Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Connection As A Spiritual Path

By Manitonquat (Medicine Story)

There are many paths of spirituality, many ways to God, or Ultimate Truth.  The number of paths may be infinite – certainly as many as there are searchers who seek them.  There are similarities and differences to be found in them all, but the essence, of every one, I believe, is connection – the consciousness of the whole, the oneness of all that is.

The way of spirituality is the way of connection.  To be and know that we are one with Creation is to go home again.

To be deeply spiritual the seeker’s perception must be more than intellectual.  Also it must be more than purely emotional – the wanting, the longing, the hoping, the fearing.  It has to be felt physically, viscerally, in the body as well.  Psychotropic drugs can produce such effects but cannot by themselves produce a profound spiritual experience if the mind and heart are not prepared and attuned for it.  They must all be connected.

This connection is a function of another faculty, neither physical, mental nor emotional.  (Let us not get tripped up by semantics here - of course one can say everything is physical and be correct in that sense, also that emotional is part of mental.  It depends on definition.)  For me it is useful to distinguish categories of perception by “body”, “mind”, “heart”, and “spirit”.  That is, sensual perceptions reported to the brain by the nerves and cells of the flesh, ratiocination exercised by the brain, moods and emotions transmitted principally by the limbic system, and a faculty that stands outside of all that, perceiving unity, not only among them, but also with all that exists beyond them – infinity, eternity, all Creation, or however you want to name it.

It appears that this spiritual faculty is encoded in our genes and is something we inherit, and that its strength and presence varies greatly among individuals according to that inheritance.  It is also true, however, that people who possess little of that inclination at birth can develop the faculty through practices such as meditation and study.  The desire may arise through grief, fear of death, or attraction to a spiritual teacher, a lovely soul, or a community expressing its faith through ceremony, beautiful art, and meaningful and joyous music.

It is also true that spiritual experiences and development are good for us as individuals, healing us emotionally and often physically, and satisfying our longing to understand ourselves and our purpose and place in existence.  The spiritual experience is good as well for society.  It enhances relationships and communities and provides common ground for social constructs.

This is where humankind has stumbled badly in its history, however.  Bringing communities together for their survival, spirituality became institutionalized into religions.  The intention may have included wanting to bring people together, but the effect was to create separateness, divisive opinion, arrogance, righteousness, demands for conformity and conversion, The extreme results have been religious wars, crusades, jihad, the Inquisition, execution or ostracism for heresy, witchcraft, sorcery and infidelity.

It is interesting that one of the punishments of the church is called ex-communication when communication is the heart and soul of spirituality.  A spiritual person is one who seeks to be connected, to the earth, the winds and waters, trees and flowers, all that creep and run, swim and fly upon and among them.  A spiritual person seeks to be connected not only to his family and his religious congregation, but, as exemplified by Jesus, to the poor in wealth and spirit, the meek, the halt, the blind, the leper, the foreigner, even one’s enemy.

Connection is the path.

It can begin anywhere.  It starts most often when our consciousness is captured by something outside of ourselves. It might begin early in life, perhaps with admiration and devotion to a parent.  Human beings need to love, and they will often find ways to love even very difficult parents, but where that becomes too difficult a child will find another object for her affections.  A grandparent or sibling, perhaps an animal, a pet kitten or puppy or bunny.  Later it may be a friend, even an imaginary one may absorb all the child’s interest and affection.  In adolescence may come another love, involving deep emotional longing, devotion and powerful new bodily sensations.  The birth of our children can be the strongest spiritual experience of our lives if we are awake and present – it is a deep connection to the mystery of existence.

Attractions in the world beyond the human may capture our delight and wonder at any age.  The ethereal expanse of azure skies, the steady distant beckoning of the myriad stars of night, the first buds and shoots of spring, expanding into new shapes and sweetness every day, the timeless crumbing of ocean waves upon the sands, the graceful soaring of birds upon a wind, the rolling horizon that reveals and then later swallows the sun and the moon.

In our fascination we are pulled out of ourselves for a time.  We may forget our own needs and concerns as our consciousness fills with the wonder of the marvel before us.  This connection we have encountered is only the beginning of the journey.  For spiritual awareness to continue to develop we must follow it further.  The love of a parent, a child, or a friend will take us through many changes, conflicts, struggles, anger, fear, grief, as well as joy.  But if we persevere in our intention to stay and strive to be ever closer, our spiritual consciousness is continually exercised, growing in size and strength, in breadth and depth.  As we bring this love further into the world, encompassing ever more people, it continues to grow.

To gaze long at a newborn baby is to be slowly overtaken by love.  You can’t explain it.  There are no words.  You say, “Aw, look at those tiny fingers,” or those little pink feet, or those soft round cheeks. “Aw,” is all you can say, “aw!  How sweet!”  You look at those wide shining eyes and are pulled into that gaze.  A connection is made.

