There is one thing about you that is true, no matter who you are or what your name is. You don’t get enough cooperation. They aren’t lining up out there, asking what they can do to be of help, and how they can make life easier for you. We come here out of lives that seem to be intent on doing us in. And, it’s up to us to deal with it. If we didn’t have a spiritual side, it would be all over. If it were just about physical reserves and resources, we wouldn’t have a chance.
There is no immunity against the unwanted. We cannot be smart enough to outwit disappointment, and heartache, and betrayal, and failure. The skill of life has nothing to do with dodging the wrecking ball. It has everything to do with accommodating ourselves to the unacceptable. The people who seem to be Teflon-coated have a knack for telling themselves the kind of thing that enables them to live on in the aftermath of the unraveling of their lives, the destruction of their dreams.
Nothing can happen to us that we can’t make better or worse by the way we respond to it. We have the power of life over our lives, over what life can do to us. The choice of life is the fundamental choice. We are not necessarily alive just because we are 98.6 and breathing. Being alive is a spiritual experience. Life is the spiritual quest. The spiritual journey is the distance from where we are to where we have to be to be fully alive, fully awake, fully aware, fully ourselves, fully human. What do we need to be alive, is the question. It isn’t what we generally think.
We generally think we can’t be alive, happy, content, at peace until we get things lined up and in place. And, since something is always coming along to upset our scheme, we are always upset. The people who are alive, take the next upsetting event in stride, accommodate themselves to the unacceptable, “let be what is,” and live on “anyway, nevertheless, even so.” The work is adjusting ourselves to what must be done “now,” in light of what is happening in our lives and in the world. The spiritual task is the work of adjustment and accommodation.
It is the work of working with what we have to work with to make what can be made there. The spiritual task is the work of bringing life to life in the world. Life is not what we find in the world. Life is our gift to the world. Well. That’s easy to say. Hard to do. Practically impossible to do. Because we keep losing the way and thinking that having our way, getting our way, IS the way. Our lives, too often, come down to a battle of wills, with us trying to will what cannot be willed within circumstances that don’t seem at all interested in what is good for us or what we want. How do we go on living when living takes the life right out of us? That is the question at the heart of life. Answering the question is the essence of spiritual discipline, of spiritual practice.
The only thing between us and the world is our spiritual practice. Spiritual practice provides us with the perspective required to do the work of bringing life to life in the world. We do not live easily, lightly, in the world. The world is a mine field, a store house of booby traps and time bombs waiting to explode. Something precious is always going up in smoke. It is not a place for the tender and the timid. Even the toughest are traumatized by life in this world. And, being vigilant and on guard only makes us anxious before we have anything to worry about. We cannot avoid the experience of grief, loss and sorrow. But we can live in the world as it is as those who are alive, as those who bring life to life again and again, because this is the only world there is, and if we aren’t going to live here, we aren’t going to live at all. We do it through the agency of spiritual discipline, of spiritual practice.
Life is a spiritual discipline when lived with intention and integrity (Integrity has nothing to do with morality. Integrity is being true to yourself within the context and circumstances of your life—being who you are, where you are, when you are, how you are, without cutting yourself off from others or the rest of your life. Just try that, if you dare, and see how long you last! It is the essential spiritual practice.). Being fully, truly, alive is a spiritual practice. So is silence, and meditation, and patience, and acceptance, and awareness, and mindfulness, and attention, and breathing, and walking, and washing the dishes… Everything is a spiritual discipline, a spiritual practice when done in the right spirit, with the right attitude—when done in the spirit, with the attitude, of complete openness to the all-ness of the moment of our living.
The only thing standing between us and this kind of openness to the moment of our living is us. Our ideas for the moment—about the moment—interfere with our being open to the moment. We keep looking for the door that will open to our dream life or allow us to escape from life. We want the answer, or the exit, the way to glory or the way out. We look for the door that will permit us to leave this world for some other, better world. But we are the door we seek. We open the door of consciousness, of awareness, of mindfulness—we open ourselves—to the full experience of life as it is.
The experience of the experience of life is the primary spiritual practice. It all begins with the awareness of what is, with the openness to the moment of our living. And, if that awareness, that openness, is blocked by fear, or anger, or emotional or physical pain, then the focus becomes being aware of that, being open to that. The goal, then, is to experience fully our inability to experience life as it is. We open the door of our consciousness to the full experience of whatever is most pressing in the moment. And, if we don’t know what that is, we simply sit, silently waiting, looking past the routine mind clutter, watching for the major angst to appear.
Or, we listen to our bodies. The body always knows. Nothing is hidden from our body. We can fill our minds with the 10,000 things and keep our attention forever away from what it is that needs to be attended, but our bodies are not distracted. Our bodies bear the truth. When mind begins to listen to body, things begin to stir. Sometimes, awful things. And, it can be good to have a therapist within reach, or, a therapeutic presence. It is asking too much to think we should be able to face the awful things alone. Opening the door of consciousness is not a solitary undertaking. It takes a community awaken us and bring us to life.
“Nothing is to be unconsciously done.” How’s that for a “Rule of St. Benedict”? For a way of agreeing how to proceed together? “Everything is gleaned for its gift, for its ability to disclose, reveal, unveil, enlighten.” We process everything. We think about everything. We sit before everything, waiting to see, waiting to be shown, waiting for the depths to be made visible. We mine everything for the gold. Consciousness, awareness, is the Philosopher’s Stone, turning base metal, turning raw experience, into precious stone, into the stuff of life, and light, and peace. We are Alchemists of the soul, of the spirit, wandering along the way in search of truth. The essential truth is the truth of who we are, the truth of what we are about and how we bring that to bear on the circumstances of our lives. Finding that, embracing that, expressing that is the sum total of the spiritual quest.
And it takes us all to do it. Spiritual practice is essential, but not enough. It takes participation in a spiritual community to bring life to life in the world. Participation in the right kind of community IS spiritual practice! The right kind of community is a nursery of sorts, nurturing us to life, helping us to find, to form, the perspective necessary for dealing with the realities of life in the world, helping us to process the impact of those realities, waking us up, enabling us to be aware and alive, keeping us company, and reminding us of what is, and is not, essential to our being, and to being human in the world.
The right kind of community listens us to life in the world, opening us to the experience of our experience and helping us toward the perspective that is the foundation of life, and light, and peace. The community brings us to life by insulating us against the hard realities of life in the world. By listening to us as we process our experience with those realities, and by reminding us of the larger reality of life beyond the realities of life in the world. There is more to life than living would lead us to believe. It is the work of the right kind of community to connect us with the more, and to bring us to life in the midst of the worst that life can do.