We have an innate instinct to move towards wholeness. A critical intuition that moves us towards Spirit. Even the most troubled and destructive among us are still, in their own way, trying to be whole. And whether we consciously move towards it or not, Spirit, manifested as the world, drives us back to it. It is the natural order of things. Entropy is not the law of the universe. Wholeness is. Entropy is the waves of the ocean while wholeness is beneath the surface, in the depths, where nothing moves but just is. The unenlightened mind sees the waves and is tossed and turned and declares the world incomplete, fragmented, destructive, terrible. Imperfect. While the enlightened mind sees the waves and know them to be only the way the depths show themselves to the world, while beneath, what gives rise to those waves, is complete, whole, utterly still. Perfect. In the Absolute sense, there is nothing you can ever do to separate yourself from Spirit. Hitler could have gone on overseeing the murder of millions of other Jews and his connection to Spirit would have remained in tact. Spirit, in the Absolute sense, does not care one way or the other who or what you are. It could care less whether you’re a saint or a mass murderer. A prince or a pauper. An atheist or a Christian. In the relative sense, however, who we are is incredible important. Male or female, white or black, gay or straight, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, good or evil—think about how different your life would be were you one but not the other? How much of your identity is bound up in these relative dimensions of ourselves? Who we are in the relative sense is much like a computer. Let us imagine that all computers (us) have the exact same Hard Drive (Spirit). However, we’re all very different computers with different software. Some of us have software that allows us to function at a great capacity and efficiency while some are not very efficient or useful at all. Some computers are used for gaming and others for writing, some for porn and others for music, and some for all of these things. And yet, no matter what use we are for, we all share that same Hard Drive—Spirit.
If I had any spiritual advice, it would be simply this: be better than your religion. Be better than your pastors. Both are often the height of mediocrity, and the opposite of authentic spirituality. In other words, go it alone, if you can. Learn the contents of your own mind. Know yourself better than you know anything else in the world. That’s authenticity. That’s being spiritual. Thelonious Monk said, “A genius is the one most like himself.” That’s the goal. To not be Jesus or to be Buddha or to be Mohammad, but to be YOU. They were successful because they were themselves; how successful can you be pretending to be someone you’re not and were never meant to be? Cut it out. Life is too short. Get busy learning about who you are and you’ll be far better off than those still mimicking long dead saints and prophets who we know very little about anyway. Get busy remembering who you are beneath all your identities, stories, fears and doubts, confidences and joys. Spirit is who you are. Spirit is what you always were and always will be.
I enjoy the discipline. Like the Marine grunt, I enjoy suffering. The stricter the diet, the harder the workout, the longer the day, the more comfort I deny myself, the more pain and discomfort I feel, the happier I am. When I suffer I know I am living at the outer edge of my abilities, my talents, my will. How often do we feel that exquisite sharpness? The sharp edge of who we are and who we will become? How often do we avoid the reckoning? Getting used to loving the pain and discomfort is one of the most significant mindsets we can achieve. We know the good life is not easily lived. We know this in our bones. But how many have the strength and will and endurance to see that life through to its logical end? To know peace whether in pain or in pleasure? To understand that nothing befits us more than suffering, and in accepting it, transmute it to ecstatic joy.
Studies have shown that if we maintain an exercise and diet regime for at least six months the success rate for maintaining a life-long healthy lifestyle goes up dramatically. But how many do this? Why do they not see it through? Why do people quit after only a few days, a few weeks, a few months? Partly it’s because their mindsets aren’t calibrated to the life they are attempting to live. They throw their bodies into a program without ever preparing their mind. And it is in the mind that the war is fought. As Telamon of Arcadia wrote in the 5th Century B.C.E, “It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.” We study too much and do too little. We read countless fitness magazines with countless exercise routines and rarely put any of them into practice.
