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.
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.
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.
We tend to spend the whole day chasing our brains. The brain has a to-do list that’s a mile long. Every time you scratch off a completed item – or give up on an item when you realize you’ll never get it done – a new items appear at the bottom of the list.
Then we have to go to the trouble of prioritizing. Item number 14 needs to move up to item one by Tuesday. Suddenly item five has become an crisis. So you do number five at the same time you’re doing item one. Now you’re multi-tasking. And the horror of multi-tasking is that there’s no such thing. You can alternate back and forth between two tasks, but even the most buzzing brain can’t focus on two things simultaneously.
This is how we live our lives. The brain just loves this busyness. And when it’s time to take a break from tasks, we put our brain on the treadmill of media where our thoughts spin endlessly on the hamster wheel of psychic energy. Even sleep doesn’t bring rest as our dreams spin wild.
OK, time to go back to Paul Simon’s lyric: “Slow down you move to fast. You gotta make the moment last.”
There is a moment, and it lasts forever. It’s where your true life takes place. You don’t have to go on vacation or off to the mountains to find peace. Peace exists within you. You are peace. The brain is not you, no matter how much it insists it is.
Let the brain rage on. You can’t stop it. But you can slow down your breathing and realize You Are Here Now. And the You Here Now is peace itself. Nothing fancy. The You Hear Now is everything, and no noisy brain can disturb its eternal peace.
What Do We Want? And why is desire such a tricky guide?
Much of what we experience as desire is actually a yearning for connection, and the only connection that truly satisfies is spiritual connection. We desire something we already have: oneness.
As in the line from the country song goes, we’re looking for love in all the wrong places. We look outside ourselves for that which is inside. The connection we seek has always been inside, and it will always be inside.
Our passions and desires can go off the track so easily. Mine have. I’ve followed passion and desire off many cliffs – bad relationships, substance abuse, overeating. It’s not surprising that 12 step programs insist that the connection to a higher power is essential to overcoming the negative effects of desire gone haywire.
Passion is a powerful human force. Desire keeps us moving when all seems lost. Passion is the beating heart of creativity, the force that drives parents to sacrifice for their children. It is also the fuel that propels massively destructive human behavior, from a single brutality to horrifying wars across the globe. All passion.
The same passion quiets and nourishes when we realize we are not apart, we are not alone, and we are not threatened with annihilation. When that realization is true, the body is put to calm. We awake in peace, go through the day in wonder, and rest easily at night.
For the day is eternal and all our needs are met. We have no needs but connection, and we are always connected. We exist in connection because connection is all there is. There is nothing that is not connection. Our passion – once directed – brings us awake to this simple and eternal truth.
There is a place within where there is no fear and no worry. There is a place that sooths the ragged edge of sorrow and takes away loneliness. A place where pain cannot enter.
Our lives are so easily filled with hand-wringing concerns as we dash from one problem to another, never fully solving the underlying anxiety. The worry and fear just moves from one difficulty to the next.
Some of us try to calm these fears and worries with prescription pills or alcohol. Or we try to extinguish the dark discomfort through escape into TV, into food. Some use sex and emotional attachment to find relief. The respite from the pain feels real, but the rough emotions return as the chemicals wear off or the escape comes to an end. The then darkness comes back stronger.
Some try to face these difficulties straight on, believing that problems are for solving, and to some extent they are. But how can you solve regrets, resentments, or the gnawing feeling that something is not right, that some trouble is about to encompass you?
We were not created to live in endless pain and fear. We are created to live in the realm of happiness, joy and freedom. Deep on our bones we know this. And yet the pain persists, leaving us with the bitter conclusion that happiness us not possible in this broken world. We may come to believe that we are what’s wrong and broken in the world.
From this sad place, it can be hard to let go and find the presence within, that place of wellbeing that is not an escape from life’s tangles but rather a returning to the acceptance and peace that is available to all of us. It is the essence of who we really are.
In the next blog, we’ll look at ways to reach the presence.