The baby is looking for the connection.  Some profound communication you can’t express is going on. You want to get closer, to hold and caress the baby.  The baby grasps your  finger and your being is thrilled at a mysterious level.

Connect long enough there and you have fallen in love.  Oh, it’s a very special baby!  Yes, of course.  But do it again with another newborn unrelated to her or you, and it will happen again.  Your heart will open a little more and another little human being will creep in.  Do it again and again as often and with as many babies as you may, and you will wonder at the perfection and the humanity and the sacredness of each.  You will fall in love with every one.

After enough of those experiences it might come to you, “Wait a minute!  If they are all like that, humanity itself must be basically sweet and good and sacred.  And if they are all like that, could I be the only exception?

“Could it be that I am also sacred and perfect?  Surely Creation loves these wonderful beings as I do.  Must not Creation love me just as much?  And must not the intensity of love I cannot help but feel for these little ones be the Creation acting in me?”

This line of speculation may stimulate a new thought.  If I am born with such perfection, if I, like everything else, am a sacred being, if I have in me the love of Creation, then why do I do so many stupid, unloving, hurtful things?  Why does anybody?  And why do I feel so bad about myself?

A fair question.

It’s a world of great complexity we are born to.  We have the faculties we need to navigate it and keep our bodies, minds and hearts nourished and strong.  We don’t need divine intervention, and we don’t need it to be easy.  But, here’s the big thing – we can also make it too hard. Without ever realizing we are doing it.  We make it too hard on each other.

That is why the Buddha taught wisdom and compassion above all else.  If one has the wisdom to see the perfection of Creation there is nothing there to disturb the mind.  As Thich Naht Hahn says, “This is a wonderful moment.”  And if one has understanding, one must then love all beings and be compassionate for all struggles – including one’s own.

That is why Jesus urged love and forgiveness.  Why Confucius said we should not do to others what we would not have done to us.  When we are centered only in ourselves we make it harder for others, and they make it harder for us.  We are strong enough if we are not interfered with.  But living is a struggle that requires our attention, some clarity of mind, some equanimity of emotion.  We are not invulnerable.  We break down under severe strain.

We have seen what extreme fear, grief, or rage can do to the human consciousness.  It breaks out in acts of violence against the self or others, in war, terrorism, and hideous cruelty.  We have seen the results of torture in breaking the mind and spirit.  These are the extreme incidents.  But what about a life lived from the first with only small incidents of coldness, selfishness, blaming, physical and emotional mistreatment?  Just an ordinary childhood in many of our cultures, with little or no redeeming love or comfort, no encouragement or support or appreciation, no teaching or examples of compassion and caring.  No tenderness, no sweetness, no fun, no laughter, and little hope that there ever could be.

The great majority of people in the world today live in abject poverty, with less than adequate shelter, nourishment, or medical care.  In rural areas where people gather in small communities they tend to be more open with one another, more supportive, sharing and kind, and tend to be good humored and laugh a lot.  But the world is becoming urbanized, and where the greatest populations are mashed in on one another, there is where the anger and fear are hidden behind protective masks of aloofness and indifference.  There the isolation is endemic and in that separation and loneliness what is bred is greed and a need for a sense of power or notoriety.  Which further breeds trickery and lies, violence and brutality.  The models before them in the public media are the very few wealthy who own most of the world and cavort in nightclubs or on the sunny beaches of private islands.

It is a tribute to the strength of our humanity that with all this there remains as much sanity, as much kindness, as much hope, as much laughter and devotion as still exists in the world.  If only we can educate ourselves we can restore the promise that lies in the shine of every newborn’s eyes.

The spiritual path then must lead us back to ourselves.  Not ourselves in isolation, struggling alone against the onslaughts of greed and hostility, of blaming and humiliation, of coldness and indifference.  It means seeing ourselves as incredibly wonderful beings, beings of great physical beauty, creative intelligence, warm-heartedness, and indomitable spirit.

You are the Crown of Creation, do you know that?  Has anyone ever told you that?  Has anyone looked at you with awe and wonder for just how splendid you are, in every way?  Have people rejoiced that you have battled your way through all the vicissitudes of your life and kept so much of your humanity intact?  Have they cheered your victory?

If they haven’t it’s only because they are temporarily befuddled by their own battles, and they haven’t gotten all the necessary information yet.  Now that’s the spiritual task that lies before us.  Before all of us who see the human situation as it is.  We must pass on this information as quickly and thoroughly as we can.  There is such a weight .  Millennia of misinformation obscuring the vital needed truth: we must set about to re-educate the world at once.

Here are the important facts.  The universe has everything required to function well under its laws, the Original Instructions of Creation.  Human beings, as necessary parts of Creation, have everything required to function well under those instructions.  Those instructions for human beings include staying very close to other human beings in order to learn about and preserve their humanity.  It is only by being intimate and interacting with others of our kind that we get to know and be completely human.

