Spirituality & Holding Space I

What happens when your spouse comes home to tell you she has purchased a motorcycle,  taken a six-month leave of absence from work and is planning to ride cross-country with a friend?  If you have not been part of the planning phase for these major decisions, you may be wondering, “What happened to the ‘we’ in the ‘to-have-and-to-hold’ and ‘until-death-do-us-part’ portions of the marriage vows?”  Yet, what remains unspoken, in more spiritually mature unions, is that as marriage participants we usually come together to assist one another in discovering who we are and what we want.

In the context of a spiritual friendship or a primary, committed relationship, this process may be referred to as holding space.

Spirituality

Marriage, as an institution, may be “about” many things:  the desire for a greater  sense of intimacy, domestic refuge, physical touch, having a reliable confessor, spiritual communion, fiscal support, emotional comfort, common interests, intellectual friendship, shared dreams or some combinations thereof.  Most of us enter a first marriage without necessarily knowing ourselves, let alone what we may “want” over a lifetime, except that we remain hopeful that life is and will become “better” if we are heard and, ideally, understood by someone other than ourselves.  And, on the threshold of a new marriage, travelling in tandem always seems like the better choice than going it alone.

In actuality, all of us are already travelling in tandem through life, whether or not we are in a committed, primary relationship. We are travelling in tandem–within ourselves–with the Self, our highest Light.

There is the aspect of each personality running our day-to-day affairs, such as calling the garage for an oil-change appointment, shuttling children to and from activities, getting us through the work day or otherwise “doing” life–almost on autopilot.  Another aspect of personality, which often lies buried beneath a pile of fall leaves, waiting to be unearthed at the first hint of a spring-like recognition, is in the inner sactum of the heart–the highest Light or the Self.

Sometimes the disparity between what our habituated self desires is quite different from what our highest Light would command or commend.

The habituated self has its eyes on entertainment, the Joneses, as well as practical, logisitical and material concerns.  The Self is more concerned with affirming the whole of life in the Big Picture, while working through issues of ethics with a trained, judicious eye on everyone and everything involved.

Thus, from this  perspective, there are atleast four distinct personalities in any given primary relationship of just two people.

Spirituality & Sacrament

Delivering our family’s recycling to the Municipal Recycling Center, our young son–in a moment of playful fun–steps onto the Center’s aluminum-recycling scale, a large steel plate recessed directly into the concrete floor.  Still in junior-science-teacher mode, I proceed to tell my son “how much” his body would be worth on the raw chemicals market, breaking his physical frame down into its discrete chemical components.

The African-American man working the Center’s scale gently counters me with a heart-felt statement of firm conviction, “You are priceless, because God gave you life.   Life is a precious gift.”

Spirituality

At the time this happened, I was involved in a spiritual practice where I had been counseled to treat the words of would-be strangers, acquaintances and friends as if they were the words that the Divine would deliver personally to my ears and heart. This man’s words stopped me cold.

I had to ask, “What am I teaching my son?  Is it a notion that I want to propagate?  True or not, is this idea or belief damaging?”

Like it or not, I had relayed to my son that in chemical, physical and fiscal terms “life is cheap” and, more specifically, “your life is cheap.” In my heart, I knew this was not true.

Moving through my days, I began pondering the boundaries between the attitudes of things held dear and objects quantified, the sacred and profane, those fully present and those disengaged, as well as gratitude and ingratitude. While observing my own emotional chart and where I seemed to travel or rest, I began mapping where I was “living” on the majority of days–and in most moments.  A clear picture began developing.

Then, one day, during clean-up after a lunch with a group of spiritual friends, a woman began relating a story to me about the lifestyle of one of her closest friends, who had a home out in the country.  On this country woman’s property, profanity–involving common anglo-saxon pejoratives–is forbidden because the acts that these words describe are considered to be a sacred part of nature and living by this specific woman and her family.

Soaking this concept up, I begin examining my own attitudes while engaged in the simplest of acts.  Am I behaving emotionally in a manner that renders this act profane or sacred?

