Thursday, January 13, 2011

Upending Top Down Spirituality

Top Down Spirituality
One of the things that was hard for me in Rishikesh was that I got into an unhealthy place mixed up in all kinds of ideas about ‘spirituality’. What does that term even mean anyway? What is actually the whole goal of a spiritual journey? Does it have an end? What does enlightenment mean? Is that motivating me? What am I actually looking for?
One of the traps is to think that spirituality means being a certain way, and then to try and impose that way of being from the outside in/top down. So equanimity, which actually, I think, has something to do with being experientially and existentially deeply rooted in something more than one’s current, changing circumstances, can be morphed into a feaux indifference, pretending that things don’t affect you in the holy misguided pursuit of enlightenment, or ‘spirituality’. One might run off to India so he can think affirmedly of himself as being on a spiritual journey, or something like that. Spirituality should really be about opening, about disembedding but not becoming indifferent, about being more fully engaged and attentive and awake and alive and sensitive and at home in the world and living from a place of wholeness and helping others to that too. Or as Reb Zalman explains the meaning of 'ashrei' as being about living with a kind of fundamental confidence, or existential affirmation. I also like to think that good sign of being on the right track is being able to laugh with total abandon, and in a way which is in no way running away.

I once received a great piece of advice- whichever section you always go to when you go into the bookstore, that’s what you should do with your life. This from a sex therapist ;)
Anyway, in Rishikesh, the bookstores are my section, filled with spiritual/psychological stuff. Good times. So I bought some, and books like Ken Wilber’s above, and Chogyam Trunga Rinpoche’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and very much Daniel Ingram’s Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, which anyone interested in serious spiritual practice and development/attainment should read, and Mariana Caplan’s Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path and the Baal Shem Tov and R’ Nachman and others have really been helping me sort out some of the chaff from the wheat. Likewise conversations with people along the way, be they those I met on the trail on Annapurna or elsewhere, like Richard Davidson and his simple reminder to listen to my heart/inner voice. Also, doing that, practicing it, the way becomes easier and clearer.
One of the things that someone said along the way, I think it was Elan, was about living close to your soul. Without getting into the theology of it, that really speaks to me, just kind of feels like the right way to be. Here’s another poem along those lines:

Close to the Source
Soft tears, whimpering quietly just below the surface,
Now gurgling forth, the spring breaks through.
Not for long can the awakened soul hide her face.
Now stirred, her breath returns, deepens.
Mother is coming back to nurse her child.
The tears flow freely now,
And the deluge brings spring.
The dead debris is freed, old skin shed,
Now we are home.

I think that sometimes the mud can become so caked and dried on our skin that we forget the actual color and softness of what’s underneath. and meanwhile our skin struggles to breathe and can’t radiate its light. so once we noticed that what’s there is mud and not our natural state, we start scrubbing, which brings up all kinds of dirt (obviously, since it’s mud we’re talking about) and crud and involves a bit of irritation in scrubbing, but of course, the result is purity, freedom, radiance, and that wonderful entering-Shabbas like feeling.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing with me. When I was at Elat Chayyim this summer, one of the participants pulled me aside on the last day of his retreat to share some insight. He said, "what's great about your team is that one of you builds the container from the outside in, while the other builds from the inside out." Maybe spirituality should be built both top down and bottom up, neglecting neither?