I recently enjoyed listening to the interview with you on “Buddha by the Gas Pump,” but you said one thing that keeps coming back to me. In response to the question whether spiritual practices prepares one for receiving God into one’s heart, you said yes and no. Of course, the yes answer seems self-explanatory, but you were keen on emphasizing the no. You explained that doing spiritual practice is more of the fruit of oneness rather than the cause of it. The concern with the “yes” response, you went on to say, is that spiritual practice quickly devolves into a scarcity model in which only the “most spiritual” receive divine visitations, which is back to the “ladder” concept of spiritual growth. I know that I often think of spiritual practices in the former and teach my students this as the rationale: dampening the mind opens the body and heart intelligences to the vertical dimension of life. But yet there seems something true about your “fruit” statement that I don’t think I know how to explain, even if I have a sense for it. For instance, as I’m running off to class on an early morning, I find that there is a part of me that really wants to pause and do some Centering Prayer for a few minutes, and I don’t think it’s because it brings me so much peace, although it may be peaceful, and it’s not a scarcity model that I’m clawing my way to God; it’s more in the sense of greeting something familiar that brings joy. But it’s not really a conscious thing – it seems to bubble up from somewhere else oftentimes. So, while I have some intuition for this in my own life, I have no idea how to explain this to my students who are coming to spiritual practices to gain something rather than to celebrate some invisible ontological reality. Or perhaps that’s the point – as you grow into a practice, you come to understand the grace that propelled it all along. Despite my confusion, there seems something very light and spacious and effervescent about prayer as a fruit of the journey.
Sorry for my delay in responding to your question. It had the bad luck of arriving just when I was in the midst of a pretty intense teaching week in the UK.
But yes, I think the experience you share of feeling drawn to do Centering Prayer for the simple motivation of “greeting something familiar that brings joy” is exactly what I’m talking about here, that golden tipping point when practice seamlessly shifts in the direction of being a fruit of gratitude rather than a means to secure some desired spiritual good. And you may be right that the nuance is perhaps too subtle for beginners to pick up. At the beginning it may all have to look like goals, destinations, techniques because that’s how the mind at that level works; it needs constant reassurance in its illusory sense of control. But as the heart opens in the space which practice provides, the new seeing begins to unfold. I love Kabir Helminski’s description of the journey: “You see the majestic mountain peak in the distance, hop into your car, and charge off to conquer it. Halfway there, your car melts.” The car, of course, is your ego system, the only system you have online at the beginning. Once it melts, rivers can again be rivers and mountains mountains. But it’s a fair bet that for most people, ego perception is not going to melt on its own recognizance. Practice gets the ball rolling, even if the direction it’s rolling in ultimately proves to be illusory.