The Simplest of Pursuits

  I wanted to discuss today what the spiritual journey is in my eyes, and a little bit about what the spiritual journey is not. As I address topics like this it’s important to keep in mind, and I hope that you will, that any time I am speaking in the negative, such as this instance when I am incorporating several statements about what isn’t, I am in no way trying to diminish anyone’s current state of believing, thinking, or even unbelief for that matter. I am simply trying to describe, the best I can, what I have discovered along this journey of life and seeking and learning thus far.

                For many of us who have undertaken a spiritual journey or consider ourselves to be quote “Spiritual” we would be lying if we said that the journey hasn’t been rather wearisome at times. Most people on a path toward enlightenment have been taught that spirituality and spiritual practice is something that you add to your life, but not that the path of spiritual transformation is life itself. This is a major difference. We are looking to integrate spiritual practice not realizing that the entire act of living is, not only practice in and of itself, but is the main event. Our life is the spiritual journey, whether we recognize it or not. We are in the midst of the production of life which is completely spiritual and so incorporating spiritual practice into our lives isn’t so much a thing we do during our day but is the activity of becoming more conscious, more aware, and more personally integrated.

                When I was traveling and speaking often several years back, I would talk about hearing God speak to me, about The Voice, which would lead me in nearly every decision I make. Even yesterday while I was out to a meal with my family I was ordering food, a salad since I’m in the middle of a training cycle and am sticking to a specific diet, and I was going to order a side of fries since I have been stuck on eating French fries since Liz and I’s last trip to France, but as I was about to order The Voice spoke within me and said, “No fries tonight”. So I didn’t order French fries. I try listen to this voice as often as possible. I’ve have found it steers me in the right direction when I’ll make the choice to listen and to respond. This is a minor example, and that is the point of using this as an example, that there is nothing so small that, if I am listening, I cannot receive guidance about. This inner voice is what I would describe as the voice of God or of Jesus, but I should add that I don’t distinguish this from my own inner voice, or from my true self. My true self is in perfect union with God… and so is yours.  When I traveled I would tell stories like this (although usually they were more exciting stories with more dramatic outcomes or results from listening to The Voice) and inevitably people would approach me afterward and want to know, in detail, what it’s like to hear the voice. The big concern for them would be, “So how do I know what is the voice of God or if what I am hearing are just my own thoughts?” Or they’d ask, “How do you know the difference?”’

                When I would answer you could see that my response would almost frustrate them at times, I’d say, “I just believe that every thought that goes through my head is God.” I would usually qualify  that by saying that every thought the lined up with the realities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness, self-control and generosity, were the ones I felt were from God… but even this now seems to fall short of truth for me. Every thought and action, even those that people would consider evil, self-centered, or malicious, I would now say is to some degree or another Divine. Although God or Divinity is Good, and is even goodness Herself, that doesn’t mean that Divinity, or God, or whatever you want to call it, is confined strictly to goodness or light, but also incorporates evil, darkness, pain, and the like. This is why Paul, when he wrote a letter to the Romans in Christian scriptures, makes the statement that all things work together for the good of those who love God. All things meaning the good and the evil, the light and the darkness. All things. Because to have one without the other is not to have heaven or hell but is to not have life at all. Pain works alongside pleasure in our lives, accentuating pleasure and somehow even defining it, that without pain there is no pleasure. So instead of trying to eradicate pain throughout the course of our lives we can somehow embrace it within ourselves, this doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it as if we were all masochists, but we can acknowledge and even appreciate pain for the marvelous job it does at revealing pleasure in our lives. We have made things so difficult and have even heaped shame upon ourselves at times because we’re always trying to be good and not bad, always trying to do what’s right and not wrong and have forgotten that beyond and above all this trying is our true call which is simply to be! To be light. To be love. To be peace. To be joy. Even to be passion, or to be anger. By being whatever we are in each given moment, we are adding flavor to the world but more importantly, we are being honest. And this sort of honesty, a conscious honesty, is largely what it means to be in tune with our deeper, or what some would call our spiritual, essence. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cultivate kindness in our lives, but it does mean that we aren’t false about it. We’ve all experienced that bland trait of “niceness” that so many people are living out around us. Doing everything they can to appear nice when actually in the back of their mind they are wishing they weren’t talking with you, or even worse despising you as they smile and nod and play at niceness. This sort of behavior does nothing for those who are participating in it or to those being exposed to it. It’s much better to be honest with someone than to be nice. I’m not encouraging rudeness but sincerity about how we actually feel. If you don’t enjoy someone’s presence there’s no need to fake it, really. Behaving according to how you are actually feeling will be refreshing for you, even if it may be potentially not well received by others. Living in an honest way with ourselves is freeing and I believe that this kind of transparency is generally appreciated by the people around us, even if it’s hard for them to experience sometimes.  Certainly Jesus wasn’t worried about stepping on toes  when he lamented saying, “You faithless generation… how long do I have to put up with you?” or when he told the parable about feeding children’s food to dogs, clearly referencing the person in front of him as the dog in the story. Jesus lived from a place of honesty with himself and with the people around him, and that’s why I follow him as my teacher.

