Our Spiritual Path

It was quiet in the house the other day, and the stillness was a welcome respite from the noise in the world these days. I cannot remember a time when the noise of the world was of such a character in the same sense that I was so glad to be outside of it, even just temporarily. Normally, I am completely comfortable being out in the world, and in most cases, I will generally feel free to make my own contributions to the chaos and to the flurry of activity, except that I try to do so in a positive or creative manner. More recently, I’ve looked forward more to being disengaged, and have enjoyed not being compelled by need or obligation to participate more fully in the world outside of my world, except by deliberately choosing to do so. Certain activities which were previously only available rarely are now available readily, altering the way I perceive them noticeably. Judging the quality and character of the silence and stillness can change relative to the conditions within which they take place. Walking alone down the street, I can’t help feeling at once completely unified with everything I see and feel and sense, in every way, and yet, distinctly alone, individual, apart. The differences between myself and other living entities is a signal that there is a variety and a number of differences in the way that consciousness manifests in the world. If you go down deep, and when we say “go in deep” or “go inward” we mean not temporally, but spiritually within us–when we do that–it emphasizes both our unification with all life and our inner separateness from it, and the simultaneous recognition of both while on our path through life becomes clearer when we withdraw within. The spiritual path, by contrast, is not an actual “path” in the same sense as a path through the woods, or as the path of a tornado through the landscape, nor is it a clear path marked by indicators along the way to reassure you that you are aligned with a true path. Even what the Buddhists call “the path to enlightenment,” requires a particular series of steps, and is characterized by stages of development that can be achieved through right action, speech, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and thought. It’s not a sensory experience, nor is it an intellectual experience, although we may engage our spiritual nature in ways that affect our temporal awareness as well as our intellect in order to reflect upon it. Our genuine encounters with what we refer to as our spiritual path are “felt,” and that feeling is only acknowledged after the fact. Once we let go of the temporal world of the senses, abandon the ego-centered world of thoughts and emotions, and open up to or engage our true nature, we may approach a state of pure awareness. It is the ABSENCE of these other aspects that makes it possible to connect us to our own unique spiritual path. Even as we endeavor to reach such a state, we must acknowledge the limitations and opportunities of our human nature, and try to understand how they are intimately intertwined with the spirit. Tonight, while contemplating these aspects of the spiritual path, so many emotions and memories have flooded my consciousness, and it gives me great encouragement to realize that all these things are alive within me. I won’t be alive forever as a human being, but everything that composes the core person I have become, what I have gained by living as myself in my world, I will carry with me always and the value represented in those benefits will never be lost in the grand scheme of things. My physical life will eventually expire, but I believe my inner life, the life of the spirit, of that essence which has no temporal existence in the conventional sense, will not perish with my body, and therefore it seems likely to me that it must be essential to all life. As I reflect now, with the onset of my 67th winter, I realize that a fuller recognition of the existence of the human spirit is a lifelong endeavor, and over my lifetime there have been few opportunities to achieve that recognition better than being in proximity to each of my children, as they grew from babies, and who now, along with their significant others, care for their newborns or toddlers. Watching how life unfolds for them, tallying my account of their progress as a family, and my close observations have often produced a visceral response to the underlying foundations of love and connection that I feel toward them. Naturally, we are joined by familial tradition and have a shared genetic inheritance that accounts for some of my instinctive responses in the expected ways, but also, the tendency to sometimes go against tradition—to consider a new path in response to the suppression I experienced as a younger person—is obviously also a part of that inheritance. In taking a loving and just approach to figuring out how to connect with our spiritual resources, and where to put each of them, we have to at least consider what value this creates for those we love and for whom we are tasked to care, regardless of the basic nature of that connection. Some of us need more attention than others, and some of us need a greater opportunity to expand and explore. Some of us are fine with adjusting to new or otherwise unfamiliar circumstances, and some of us require more predictability and stability in order to prosper. Pursuing our spiritual path has a direct influence on how we live out our lives, and these ideas are integral, not just to our general well-being, but to the very essence of our truest nature. There continues to be very few real local opportunities to engage in any sort of regular substantial conversations about the subject that occupies me these many years, but I have enjoyed nearly a decade of online conversations with the readers on this blog. I also talk to myself a lot. (You gotta go with what you got!) If you ever get the chance to review the comments I have written in response to those who leave their comments about my postings, you can see that I welcome more conversation on this chosen subject. Sometimes, reading the responses to what I write, and then writing my responses can be equally as interesting to me as writing the original blog post. I try to keep the conversation about fundamentals at first, addressing the specific response, but often find myself providing additional material or expressing additional thoughts as needed. I’ve been participating in a decade’s long conversation with people from nearly every country in the world, and, in spite of the size and diversity of that group, I still feel as though I should be doing more. It has always been my intention to share what I have learned, and when I receive an especially thoughtful comment, I tend to respond at length, and this seems to me to be a result of not having many other such opportunities to discuss these issues. There are layers and layers within me that I am exploring now, and which I have been exploring for over thirty years. At times, I am overwhelmed by the avalanche of emotions, the expansive nature of my efforts to increase my understanding, and the flood of diverse thoughts and intuitions. I’m not sure at all that my efforts will eventually bear fruit in a way that gives me cause to suppose my efforts are worthwhile, but it still feels right to continue to press on. What I can say with certainty, is that my experience of life has been a relentless affirmation of the existence of the human spirit (or whatever term you feel is appropriate to your cultural tradition), and my hope is that with the right resources in place, and the proper conditions under which our understanding can blossom, that I might be able to contribute in a productive way, and in a beneficial way, to the progress of our general understanding, as well as to the necessary expansion of what may constitute a fuller and clearer explanation for our richly textured subjective experience of consciousness.

