The first I have to say is about the importance of being alive. Joseph Campbell says the influence of a vital person vitalizes. If you are going to be anything, be alive. The life of a person who is alive brings to life those who are dead. Our primary obligation is to life. Our first responsibility is to be alive. We cannot do anything until we are alive.
Spirituality is about being alive in the fullest, deepest, truest, best sense of the word. Abundant life and spirituality are one thing. If you ask me “What does ‘spirituality’ mean to you?”, I’ll ask you, “What does ‘being alive’ mean to you?” Being alive is a spiritual experience. So is being dead, if it is experienced as being dead. Anything is a spiritual experience if it experienced to the core, to the heart. Being dead with no awareness is not a spiritual experience. It is being dead. We can be dead, or we can be spiritual. And, the more alive we are—the more conscious, aware, mindful we are of being alive—the more spiritual we are.
What are the things that bring us to life? Those are the things that make us spiritual. They are spiritual experiences. Spiritual practice is the practice of being alive. If you are looking for a spiritual practice, practice being alive. Spend time with the things that bring you to life. Incorporate them into your life on a regular basis. Do the things that infuse you with life. Go where the life is. Live to be alive.
Where are you most alive? Where have you been most alive? What are the things that assist you in being most alive? That prevent you from being most alive? Here is a spiritual test for you: Are you mostly alive or mostly dead? Where do you go to be most fully alive? Where would you go to be most completely dead? Where do you spend most of your time—in life-giving or life-depleting places? Who are the people who give life to you? Who are the people who take life from you? With which category of people do you spend the most time? How spiritual do you think you can be without moving away from death and moving toward life? Without doing the things that bring us to life?
Ah, but, here’s the thing. We can trick ourselves. Fooling ourselves is what we do best, you know. And, shooting ourselves in the foot. That’s also what we do best. We do some things which we think we are most fully alive doing, when, actually, they are just compensation for not being very much alive at all. We grab the gusto, and seek the thrills, and push the limits, in order to feel something because we are mostly dead. We confuse the rush of almost dying, literally, with being alive because we are practically dead, spiritually.
In doing the things that bring us to life, we must also do the things that bring others to life. There are two things in particular that enable life—full life, over-flowing life, abundant life—to be lived in ourselves and in others: Seeing and Hearing. Jesus, the man who was “the bread of life,” the man who came “that we might have life and have it abundantly,” lamented, one might think, throughout his career, “they have eyes, but do not see, ears, but do not hear, and hearts that do not understand.” The barrier standing between us (and others) and life is not-seeing, not-hearing, and not-understanding. Remove that, and life flows joyfully unimpeded through us all.
Of course, there is a nasty little catch to all of this. Removing the barriers that keep us from seeing and from being fully alive is like dying. Seeing means seeing things we don’t want to see. When you are mostly dead, anything can seem like life. We might think we are most alive eating chocolate, or drinking beer, when, in fact, we do those things just to take the edge off being dead. We cannot kid ourselves. To be spiritual, we have to be alive, and to be alive we have to be awake. This is the second thing I’m going to say. We have to wake up.
How are we going to wake up, see into the heart of things, realize what is truly important, and live so as to serve it, express it, on the earth? Answering that question is the full scope of the spiritual journey, quest, path, life. That is all there is to it. Spiritual development has to revolve around the process of waking up, not indoctrination. We wake up more and more. We are always more or less awake. No one is ever awake, completely, fully, absolutely. There is always more to see than has been seen, more to know than is known, more to realize than has been realized. You would think Buddhism would be fully aware by now, but it took the Women’s Liberation Movement to wake Buddhist monks up to the fact that, in their temples, the female monks cleaned up after the male monks, did the cooking and the “women’s’ work.” The more we think we see, the less we see that we don’t see.
Spiritual development is about seeing more. How do we see? How do we see more? How do we wake up? Jokes, plays on words, and stories of other people getting, and not getting, it—as in the parables of Jesus—are ways to “do” spiritual development. Wrestling with contradiction and paradox—as in the Zen conundrums, or koans—is a way to “do” spiritual development. Enhancing our creativity deepens their awareness. Conversation that raises more questions than it answers nurtures a spirit of inquiry and play. How do we wake up? How do we develop eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand?
