Well, today is one of those rare days ...!
My good friend Kevin Beck is a profoundly good writer -- he is able to transmit thoughts and nebulous concepts into provocative words -- and yet, in a way that invites conversation, more than "conversion." His words invite us to enter and consider another perspective, to try it on for size, and walk around in it for a bit, just to see how it fits. I've rarely met such a compassionate, understanding, gracious and real human being. I am blessed by his friendship, and I hope to bless all of YOU with what he writes here ... I'll share what he wrote first, and then include my comments, which burst out of me in a symphony of joy, in response to what I read...!
August 3, 2009
Behold! The dwelling of God is with humanity.
"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it but cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the spirit."
~ Jesus of Nazareth
You feel something is amiss. You want to develop your spiritual self, but you have a nagging sense that something isn't right -- that you aren't right.
Would a spiritual person have unsavory feelings, base urges, and lingering struggles? Spiritual people don't laugh at juvenile jokes, think about sex, or lapse in their religious practices. Do they?
You know the advice. Shape up spiritually. Exercise your inner self. Whip yourself into becoming a better person, into being the person you believe you ought to be.
It's common to harbor some laughably unrealistic assumptions of what constitutes spirituality. You must do, think, feel, and act in prescribed patterns. You must avoid specific places, emotions, and behaviors.
Spiritual people teach profound truth. They walk slightly above the ground, speak infinite wisdom, and spend an inordinate amount of time in an otherworldly trance. Spiritual people wear spiritual clothes, eat spiritual food, and eliminate spiritual waste through their spiritual bowels.
To achieve this advanced spiritual condition we've assumed that we must quell our humanity. Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle. If you set aside all of your lower desires, you can eventually obtain your higher ones.
How do you learn the method of relinquishing your supposedly inferior longings? You might engage in what has been bizarrely called spiritual disciplines.
These alleged spiritual disciplines come in several flavors. Fasting, reading, poverty, self-flagellation are just a few. Theoretically, if you exercise your spiritual will properly it will develop enough strength to overcome your carnal will. When that finally occurs, you will achieve a breakthrough and receive an awakening that will transform you into what you've always wanted to be.
Unfortunately, none of this striving equates to a spiritual awakening.
Of course, if you perform certain activities you will undergo changes and perhaps even attain ecstatic states. There is too much evidence -- anecdotal and experimental -- to suggest otherwise. For example, scientific studies have conclusively shown that the brain changes in and after meditation.
But that does not amount to spiritual attainment. In fact, your spiritual disciplines may deceive you into thinking that you're becoming more spiritual when you are fully spiritual already.
Consider the so-called spiritual discipline of fasting. If you go several days without eating, you will feel great hunger. And if you refrain from food in hope of receiving some enlightenment, you will likely interpret your intensifying hunger as a sign of your spiritual development. If you go long enough without eating, your hunger may trigger experiences that you interpret as spiritual epiphanies.
The same holds true for the innumerable other disciplines. It is akin to the placebo effect. If you believe that activity X will cause a spiritual incident, your expectation will probably be fulfilled when you engage in activity X.
But is there any reason to assume that spiritual disciplines must be physically painful? Does intentionally imposed physical distress trigger spiritual development? Can't there be paths to illumination and inner development that do not involve customary formulas?
Joseph Dispenza is a former monk who eventually renounced his vows when realizing that spirituality can transcend traditional procedures. He writes about his spiritual life in the book God on Your Own. "Poverty, chastity, and obedience formed the foundation of our monastic way of life. The objective was to be free to concentrate completely on the life of the spirit without allowing anything to interfere."
Dispenza makes a brilliant observation. We often suppose that the life of the spirit can be obtained only (or primarily) through an arranged methodology. And to achieve that lofty goal one must not permit any lower distractions. Normal sensations like hunger and libido must be overcome, and this usually involves a certain amount of physical or emotional strain.
Why does spiritual discipline feel like spiritual punishment?
Conventional approaches to spiritual awakening make unnecessary and unhelpful divisions. An individual is set against himself in the attempt to achieve spiritual attainment. Do we really think that the outer life is a hindrance to the inner life? Have we divided ourselves into so many warring factions that we believe that we can have peace only by killing off one or more of our splinter groups?
