The fundamental spiritual reality is resonance. Something resonates with us. We are “in tune” with something. The idea is to explore that thing, always sensitive to the resonating “vibes.” The idea is to follow our heart’s true leaning; to walk the path “with heart,” even when it leads to dead ends and into blind canyons. When we find ourselves at a dead end or in a blind canyon, the idea is to follow our heart’s true leaning away from, or out of, there.
What we need to hear at any point in our lives may not be what we think we are “supposed” to hear. It may not be what anyone we know has ever listened to. And, at the same time, there are pirates of the spirit out there, saying smooth things and stealing souls away. Where’s the protection? How do we create a stable enough personal center for ourselves so that we aren’t victimized by those who would prey on our neediness? How can we be a wise old fox and an innocent young dove at the same time?
Spiritual growth presumes a certain degree of physical, economic, and emotional safety and security and well-being. We have to have enough stability in our lives to be able consider justice and compassion. In the grip of a migraine, you aren’t going to think about your spiritual practice. We have to be okay enough, on a number of levels, before we can contemplate ultimate things. Take us down below subsistence and we will not move beyond the religion of our ancestors.
This is not to say that spirituality is a preoccupation of the elite, but that spiritual depth is a function of social stability. Spiritual movement, or awareness, or eclecticism, or pluralism, or borrowing, or inquiry—the spiritual imagination, say—increases in direct proportion to the quality of our okay-ness on physical, economic, and emotional levels. It all depends on what we bring to the table. We cannot be more spiritual than we are ready to be. We can entertain new ideas about God and the purpose of life only after our lives have reached a certain degree of safety, security, and stability. Until then, we will repeat what we have always heard without thinking about it. Or, throw out what we have always heard without worrying about it.
So, the preliminary spiritual question is “How are you?”, or, “How is it going?”. The preliminary spiritual question concerns the quality of stability in our life at any particular moment. We cannot be more spiritual than we are stable. Where is instability at work in your life? What can you not count on? What are you missing? Where are the holes? If what you need is loving presence that isn’t going to take advantage of your vulnerability, and is going to help you hold things together until things stabilize, where are you going to find it? Don’t think you are looking for concepts, and doctrines, and talk about God and the spiritual path, if what you need is presence.
A spiritual community is a therapeutic community. It is a healing community. Its primary practice is presence. It spends more time listening to you than it does talking to you. It does not indoctrinate you. It simply cares about you and leaves you completely free to come and go, to stay or leave. It does not “mind your business,” or “run your life.” It grants you the right to your own mistakes, and simply promises to be good company and a safe place, and endeavors to be exactly what you need to recover, and regroup, and do what needs to be done. No answers, just presence. An enclave of justice, compassion, and stability in an uncertain and fearful world.
Got a place like that in your life? Start one. Start one by being good company; by being a caring presence, and following what resonates with you. See what happens.
The world will never be what we want it to be, what we need it to be. There are no shifts to the good out there, waiting for the right combination of prayer and effort, to come forth and bless us with life as we would like it to be. People have always been waiting for Nirvana. The Elysian Fields. The Kingdom of God. Where the lions lie down with the lambs and everyone has more than enough to eat and no one has any reason to cry and kindness and justice reign. It ain’t going to happen.
Life is going to be pretty much what it has been. What do you need to make it in a world that isn’t going to become the kind of place you need it to be? Where can you act to bring justice and compassion to life in your life? Where can you act to make the world more like it ought to be than it is—knowing that it isn’t going to “make any difference” in the over-all scheme of things? Can you love what needs to be loved the way it needs to be loved whether it “does any good” or not?
Compassionate, caring presence helps us all. Justice is always in season. There is never a time we can step out of the action without being missed. The world is not going to shift toward the good, and we can make things better by the way we carry ourselves through the day, by the way we offer ourselves as a reliable source of attentive, caring presence in the lives of others.
But, don’t give me a sunny cheeriness that disallows my gloom! Being a caring presence has nothing to do with putting on a happy face. When I die and go to hell, God is going to put me on a tour bus filled with bright, smiling faces, and send me off through eternity. The Lawrence Welk Singers. Just make me go on tour with the Lawrence Welk Singers. A world where the Lawrence Welk Singers are the norm is a world the Star Trek crew would beg to be beamed up from.
How present can you be with gloom? How happy do I have to be around you? If you have to make me happy, you cannot be present with me in my current state. You’ll be trying to pry me out of that state. Into a “better place.” I need you to just be with me as I am. I need for you to believe that’s enough. I need for you to believe in the power of being present with me as I am. It’s a radical notion, I know. An essential, radical, notion.