to know and control our situation, our future and other people, and we follow our natural instincts toward unlimited love, freedom, play and joy. Our strength comes not from defensiveness or force but from vulnerability and openness to an intimate connection with true power which comes from God. We don’t need to see too far into the future because we have faith in a grand vision of which we know only a part. We know that whatever arises we will meet it without fear or doubt, having the skills and resources we need in the moment. Knowing who we truly are, we do not cling to the body, money or possessions, but allow those things to be used and passed on when they are no longer needed. We ride the waves of time and space and surf the cosmic energy, giving and receiving easily and without resistance. We see ourselves in each other person and accept the value that they represent without any need to fix or control them. We feel instinctively when things need to evolve, change or transform, and when they need to sit and digest. We allow the divine will to be done through us and the divine wisdom to present itself to us. Improvisation, playfulness, lightness and freedom are the modes of our being. We cling lightly to the body identity without artificiality. Our spirit is released from the bonds of time and space, and we lose all predetermined agendas and fixed beliefs. Eternity is us.