Make no mistake about it: you are in a war. The war is our training. The war is our art. The war is our dreams. The war is our state of mind. The war is our spiritual practices. The war is our relationships. And you shouldn’t wish for anything less than war. War is right. War is noble. War is what we’re here for. And we should feel nothing less than humility and joy to be fighting and suffering and striving. What higher joy is there? What else is worth our time? If you find yourself against incalculable odds, completely outnumbered, your back against the wall, thank your lucky stars. It’s in this place warriors are born. Superheroes are made. This is where we discover who we truly are. No warrior ever found himself in times of peace. No one ever evolved in paradise. Peace dulls our wits and as well as our swords. Our paradise is war. It’s only on the battlefield in that crucible of fire and suffering that we recognize our best selves, that we discover who we really are. Steven Pressfield writes in Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, “The Spartans say that any army may win while it still has its legs under it; the real test comes when all strength is fled and the men must produce victory on will alone.” This is the kind of war we want and the kind of war we need. We have to be taken the very brink of death, not always a physical one, but the more meaningful one, to the death of our old selves. And learning to love suffering is how we get there.
Loving is something we learn just as we learn any skill, like gymnastics or basketball or tennis. There are some naturally talented and others who must work harder at it. Regardless, it requires just as much dedication to learn to love properly as learning a new instrument or mastering an advanced martial arts technique, probably more. The 10,000 hour rule is applicable here. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he claims that to master any skill a practitioner must practice for a total of around 10,000 hours. Of course, there are other things to consider, but if we take his assertion at face value, how many dates must we go on before we master loving someone? How many relationships must be enter in before we learn to love adequately? How many heartbreaks must we endure before we learn the nature of loving? We mistakenly believe that we are great at love right out of the gate, but it’s not true. Love is work. And it’s often not very glamorous. It surely isn’t the romantic comedies we see on television where it seems everyone is automatically equipped with the tools for love and just need to overcome a comedy of errors to see them properly used. It’s deep personal work examining our fears, our past, and our pathologies. Shedding light on the darkness in our hearts is painful, gut-wrenching labor. But few things are so rewarding, and so rewarding because love is the chief work of our lives.
There is solace in understanding. At the heart of all fundamentalism is despair, whether in religion or fitness (and the two mindsets are not altogether different). When we train from our own understanding, whether we train the body, mind, or soul, we are immensely serene, calm, and sure. Who else knows our body like we do? Who else knows the contents of our own mind like we do? Who else knows the way of our soul if not us? When we disembark from all the trendy fitness programs we are entering a space of absolute authenticity where there are no road signs, directions, or maps. All that you know and recognize will necessarily come from within. To travel without such things is why so few people ever leave the known path, why year after year people train in the same way they always have, why year after year they buy into each new fad diet that rolls off the conveyor belt, why year after year they buy into belief systems that contradicts all that we know to be true and just and beautiful. Why do we trade our authenticity for such a paltry false comfort as community (and not all communities are created equally) and trade our independent wills for such a modicum of perceived safety (is there really such a thing as safety)? I can’t promise that you will always be safe on this journey, for that’s not mine to promise, but I can steady you with the knowledge that in your deepest moments when you are so far from the good opinion of others that their voices barely reach you anymore, that you will find a solace you never knew existed. And within that solace you will find your whole life.
Know thyself. To know ourselves is to know God because our true selves are God. Forget about everything anyone has ever told you about God or the Divine or anything you have ever read about God. Begin with yourself. Question everything you have been told. Let the world of ideas and concepts recede. Have the courageous curiosity to begin again. What do you feel? What are you experiencing right now? What we find when we are open to our bodies and to the experiencing of life without labels, filters, or concepts is a new way of experiencing, a new way of being. In this awareness what is mundane is also a miracle. What is horrific is also holy. What is tragic is also transcendent. As we navigate our existence and make qualifications about our experiences, there is also the higher Self underlying all that we see, feel, think, hear, touch, and smell. It is the Self that bears witness. It looks out through us on all that exists and sees no disconnect between us and the world, between us and our bodies—all is connected in a divine embrace. There is no difference between exterior and interior, between matter and mind, between heaven and hell, between nirvana and samsara. The Self has no opposite. There is nothing alien to it. It is All. And to see everything as connected, whole, is to simply see with the eyes of God.
Beginning a journey is never easy, especially one in which radical and transformative change is the goal. There is always fear that accompanies us on the journey. The German poet Goethe wrote, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Even though I don’t know you personally, I understand you. You can do this. If I can do it, so can you. Should you make the choice, together we will embark on a journey that is as rewarding and instructive as it is full of wonder, revelation, and joy. On the journey you will experience ten thousand little miracles a day that you would have otherwise missed. I can’t tell you about them—they must be experienced to be believed. As Henry David Thoreau reminds us, "I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings." A new way of being awaits you.