I have reemerged into the outside world in the form of a student! In my mid-40’s, I am currently at University, getting a Masters degree in Religions in Peace and Conflict.
How did I find myself in this place on my path, you wonder? Well, I guess you could say that I realized that for me, “spirituality” and yearning to be One with Everything needs to have a practical component. Being One with Everything necessitates some form of social action on behalf of all the other parts of my Self that I am One with. It’s not about my awakening, it’s not about living nearer to God just for my own sake – doesn’t living nearer to God, who loves every single being in this world, entail taking action to embody that love?
Last July I went to see the radiant Amritanandamayi Devi, also known as Amma, when she came to Atlanta, Georgia. She is an Indian world teacher, who travels the globe every year and who is known as the “hugging saint” – as she hugs thousands of people a day. She also has extensive charities in India as well as Africa and around the world, including schools, hospitals, orphanages, toilet building programs and disaster relief.
This was my second pilgrimage to see Amma (in addition to my Facebook visitation). I had seen her 15 years before in San Ramon, California. I was very excited. The first time I saw her I had gone into a very expanded state of consciousness. I was sitting meditating in her presence, there were bajhans being played, the Indian harmonium droning, the tabla driving the music, Sanskrit chanting and Amma singing in a sort of ecstasy. All of a sudden I entered into a consciousness beyond time and space – and I was aware of the metric tempo of the music moving through what seemed to be time – and yet, I was in the timelessness behind time, the eternal NOW through which time moves. When I went outside into the dry northern California hillside, I looked out over the valley and saw a gnarled tree standing on the opposite hill and it felt exactly like I was looking at my own hand – there was no space, no separation, everything was right HERE. Even when I looked up at the moon it felt like it was right HERE in the exact same HERE as I was.
So, going to see Amma again, I thought I must have some expansive mystical experience again. I entered the big hall with around 4000 other spiritual hopefuls. I was prayerful and yearning, I was hopeful in a way where I was expecting to receive something for myself, some experience, some mystical moment that would revitalize me and heal me. I sat there in Amma’s presence, I meditated, I chanted, I went up and received my hug, I helped serve food in the cafeteria alongside people from all over the world, I bought a rudraksha bead that had been worn by Amma herself, and late one night I even got to sit next to Amma and hand her the Prasad, or blessed hershey’s kisses she gave out to everyone after their hug.
Yet, I didn’t have some expansive cosmic experience. I didn’t go beyond time and space, I didn’t remember a past life as an Egyptian priestess or a Mayan elder, I didn’t expand outside my body to feel a mile tall, I didn’t cry and weep and feel the presence of Krishna or Christ. I didn’t have any one big moment. But slowly and deeply over the 3 days, like it was just something that quietly melted into me, I came to the realization that the only important thing, really, is simply to be more loving. Without me even noticing, something changed inside of me and I stopped yearning for big experiences, I stopped listening to the little selfish voice inside of me that wants a shiny new spiritual experience to prove how very special I am – and I realized that all I really want is to be a good person. The only point to me seeing a tree as if it were my own hand is to do something for that tree, do something for that child, that woman, that man, that “other” who is really my Self.
It reminded me of a story that I heard James Finley tell in an audio recording from the Center for Action and Contemplation called Returning to Essentials, Teaching an Alternative Orthodoxy – a story that haunted me for days after I heard it:
“Martin Buber, the Jewish scholar and mystic, one morning had a mystical experience and then went to his office in the university still in the aura of this mystical experience. A student came to talk to him and he half-listened to the student and then the student went up to his dorm room and committed suicide. And he left a suicide note and said he had tried to talk to Martin Buber but he could tell he was preoccupied. So he killed himself. And Martin Buber realized that he had been preoccupied with his ecstasy, and he said ‘I have given up on the God that delivers me from the incarnate preciousness of life, I recognize God in the concreteness of the human person.’“
Martin Buber being preoccupied with his own spiritual ecstasy kept him from being present with a human soul in suffering who came to him for help. And the consequence couldn’t have been more drastic or more painful. How could that be the point of spiritual awakening?
I have given up my fascination with spiritual experiences. I am instead yearning to be closer to God in the concreteness of the human person. I know far too many people who run around after spiritualness, claiming to be doing it in service to God, while missing the chance to serve God in the people who are right in front of them – and I was myself included in this category for far too many years. I no longer want to simply spread good vibes. Not that spreading good vibes is not a good thing, in fact, perhaps it’s even important. But I think we are missing the point of good vibes if we stop there. The point of having a good vibration is to manifest that vibration into LOVING God in the concreteness of the human person, LOVING God in the concreteness of the animals, the trees, the waters and the atmosphere, LOVING God in the concreteness of the creation.
So, I have returned to school to learn more practical ways to turn my love for God and my love for my neighbor into real live social justice and peace building action – not just in smiling or giving daisies to strangers, but in using the UN, international NGO’s, politics, humanitarian action and public education to help make God’s love real in this world.
That is the result of my big life altering experience seeing Amma for the second time: the slow quiet melting into a knowingness that the only point to any of us having any expansive, mystical experience is to expand our capacity to love.
Please check out the Outer Action page and share in the comments more ideas and ways to making LOVING a reality!