We must continually teach and reveal to others their humanity.  At every stage of life, from birth, childhood, adolescence, maturity and old age, we must respect and revere them and show them by our love how loveable they truly are.  We must admire their beauty and how they carry it, so they will care for their bodies and shine ever brighter.  We must pay attention and listen and note where their thinking is sound and constructive.  We must open our hearts to as many as we can and engage them in kindness and laughter, affection and appreciation.  We must show our delight that they exist and that they are a great gift to the world and to us.

It’s a tall order, this spiritual task.  But I don’t see any other way around it.  If just a few of us can start really working at this with each other, what a difference it would make in our lives alone! If we can agree with a few friends, with our sweethearts and spouses, with our children, we would get, with practice, stronger and better at it, and it would start to spill out on others, on associates and colleagues and complete strangers.

Imagine a world in which all the children grow up thinking they are completely good and loveable, smart and creative and funny and wonderful to be around.  Where they have not ever been judged or blamed, ignored or abandoned or sent away.  Where they have only been appreciated and all they have seen around them is respect and kindness and warmhearted affection.  Imagine a world in which you could travel anywhere without fear, where people would greet you with openness and curiosity and friendliness.

I think that would be a world in which people would know their worth and that of others.  They would know that being with each other gave infinitely more joy than accumulating toys and gadgets and overpriced luxuries.   I think that would be a world in which people would rather enjoy being with each other, engage in talk, creative activities, games, sport, laughter, touch, dancing, singing, storytelling, than stare at distant strangers performing on little lighted tubes.  I think that would be a world that would get its priorities straight.  The obscenities of disgusting wealth and shameful poverty would be a thing of the past, and every baby born would have a fair share of Earth’s resources for basic human needs.

When I read of some of the spiritual folderol that many people seem to be buying and selling today, I think they have become victims of a selfish and materialistic society.  All kinds of products are offered the spiritual consumer: incense, oils, art, rugs, stools, teas, herbs, exotic lighting, sound equipment, music and spoken recordings, and many machines to massage the body and the mind and guide the seeker into other realms.  The fascination seems to be only with one’s own consciousness.  There is little to suggest or enhance closeness with other human beings (apart from a thriving segment of instructions and goodies for sexual enhancement, which lends readily to a focus again on the self rather than the partner, the communication, and unity.

If you are part of a spiritual group devoted to providing basic human needs to those who have not them, working for peace, for justice, for the environment or the like, you are well along on the spiritual path.  In that outreach you are certainly connecting.   To go further on the path we must only press ourselves to make deeper and wider connections.  We need to ask ourselves how close our relationships are with fellow workers,  - do we share our inner selves, our deeper thoughts, our fears and confusions, our dreams?  Do we strive to know them well, to understand and support them on their separate journeys?  And what about people we tend, feed or shelter, what about prisoners, guards, police, lawyers, politicians, brokers, bankers, teachers, doctors, social workers, everyday people you meet - do we seek to know them more, to show ourselves and extend hands of friendship without an agenda of converting them to our paths?

I realize how difficult all this is when, in my relations with my wife Ellika, the closest person to me, the dearest and best friend I have, I find myself sometimes blaming her for some little thing, with no thought for her, saying things which are most unsupportive.   Oh, I have much work to do!  To follow the spiritual path I know is right.  Again I must profusely and sincerely regret my patterned folly and determine to be more aware of that old trap and avoid it.  By getting closer to her and opening my deeper feelings of ancient betrayals and disappointments.  By giving all my attention to her and to our oneness.

In counseling people I often hear them say they must set limits to other people.  They must find and defend their borders.  At a certain point in their growth this is entirely appropriate.  Connection also means we must be connected to ourselves, to our own integrity.  It means having a sense of who we are as individuals.  I encourage everyone to find his or her special gifts – we are all different, special.  There’s never been anyone like you before in all Creation, and there never will be anyone like you again.  For that we must celebrate and give thanks.

And when we have realized our own value and sacredness in Creation, we must widen our consciousness and see how we are connected to everyone and everything else, to the whole of existence.  When we have discovered who we are and what our gifts are, that is not the end of the spiritual journey.  Our connection to the whole suggests that what we have been given is not to hoard to ourselves alone, it is to be given away.  When we at last know and respect our borders we must begin to break them down.  The next part of the journey requires us to begin to dismantle our walls, remove all our limits, and in all our nakedness and vulnerability seek connection.  What is cosmic consciousness, after all, but coming home?

Connection, that is the spiritual path all right.  Let us help each other out here.  Let’s attack our barriers, our borders and resistances and get closer.  Let us remind each other how good we are, and caringly attend one another.  Let us join hands as together we move out on the rest of the world.

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