What I learn is this:  Cultivating a relationship with the sacred is a matter of shifting gears internally to foster consistent responses of gratitude and reverence for both what we choose to be doing and that which life delivers to us.  Sacraments–life’s sacred rituals–need not be rarified, reserved or confined to specific locations or institutions. Sacramental living becomes available to each of us daily through our ability to hold gratitude and presence in our hearts.

Exploring Your Universe IV

Spirituality

With the dialogue between our junior explorer and internal Observer established, we may be given a clear picture—a Hubble quality picture—about what is really going on inside of us.  This is one of the main purposes for the space created by a dedicated, personal practice.  We begin to see ourselves and our wholeness as never before.  The dialogue we establish with our cellular bodies will actually aid us, as we learn how to discern our wants from our needs.  This new picture assists us in making conscious choices and fine-tuning our lives so that we may become clear about where we have been, where we are going, and where we would like to travel.

Once we have a clearer picture about what our internal Universe is like, we have the luxury of consolidating our time and energy around the brightest stars of our concern.  We may even begin to entertain the traditional, twin yogic questions:  Who am I?  And, why am I here?

The second item of intense personal focus has to do with making regular inquiries about why we are here—or how we are designed to serve.  And, the manner in which we are designed and called to serve is as individual as the manner in which we experience the world.  As a travel tip on the path, it becomes critical that we cease expending precious energy on judging others as they traverse the road they conceive they need to be traveling.  Instead. we must learn to focus on turning off our own auto-pilot buttons while listening for cues on how to proceed along our own singular paths.  We will be shown how to come alive with our individual lifestyle choices.

There are other Universes to discover and places to explore.  We each have a current, working truth to speak.  Be patient as the relationship with your internal Universe begins to unfold.  And, remember, the most important dance partner each of us will ever have and meet resides inside.

Namaste

Exploring Your Universe III

It is in the space created during our personal practice that a dialogue opens, between our junior explorer and our mature Observer.  What do we discover as we enter onto this path?  Different traditions have different names for this phenomenon.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is the Stillpoint.  In Sufism it is the Essential Self.  In Mahayana Buddhism it is the bodhisattva.  In Christian mysticism, it is the Light of Christ.  In Vedic tradition, as in yoga, we come to know the Atman or the Self.  And, when we touch this driving life force, we also learn that this is where the seat of our integrity resides.  This is where we discover our current, working truth.

There is a wonderful Zen Buddhist tale which bears consideration.

A retired academic leaves his teaching duties to enter into monastic life.  The Monastery’s Zen Master greets him, placing a tea kettle on to boil.

“Why do you come here?” the Zen Master asks the academic.

“I wish to achieve Enlightenment, honored Sir,” the professor replies.

“Ah, yes. I see,” the Zen Master responds, continuing to prepare the tea.  “How do you think Enlightenment is achieved?” the Zen Master asks.

“I don’t know.  I came here so you could teach me,” the professor explains.

The Zen Master begins to fill the academic’s cup with the freshly brewed tea.  The tea comes to the cup’s brim, and still the Master pours.  The tea soon fills the saucer, until the saucer is overflowing.  The hot tea begins to spill over the table and onto the floor.

Pushing his body back from the low table, the professor leaps up shouting, “Stop. Stop.  The cup is already full!”

The Zen Master replies, “Yes.  And, so too, is your mind.”

Thus, exploration, genuine exploration, of our personal Universe, through the lens of our internal Observer, requires us to empty ourselves out daily.  This means letting go of old miscommunications that rankle, forgiving past hurts, scraping the crust from our hearts caused by nursed resentments, and otherwise cleaning out our emotional house of pain.  Because, when we finally let go, the petty things going on locally and socially outside of us will also give way, and we will be able to focus on two things.

Exploring Your Universe II

More often than not we as Americans, and philosophically as Westerners, walk through our days, half asleep, reenacting habituated living patterns, bouncing from one sense pleasure to the next.  Think: morning coffee (caffeine) to sweet-roll snack (sugar) to main-meal pasta (carbs) to afternoon chocolate snack (I would note here that chocolate for many bodies is akin to hitting the ball out of the neurological baseball park) to, perhaps finally, dinner with a glass of wine or martini (alcohol).  And, we do this all only to fall into bed at night, wake up the next morning and hit the repeat button on our lives.  But, there is another way.

