Sharing is often what the energy of life looks like from a spiritual point of view, just as it is from the perspective of a small child. For children, and for people who live with the heart of a child, much of life revolves around what others give to them and what they give to others, so sharing is as natural an aspect of life as eating, sleeping, playing, and learning the so-called lessons of life.
Because writing is such an integral aspect of my life, here are the first two installments of what will be a continuing series of postings I would like to share with interested readers about a wide variety of topics.
Excerpt from an essay entitled “De-quantifying Spiritual Experiences”
Because every experience we have is infused with the possibility of experiencing the infinite unity of life, living as spiritual persons is a way of freeing ourselves from the burden of becoming.
The act of becoming, which is obviously an experience shared by everyone, becomes a burden, rather than a natural unfolding of life, when it becomes a quantitative rather than a qualitative experience; when it becomes a way of injecting conditions into a person’s ability to live in the fullness of each experience. Acts that are done “in order to become” someone are aimed at a particular purpose, and in this sense are “technological” (technical) in the same way one uses a tool in order to achieve a certain result. Even if the intent of an act is to become a spiritual person or a better person, the intent is used as a tool to achieve a result, just as a hammer is used to hit the head of a nail.
This kind of technologically energized activity is obviously useful and appropriate when dealing with the material conditions of life (time and space), because tools extend our innate abilities with regards to understanding and manipulating these conditions. But when involved with the non-material aspects of our lives – those that keep us in touch with the infinite reality that includes and transcends our material conditions – the use of tools is an obstacle, a burden, because they are superfluous, they are not needed.
In a context of unity, of infinite wholeness, tools serve no useful purpose, because there is nothing to achieve, no purpose other than “just being”. In a genuine unity, each expression of being is both unique and complete simply because of its presence, its existence, so there is no need “to become.”
And although it may sound abstract and far removed from ordinary life to describe an experience of unity in this way, it is, in reality, as “tangible” (real), and as “absolute” (fulfilling), as any experience of unconditional love, or mind-numbing beauty, or profound truth, or all- encompassing goodness.
Unity – our spiritual reality – is the fundamental, most life enhancing context within which we can live, and when in touch with it – in touch with the infinite within us – we have no need of becoming anything other than who we are at the moment. And when free from the “burden” of becoming, we can live in the freedom of participating in the present – the freedom of “being as a way of doing.”
It is not surprising that contemporary cultures do much to extol the value of becoming what we are not and relatively little to encourage the experience of simply being who we are, because the mindset of technology is a future-oriented mindset, geared towards the use of tools to achieve specific results.
As individuals living in cultures obsessed with the use of technology, we are, of course, drawn towards seeing reality through the eyes of technology, even the reality of spiritual life. Many bookstores are filled with shelves devoted to spirituality, but a vast majority of the books on offer adopt a “how to” approach to becoming “more spiritual,” with many seeking to provide readers with a comprehensive theoretical framework for adopting a particular “path” to spiritual experience. It seems clear that authors, publishers, retailers, and consumers of spiritually oriented literature all, to a large extent, partake of the “technomania” rampant in contemporary cultures.
Ironically, many of the spiritually oriented books of recent years do point to spiritual insights that celebrate the virtue of “being as a way of doing” in spite of being presented in a future oriented “how to” context of becoming. For instance, living as fully as possible in a present moment is now commonly recognized as a quintessential spiritual experience. Yet in culture environments (such as ours) geared to the use of tools to achieve personal goals, the reality of “present focused living” can be easily misunderstood as a technique for achieving a spiritual experience, as if a spiritual experience is something to be attained rather than an experience that is always available to us because we are spiritual beings – because spiritual life is our fundamental nature.
If the infinite reality of spiritual life is within us, it is not something we need to attain, nor is it something we need more of. To rephrase a well-known cliché, the infinite is the infinite is the infinite. So, to touch infinity in any way is to recognize that we are within it, and simply being within it is surely as complete an experience as possible.
. . . It is not surprising that spiritual teachers throughout human history have been pointing to (and continue to point to) the reality of spiritual life in terms of “letting go” of whatever binds us to the finite conditions of life, or “losing one’s life” as a way of truly experiencing it. When we actually “let go” of conditions that limit our involvement with an immediate experience, all that is left is awareness, pure awareness. So, we nurture a capacity to experience the infinite in ourselves and others to the extent that we limit, and if possible remove, obstacles to awareness.
