And: A Temporary Spiritual Manifesto

Last week, for the first time in my life, I met with a spiritual director. I think of him as a coach for my spiritual life. I tell him my spiritual goals, and he suggests ways to help me achieve them.

After the meeting, I realized even more acutely (I had already realized it on some level, which is why I sought him out) that I have been wandering through life without a spiritual compass for a long, long time, and that this is a very dangerous situation for me.

Let me name what spiritual means to me:

not religious, though I have moved through several Christian religions

not about “god,” since the idea of a Guy/Gal in the Sky no longer speaks to me

My sensation tells me that something larger, deeper, more fundamental than we can easily perceive runs this universe.

I don’t know what to call it.

The universe. Nature. The Tao. Reality.

Some people prefer “God” or Spirit.

Who am I to quarrel?

It exists beyond my power to fully understand it.

Which is good, because understanding it isn’t the point.

It exists beyond my power to control it.

Which is even better because in my humanness, if I could control it I would long ago have wrecked the universe completely and we wouldn’t be having this interaction.

My best chance of being able to tolerate existing in this world depends on my experiencing the unmitigated joy of trying to live in harmony with this larger/deeper/more fundamental—well, let’s call it a Presence.


Yes, I said “trying.”

The joy of “trying.”

In the deep and frightening unhappiness that was much of my childhood, my spirituality kept me alive. I don’t mean this metaphorically.

Spirituality saved me in every way a person can be saved: physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically.

It revealed to me, not intellectually but in some felt way, a reality beyond the interpersonal, racial, economic, and political chaos of my family and my country and the planet.

It doesn’t prevent my suffering (nor does it “make” me suffer in order to teach me a lesson).

It doesn’t prevent my causing suffering.

It doesn’t make the world better, not does it make the world worse. Doesn’t render it just or unjust.

It does, when I listen to it, make me aware.

Of pain and sorrow of confusion of wrong of beauty of life of love.

Of joy.

It does not let me replace the pain or sorrow or confusion with joy.

It does not say, “The world can be terrible, but here are flowers and babies and the ocean.

It says the world has pain and there is love.

The world has injustice and we can hold one another.

The world is a blood-soaked valley and every day, in a billion ways, there are people who sacrifice for the well-being of others.

In short, the presence of reality or the Tao promises nothing except the resonant hum of our messy, blindingly confusing existence.

It demands, in return, two things: the willingness to be aware as fully as I can, and the willingness to respond as fully as I can.

My awareness and response likely won’t end injustice, save the planet, end violence, overcome poverty, heal relations between people. They won’t prevent my death, or guarantee me a life afterward in some idealized realm.

All they offer is the joy of really being alive in this moment. And to me, again, at long last, that offer is everything.


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