Spiritual Practice Is an Exercise in Surrender

Spiritual practice is an exercise in surrender

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Viktor Frankl

I want to grow.

I want to progress on my path of spiritual development. I want to be a better person. I want to connect more deeply with Spirit. And I want to prove that I am up to the challenge, that I am worthy of such noble goals.

But I have a nagging feeling that something about my desire is getting in the way. My effort has a quality of striving, an overreaching that feels out of balance.

Through my life experience, I’ve trained myself to pursue my goals with perseverance. I see something I want, I make a plan, and I take actions that move me toward my goal. When things get tough, I don’t stop, I push harder. And for many aspects of my life, this works. I am able to get the things I want and I feel good.

But spiritual growth doesn’t work like that because it’s not about achieving something I don’t have. It doesn’t make me worthy. It isn’t what connects me to Spirit. It reveals what is already present:  my inherent goodness, my radiant beauty, my ever-drenching immersion with the Cosmos.

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Wise Words – The Simple Road of Kindness

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”

George Eliot

It may be as simple as this. We’ve made it harder than it has to be.

We’ve spent the span of human existence tussling with the basic dilemma of humanity: how do we stand in relationship with the wonderment of this living cosmos and our fellow beings in a world where we also feel threat and danger? In the past, we sought guidance in misguided corners with a checkered history of success. We fostered argument and violence, forgetting the underlying reason we are here.

Maybe there is a day in the future when we will arrive at the crux of the matter:

when all the philosophies, doctrines, and treatises have been cataloged and shelved;

when the hierarchies and reformations have made all their arguments and counterpoints;

when the zealous believers of every stripe have finished shouting their convictions at each other and exhausted their passion for certitude;

maybe then, after all the building up and tearing down, our common wisdom will distill into a note so clear it rings the inner chambers of our hearts, a light so pure we cannot help but turn our heads and stare.

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Faith Is the Bird That Feels the Light

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”

Rabindranath Tagore

I feel the light, too. And I am sometimes confused by it.

The light I feel is good. It is goodness itself. I want to be immersed in this light, drenched, consumed. I want to open my chest and let it enter me, to unfold myself in its brilliance and fly or sink to wherever it is going.

I trust the light without knowing why. Without good reason, without proof, even though it makes no logical sense, even though I can’t be certain. But my trust is stronger than knowledge or reason or proof or logic or, most brittle of them all, certainty.

Living in the modern world, I have been taught to believe in the power of knowledge, reason, and logic, and to strive to make things certain. I acknowledge the value of these human capacities and I express abundant gratitude for the many benefits they bring to modern life:  electricity, indoor plumbing, antibiotics, chemotherapy, communication satellites, bridges that don’t fall down. And because my trust in the light is more intuitive than logical, more felt sense than geometric proof, I am sometimes confused that my trust is so strong.

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This Poor Gray Ember of Creation

From where I’m standing, the slope of the land falls away in waves, the silver tops and knotted trunks of olive trees growing smaller. At the bottom of the drop, the ground rises again and then curves out of sight into a second shallow valley before angling steeply to a ridge in the distance, where I see the ruins of a temple, its columns, frieze, and pediment crisp against the sky. The Greeks built a line of temples here to honor their gods twenty-five hundred years ago.

Today, we call this ridge the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only one temple and the bones of a few others still stand, the rest have been tumbled to the ground by earthquakes, plundering, and the erosion of time.

I take in this wide vista from the doorway of my cottage at the Villa San Marco, a slice of heaven Linda and I have fallen into by pure chance.

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Wise Words – We Are All Creators

As spiritual seekers, we are all creators.

“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”

Robert Henri

It’s funny, but I don’t think this quote is about art. It’s about the larger container that holds art but holds everything else as well.

When I sit down to write, I try to settle into a relaxed state that is connected to Spirit and open to guidance. If I don’t drop into this space, I am writing from a part of my brain that feels like the thin outer shell of who I am. The words might be organized, articulate, well-informed, they might even sound good, but the writing isn’t coming from the truth. At some level, it isn’t honest.

To drop into this state, I have to let go of my expectations about what my writing should be. I have to face and walk through the fear that my writing will expose me as idealistic, deluded, ego-inflated, or just plain silly. When I can do that, my consciousness shifts, and I enter the “wonderful state” Robert Henri is talking about. And then I can write.

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Wise Words – By Our Love, Not By Our Thinking

By our love not by our thinking

“By our love the Sacred may be touched and held; by our thinking, never.”

The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 6

Thinking is not wrong, it just gets too much air time in our hyper-productive, over-stimulated society.

