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Center for Action and Contemplation

Upgrading Our Operating System

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Jesus: Wisdom Teacher

Upgrading Our Operating System
Thursday, January 17, 2019

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues exploring Jesus as a wisdom teacher.

I would like to reflect on this idea of Jesus as a master of consciousness from a slightly different angle with the help of a contemporary computer metaphor: We come into existence with a certain operating system already installed. We can make the choice to upgrade.

Our pre-installed binary system runs on the power of “either/or.” I call it the “egoic operating system.” This dualistic “binary operator” is built right into the structure of the human brain.

The egoic operating system is a way of making sense of the world by dividing the field into subject and object, inside and outside. It perceives through differentiation. One of the most important tasks of early childhood is to learn how to run the operating system. By the time she was one and a half, my granddaughter could already sing along with the Sesame Street jingle, “One of these things is not like the other,” and pick out the cat from among three dogs.

When we become aware of our identity using this egoic operating system, we experience ourselves as persons with unique qualities and attributes. When we introduce ourselves, we usually begin by listing these characteristics: “I am a Pisces, a six on the Enneagram, a person who loves the ocean, an Episcopalian, a priest.” Of course, that same list also makes other people separate from me; they are outside, and I’m inside. I experience myself as a distinct and fixed point of identity that “has” particular qualities and life experiences, and these things make me who I am.

But this sense of identity is a mirage, an illusion. There is no such self that’s separated from everything else, that has insides and outsides, that has experiences. All these impressions are simply a function of an operating system that has to divide the world up into bits and pieces in order to perceive it. Like the great wisdom teachers of all spiritual traditions, Jesus calls us beyond the illusion: “Hey, you can upgrade your operating system, and life is going to look a whole lot different when you do it.”

The binary operating system does have some real importance; it’s not a mistake. It enables us to perform basic cognitive tasks. But most people get stuck in it and rely on the egoic operating system to create a sense of identity. We walk through our lives perceiving, reacting to, and attempting to negotiate the world “out there.” A system based in duality can’t possibly perceive oneness; it can’t create anything beyond itself. So, the drama of the “separate self” goes on and on.

But we do have the capacity, if we so choose, to shift to a whole different basis of perception. We come into this life with another untapped operating system, a nondual way of perceiving the world, and we can learn to steer by it, understand through it, and ultimately discover our deepest sense of identity within it.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 33-35.

Image credit: Christ Among Teachers (detail), Vasily Polenov, 1896, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Within the wider Near East (including Judaism itself), there was a third, albeit unofficial, category of spiritual occupation: a moshel moshelim, or teacher of wisdom, one who taught the ancient traditions of the transformation of the human being. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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