Excerpt from an essay entitled “A Quiet Space”
With good reason, the value of quietness and silence is often associated with helping us stay in touch with our capacity for spiritual insight. What better environment can there be for experiencing our immersion in a boundless reality than one without the incessant clamor of our everyday issues and concerns? And in fact, much of the earliest evidence we have of human spirituality suggests that our early ancestors did withdraw to remote or secluded areas where they could give undisturbed expression to their spiritual yearnings – their efforts to make sense of their involvement with the mysterious unfolding of life around them.
There is a story from one of the oldest sources of Christian wisdom, “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers,” that points to why quiet places, and time spent away from the routine aspects of our everyday lives, provide enriched atmospheres for nurturing our capacity for spiritual insight. In this story, a young traveler asks a renowned spiritual teacher to give him some words of wisdom to guide him on his travels. And because the teacher is observing a day of silence, he writes a single word on a piece of paper and hands it to the young man with a friendly smile. The young man is perplexed, and after a while asks the teacher if he would “expand a bit.” And so the teacher obliges by taking back the piece of paper and rewriting the same word three times. Again the young man is taken aback and asks for more clarification, but all he gets from the teacher is a repetition of the same word – awareness.
In all likelihood, the perplexity of the young man in this story stems from an assumption that awareness is primarily about our physical sensations – about seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting something. And in this context, awareness is a capacity that, given good health, can be taken for granted in any situation, which makes it at best a first step in terms of trying to understand something. However, from a spiritual point of view, every experience unfolds from a reality that transcends its physical dimensions, so awareness is not merely about how we perceive things in a physical sense. More fundamentally, awareness pertains to how our perceptions unite us with what we perceive, bringing us into an immediate (present-centered) experience of interdependence – of unity, of belonging to an all-encompassing reality.
Awareness in this spiritual sense endows us with a capacity to detect a kind of luminescence in what we see, a kind of transparency that reveals its participation in the infinite wholeness of reality. So, because what we see through spiritual eyes is not limited by its physical characteristics, spiritual awareness does not rely on what we might expect or desire about it from previous experiences. Rather, when we see through spiritual eyes, we are looking at someone or something wholly in the light of a present moment, in the light of a person’s or object’s actual (“as is”) presence in a particular, here-and-now situation.
Of course, because we live in socially constructed environments, our capacity for spiritual seeing, which can be thought of as “pure awareness,” is tempered by a need to organize the material aspects of our lives, for which we need to rely on the purely physical aspects of perception. In this sense, the perplexity of the young man in the above story is perfectly understandable: normally, we think about awareness in terms of what we already know, expect, or desire about who or what we are observing. But this understanding of awareness is a limited, incomplete, and often misleading one, because it is rooted in the physical (finite) contours of our lives, which is why the teacher’s unspoken message to this young man is so significant.
By pointing to awareness in its fullest sense, the teacher is pointing to our participation in the unlimited – the infinite – wholeness of reality. And although we can experience the presence of infinity within us, translating this experience into the finite structure of words or images is at best incomplete, because how could one possibly “contain” in any way that which is infinite? So, ultimately, pure awareness brings us into an area of experience – a “space” – where the natural “language” is akin to what we know as silence.
. . . But it is important to remember that setting aside time and creating quiet spaces for “deep listening” is not the same as setting aside a time and place for doing something. Deep listening is first and foremost about deep awareness, and genuine awareness never begins with effort, with following a plan of some kind; it simply happens by being as open as possible to whatever we may be experiencing in any given situation and recognizing our unity with it.
A quiet time and space for deep listening may last only a brief moment and occur in any location, quiet or otherwise; or it may occupy a few minutes or several hours, and occur in a much loved environment. The physical conditions are not crucial to any spiritually charged experience. What matters is a person’s sense of being part of an all-encompassing unity, which is an experience that transcends physical conditions.
As spiritual persons, we are always potentially capable of being in tune with our unity with everyone and everything. So, in reality, we already have a quiet place within us, always ready to welcome us and nourish us with its infinite stillness and silence. Our “quiet space within” is like our heart – our hearth, our center – and it’s the place where we can feel most at home.