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.
How much changes everything? Your thoughts belong to you no longer. They drift into the streets and over the houses. They enter the struggle and spill out onto the lawns with answers that float and bloat. You watch the green that shoots through the leaves and becomes life.
The change is not just you. You’ve known it all along. The world you woke to has become intimate. Moons hide where resentments used to collect. Your resentments, like your thoughts, are not personal. They become human and leave their families, seeking brethren.
You can smell the fresh rain at dawn and feel the trees stretching skyward. How do you live now that the next world is seeping through your skin, making you young again? The whispers in the air are spelling out relief – you were alive all along.
You once stood in these streets, crushed by alienation. Now you return to the very spot and you can’t believe the beauty in the air. Was this spirit always here? Did it always move so easily through your cells? Did these voices always know your name?
The same world that had nothing to do with you has now memorized your dreams. They spill out on these once-bitter streets in hope and kindness. In the end you were right. Some distant spirit backed your losses, every fiber of pain drawn taut in blood.
It’s all a window now that looks out onto the dead as they pick themselves up and walk into their glory.
The awakening is a wave traveling miles of ocean to reach your shore. It was born to greet you, long on the days of near despair. It comes to remind you that life is inexhaustible. A deep sigh that empties your lungs.
This is the beach where children collect sea glass and soft driftwood that toss in the sand and foam. This is your life now, surprised by how much is left. You thought the sand was running out, but it was brimming with colors that had not yet announced themselves.
This new land has turned its love to you. These are not the skies of your youth, with their bland promise and abrupt discouragement. These are not the streets that seemed to reject you in their very essence. You never thought your skin could be accepted by the world, so you hid your skin away.
Can this possibly be that same world? You see that it is now made of new substance, warm to the touch. You can taste it from a distance; you can taste it on your lips. It sings a sustained nourishment.
The awakening wave has moved back out to sea, but you have been touched by a love and cannot turn dark. Darkness has lost its grip and dissipated. Light now the fabric of your being.
When night comes, the sky goes purple and the woods come to life. You are welcome here finally, right in the middle of your life. Even your bones feel the deep hum. Stand tall into this new air. You are everything the world has hoped.
When you awoke this time, something new looked outward through your eyes. You have not seen this world before. This awareness has not yet become familiar. You count the stars to make sure you are home. And you are home, even though the stars look different. This is a new home. The decay around the edges is ripe now, offering the green-chile scent of a rich harvest.
The language is the same – families, pairings in love, the cycle of newborns, the enemies over the hill, the endless insistence that this is the one true reality. It goes into the bone and sticks. It drives us into the ground.
But you can see now. You can see through your self into the world as it connects back. It bends to your view, and you bend back to let the whole thing inside. Worlds upon worlds build up and break through. You are a moment in the tension that is giving way.
The touch of your finger to your thumb holds eternity. You live in the soft buzz of that warmth. No love can go further – this is the love that opens skin. Above you there is so much more, and you’ve anticipated every step – like cool water and the healing of a long winter.
You are at one here. You have found a way to touch the world. The suffering may not be gone, but it is no longer yours. It belongs to the years that are drifting backwards. Out here in the sun, everything is revealed – your past is reconciled, and your future is rushing into the present.
You have never been so present.
When the struggle comes to an end, the suffering lifts. You are not who you thought you were. You thought you were caught here in the world. You thought the world had dominion over you. You believed there was such a thing as dominion.
The sky is more blue than you ever thought possible. Blue like a taste. Blue like a thin film you can walk through.
You thought you were close to solving the problem, but the problem is not here. There were so many answers that seemed to be surrounding you, but they have flown off like feathers, delicate and light. They don’t need you today.
You thought you were something. You thought you were nothing. You found that everything is not enough. You found that nothing is too hard to bear. Then you watched your self float off like shiny dust.
There is a song that has been singing you for a thousand years. Now that your self is drifting, you can hear it once again. It is awake in the taste of the air that turns blue and disappears.
Night and day merge as night grows darker and the day vanishes. You were only here for a moment, but it lasted centuries.
You have spent your entire life in the now and you have everything to show for it. Everything can fit in the now. Nothing can fit anywhere else.
Soon you will lose the sense of falling. You will smell the damp leaves that warm and become your nourishment – until you need no nourishment. You will fill up and disappear.
My God it’s great to be alive.
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.
Just to be here is all the reason. Just to be here is all of your breath. To be apparent and to be aware. Aware of just being here.
You have seen to it, and you have seen how. Just to be close to it. And then it envelops you.
For a long time you were not sure you were here. You thought you were someplace dangerous that repelled you. You were not fit for where you were, and you couldn’t find anywhere else. When you can’t find anywhere else, there is nowhere else.
You were here all along and didn’t know it.
