The Union of Heaven & Earth: Ascending & Descending the Spiritual Ladder.

Via on Sep 5, 2013
Blake, Jacob's Ladder 1799-07.jpg
William Blake: Jacob’s Ladder

If your head is in the clouds, but you are rooted deep in the earth, then you are fully human and fully divine. Spirituality is all about the union of heaven and earth.

For obvious reasons, the introverted, creative type makes a majority in contemplative circles. They are more comfortable occupying the space of their inner life. They build entire worlds in their mind’s eye. They have a knack for interpreting movies and literature in a mythological way that relates back to the themes and motifs that shape their inner world. Sitting in a room and zoning out for hours on end, interrupted only by intermittent periods of work, is the norm for these people. But this is one-sided.

Spirituality is about human growth and development. It is a fidelity to the expansion of our true Self, as it unfolds into the present moment. The creative personality is all spirit. Without earthiness creativity just evaporates. It is never born into this world.

It is never given a body.

Therefore, the spiritual path requires that the introvert cultivate discipline. How do we just sit and be where we are, right smack in the middle of the boredom without spinning off the earth. Furthermore, how do we take the creative magma that is arising from the deep, dark subterranean levels of the body and press it out into “this world”—the world of time and space, acceptance and rejection, success and failure—as an honest expression of our inner life?

We have to learn how to stay put, how to stay grounded, so to speak. The discipline of meditation teaches us this. It teaches us to come back—back to the breath, back to the body, back to the Self, over and over again, until you realize that this monotony, this “coming back” is an intrinsic part of the human life cycle. The creative has to see that life isn’t just expanding, it is also contracting.

It is the more pragmatic personality that tends to be overlooked in a contemplative community. Often times, the group dynamics are defined by the majority, which in this case is a bunch of idealists. So, states of mind—the highfalutin spiritual experiences—are valued over stages of development—progress and levels of maturation that require a lot of blue-collar work, not just on the cushion, but at work and in our relationships.

The extrovert doesn’t see the value of vision. They see no inherent value in philosophical conversation or introspection. They just want to put one foot in front of the other and get something done. They want results. They want to get somewhere. But where are they going?

Unfortunately, the pragmatist needs are often times neglected in contemplative circles. They may be the minority, but their desire for spiritual growth is very real. Not only does it begin to appear to them that contemplative spirituality is all bark and no bite, it begins to become an object of frustration and confusion. They find themselves stuck in a group dynamic where the established standard devalues their strengths, exposes their weaknesses, and leaves them feeling less than.

This is unfortunate, because in reality it is a perfect storm. If a spiritual community co-ops and exploits it’s strengths, it will create one great big group ego. The spiritual community should refine it’s strengths, round of the edges a bit, and work tirelessly to cultivate its weaknesses. This is the perfect storm because the disciplined approach of the pragmatist is their strength, which is the weakness of their idealistic counterparts. While, the idealists have an abundance of inspiration and creativity, something the pragmatists have lost touch with. This means that the spiritual community is impregnated with an abundance of possibilities.

The pragmatic mind wants to measure progress using a very solid or fundamentalist metric.

This is typical of an extroverted mindset. But their goal, which is the cultivation of inspiration and creativity—to reconnect with the ground of meaning and being—is a bit more abstract. (Actually, there is nothing abstract about it, but abstract seems to communicate the ungraspable nature better than unconscious. The experience is actually quite precise, but it is unformed or pre-conscious.) It cannot be measured in units of thought.

The extrovert has to learn how to read between the lines—how not to interpret everything in a black and white, literal sense. He has to learn how connect the symbols in his external world with the principal forms of energy that animate his internal world. Study and contemplation are indispensable in the accomplishment of such goals.

An extroverted mindset, particularly in someone who is extremely pragmatic, uses thought as a metric system that evaluates and analyzes the value or pay-off of every possible option. This creates a rigid and lifeless inner world. Everything has sharp corners. Study, listening, writing, debate, and discussion all work to exercise one’s imagination, which rounds off the corners a bit. Here are some simple examples: Watching an interesting talk or lecture daily, reading a challenging spiritual book every morning, engaging in debate, asking questions when frustration arises, instead of saying, “Let’s just agree to disagree!” These exercises all cultivate the instinctive, primary function of the intellect, which is to imagine.

The pragmatist is always working towards understanding, “What’s the point?” or “I don’t get it…” This is an adulterous use of the intellectual faculty. The pragmatist must end his affair with utilitarian thinking, and reunite his thinking mind with the creative spirit that is his true Bride. As Albert Einstein said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” To imagine is to image—the pressing out or expression of our deepest Self in the form of a symbol. Knowledge works towards an end. Imagination was there in the beginning.

While the introvert must focus on bringing the teachings and practices to bear through action, the extrovert needs to be focused on reconnecting his actions with the source of inspiration, the indwelling Spirit.

A daily practice of study, listening, writing, debate and discussion will go a long way towards this end, but it will not be enough. The pragmatist must familiarize himself with the presence of wakefulness through the practice of contemplation. I have chosen to use the word contemplation, rather than meditation to denote a certain degree of formlessness or a somatic emphasis. Rather than returning to the breath at the tip of the nose, as most meditation instructions suggest, a somatic emphasis encourages the practitioner to ride the breath.

As you breathe in, connect with the breath at the tip of the nose, feel the coolness of of the breath. I emphasized “the coolness” in order to encourage a relationship with the spirit or essence of the breath, not a solidified or mechanical concept of the breath. Notice the difference between the revelation of the breath, and a thought about the breath. Allow the movement of the breath to guide your awareness deep into the body—feeling the chest expand, the heart beat, and the abdomen inflate with the inhalation. Notice the haunting silence in the gap between the inhalation and the exhalation. Then feel your abdomen collapse, your chest contract, and the warmth of the breath as you exhale. Follow the breath out of the nostrils into space, and allow your mind to linger in the gap between breaths for a split second. Then reconnect with the coolness of the inhalation.

The pragmatist may be grounded in action, but without vision he is going nowhere. He may get up every day and put one foot in front of the other, but without vision he is walking in circles. Spirituality is a process of ascension and descension. Just like the idealist had to learn that the human condition contracts, the pragmatist has to learn that they are expanding from within.

We cannot be embarrassed about our innate ability to imagine or image. Angelic sparks are forever emerging from our subterranean depths and rising up through the channel at the core of our being, soaring towards the heights of heaven. They light up the sky and then descend back into the ground from which they came. The human body is an inseverable umbilical cord that connects heaven and earth. If you are too grounded, you are depressed. If you spin off of the earth and get lost in space, you are delusional. If your head is in the clouds, but you are rooted deep in the earth, then you are fully human and fully divine.

Spirituality is all about the union of heaven and earth.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality and politics for The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Web of Enlightenment, and is the editor & chief for Henry Harbor--an online magazine concerned with art, culture, spirituality, & politics in the deep South. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Looking for a real bio? Click here to read my story....

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4 Responses to “The Union of Heaven & Earth: Ascending & Descending the Spiritual Ladder.”

  1. brilliant and true. thank you for this! :-)

  2. This outline is interesting, valid and may be of great help to those who needed to see it. Ultimately 'spirituality' can only be defined by each being for themselves according to their own inner voice. It is not possible for it to be the same for all and that is as it should be or perhaps as it is.

  3. Once again, I find it interesting that comments must be approved.

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