‘Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on the bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?’
– T.S. Eliot from Burnt Norton
This body, this ‘being’ where we find ourselves, is the gateway to vast realms. Some of us are haunted by an inexplicable yearning to touch into that mystery we call ‘the meaning of life’. To feel like we're living a life worth living. If this longing is strong enough, we are likely to discover that we have no choice but to cultivate our awareness of the influences, the impressions, the sensations, the feelings, the images from these realms. Doing this is what it means to follow a spiritual path.
A sacred river with infinite streams of experience and live energy runs powerfully below the surface of our existence. If we learn to open to it and navigate it, it may carry us to that primordial place at the roots of existence deep beyond all our programming and conditioning. Yet, as so many good teachers have pointed out, this journey has many grave dangers and will demand everything we've got. Many caution that it is better not to enter at all than to do so halfheartedly.
Chopping wood, carrying water
But while this may sound very otherworldly, the true spiritual path remains rooted in the everyday world. In our mundane existence, the world of work, family, responsibilities, household chores, traffic, relationship problems, money pressures and so forth. Like the Buddhist saying, ‘before enlightenment chopping wood, carrying water; after enlightenment chopping wood, carrying water.’ In other words, a major part of our spiritual practice consists of learning to open completely to encounter, meet and engage fully ‘the ten thousand things’ of our everyday world and simply being human on this planet.
But this is not to say that we just carry on as before. If we are sufficiently devoted and surrendered to our spiritual work, our relationship to and experience of everything will change. In fact, how we live our surface life becomes an integral part of cultivating our awareness of the vast realms. If our mundane life does not facilitate deepening into soul, then we are probably still cruising along for the most part in ‘surface life only.’ Which is the opposite of the true spiritual path. In the same way that the kind of spirituality that leads to avoidance of the world and everyday mundane reality, is also its opposite.
This is but one of the paradoxes that contain the path as described in these pages. In truth, this path is not all that ‘spiritual’. But it certainly is not focussed on, preoccupied with or committed to surface existence as an end in itself. It basically involves living honestly with commitment, honouring the gift that is human life while cultivating a soft, tender, open, awakened heart. Without which, we have no love and the true journey has yet to start.