The innocent longing to come home – what we call the spiritual search – is so often hijacked by an unconscious psychological agenda for comfort and perfection. Along with the desire to end the suffering created by ego’s tenacious story-telling comes a hope that this ending means we no longer have to feel what we don’t like to feel.
What we don’t like to feel is fear. And uncertainty. And sadness. And heartbreak. And despair. Feelings that are too uncomfortable. Too painful. Too scary. Too unbearable. We don’t want to feel them. We don’t want them to visit us. We just don’t want them. We do anything to get rid of them. These feelings become our enemies – at least in our minds – and we expend a lot of energy fighting them. We stuff them down. We turn away. We numb out. Or we pretend to feel something different, something that makes us feel more comfortable.
When the battle exhausts us, we look for the spiritual teacher or the spiritual teaching or the spiritual practice that will erase all these unwanted feelings and give us what we do want. What we want – even if we are not fully conscious of this wanting – is the bliss. The endless peace. The unbounded awareness. The transcendence of the messy human experience. And when the imaginary reward is not given, we make this teacher or teaching or practice “wrong” and we go off to find the “right” teacher or teaching or practice. But the imaginary holy grail never materializes.
When we seek and fail to find what we think we’re looking for, when we seek and fail, seek and fail, and seek and fail some more, we arrive at a bifurcation point. The choice here is to collapse into the story of “poor me”, or to rise up into awareness. Sulk into closure, or surrender into openness. Regress, or evolve. This is your moment of truth! Now that you have failed enough, been broken enough, been worn down enough, been humbled enough .. now that you’ve been stripped of the imagination of what freedom feels like, now that you have no fantasy to cling to as a lifeline, no holy grail to chase, no idea of what being spiritual means .. well, now perhaps you can return to rest in the bare facts of what is here. Perhaps now it can stop being a spiritual issue and start being a human issue. The issue is how to be with the bare bones of our human experience? How to stop running away, and just bloody be here!
If we are honest enough with ourselves, if we can expose to ourselves what stands in the way of just being here with what is, we return to ourselves. This is not a regression into unconsciousness, but a transformation into love. When there is no more attempt to avoid or escape any feeling or experience, we discover there is no enemy at all. We discover that truth is not a perfect state of understanding. Nor is it a perfect state of non-feeling. It is the very aliveness of this moment, however it shows up. And this acceptance of what is here, this intimacy with what is here, is the very freedom that we seek.
Now, instead of a spiritual high there is a spiritual maturity. We stop rejecting and sulking, and start opening and welcoming. In openness, there is no problem because there is no resistance to what is. The whole spectrum of the human experience – from heaven to hell – is deeply accepted. We stop trying to be spiritual, stop handing over authority to our imagination of how it should be, and come to rest in the true authority of our innermost openness.
And when we seem to fall, when we seem to fail, when we find ourselves back down on our knees broken open by life’s vicissitudes, we remember that we don’t need cower in shame or fix ourselves or look for salvation in spirituality.
We remember to be right here, in the bare bones of our humanity, in love with the openness that holds every experience.