When you awoke and found yourself here, your sails billowed with freshwater air; your ship finally came about. You pick the metaphor.
There is nowhere else to be but here, and you were here all along. You were here even when you were lost. For you have always been here.
There is nothing to say about it, and so I am saying nothing about it. There, I said nothing.
Yet everything is here, right here.
Just to be here is the reason. Just to be here is home. Just to be here is the escape from death. Here is where death has come to rest.
This is where you have come to rest. This is where you are revitalized. This is where you can find what you were searching for all this time, even when you didn’t know you were searching.
This is for you. This is where you meet your everyone. This is where you meet your self. This is where you bid your self farewell.
This is where the inside reacquaints itself with the inside. This is where you knew you were headed all these years. And now you are finally here.
A vacation is a time of respite, recharging, and reflection – a time to shift from the laptop to the whitewater rapids. For my daughter and me, last week was a time to leave the gold-brown hills of New Mexico for the dripping green ponderosa pine and white-barked aspens of Colorado’s western slope. A road trip for dad and daughter.
Most of all, it was a vacation from the self.
The self owns the working week and the self runs the weekend. Needs, obligations, and commitments. Chores, connections, and meetings. This is how we live, this is how we serve, this is how we grow. This is our life as we take care of each other, serve the needs of those who need, and practice the reaching out again and again.
The self is the thread that runs through it all even when we’re unselfish. The energy is not mine, the energy flows through me. I’m the one who must put myself to the work, to call on the powers that I don’t possess, and direct them to the good at hand. Not my good, but the good at hand.
I’m the one who must caution all that is yearning to go haywire. As I put my shoulder to the work – with energy I’m able to muster from some place not me – I’m the one who wonders if it’s me that yearns for chaos and collapse even while I work to keep things steady.
And so, a vacation from the self. I’m with my daughter, but this week, I’m not dad. We’re equal beings in this astonishing world. We’re in the green, skin glistening with the morning mist of the high mountains, amazed we’re here at all, tossing stones into a glassy lake and listening to the crisp splash thunder across these granite hills.
“We don’t need no stinkin’ belief system.” I’m riffing on the classic line from John Huston’s 1948 film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, where a band of outlaws posed as Federales. When those being robbed asked to see badges, one of the outlaws replied, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”
It’s a funny line, and it went on to become part of our cultural lexicon. And it’s true when it comes to spirituality – we don’t need a belief system.
When I experienced a spiritual coming to, I thought, “Gees, what do I believe?” I knew there was a presence about me, and I had started to learn how to increase the experience of that presence. It was changing my life remarkably. But what did that make me? A Buddhist? A Hindu? A New Ager?
I started combing books on spirituality to figure out what I believed. Since I was having all of these spiritual experiences, I must believe in something, right? Looking back, that seems a bit silly, but I truly did associate spirituality with belief or faith.
What I found in my search of world religions and spiritual practices is that the roots of most belief systems touched upon experiences similar to what I was going through. Yet once religions became well-established they tended to avoid or diminish these direct, raw spiritual experiences in favor of narrow doctrine. But when most religions were young, they tended to be a bit wild with radical awakenings.
I came away from my investigation with the sense that spiritual experiences or awakenings are quite different from belief systems, spiritual organizations, or religions.
That’s fine. While it’s a pleasure to spend time with people who are also experiencing spiritual breakthroughs – and I learn from every person I meet in spirituality – I don’t need to have no stinkin’ badge.
Some remarkable things happen as you practice the presence within. Some of the painful needs that seemed so hard to fill in this world, those needs that haunted you for years, will lose their edge. Either they become less important, or, you’ll discover they are becoming satisfied.
Let’s look at the need for companionship. Loneliness results when this need goes unfilled. But two things begin to happen as you become more aware of the presence within. The need for companionship begins to ebb as the presence produces a sense of health, comfort, and belonging. What can be more companionable than the feeling of oneness and connectedness?
Also, the barriers to companionship begin to crumble. Often it is the ego – ever hungry, ever unsatisfied – that stands between our true self and the sense of connection. After all, the need for companionship is simply the need for connection. Without the edgy, needy ego in charge, we become more companionable. We become more accepting of others, more forgiving of ourselves. We become less of a problem.
Feeling the presence within does not eliminate the ego, but it does take it down a notch in its control over our self-perception and its control over our behavior. Without the ego so much in charge, we begin to see the dwindling of self pity, self loathing, and fear.
The ego holds and feeds our fear. The ego is terrified of death, and for good reason. The ego will die. But our true self won’t die. It cannot die. It is oneness. As we experience that oneness, the bitter needs of the ego become less pressing. In time, those needs will pretty much go away. And even if they don’t vanish altogether, they will become so unimportant as to not matter any longer.