                So what does it look like to be on a spiritual path then? First of all, it looks much like I have been describing already, like accepting ourselves and others… the perceived good and the perceived bad. But in terms of practice, as far as nurturing and permitting our essential selves to be matured, there is much that we can do. It’s important to note though, before we go further into this topic of what we can do, that most everything that is happening in regards to our actual development spiritually is being done to us. Our “doing” is really just a shifting of focus and positioning ourselves in a way that is conducive to being transformed. For example, if we try too hard to be light everyone will see we are trying too hard. Jesus said that we are, that you and I are, the light of the world… already. He didn’t say that we should try to be light. Trying too hard, we become the unpalatable “nice person” that I mentioned a minute ago. The trick to being light is to shift our minds to a place where we are looking for light, looking for goodness, everywhere and in everything. The things we fix our gaze upon have been given permission to transform us. They cause us to evolve. Just as someone who always focuses on what is negative can be almost unbearable to be around, because they themselves become and exude the negativity they’re fixated on, so can a person who is focused on love and peace and joy actually become these powers themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they act more loving or joyful (though this is often the case) but their essential nature is transformed and aligned with being love or being joy. This kind of person is always adding beauty to the world. For a person who’s cultivated and yielded to such a state of love and union and honesty, even their anger adds beauty to the world because it contributes and adds diversity. Even violence, when it’s rooted in love, can be beautiful.

                There is much to be said for some of the spiritual disciplines, such as meditation, or silence or prayer. These can all be useful when they’re applied to the spiritual path as long as they are seen as tools that can be utilized and not confused with the end goal. We will go into more depth on these topics in the future, because incorporating meditation into your life can be transformative, but because my intention today was to discuss the simplicity of the spiritual journey I am going to keep it simple. If you don’t have silence in your life, a time during the day of physical and mental peace, it would benefit you greatly to get some. Spend a few minutes in quiet every day. You don’t have to be thinking about anything and you don’t have to not be thinking about anything either. The goal is to be at rest. If you find yourself feeling anxious about work or the kids or school or whatever it might be, if your mind is wandering, try just focusing on your breath instead. Be aware as your breath enters your lungs and leaves them. How many seconds does it take to inhale, how many to exhale? Fixing your attention this way will help to calm and center you. You might only be able to start with a few minutes of this sort of practice but eventually you’ll learn to rest more easily and can spend more and more time in this space. As you build on this practice, you’ll naturally find over time that you end up in this place of inner rest throughout your day even when you’re not trying to or thinking about it. I don’t want to go on too much about this now, but even this small practice can get you started.

                In closing, what I really wanted to touch on in regards to the simplicity of the spiritual path is the conscious pursuit of joy. In my own life I have come to view joy as a compass; a sort of guide that I can continually reference in order to see if my life is on the right track or not. If I’m not resting in or experiencing joy then I know there is something wrong. I’m not referring to some fleeting feeling of gitty happiness when I say joy. I’m speaking of a deep seated contentment or feeling of affection. My family brings me joy. Rock climbing and interacting with and participating in the infinitude of nature brings me joy. Being creative facilitates joy. Air and sun on my skin brings me joy; a secret knowledge of my belonging. Want another practical step to take?

                 An easy way to do this is to evaluate your life, determine which areas of your life produce the greatest joy, and focus your energy and intentions in those directions. We also need to be willing to lay aside those things that don’t produce joy and to make changes and allow more room for those things that do. Earlier I mentioned that the things we shift our focus on are given the power to transform us. Again, Christian scripture even states that as we fix our eyes upon God that we are transformed from glory to glory. The thing we are seeking we actually become, or more accurately maybe, that which we are, fundamentally and essentially, can be called forth and nurtured by us learning to orient our attention onto those things which are cultivating beauty, love, and truth in our lives.

                If you remember nothing else, at least don’t forget that the spiritual journey is not something difficult or for only a select few people to pursue and enjoy. It is for every man and woman to participate in. It’s not a list a things you can or can’t do. There are no fixed rules to the game. It’s not about acquiring or possessing intellectual knowledge. Being on a spiritual path is all about allowing ourselves to be transformed into that which we’re seeking, and we participate by being present, grateful, and by being honest. Divinity is already your essential nature and the whole journey of life, both spiritual and otherwise, is really about being that which you already are, on the most foundational level.