There is a whole life happening within us that we don’t often see – spirit moving through our lives. We cannot control it and we rarely get glimpses into its long intention. Yet it carries more influence on our lives than anything we believe is happening before us.
We can experience life as difficult, thwarting us turn by turn. This is disturbing, since we believe we’re entitled to a pleasing life. We become frustrated and disappointed when life doesn’t cooperate.
If we could get a glimpse within and see that our painful experiences sometimes bring great good, we would be able to accept the pain. If we could see that some of our pleasurable activities cause harm, we would cease that behavior. Instead, we fight the pain and seek pleasure.
Painful activities are not intrinsically good. Nor are pleasurable experiences necessarily bad. It’s just that judging the value of our experience by whether it brings pain or pleasure is a faulty metric.
Spirit moves through us, even when we cannot decipher its intent.
We have the choice to surrender and move in unison with the spirit within. Understanding the nature of spirit is not necessary, but willingness is. We can reach guidance through prayer and meditation, followed by listening to the call to active service.
As we learn this, we are guided by peace, a peace that is neither pleasure nor pain. With practice, we can learn to rely on the guidance, even while that which guides us remains a mystery.
When you begin to see life without fear, frightening things become acceptable. Or so it may seem.
At the same time, we may feel called upon to act in response to a world that is out of balance, whether it’s someone in trouble or larger harmful developments.
This world matters even if we are convinced our experience in this world will dissolve into oneness.
It’s a spiritual fantasy to believe that nothing matters, that the world before us is not real. The world is not real is the same way as the eternal inside inside, yet it functions as real in our spiritual journey.
In the late 1970s, Krishnamurti famously asked an audience whether they wanted “to know his secret.” Audience members reportedly leaned forward in anticipation. Krishnamurti quietly said, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.”
It’s one of my favorite quotes.
Another quote I love comes from Angela Davis, and it seems to say the exact opposite:
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
This twist on the Serenity Prayer is a commitment to act in the world.
These two ideas live inside me comfortably, though it took a few years to understand they are not in conflict.
We offer ourselves to the presence within. We ask for guidance, and we ask to be useful. “Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Thy will.” And we surrender the outcome.
We will be okay. The world will be okay. Whatever happens. And we give ourselves over to the guidance to do what we can do.
I heard a great line: “I understand God about as much as my dog understands my credit card.”
That’s right. Yet it doesn’t matter how well we understand God or spirit or the presence within. Understanding is not possible. It’s also not necessary.
What matters is how we experience the presence of spirit – whatever spirit is. That experience is real and it can have an astonishing impact on our lives.
How we experience spirit is individual. It’s like learning your body. You step here, but not there. You lift here, and you release there. You lean toward this, and you lean away from that.
Some spiritual practices nourish. Some leave you hungrier still. And it changes over time.
Some spiritual practices always help, year in and year out. In this effort, we are not really learning anything about spirit. We’re learning about ourselves and how we connect to spirit.
That’s all that matters. In time, we become more efficient in the process. We learn how to drop a fruitless effort quickly. We learn how to recognize what works. We gain a taste for what effectively brings us to awareness.
After walking in the desert endlessly, we come to streams and forests and gentle pastures. The effort teaches us an understanding of how we connect. With practice, it comes easily. At first, however, that notion seems ludicrous.
Your wound is like the purposeful flaw in Native American pottery – it’s there to let spirit in. We all need to heal through life. It’s in the healing we connect with spirit. Spirit reaches us through the wound.
I used to believe that addiction was a form of wounding, that we hurt ourselves and others through addiction. That’s true. But it’s also true that the wound was there before the addiction. The addiction was our way of trying to cope with our wounds. At first, it works. Then of course it doesn’t. Things get worse and soon we’re struggling with greater wounds. When we get sober, we find we still need to heal the original wound.
What is that original wound? Does it come simply from being alive on Earth? We don’t know. Over time, we come to be aware that something within us is broken. The cure is our connection with spirit. Many of us discover this simple truth after trying everything else to ease the pain.
Many of us come to feel gratitude for the discomfort that so vividly prompted our attention to healing. This is good. Our spiritual journey begins as we try to heal the wound.
Spiritual calm is easy when everything is going great. Finding peace is easy even if things are only going sort of well. Yet spirituality becomes critical in the rough patches, when life slips slowly or suddenly out of control. This’s when calm matters – and that’s when inner peace can be hard to find.
Our troubles are often illusory, but it can take spirituality to see through the illusion.
Think about difficulties you’ve experienced in the past. How many of those would have been greatly relieved if you kept your head? How many of them were not actually difficulties but rather misperceptions?
Overcorrection can cause serious car accidents. The state of Missouri recently identified overcorrection as the leading cause of traffic fatalities.
During much of my life, I responded to problems with emotional overcorrection. Call it overreaction or reactive behavior. It was a matter of not being able to insert the brain between a seemingly threatening event and my response to it.
Spirituality provides a cool pause in a highly charged world – a place of calm when life is on fire.