In Vedic tradition, (I prefer not to use the term Hinduism because it is a colonial label for Sanatana Dharma—what the Indians would call their own religious tradition—the Eternal Way or Law), most especially in The Upanishads, there is a profound distinction made between pleasure and joy.  Pleasure is finite, fleeting and linked to the stimulation of the body’s senses.  Joy is infinite, enduring and stems from the actions taken by a mature and compassionate heart, which is moving in coordinated awareness from a seat of pure intention and for the greater good.

You are the Universe.  You are whole.  You are of everything that was and will be.  You are made to be creative, full and vibrant.  We are made to affirm life.  We all simply need to wake up.

There is a quotation from the book, The Jew in the Lotus, by Rodger Kamenetz, which documents the visitation of a delegation of Jewish Rabbis invited to visit His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Rabbi Yitz Greenberg is quoted as saying,  “God’s will is for us to learn how to affirm our full truth [while] doing full justice to the other, not partial justice or twisted justice or a secondhand treatment.” (p. 49)  In basic terms, this means that we must acknowledge that there are seven-and-a-half billion people on the planet today having at least seven-and-a-half billion different experiences of what it is like to be on planet earth.  Or, from the perspective of a Sankhya adherent, “There are a great number of Universes whirling about and bumping up against one another daily, as we all go about the business of finding our Way.  We must learn to be respectful of one another as we travel through time and space.“

Yet, how many of us could do full justice to another person’s truth—another person’s wholeness or world view—when most of us do not even have a solid perspective or command of our own?  This is the point at which we in the West, might turn our heads East or look to some of the traditions of First-Nations’ peoples, where the majority of spiritual traditions offer willing individuals the tools necessary for serious self-exploration.  This is the point at which an unflagging commitment to a dedicated, personal practice becomes critical.

If we remain with the examples provided to us through Vedanta for methods of self-exploration and for waking up, the first option asks us to approach each day and all of life with reverence and devotion (bhakti yoga).  The second option asks us to reference daily inspirational literature that encourages an attitude of humble awe in us (jnana yoga).  And, for secular humanists, this means appreciating the exquisite beauty in a well-designed double-blind study.  The third option asks us to sit quietly within ourselves, while evening our breathing until our consciousness follows calm suit, encouraging meditative self-reflection (raja yoga).  In the fourth option, we choose to serve others—or one of the Earth’s many environmental systems—selflessly and without attachment to outcome (karma yoga).  And, through these practices or a combination thereof, we will be able to connect to more readily to the internal Observer.  Finally, in the fifth option, we may honor and strengthen the body, preparing a place of residence and receipt for our highest Light or the Self (Atman)—the powerhouse of personal integrity, which then grants us the keys to our own unfolding (hatha yoga).  If we choose to work through the body (and, in my experience, the body is one of the most direct routes to exploration of our internal Universe), any solo, repetitive physical activity that enlivens us—swimming, running, yoga, tai chi, rowing, kayaking—all constitute acceptable forms of personal practice.

Exploring Your Universe I

Once, while dining at a favorite ethnic restaurant, featuring a full luncheon buffet, a new bread item appeared next to one of the buffet’s regular bread offerings.  The new bread item was a puffed, triangular pillow with a buttery texture and an herb infused batter.  After having procured my second helping, my dining companion asked me what I thought about the new bread.  I proceeded to describe, in great enthusiastic detail, exactly what I was experiencing—the subtle flavors of the complex mix of herbs, the bread’s creamy or buttery texture with carefully crisped edges along the pillow’s golden crunchy seams, which contrasted sumptuously with the bread’s still soft and warm main body.  Gastronomically, I was enchanted to say the least.

So, my dining companion, with whom I share many preferences and tastes, walked up to the buffet  to procure a sample.  Upon returning to the table and sampling the new bread item, my companion observed rather flatly, “I don’t know, Julian; I am not having the same sense experience that you described.”

In one of India’s six orthodox philosophical systems, Sankhya, upon which Ayurvedic medicine’s approach to healing is based, each person is considered a Universe unto him or herself.  There may be trends, categories of types, or combinations thereof—think apple, pear, or string-bean body types with matching profiles regarding temperament or disposition.  Nonetheless, and ultimately, we are each entirely unique.  And, the manner in which we experience the world is solely our own.

