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Courage, faith, and evidence on the spiritual path:
Five years ago, if you were to say to me, “Preston, you are going to become spiritual, travel to India, and tell miracle stories of a plump guru called Maharajii,” I would have said you were irrational and lacking in common sense.
Back then, when I played rugby and obsessed over the new atheists, reason was the only God I believed in.
Anything that seemed irrational or even remotely transcendent was kicked to the curb by my contracted state of mind.
It took a turn of the miraculous to hush me.
That turn came in the form of a mystical experience, an ineffable and subjective experience that involved a realization about the nature of reality. To this day, I still struggle to articulate the experience, but I have tried awfully hard to do so in my creative writing:
I remember a flood of hair-raising memories being silenced by a love I can’t describe. After a few moments of fear, my head bowed down prayerfully, and my fingers dangled like puppets in the dream of God. Then, I met the sun inside of me. A thousand lights all in one. I was a poem for truth to make use of, a divine composition made of space and light. Everything was unspeakably paradoxical in this room, suspended like puzzles for a mind to give up on. For a moment I thought I was dead—the whole body: the eyes, legs and hands, the fingertips, the heart beating in my chest. But it was unspeakably divine, and I was dancing, with eyes closed, celebrating myself.
The mystical experience was characterized by a death of self—or “I”—and a union with divine love.
It felt like an initiation into a side of reality that I had been completely unaware of, and yet, it felt so familiar. Its message was simple: “Come home, purify, and wake the hell up.”
Unfortunately, not many people are willing to follow through after receiving this kind of message because it is an invitation to the vast unknown. And even though this unknown is filled with the promise of freedom, it is a threat to what you know. The newness of it, the alluring aspect of its terrifying beauty, is not easy to dive into, especially if you have identified as being a separate entity all your life.
So, it takes an immense amount of courage to follow through. But as you do, faith becomes your natural state of being. And the pointless fears that have occupied your life slowly fade, opening up more space for peace and authentic self-expression. The universe also begins to show you, with a directness that is hard to turn away from, that the path you are walking on is real. Witnessing this take place is a spectacle to behold, and it is the furthest thing from the new-age, spiritual nonsense running rampant in our world today.
For me, courage has always been the first step to freedom.
But jumping off a bridge and building our wings on the way down is only safe if we do it from a place that is sincere. If we expect the jump into the unknown to meet our expectations of what should be, or if we look back at the bridge once we’ve jumped, we will land face first into suffering.
Don’t get me wrong—after I made the decision jump into my spirituality following that first spiritual experience at college, I was scared. The people in my life and the voices all around me were pointing in a different direction. Surely, I thought, I am too young and inexperienced to understand whatever the hell is going on. My heart was telling me it was “God,” but my mind was like, “Eh, you should read more books.” Another genius thought of mine was, “Maybe it was just neurons firing in the brain at the right time.” (As if the mystical experience could be reduced to such nonsense.)
This is the conditioning of the mind. It is always looking for an excuse to run away from the ultimate, whose intelligence is so potent that it actually destroys the mind.
That is why many mystics define enlightenment as the ending of the mind—because it is filled with excuses and needs to be humbled. In order for this to happen, it must be consumed by a more vast and transcendent intelligence. But here is where we get into tricky territory: that transcendent intelligence is you, but it is the real you. And the real you will always be interpreted as being transcendent by the limited self you have misidentified as. The finite can only ever point toward infinite, but it cannot know it. Only the infinite can know the infinite.
Had I not mustered up the courage to follow through with my spiritual experience, I would still be a one-dimensional rugby player, gripping tightly onto a limited way of perceiving the world, thanks to the conditioning of my upbringing. I would still be searching in the wrong places for the right thing.
So, make no mistake about it: the spiritual path requires courage. If we don’t close our eyes and walk in the dark, as St. John Of The Cross advised, we will end up being blind with our eyes wide open.
This may seem frightening at first, but it is equally exhilarating.
Life is filled with challenges, fearful moments, and noble treks in unknown lands. Why would we have it any other way? Without confrontations with the unknown, we cannot be embodied. Encounters with it refine, and give shape to, the truth within us.
Okay, so maybe I have you convinced that courage is relatively important.
But faith? Isn’t that word used to lure people into belief systems?
Yes, but the faith I am talking of is of a totally different character. It is not the type of faith that requires belief. Belief is a function of the mind, a cop-out to hide from reality. So is disbelief. They are functions of a contracted state in consciousness that pushes and pulls. This process creates a sense of identity, giving consciousness the feeling of being isolated in a world that appears to be separate from it. That is the whole message of the Tao: as long as you push one thing away and pull in another, you will never be in harmony with the totality of existence.
As the saying goes, “The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.”
And Alan Watts said it best: “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown.”
Trusting yourself to the water means letting go, falling back, and surrendering. And if you are spiritually mature, you know that “grabbing hold of the water” means grabbing hold of your belief system, or, as I like to put it, “the way you think things ought to be.”
If you look back at every time you tried to forcefully do something, the chances of you having not done it well are extremely high. Why do we think it should be any different for our spiritual lives? Our attempt to grab hold of God—whatever God is—doesn’t allow God to come through. In fact, the very effort to grab a hold of God is an indication that we lack faith in his omnipresent nature.
This is the human condition at its finest: we are terrible at trusting the here and now, because we have been conditioned to treat it as if it were somewhere else.
At the time of my spiritual honeymoon, I was not wise enough to understand the ocean of spirituality. So I first began familiarizing myself with spiritual literature. I also meditated as many times as the day would allow, sang kirtan (devotional chanting), and spent time with people who had gone through similar experiences. I don’t know why I did this, but it felt intuitively right. (There’s another aspect of the unknown.)
As this happened, something extremely peculiar took place: my body and mind began to change at a rapid rate—and I mean rapid. My hair, eyes, thoughts, personality traits, and even my diet, did a total 180. I noticed that there was more purity, love, and wisdom coming through my body-mind. And for the first time in my life, I could dance in a room without caring what anyone else thought. Entering a room with music felt like entering a playground with love. I could move my body, unobstructed by the images of others.
The people around me started noticing these same things as well. The voice of Rumi started to ring true: it felt like I was being silently drawn by the strange pull of what I really loved.
At a certain stage, the evidence for what we really love (not what we think we love) begins to consume us. That is when we know we are on the right path, so to speak. The evidence is so startlingly clear, and so bereft of the boring nonsense they cram into thee-hour long church session, that we begin to have the sort of faith I mentioned above. We begin to open up as intelligent spaces of wisdom and love, instead of identifying as a “poor little me” in a limited world of space and time. Everything about us—even our thoughts, diet, and personality traits—begins to reflect our love for the truth.
The more intimate we are with what we really love, the louder the evidence becomes for who we really are.
But don’t take my word for it.
If I haven’t convinced you of anything in this article, (you might be one of those skeptics)—well, good. My goal in writing this was never to tell you what is true and what is not, even though I tend to write as if I know the secrets of the universe.
My goal in sharing my stories and expressing my views is to set you ablaze with the prospect that a head-on approach with reality might give way to something new.
It matters not if you are a lawyer, a writer, or an artist of some sort. The greatest call to action is always to be fearless and sincere in your approach to life, until maybe—just maybe—some beautiful depth pulls you in.