The Unspiritual Spirit

A Buddhist gardener risks his life to remove creeping foliage from the pinnacles of Angkor Wat. He believes he is protecting spirits that live within the temple.

A Catholic man, one of 242, lifts the 11,000-pound throne of Virgen de la Esperanza, parading it through the streets of Malaga, Spain on Holy Thursday. He endures the pain because, “Life has no meaning without going out under the Virgen.”

An initiate at China’s Shaolin Temple practices Monkey Stick routines and memorizes scripture, hoping to be ordained as a Kung Fu Warrior Monk. His goal is to reach enlightenment.

A young Palestinian man volunteers as a paramedic at Al-Aqsa—the Dome of the Rock—during The Night of Power, Ramadan’s crescendo. By caring for those who have collapsed in the crushing crowds, he seeks to prove himself to Allah.

These religious practices come alive in the PBS documentary series, Earth’s Sacred Wonders: Closer to the Divine. My wife and I marveled at the color and passion of our human family. We have so many rituals, prayers, disciplines, and metaphysical systems designed to deepen our awareness of the One. The forms are as diverse as the plumage on our planet’s species of birds!

I respect faith expressions no matter how foreign they seem to me. But lately, I’ve been gripped by a simple, profound intuition. T.S. Eliot summed it up perfectly in words that many of us treasure, found in Little Gidding, the final of his Four Quartets.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

For me, this knowing, this waking up, is more than just living in the moment. It is an awareness that Presence, Tao, Spirit, God—whatever term you use—surrounds us with love, encouragement, and serenity. It is like inhaling sustenance and light, letting our Source heal us in the deepest recesses of our spirit.

As soon as we start dissecting this experience, giving it names and developing disciplines to grasp it more fully, it can easily slip away. Seeking the “spiritual” often buffers us from Spirit. In the Tao Te Ching, we find these words:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.

How hard this is for human brains that want to categorize and control!

Could the end of our explorations really be here, right now? Is it ultimately so simple, so obvious? I believe it is. And this awareness can infuse every task with new meaning. Thich Nhat Hanh says this about his fellow community members at Plum Village.

“When we wash dishes…it is to live every minute of the washing. Wash each bowl…in such a way that joy, peace, and happiness are possible. Imagine you are giving a bath to the baby Buddha. It is a sacred act. I have arrived. I am home. Through these two phrases, you can experience a lot of joy and happiness.”

Eliot’s words are probably true. We will not cease from exploration. We will continue to invent elaborate rituals designed to find the One.

But what if, sooner than later, we discovered we are already home?

presence1

(Image credit: Presence  1 by Angelica Gudino. Find her here)

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