5 thoughts on “Our Spiritual Path

  1. Nicely put John. It is wonderful to read of your belief in some sort if continuance of one’s “being” after the death of the physical body. The absence of such belief can be a source of enormous anxiety. Or so I find, anyway. I still struggle with “meaning” on so many fronts. As you know I find belief in any conventional sort of god impossible and yet I sometimes feel that perhaps there is more out there which may give some sort of underpinning to our lives. Perhaps we are being tested, who knows. In any event I am glad you are finding peace within; I am having a bit of a struggle at the moment and don’t feel like writing much. But as we know, these periods pass. In any event I wish you well in this lead up to Christmas and was much heartened to read your article. Anthony

    1. I am very glad to know that you received some benefit from reading my posting and appreciate very much that you took the time to respond so thoughtfully. The struggle with “meaning” is indeed a challenge for us all in one way or another, and while the continuance of one’s being when the physical body expires remains beyond our abilities to determine with certainty, it seems unavoidable to me to suppose that there clearly is some sort of underpinning to our lives, and I stand firmly on the premise that my lifetime of direct experience and contemplative studies has informed my beliefs in a positive way. There are schools of thought in the literature and mythologies of most every culture in the history of humanity which suggest layers to our existence which are supportive of this temporal life on Earth, but which are of a completely different nature, and which exist outside of our ability to perceive them directly.

      Our subjective experience of consciousness may be the essential human resource which provides us with a level of connection to that different nature, and which allows us to feel and sense this broader range of existence, without necessarily being accessible to empirical scrutiny. Comprehensive knowledge of what the precise nature of such an existence might be like is necessarily unavailable to us as physical beings. Physical life in the physical universe is finite and our observations and explorations are limited by our temporal talents and capacities for discovery. The limits of physical existence are insufficient to explain our experience of the transcendent nature of life that we intuitively sense and, in some cases, have experienced as phenomena inexplicable by any temporal physical law. Whether or not our experiences in life includes those which suggest the existence of the human spirit or not, the overwhelming number of accounts throughout human history of a deeply spiritual nature to life are a compelling argument that supports at least the inclination to explore such ideas.

      Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of being, is the only end of life.” While this may be true, my favorite quote on the subject was by Carl Jung, who wrote: “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” In my view, we cannot simply be “a glorious accident,” which many materialists suggest resulted from our cosmic evolution after the Big Bang, and rather than belittle our existence as a cosmic coincidence of physical laws and molecular miracles, which eventually spawned DNA, our keen sense and deeply held feeling that “perhaps there is more out there,” seems much more likely.

      Your kind wishes in the lead up to Christmas are returned in equal measure to you with gratitude, and I look forward to the New Year which will hopefully include many more opportunities to increase our friendship…John H.

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