An unnecessary dualistic separation between secular and spirit overlooks the fact that all is spirit. The physical body is not bad. Hunger is not evil. Sex is not immoral. Natural desires and impulses are not stumbling blocks to be overcome. They are integral features of your existence to be welcomed.
Paradoxically, the desire to achieve spiritual success involves the same act of will that it hopes to quash. If it is assumed that the will is wicked, the will can't be employed to overcome itself without utter failure. Exerting the "spiritual will" to defeat "fleshly will" is still an act of will. It is simply substituting one will (and one desire) for another. The will is still at work, and the false identity is the primary actor.
This approach makes the faulty assumption that the will is evil and human desire must be conquered. If you consider your will and your instincts to be problematic, you may try to kill, destroy, or suppress them. Ironically in this attempt of self-domineering, you practice what you seek to extinguish.
Exerting the will to attain a spiritual goal indicates unawareness of greed, voracity, and craving. Greed is greed whether its desire is wealth, fame, power, sex, or spiritual ascendancy.
For this reason, Jesus reminded his followers, "Beware of covetousness."
When you already have what you long to attain, you are unaware of your abundance. If you try to become what you already are, you are unconscious of your true self. Your thinking about what stereotypical spirituality looks like drives you to grasp for the wind. Spirituality has nothing to do with formulaic practices or hackneyed appearances. It has everything to do with you being you.
If you hope to get spiritual by doing certain deeds, you are practicing greed, and you will not get what you seek to obtain. If you do a deed for its own sake, you will find the presence of God therein. That's why to find, you must stop seeking.
Instead of longing to get a little spiritual something-something by paying the right price, participate in the spirit of the present. This moment is saturated with divinity, and you have done nothing to cause it. Each moment is uniquely spiritual.
The spirit blows where it wishes, and that doesn't sound especially disciplined. Wendell Berry reverentially describes God as "the wildest being in existence." You can't control an undisciplined spirit regardless of how disciplined you think you are.
To live in the fullness of this moment, you may need to unlearn spiritual disciplines. You may need to become spiritually undisciplined in order to experience the kingdom of God as a little child. Living with spontaneity, gratitude, and attentiveness today is discipline enough without greedily looking to get more in a future that never arrives.
BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT, Kevin!!!!!!!
Oh, I could just kiss you! In a wholly-holy, completely spiritual, utterly spouse-approving way, of course...!
YES! My whole being reverberates with a YES to all you've said here!
I've been reading/dabbling in the teachings of many spiritual teachers ... and while there's much good insight there (as with almost everything), something has felt "amiss" ("you must go deeper, you must meditate rightly, and more, and often; forsake what you see, it's all an illusion") ... and lo and beHOLD, it's the age-old seduction of "trying harder, striving, thou shalt suffer to attain" message that keeps on sneaking into everything -- we just can't seem to stay on the level of "God is enough, I am enough, it is good, here and now - so BE (it)!!!
Oh, my heart sings at that, my spirit does back-flips, and my poor, long-maligned body dances at the thought of being enjoyed, honored and CELEBRATED!!! My (egoic/unrenewed) mind may continue to yammer a bit, but it's ok ... I can laugh with it as it keeps catching up with the "too good to NOT be true" reality...!
How I sense God delighting when we *get* this...! I can "see" His head thrown back in exuberant laughter, arms thrown open wide, as the universe is filled with His joyous welcome: "Yes! You see, you see! Join the dance, celebrate this life as your gift, your unearned, unstriven-for, un-yank-awayable inheritance! Just because you're MINE -- and you're ALL mine!!!"
What an assault to our "watch-me-earn-this" egos! What an undermining to the system of meritology & believe-the-RIGHT-theory-ology that permeates the institutions (& the unrenewed minds!) of this collectively-blind consciousness! What a shock to our carefully-constructed-and-maintained sand-castle foundations! What an uber-LIBERATION to all of humanity, all of our planet, all the universe!
Mmmmmmm-WAH! Thou art kissed!
(can ya tell that I liked it?!?)
P.S. If you like what Kevin wrote (and of course you do!), you can subscribe to his weekly Parousia e-newsletter, and/or send comments and/or kisses here: firstname.lastname@example.org