So here’s what I can tell you about the spiritual journey in the event you’re one of those types who mostly pays lip service to it or barely dips a toe in and might be wondering what some ordinary, every day schmuck like me sees in it.
It’ll drive you half mad because you’re already fully, 100% mad, which means it’ll actually start to clear things up for you a bit. I think that’s what ‘enlightened’ actually means – it eradicates the insanity. But because it’s so utterly new to you, it’ll feel for quite some time like you’re going a bit nuts.
I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said you should seek until you find and when you find you’re going to feel a bit woozy and out of place. Boy do you feel out of place.
Again, this is really only for the folks who have only half-heartedly started on this journey. The rest of you likely know something about what I’m talking about.
And that’s another thing: it gets really hard to talk about. I’m not talking big epiphanies or beams of light from the astral planes. It’s more like these little, but oh-so-profound shifts in perception that jar you, but for which there literally are no words.
Then it’s gone. Only it isn’t. It revisits you over and over, especially in those quiet times when you’re out for a hike or walk or just sitting Forrest Gump-like staring into the dirt. It deepens, but not in the way we’re accustomed to stuff deepening.
Because usually we mean our brains learn something a bit more, our knowledge of something grows, intensifies, like we’re able to speak a language a bit better or write a stronger essay or we’re really getting the hang of algebra.
But this has nothing to do with the mind – nothing. It’s like something is thinking for you (maybe always has?) and you’re simply tapping into it. It’s sharing something really beautiful and you get a tiny little taste and you sense that it has to be tiny, maybe, because otherwise it would fry your circuitry.
(This is probably why, in those rare instances of enlightenment, those folks head off to the desert or a cave or wherever to try and sort things out. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to Jesus during the so-called missing years – he woke up and went off to find a guru or two who could help him understand what the hell happened.)
Oh, and don’t go looking for it. The moment you do that you’re screwed because, again, it’s the antithesis of the mind. David Carse likens it to peripheral vision and hiking in his native Vermont woods at night. If you look directly toward something, you can’t see it. You have to let it be and kind of allow it to be captured by your peripheral vision.
I know this isn’t making any sense. But if you break out the machete and start hacking your way down your own spiritual trail, it will. Eventually. Maybe. Who knows? Find out!
Abandon everything you think you know to be true. Everything.
Forget about being good or saving the world or showing gratitude or saying your little prayers or rubbing your beads and all the other little tricks someone taught you along the way because that’s just more mind stuff. Learned stuff. Anything you learned is inherited, which means it has nothing to do with you. That goes for language and every other concept and label ever shoved into that brain. Shed all of it.
Just about all of us get stuck for a time trying to be good, to live moral lives, to practice some code of conduct that lets us tell ourselves, “At least I’m leaving the world in a better place.” Or, “I’m committed to putting love into the world.” You get the idea.
But there’s the whole duality thing. This is not some kind of secret, spiritual law. It just is. No cold without hot, no good without bad. So if you’re working hard at being good, its alternative is going to leak out one way or another, just maybe not in the way you expect. (You’ll be good, for example, but your kids will be train wrecks – think of how many serial killers have hailed from deeply religious homes.)
This is why you’ll meet people who are working so damned hard at being good, but look closely and you’ll see they’re like powder kegs waiting to go off. They’ve got a shit ton of toxic anger and hatred and bitterness and anxiety and fear tamped deep, deep down beneath that veneer of humility and kindness and love and woe to that poor soul or anyone nearby should that veneer start to crack apart, should that mask slip to the floor.
Conversely, give yourself a break. This was a big one for me. I don’t mean amp up your self-esteem – that’s more of the same mental b.s. I mean, take the time to recognize that all those thoughts burbling up into awareness aren’t being solicited by you. They’re just showing up. All the time. So how the hell can they have anything to do with you? If you’ve spent a lifetime thinking you’re a worthless piece of shit, take another look and see if those thoughts aren’t borne out of memory, programming from a parent or your culture or whatever.
Even if those thoughts are telling you how awesome you are, give yourself a break from that too, because that’s a terrible burden to have to maintain (it’s why narcissists spend so much time reminding everyone how wonderful they are – it becomes a full time job). Same with the body you appear to be inhabiting: it has nothing to do with you, ugly, fat, thin, bald, saggy, deformed. Nothing to do with you.
