A few days ago, I received an e-mail which started out with the following:
One of the keys to living an authentic evolutionary spiritual life
is having a spiritual practice that you’re actively engaged in.
This kind of absolute affirmation pulls me up short when it is expressed even when it is my own mind expressing it, or perhaps I should say, especially when it is my own mind. Often, during a workshop, I will come to a complete halt when such an avowal proceeds from my mouth. It is not possible to say, for example, “Since then I question every thought” without “Is it true?” coming right behind it. So when I read the above statement, I found myself asking if it was true for me and immediately noticing the appearance of a second question: “Isn’t just plain living spiritual?”
I understand that meditation is good for you and that the supposedly happiest man on earth got there because he meditates daily or at least because he is a Buddhist monk, but I have always had trouble with this sort of structured spirituality. The Catholic Church recommends a “spiritual practice” like praying daily, mass on Sundays, and confession and communion at least once a week. I tried that. It lasted two years which in my case is a pretty long time and then all hell broke loose and I ended up on the Freudian couch six times a week (my analyst didn’t work on Sundays and I presume that wasn’t because he went to church). The way I had used the spiritual practice of the Catholic Church was not to have an expanding contact with some Supreme Being, but to harness all the darkness inside and keep it there. Well it didn’t stay. It did exactly what a pressure cooker will do if it builds up too much pressure. Kabooooom! Since then I have been very wary of institutionalized religion and spiritual practices, including meditation. They may be good for others, but what I do with them is not good for me.
So back to my question: Isn’t living itself spiritual? And if the answer is “no” then what happened to that famous statement that I-don’t-remember-who said: “We are not humans having a spiritual experience but spirits having a human experience”? And then of course I would have to question if I really want an “authentic evolutionary spiritual life”. Isn’t that what is happening anyway whether I want it or not? Will I get there faster if I develop a spiritual practice? And just where is there?
To think that if I do a certain spiritual practice I will have more of something is nothing but Ego looking for what it thinks it doesn’t have. Yes, I eat ice-cream because it makes me feel good, so if meditating makes me feel good I just might indulge in it, but if I do it to evolve spiritually it is the old Seeker-ego telling me life isn’t good enough as is and trying to make it better, make me better. But it is back where I started from: life is not perfect as it is and I am going to improve it. Yeah, I know where that got me. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t done everything in my power to eliminate my suffering, including meditation, but it does mean that nothing actually worked until I learned that suffering comes from believing what I think. How do I know that? Experience, direct experience. When I believe a stressful thought my body stresses out and I feel miserable. If I don’t believe that thought, the same situation doesn’t faze me, and it doesn’t matter what the situation might be.
The thought that something is missing in my life, including spirituality, is stressful and immediately my body tightens up and I begin looking for what I must do to unknot it. The thought that something might be missing in my life connects immediately to my primal fear: I am doing IT wrong, “it” being life itself. By the time this belief settles in I am panicking. The emotional body is experiencing fear, doubt, powerlessness, despair and self-hatred. One step more and I have arrived at rock bottom where the worst belief of all lies: There is no way I can know how to do IT right. Utter despair in three easy beliefs. No cost, no effort: it is all there all the time the moment I allow my mind to tell me what reality looks like and choose to believe it.
I can be sitting in the most comfortable chair, looking out the window at a beautiful sunset and stroking Salomé who lies at my side. Everything is perfect and peaceful, and then the thought hits: ‘I need a spiritual practice. If I don’t have a spiritual practice I am not going to evolve spiritually and I need to evolve spiritually in order to be happy.’ The fact that I was perfectly happy and content one minute before this thought appeared and without the help of a spiritual practice, and that nothing in my reality has changed only becomes apparent if I question the thought (not the reality, reality is what it is and can’t be anything else, have you noticed?).
The Internet today is filled with people offering courses on spirituality, on evolution, on integration and there is nothing that I can see wrong with that. Heaven knows I took enough therapy and alternative therapies looking for the right fix and definitely improved my life in the process. But one thing I have learned in all that therapizing and seeking is that it will not make me happy. Nothing will make me happy: I’m either happy now or I never will be, happy now with what is because that is all I am ever going to get, what is in every moment. So the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that I saw outside my window today is right here, in my heart at this very moment or it isn’t anywhere.