Spirituality is Ordinary

Wouldn’t you say that we make a big deal about spirituality, and even things not quite so celestial in nature? It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian, Buddhist, or however you identify yourself. In browsing over some of the books in the self-help, new age, and Christian areas, some themes arise:  “get to a higher level”, “have a closer more powerful relationship with God”, “reach bliss”, and so on. We seem to think that Spirituality lies in piety, participating in long, sumptuous liturgies, or in traveling to exotic teachers and/or locales to get wisdom. We gain tremendous credentials as confirmed Christians or a “Vajrayana Practitioner”. Does pomp and circumstance actually get us anywhere?

Every tradition (even the new age) has its own ceremonial. Be it the sacraments of the Christian tradition, the liturgies and abhishekas of the Buddhist tradition, or the initiations of the new agers, we all have it. Undoubtedly these moments are experienced by some as an experience of immense openness. We tell stories, and memoirs of these experiences. Re-creating them again, and again for friends, family, and whoever will listen. As we do this on and on, we get into a bit of confusion, because we realize that re-creating that past experience doesn’t get us back to that spot, that moment of pure openness.

The problem with trying to hold on to powerful spiritual experiences begins with regarding it as powerful or valuable. The funny thing is, we take our hands, our feet, our eyes, our bodily functions, etc. that is until we lose them or lose their function. We regard things that are part of us as ordinary. Yet, things that are “outside” of us are valuable. When we hang on to our spiritual experiences we make them separate from ourselves. By our very act of hanging on, paradoxically, the farther it slips from our grip. We are no longer united to that openness.

To have that spiritual experience again would make it ordinary, something repeatable, something not so special. It is in this simple statement that the key lies to authentic spirituality. We engage in self-deception when we re-create a past experience instead of having that experience again and again. There is a difference between re-living something in the past and experiencing it now.

The key to enlightenment, the key to openness and freedom is found right in front of us if we would only take a moment to look right where we are. As we practice, we learn that spirituality is neither exotic, nor pious. Actually, we find that spirituality is not really all that special. It is simply learning that every moment, every experience, and everything is beautiful not because they’re somehow special, but because they are ordinary: they are what they are.

For my theistic friends: God is found in the last place that we expect him to be: in the mundane and the ordinary. He cannot be found anywhere else. Christian spiritual teaching teaches us that the sacraments are merely external confirmation of God’s grace which already dwells within. Sacramental liturgies, in my understanding, do not convey grace. Instead, they serve as the Christian community’s external sign of and allegorical teaching about the grace which has already been bestowed. This teaching about the sacraments actually reminds us that God’s grace has already been endowed on all creation, and it is merely waiting for us to discover it.

Simple, humble, yet ordinary thoughts. May you find them useful.

Sarva Mangalam


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