When applied to problems it is good at, its answers seem complete:  How many grams are in a cup? When is the next solar eclipse? How much weight can this bridge design hold? These are questions with definite answers, and logic is ideally suited to deliver them. This leaves the false impression that thinking is a superior pathway to understanding. 

But we humans are multi-dimensional. For all its usefulness, logic cannot reach the parts of life we hold most dear:  the waves of love we feel holding our newborn child or grandchild; the subtle smile in the eyes of our spouse or partner; intuitive bursts of creativity; an inspired refrain of Bob Dylan or Beethoven; the upswept majesty of entering a cathedral. These are sacred experiences and no logical explanation of them is complete or fulfilling. They need to be embraced by another dimension of our being.

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Wise Words – The World Is Full of Magic Things

“The world is full of magic things waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

William Butler Yeats

I can’t be sure this quote belongs to W.B. Yeats, but it certainly fits with how he saw the world, as a place of enchantment.

It places the source of wonder not in our powers of vision, but in the things around us. It is the world that is alive and we who are the dullards. If we can look up from the mental whirlwinds that absorb us and drop the preconceived packaging we use to keep the world safely in place, we can awaken our senses and see where magic is afoot.

For most of us, our perceptions are dimmed because we look at life through the same old, tired filters. These filters fog our perception like glasses made from Coke bottle bottoms. But we can revive our senses by dropping our filters, even briefly.

I will make you a promise. Try this experiment of attention and attitude for 30 seconds, and your senses will awaken to things you have been ignoring.

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Wise Words – Enlightenment Happens by Accident

 “Enlightenment happens by accident. Practice makes you accident-prone.”

Robert Aitken*

There is a natural paradox stitched into the fabric of spiritual practice – it requires both effort and non-effort.

We have “goals” on the spiritual path, but we hold them loosely. We want to be more conscious, enlightened, and open to the sacred experiences that crack the facade of our outer shell, but we know these can’t be reached by willful pursuit. The achievement-oriented skills we’ve learned to use in the outer world don’t work in the inner world. Trying harder makes us, well, hardened, and less open to receiving. Holding the reins too tightly keeps the horse from moving freely.

Our awakening comes in spurts, unexpected flashes sprinkled over time. By accident, so to speak. Spiritual growth is not a linear process. It is subject to our care but not our control. It’s more like preparing a field and waiting to see what sprouts. Things progress below the surface if we cultivate an openness to spontaneity, a receptivity and close listening that allow the alchemy to work at its own pace.

And, on the other hand …

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Wise Words – Your Most Important Spiritual Task: Opening Your Heart

“If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis

A sadness comes over me as I read these words and recognize the truth of it in me. Over the years, I have learned how to protect myself by armoring my heart.  

We all do, I suppose. Shortly after our birth, the world began to show us it can be a hurtful place. One moment, we felt a sense of union and safety with our parents, and the next, we felt the devastating ache of absence. So, we learned to shield ourselves from painful feelings by shutting off the heart. 

These preverbal lessons embedded themselves in the first layers of our psyche. And perhaps the most painful early scar was to adopt the false belief that somehow the fault must be in us, that we are not lovable. In various ways, we all share the early tragic misconception that we are not okay as we are.

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Wise Words – A World in Chaos, or the Birth of a New Consciousness?

Just before [an airplane] cracks the sonic barrier, there’s increased vibration and greater resistance . . . In our present state of evolutionary development, you might say we are flying just beneath the sound barrier of consciousness . . . On the other side of the sonic boom, we discover heightened connection, transparency, integration and resonance – more unity. 

People all over the world are experiencing decidedly tumultuous times.  Perhaps this is a sign that we’re moving closer to the “speed of sound” – closer to new consciousness. Of course, the faster we travel, the more volatility we meet – until we have breached the membrane and exceeded previous evolutionary limitations. What a beautiful boom that will make.

Thomas Hübl, from his book, Attuned

We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s easy to miss the longer view. In the day-to-day, we attend to the details of living life. The coffee pot, the kid’s breakfast, the list of appointments, errands, deadlines, and obligations, these all have their rightful place and deserve our attention.

We usually view the news while in the day-to-day mode of attention. Each item appears on the screen as a separate event and taken together, they sometimes paint a distressing picture. Extreme weather events, shootings, scenes of war, political gridlock, social unrest, hateful displays – we absorb the parade of disturbing headlines and react to each, feeling our emotions and grappling to make sense of it. 

And it seems to be getting worse, each day more extreme, the suffering amplified, our bodies more fatigued, and our emotions more numb. The speed of it is disorienting. We want it to slow down, for the madness to stop, for things to go back to normal.

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