Today my daughter and I were home sick with the flu. As I sit down to write this post on the nature of spiritual living I can see – in living color – the collision between human and divine. How do I muster the fortitude to talk about the sublime amidst the drudgery of snotty noses and piles of dirty laundry? It’s not easy, sometimes, for me to see daily life through a spiritual lens. It’s work. Despite the contrary claims of so many new age gurus, knowing Spirit amidst the mundane requires pause, practice and an ongoing desire to tend to my suffering in a way that is life giving.
For me, living spiritually is birthed by the deep desire to know my own human potential for experiencing and expressing love in my own unique way. I believe that love is the natural state of our being, but in order to live from this place, we must weave our way through layers of ego conditioning. The spiritual path, then, is this process. It is like pulling a loose string on the veil of the ego until it unravels and reveals the luminous being beneath. Like the traditional ascetic hair shirt, we wrap ourselves in ego and are tortured by it because it’s all we have ever known. The veil of the ego is a taken for granted reality, that persistently keep us writhing within its confines.
Luckily the hair shirt has one or two loose threads. Unraveling it is possible, and the way we yank on this vicious yarn is through the practices that have been given to us over millennia by practitioners of all traditions. The first step is realizing that we have been living in this ascetic state most of our lives. For me, spirituality is seeing the way that I self-torture. I see it in my asana, when my stiff spine wails its penitent screams under the oppression of my inner critic and anxiety. I see it reflected to me the spiritual literature that serve as lampposts on my journey to freedom. I see it in the eyes of my loved ones as they witness my human struggle, and my brief moments of liberation. How many ways can you see? What will show you your bondage? Meditation? Creative writing? Art? Suffering is abundant, opportunity to experience your hair shirt is ample – but, how close are you willing look at your own suffering? Feel it? Respond to it?
In this way, spirituality is a willingness to engage suffering (rather than avoid, deny, repress or otherwise), so that it reveals the nature of the chains that bind you. I hear the voice that tells me I’m a bad mother/wife/daughter/worker (or any other life denying phrase) and instead of blindly believing it I ask who it is, what it needs, why it comes to me now. I feel the pain of its message with compassion. And I slow down, long enough to hear the other, less dominant, voices within. These are one’s that speak of wholeness and the inherent miracle of my own being. I open to a larger reality where I see that I am more than just my ego.
So living a spiritual life, for me, is the process of recognizing suffering and entering into a conversation with it through various practices. It is the “undoing” of lifetimes of conditioning that perpetuates the ego myth. And it is the humble and deep wish to continue to unravel the layers of our self-restriction, even as it re-knits itself time and time again. Over and over we cycle, from the laundry to the sublime and back again to the feverish suffering of humanity. The cross we bear is that we suffer so un-believably, and yet the key we hold is that we can rest this weight from time to time on the sturdy back of spirituality.
Stay tuned for my next post on the top ten spiritual practices that have helped me the most!