Spirituality

When I read about current scientific findings, I enjoy taking Sankhya’s philosophical point of view with me.  In one of the alumni magazines coming through our home, there was an article about how we taste food.  As it turns out, the broccoli eschewing crowd, which accounts for approximately twenty percent of the U.S. population, actually rejects this delectable and nutritious crucifer, among other cruciferous vegetables, because these individuals possess a heightened sense of taste in the bitterness category.

Food scientists postulate that the evolutionary reason for this heightened acuity around bitterness has something to do with the fact that many plants, poisonous for the human species, fall into this specific taste category.  Thus, the hypothesis is that people, who reject bitter foods, and their progeny, are more likely to have survived over the long haul of human evolution because they would have avoided bitter, poisonous plants.  Yet, in Ayurveda, there are several bitter plants which are consumed fairly regularly because certain bitter plants are known to cleanse the blood.  Foreign travel has taught me that our sense of taste is not only determined by our biology but also by our cultural training.  In India, people are encouraged to eat safe, bitter vegetables with an awareness about when such a vegetable might be appropriate for its balancing and healing properties.  And, such truly bitter foods are usually eaten with relative emotional equanimity.

Yet, how many of us can muster emotional equanimity at will, in the name of rebalancing our bodies or in the name of engaging in exceptional self-care?  Or, like a crew of good yogis, how many of us can call forth our own reliable internal Observer, with a capital “O”—upon command and in pursuit of the exploration of body, mind and spirit, which are some of the components within our personal, internal Universe?

 

Spiritual Listening

Visiting the office of an alternative-care practitioner, I learn from the receptionist that both she and the practitioner have been attending weekly seminars on opening to their intuition.  We talk briefly about what it means to be intuitive–how it is more about listening to the subtle cues from one’s own body and heart than it is about going out to gather information or “do a reading” regarding another person’s affairs.  Being intuitive would best be described as spiritual listening.

Spiritual listening to the physical frame and one’s own highest Light, set deep within the heart, only requires a series of relatively modest commitments in terms of time, space and dedicated practice.  And, such a series of commitments prevents the beep, beep, beep, beep, repeat…if-you’d-like-to-make-a-call, please-hang-up-and-dial-again from becoming a physical or spiritual emergency.

Spirituality

Once, I had the privilege of speaking with a working, Yoruba Shaman who had recently relocated from Cuba to the United States.  He described to me how incredibly loud it was to live here–because, in his own words, “No one is listening to the Spirit World.”  I concurred with him, explaining that in my own work as a Pranic-Work practitioner much of what I do involves reconnecting people to the Light within their hearts, so that they can open a dialogue with what Vedanta refers to as the Self.  Most of us, as Americans, possess overly-full calendars. We are well ensconced in gadgetry, as well as enjoying a staggeringly wide variety of entertainment and sense stimuli. For many of us, life is lived with the phone receiver to our bodies and hearts consistently and, or almost completely off the hook.

Spiritual listening comes most easily to us when we are relaxed and at play.  This is not the social, interactive play we experience at parties, but the joyful, solo and introspective play of collecting leaves for pressing on a fall day, working in our in-home woodshop on Saturday, visiting a children’s playground or doing a jigsaw puzzle on a Sunday afternoon with the low sun streaming across the pieces.  This is when we are able to depress the clutch of our whirring minds, pull the stick shift into neutral and rest with our engines in idle to actually listen.  Such circumstances create the most organic flow of the Spirit’s buried wishes, as well as communications with the cellular body so that latent hankerings, actual needs and genuine priorities may move to the fore.

Group seminars on awakening intuition are fun, and they may certainly assist us in loosening the strictures we often have on excessively rigid energetic forms and beliefs, but the actual joy of an authentic connection with the Self is a very individual, private and sacred affair.  So, pull out your calendar and set aside a full, half-day to explore the world again–your world.  Let your body relax.  Allow your heart to open.  And, listen with an easy, gentle and kind ear to what is being said.  Take some notes.  Make changes.  Take real action.  Falling into alignment allows moment-to-moment clarity to begin streaming.