I am a “spiritual” teacher and I have a secret…
I don’t like spirituality.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been part of a retreat or workshop or class or spiritual gathering filled with apparently earnest and bustling devotees and I look around and wonder, “What the heck is this for? What’s the point? Does this really matter?”
Full disclosure: Sometimes it’s even when I’ve been the one leading them.
Have you ever looked at someone who is deeply involved in “spirituality” and wondered why, after years of practice, they have a great spiritual wardrobe but seem so judgmental and unhappy? I have.
Or have you looked at the Dalai Lama or Eckhart Tolle, who actually do seem pretty peaceful, and wondered if the only way to really feel close to God is if you leave your family and meditate all day? Yup. Me too.
I used to buy in. I used to organize my life around the next retreat, the next visit to the sacred place, the next training or the next teacher. I used to think I needed to leave the world behind in order to find the truth. And I thought everybody else did too, so that’s what I taught.
But something started to really feel off. That kind of deep, uneasy feeling you get when you don’t believe the words that are coming out of your own mouth.
Was enlightenment only for those who could afford to go on retreat or learn to meditate?
If we need to leave the world behind, then what was the point of recycling and saving the old growth forests?
Finally, I decided that if life really needed us all to quit our day jobs and head to the ashram in order to have inner peace and no war and clean water for our kids, then something was off. It didn’t make sense.
So I stopped teaching and started getting really practical. I learned a lot. Then I started teaching again.
Here’s what I discovered:
One the one hand, most people I meet are not called to be monks or nuns or live in an ashram. Most of us have families and jobs and bills and cell phones.
On the other hand, even though we are living in this crazy, fast-paced world, most of us still long to engage with a dimension of life that is bigger and deeper than any of the mundane problems of our lives and holds us in love.
Here’s where it gets tricky:
This kind of practical spirituality is really hard to find. We want a spiritual approach to life that actually connects with what we are already doing in our lives but doesn’t dilute the connection with the great mystery of life.
In my quest for practical spirituality, I was not willing to compromise the purity of the truth and love that attracts so many people to leave the world behind in search of awakening. I wanted to discover an authentic, deeply transformative experience of enlightenment that connected me not only to the divine, but also forged a deeper connection to the worldly parts of my life.
The good news:
I am living, breathing proof that the joy of being a human being can be activated from within the world. My life, like yours, is filled with complications and challenges and heartbreak. Yet I have discovered that there are really practical ways to find peace and well-being and feel fully alive in the midst of all of it.
What I discovered was an experience of enlightenment that would actually make a difference in my relationships, and how much love I gave and received in the real world.
I found an awakening that actually helps me heal the ways humans hurt each other and the earth.
I learned about an inner journey that actually gives me tools I can use to make decisions and navigate this complex life.
And, all of this while still waking up to the truth of who I am and experiencing the ecstasy of oneness and connection with the “Life that Never Goes Away.”
Why this matters:
In our current reality, with so much political and economic and social turmoil, I am convinced we are at a turning point in our approach to spirituality. At this point in time in the West, it seems that for the enlightenment narrative to continue to be relevant, it must be practical.
After going on this journey and teaching it for a few years now, I have several strongly held opinions.
First, spiritual awakening cannot be only for those who attend the best retreats with the best teachers; it needs to be accessible to the 99 percent. Practical enlightenment is for those who might never have the vacation time or disposable income to hit the Himalayas.
Second, enlightenment cannot be dependent on understanding complex metaphysics or religious symbology; it must be something we can teach our children. I have found that if any practice or experiment I am teaching cannot be understood by a 12 year old then it is largely a waste of energy.
Third, practical spirituality has to make a difference in our experience of being alive. If the path of awakening is not creating more peace and well-being as we walk it, then it is likely not really going to get us anywhere all that important.
Lastly, practical enlightenment must be experiential. It is absolutely, 100 percent, a direct experience of truth for yourself rather than a story about someone else’s achievements. The path is one of experimentation with your own life and there are no rules. There are people out there who can help you choose which experiments to run and refine your process to discover different results, but no one can do the experimentation for you.
So now you know my secret. I am a spiritual teacher with little use for what passes for spirituality. I used to give people the answers and now I teach people how to ask the questions.
If you are interested to learn more about practical enlightenment you can check out my free online course here.
Author: Ernest Morrow
Image: Victoria Shambhala Center
Editor: Travis May