Spirituality can circumvent damaging emotional reactions and give you a chance to see – even if just for a moment – that the essence of life is peace and love, not threat and danger.
Reading books and blogs on spirituality, listening to talks, watching YouTube videos, all of it brings calm and reminds me to pay attention to the soft hum in my chest and arms.
It doesn’t bring wisdom.
Stepping into spiritual writing and discussion draws me closer to a place within and gives me ways to express what’s inside.
If I’m not careful, I can go years without any awareness of the language within.
Some time ago, I attended a spiritual talk with a friend. Afterwards I asked what she had learned. “I didn’t learn anything,” she replied. “I didn’t expect to.”
“Then why did you go?”
“I need to be reminded.”
I need to be reminded as well. When I put myself into the stream of spiritual language, I am reminded of the presence and I awake yet again to the guidance inside.
For me, access to the wisdom within requires continual reminders, and I am grateful for each one.
I used to want peace. Now I’m not sure what peace is.
The absence of stress? Taking away stress doesn’t necessarily leave us with peace.
So I’ll take quiet as the metric.
The absence of noise in my head doesn’t result in complete silence, but I don’t need complete silence to be quiet.
Birds, the breeze through the bushes, far-off horn honking, the tapping of a woodpecker a few trees away – that’s quiet enough.
Not fretting over the past, not uneasy about the future – just quiet.
My muscles relax and yet I’m not sleepy.
There are worse ways to live.
There are worse ways I’ve lived.
It’s not a long journey to be quiet. It’s right here, and I don’t worry whether it’s peace, whether I’m in the now, or whether I’m all right. It’s just quiet.
Oscar Wilde wrote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
While literary critics have pondered the meaning of that provocative line, anyone pursuing spirituality in recovery knows immediately – and with great personal empathy – exactly what Wilde was saying: Even in the roughest storm of life, we can see the startling beauty of the heavens.
Despite his considerable literary talent, Wilde died an impoverished alcoholic at 46, in exile from England and mostly estranged from his family. He was imprisoned for two years for homosexuality, and for the rest of his life he was barred from seeing his two children from an earlier marriage.
In the darkness of the gutter, the stars can shine incredibly bright.
In a recent song by the metal band, Disturbed, they say, “Sometimes darkness can show you the light.”
The contrast between the dank despair of human decent and the eye-burning shine of spiritual revelation is shocking – sometimes it’s shock enough to lift us up to the world of the living. Other times, it’s merely the faint call of a promising world on the other side of death.
The light-filled world of connection and hope is a blink away. It’s right here in your breath. The path to this warm earthly home is visible through the stars that we see from the gutter. Even in the sour sink of fear, we are always strong enough to climb through. Yet many will die tonight for the lack of seeing that path. Their time will come again and again even so.
When we get these feelings of spiritual connectedness, when it seems we are one with all that’s around us, even at one with our own lives, maybe we’re seeing a crack into the next world. Or the in-between world where spirit breathes for a moment before we enter a new earth with new skin.
Or maybe the world is spiritual in its essence and the connectedness is a brief view of what is actually true.
We wake up with needs, we wake up with pain, we wake up and choose to see the connectedness behind the pain and need. We wake up and see the need and pain of others and our own troubles subside. We attend to the needs and pain of others and the connectedness seeps in and the needs and pain drift away.
And what world is here before us?
Trees and houses and moons and clouds and dogs and wind and water. Is our pain among these?
Is our connectedness elsewhere or is it mixed into the world before us? Is our connectedness taste and skin and smells and the weight of air? Is our connectedness relief from this world, a reminder that our mammal life is just a moment along a curve of outrageous beauty?
For now, I am here among so many people, alive in the exquisite presence of love that doesn’t even know it’s love.
All day long, we go around with a monologue inside our head – the chatter of our thinking. Much of it includes thoughts such as: what do I have to do next, why is this or that person making things difficult, what am I going to have to eat or drink in the next? Will I be late? Am I good enough to do what’s expected from me? What happens if I lose my income? How am I going to stop this pain?
Often – if not almost always – it’s a mixture of fear and stress.
We sometimes mix the negative voice with fantasies of escape or revenge. These fantasies are not tangible nor rational enough to produce satisfying action.
The voice in your head sounds like your own, but it’s not. It tends to be a compiled rumble of childhood messages mixed with adult conflicts and disappointments. The fears and stress are enunciated in your own words and in your own voice.
On the bright side, we can replace the negative thoughts with positive affirmations or steps toward solutions. Even then, a negative voice will pop up out of nowhere. Chasing those negative thoughts is like hitting the plastic moles in What-A-Mole. So, how do you untangle this mess of unhappy inner quarrels?
Here’s a secret for the ages: you don’t have to believe in your own thoughts.
Your thoughts are just thoughts, words streaming through your head like the crawl at the bottom of a news channel. Let those thoughts be. They are not you. You don’t have to own them. They actually get quieter if you pay them no mind.
It’s a tiny thing to learn, but it’s helped me a great deal.