There is no body of information the communication, the impartation, the learning of which constitutes spiritual development. There is no content. There is only process. It is not what we see or hear but how we see and hear that is at the heart of spiritual development. We cannot just tell people the truth and let that be that. We have to teach people to live truthfully, with their eyes open, catching their own inconsistencies and incompatibilities, and bringing themselves into an ever-increasing awareness of, and alignment with, what is truly important.
What are you going to tell people to wake them up? Are you going to shout, “Wake Up!”? If you shout really loud, do you think that will do it? Are you going to say, “You are so stupid!”? If you say that enough, do you think that will do it? Here’s the deal: We cannot wake others up without being awake ourselves.
How are we going to wake up? Where are we asleep at the wheel? How are we going to live as those who are awake? As those who are waking up? Being awake is a matter of living truthfully. And, that means putting the truth on the table. If we are going to take up the cause of truth, we have to take it up truthfully, and that means seeing what we don’t want to see, and hearing what we don’t want to hear, and, yes, living like we don’t want to live. Will we listen through the pain of hearing what we don’t want to be told? Will we see through the pain of seeing what we don’t want to be shown? Will we understand that hearing and seeing will require us to understand things we don’t want to know? And change the way we live? So that everyone might have life and have it abundantly?
Julie Lapham says we pay a price for putting truth on the table, and we pay a price for keeping truth off the table. There you are. What’s it going to be? What price are we willing to pay to have life and have it abundantly? How truthfully are we willing to live? That is the question which is at the heart of the spiritual journey. We cannot be more spiritual than we are truthful. And, that means putting truth on the table, keeping truth on the table, saying what is and what also is, and simply allowing things to flow from there.
Things happen when nothing is forced to happen, or kept from happening. Things happen when we see what needs to happen if the atmosphere allows them to unfold according to their own time. Create the right environment, and the right things will happen. Create the right attitude and spirit, and the Messiah will come. And, the Messiah will be one of us.
We keep the Messiah from coming when we try to compel the Messiah into being. When we try to force the issue. When we try to instigate “the end of days,” for instance, we keep the same song playing forever. When we have an agenda, a plan, an idea of how things should be, we interfere with the idea that things have for themselves, and create artificial worlds with plastic people living scripted lives on heavy medication and illegal drugs to hide from the fact that they live in a wasteland with an emptiness inside and an ache for something more that won’t leave them alone. What do we do? Nothing. Wait. Be still. Find the center. Look. Listen. Wait.
When nothing is forced or prevented, things begin to stir. Without an agenda, we are open to the possibilities. Free from having to act, we can wait for the time to act. Not knowing what to do, we can see what to do. Not having a way, we can be led along the way. Having no desires, our needs are met.
This, of course, is not the American Way. The culture requires an action plan. We have to micro-manage our lives. Take all contingencies into account. Be prepared for everything. Think Tank our way to happiness ever after. The war in Iraq came out of a Think Tank. So did the Edsel. In this culture, it is hard to get far enough away from the thinkers in order to see and hear. It is hard to know what to do as long as we think we know what we are doing. The way is not the American Way.
To find the way, we have to be un-American. We have to do the one thing no red-blooded American would consider doing: Nothing. We have to wait and watch, sit and listen. The first thing is to see. Everything flows from seeing. The way becomes obvious to those who dare to see. We cannot see what cannot be said. This is the third thing I have to say. When we cannot talk about the emperor being naked, we cannot see that the emperor is naked. What can’t we talk about? What cannot be said? What is it that we cannot comment on? If we hope to see, we have to say everything. We have to create an atmosphere in which everything can be said. We have to talk about it all. The heresy in that kind of environment is not saying something that can’t be said, but saying that something can’t be said. The more we say, the better we see, the better we see, the more alive we are. There you are. The path to abundant life. The spiritual journey. All wrapped up and laid in your lap.