I Don’t Understand Spirit

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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.

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The I Am Behind Who I Am

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Do you ever get the sensation there is someone with you, in the background of your life somewhere? When I was a kid, I had a feeling of something faint in the background. I didn’t think it was God, because I associated God with church on Sunday, and most of what I felt about church was shoes that hurt and an itchy coat.

That childhood sense of something with me was most pronounced when I was by myself out in the woods or fishing or catching snakes or frogs by a pond. Something that knew me was near me. I don’t remember that is was comforting or loving, just that it was there. I didn’t think much about it.

When puberty began, that sense completely vanished. I spend a few years out of sorts with my family and school. I was awkward and hopeless, completely on my own, lost and alienated. In my late teens, experiences with psychedelic drugs brought that feeling back, but only later did I connect it what that feeling I had as a kid. At the time, it seemed the presence I felt was part of the drug experience.

When I began to meditate a few years later, I would experience a sense of presence. The sensation was in my arms and chest, and it came with a feeling of peace and well being. Sometimes the feeling was just above my head and a few inches behind me, connecting to the back of my head.

I thought of it as the sensation of spirit, a sensation of connectedness. I didn’t think of it as consciousness or awareness, and I certainly didn’t think of it as part of myself. Actually, I still don’t.

Then I ended up in the hospital – long story – where I was put into a coma for three weeks. I emerged from the coma with delusions – common when emerging from a sustained coma. The delusions are marked with vividness. Only later did I learn they were delusions. At the time they were exactly like real life.

As I came out of the delusions and began to get my “self” back, I had the sensation of something else looking out through my eyes. The feeling wasn’t alarming; it seemed natural. Everything was so crazy during that time, it was just another part of my bizarre recovery. I had to learn how to eat and walk again – those seemed to be the more pressing issues.

Yet that sense of something looking out through my eyes didn’t subside as things slowly returned to some sort of “normal.” The sensation has not left to this day, many years later. Something is looking out through my eyes. Some of the sensation is exactly like meditation, with a warm buzz in my chest and arms and a sense of well being and peace.

At any time, I can bring it into my awareness, in traffic, during moments of anxiety. It almost always calms me. I suspect that what I’m experiencing is the awareness of the larger “I Am” behind or beyond the self. If I were to choose one word for it, it would be “awareness.” Whatever that means. There is an awareness with me that seems to be looking out my eyes.

I believe it’s the same thing I experience as a kid in the woods, the same thing I experienced during psychedelic experiences and during meditation. Only now, it is much more pronounced. I can’t explain it, but it has become the centering focus of being alive.

Who Needs Secret Knowledge?

Making things simple can take a long time. We have pored over books, attended metaphysical services, classes, and workshops, met with advanced leaders only to discover that we are one with spirit and that spirit is here right now. The only special knowledge we need for that realization is the simple awareness that it’s true.

Be still and know that I am God. Or, be still and know you are one with the presence, and that presence is here now, always, and you cannot help but be one with the presence. There. No more books, no more services. No more classes, no more workshops.

Perhaps not quite so fast. In our daily lives, we can fall into the great forgetfulness. But lucky us, we can wake ourselves up again and again. A friend asked me, “How do you wake up? What’s the process?” We can use whatever brings up to awareness: meditation, prayer, chanting, stopping what we’re doing and paying attention to our surroundings, taking a walk, altering the pace of our breathing.

We experience peace in the wakefulness. I don’t know if our walking-around life gets better as we move to more wakefulness. I like to think it does, but that doesn’t really matter.

We can be of more use to others if we’re more conscious of the presence. In awareness, we can be of more use to ourselves in the world. Thankfully, drama dissipates – both the drama stirred up by our own little selves, and the drama of the world around us.

As we awaken, the world around us calms down. That makes it easier to be still and know that only the presence is real and I am one with the presence.

Is Faith Required for Peace?

What do you need to believe in order to experience peace? Does faith take you there? Many use faith to find peace. They experience peace through faith. Have faith in God, and God will take away your troubles and calm your mind.

For many faith becomes a blanket of divine substance and calming protection.

Yet faith in things unseen is not required for peace. Peace is at hand, in all of us at all times. In your true essence, you are peace. When you let go of the world, peace is what remains.

You do not need a belief system to find peace.

We can experience peace in meditation. In the breathing. In the exhale and the pause before the inhale. Peace becomes a presence.

For a long time, I thought that presence was something outside myself. Something I was reaching. Or something that was reaching me. Spirit. God. The divine consciousness.