But see, THIS is what the spiritual path is all about. It’s investing real time and energy and effort in this investigation. Not taking anyone else’s word for it. Read the words of a guru by all means, but then investigate those words for yourself. Otherwise, you’re just another religious drone.
And you’re gonna feel lonely. Because the deeper into the journey the harder it becomes to talk about it – impossible, really? Friends and family will think you odd or write you off as sanctimonious or holier than thou or maybe even mentally unhinged? Why aren’t you obsessed about your career, making money, planning for retirement, living the good life? What is wrong with you?
Chances are pretty good you WILL at times be a sanctimonious prig and judgmental. You’ll also still suffer terrible bouts of anxiety and fear – maybe even worse than before because, hey, you’re kind of committing yourself to something the vast majority of the world could care less about.
But if you persist and punch on through, a lot of this will fall away. Something is meeting you half-way – I call it ‘grace’ – and you really do have to surrender to it as much as possible. It’s like you’re drowning in this thing called life and there’s an unseen lifeguard extending a hand. But, again, it’s unseen, and you can’t really show anyone, can’t say, “Hey, let me introduce you to my guardian angel buddy. SEE, I told you she was real!”
The world really will seem nuts to you. Fact is you probably got started on your spiritual journey in large part because the world seemed nutty – or at least your little part of it did. But once you really set off on your journey you’ll see what a lunatic asylum it really is. You see how these frantic little minds are running around with their stories of paranoia and fear and anxiety and self-loathing. These minds obsess about skin color and genitalia and material goodies and they clash with each other over everything. Every mind is desperate to convince every other mind that it has the answers, even to the extent of killing the other minds for failing to believe. Insanity.
The whole thing is like a giant blackhole and occasionally you’re still going to be sucked back into it and find yourself agitating about god only knows what. And then you’ll laugh and think, “Yeah, god only knows is right” and you’ll kind of drift back out of the maelstrom like a piece of flotsam tossed up onto the beach.
And then you’ll get sucked in again and so on.
But if there’s a grace or whatever you want to call it, you’ll keep being reminded about the illusion of this thing called life and over time you’ll feel a modicum of peace that is wholly unfamiliar to you.
That’s what’s maybe surprised me the most: the peace that kind of snuck into the picture. Nothing profound, mind you, and certainly not a peace that surpasses understanding. But a peace that has replaced some of the gnawing, terrible anxiety that for decades framed this life.
As I type these words, I have no work to speak of, money is tight, and a host of physical maladies has me virtually grounded from any form of normal locomotion – situations which, not so very long ago, would have had ‘me’ in a tailspin of anxiety and fear. And now? Well, life will serve up whatever it is supposed to and that may even be more anxiety and fear. But now there is some trust in that process.
A final note or two….
Some time ago my wife – rightly – told me I was too busy parroting the teachings of others rather than being real to what was happening within. I suppose this is an attempt to change that conversation.
What else can I share? In quiet moments, I feel as if I’m nibbling at the edges of something unimaginably beautiful, like my heart is going to swell up and explode if what is sensed to be there is actually realized. The mystics tell me that this unfathomable bliss / love / perfection is what I am, what you are, what all of us – what everything – is. It’s there, just beyond my peripheral vision, and it’s what ‘I’ want more than anything.
And maybe that’s the key – you’ve got to want that more than anything else. For a long time I think what I wanted was freedom from pain, from anxiety and fear. But at some point that was no longer enough, perhaps because it became clear that as long as I was ‘me’ the anxiety and fear would forever be a part of the equation – that I and fear were one and the same.
I no longer aspire to a good life for ‘me’ – I don’t pine for a new and improved me, don’t want more money or love or security or anything else this world might offer. I won’t reject it, either, but the point is that these things no longer are the goal. If they come, they come, if they don’t, that’s ok too.
It feels as if it – whatever it is – has gradually taken hold and is guiding this process. Or, more likely, it’s always been in control and now the frightened little me recognizes this and is beginning to let go of the safety rail of its life, one stubborn, agitated finger at a time.
What is clear at this stage is that I have no choice – the quest continues smack in the middle of this thing called life and it’s going to guide me wherever it wishes.