Spirituality as Equality

This observation underlies a lot of my thinking and practice, half-assed as it is: “Spiritual” is in some important sense the equivalent of perceiving all being as “equal” or even “same.”

This is the miracle of creation; that it is one forever . . . Though every aspect is the whole, you cannot know this until you see that every aspect is the same, perceived in the same light and therefore one (T-13.VIII.5:1, 3).

Physical proximity matters to our species. We tend to care most for those who are near and dear. My kids are more important than the kids in the next town and I don’t even think about kids in China or Guatemala. Of course that’s not true – all kids matter. But my behavior certainly implies that it’s not true.

So “spirituality” opens up the idea that whatever love I offer my kids is the love to which all kids are entitled. I may not personally be able to love all kids that way, but I am going to look for ways to make it easier for all kids to know that love. Maybe I utilize resources differently (e.g., kids in Bolivia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo mine the metals for our phones), or vote for candidates with platforms that are more kid-friendly.

Spirituality asks me to look at the experience of love that I have locally – in this body, this family, this community – and then broaden it. It asks me to consider a collective in which all beings are worthy of love and then to act accordingly.

The other thing this leveling does is that it de-specializes folks. What I mean by that is that it undoes the emphasis on gurus or enlightened teachers as somehow not human. To call someone a “saint” or “master” is to subtly dismiss them, to place them beyond the periphery of self and world. It “others” them in unhelpful ways.

But if I don’t “other” Jesus or Saint Francis or Thich Nhat Hanh, if I insist that they are like me and what they experience I can experience, and what they extend, I can extend, then my responsibility changes. My relationships change.

If I can be radically loving, then I will be radically loving (which begins with undoing that which impedes the natural expression of radical love). And if I am not ready to be that loving, then I can at least see that clearly and be responsible for the gap.

That is the other way that spirituality matters – it undoes the hierarchy of achievement, of specialness.

A lot of this can be subsumed under the notion of “undoing self-interest.” Or expanding it infinitely. How shall I think about my being, such that sunflowers and ex-lovers and fireflies and kids in Africa are implicated in the love that is brought forth in my living?

We tend to measure ourselves against standards, right? Be this good, this generous, this activist. We have ideals of Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama. But “spiritual” as I am using the word, the idea, means not changing the standards but rather rethinking the value of standards altogether.

A big part of my thinking in the past two years – under the influence of Humberto Maturana, Ernst von Glasersfeld and Heinz von Foerster – has been coming to see the way that we are naturally structurally given to love and peace and that the work, so to speak, is clarifying this and facilitating its expression.

On that view, I don’t need to denigrate myself because I’m not the Dalai Lama nor praise myself because I’m not Donald Trump. I need to let go of reliance on standards – I need to see that the spectrum those opposites introduce is not natural and not helpful. I need to garden more, and bake bread more, and play more music – activities that naturally arise in my living as expressions of love, community, inclusiveness, nurture . . .

But I don’t garden because somebody said to and I don’t bake bread because of how it makes others think of me: those practices are just simple expressions of how I understand myself and my responsibilities to my family, my town, my planet and so forth. Other activities will arise for other folks.

In a sense, the point is not what we do but rather its source. How does it arise in us? What calls it forth?

I want to let love come forth in me the way it naturally comes forth. This requires attention, study and practice but it’s more like learning to ride a bike than becoming “a good person.” Riding a bike is mechanical. Yes there are psychological elements, but they are met in satisfaction of the mechanics. I get more confident as I get more effective at riding. This is true of love as well.

In the end, love does the work. This is the helpful insight. We don’t have to do much other than be present; love does the work. Love directs us, guides us, moves us, instructs us. Our job is to be gently attentive, to be open and willing. To be – as I wrote in this context – partners in our own healing.

Life goes on! The neighbors run their chain saw after dark and it’s frustrating. Chickens die and my daughter’s heart breaks. Teaching gets mired in bureaucratic mud. In life the bread sometimes doesn’t rise.

Beyond all of that is the gentle ongoing living that is not bound by form nor limited in expression. It bears us along and the work is to be okay with that, to see it clearly and be okay with it. To “perceive it in the same light” and know on that basis that what appears as many is in fact one.

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