No. The presence is not something outside yourself that comes to visit, then goes away.

You are the presence. The presence is your true existence. Your essence. Connected to everything.

We don’t have to struggle to connect. We are connected. We don’t have to work to find peace. We are peace. All that is required is awareness. Not religion. Not a set of beliefs. Not faith.

Over time, the connectedness becomes easy to experience outside of meditation. For it is you in your essence, as close as anything you can experience. Intimate. Essential. Here now. In every breath.

You cannot get this peace wrong, for it is you, and it is always with you. The peace is you. Your troubles are not real. Your thoughts are not real. And yet, you don’t need to let go of your troubles or your thoughts to experience your essential peace. For it is you, here, now, and it cannot be otherwise.

Truth Is an Arrow

Keeping to a spiritual path is not as easy as it looks. Meditation, staying in the now, keeping mindful, reading the latest “it” book, reading one of your past “it” books that got you started into all of this. The list doesn’t seem taxing. Yet it can be surprisingly difficult to remain on a clear spiritual path.

On the song, “When He Returns,” from the album, Slow Train Coming, Bob Dylan sings, “Truth is an arrow, and the gate is narrow that is passes through.” The entire album is Born Again Christian spirituality, but the idea of truth as an arrow and the gate is passes through being narrow applies to any spirituality.

I can fall asleep spiritually very easily, and when I fall asleep, the arrow is gone. When I turn my attention back to my spirituality, it is there waiting. It goes nowhere. I’m the one who goes away. At times, I had nodded off for years.

When I’m not paying attention to my spirituality, my life doesn’t go very well. When I’m paying attention, things are fine in my life – most of all my life isn’t really my life any more. The sense of “me” diminishes and the world grows large. I disappear into the arrow. And the view from the arrow shows that everything is cared for.

Getting back to my spirituality is not a climb, it’s a fall. A release and letting go.

The truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through. Beyond that lies nothing. Beyond that lies everything.

Now People Just Get Prettier

The world can seem inhospitable, or the world can seem a beautiful place that is getting more beautiful yet. The difference, of course, is perception.

In his song, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” Bob Dylan sings:

Now the rainman gave me two cures,
Then he said, ‘Jump right in.’
The one was Texas medicine
The other was just railroad gin.
And like a fool I mixed them,
And it strangled up my mind.
And now people just get uglier
And I have no sense of time.

For many years, I could relate perfectly to Dylan’s words. My mind was quite strangled up, and indeed, I had no sense of time. In that negative view, I thought I had a clear understanding of the world. I thought life was “nasty, brutish and short,” as Thomas Hobbs described it in 1651. I also believed spirituality was an intellectual fantasy. And I was drinking quite a lot.

Much has changed in my life since then. I’ve come to believe the world is charged with spirituality. I now believe the very molecules of reality are spiritual. This change didn’t happen because I was influenced by a book or by a teacher, but simply because I started to see that it was true. It became self-evident, just as waking from a dream makes the events of the dream intrinsically unreal.

Books and teachers have since supported what I see, and they offer ways to articulate what came to me through a crisis. I suppose my new view could also be seen like an intellectual fantasy. And I do expect I will wake up from this round of consciousness as well.

In the meantime, people just get prettier and everything seems so well timed.

It Guides Me Now

For most of my life, I’ve been aware of a “still small voice within” that seemed more important than the rest of the thoughts banging around in my head. While many associate this phrase with the Old Testament, Mahatma Gandhi also used it when he said, “The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still small voice within.”

For much of my childhood and adult life I was aware of something inside me that was more essential than all the noise of the world. During much of that time, I could only barely hear the voice, and I could only barely feel the presence that seemed to go with the voice.

I often thought, there is something inside me that knows.

I had an odd confidence in that voice. Yet the nose of the world nearly obscured it for years. There were times I tried deliberately to increase the volume of that still small voice. But it stayed remote and scratchy, like a radio station in the middle of the night you can barely hear – a station that happens to be playing the music you most want to hear. It slips away again and again.

Then, I experienced a physical trauma that suddenly changed how it felt to be in the world and changed what it meant to be in the world. All for the better, surprisingly.

As part of that change, the still small voice became clear. The shift in clarity seemed almost physiological. The voice was suddenly at hand, and the sense of presence I always associated with the still small voice seemed to permeate the very cells of my body. Instead of far away and indistinct, the voice and the presence became accessible.

I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know what it is. But I trust it and it guides me now.