What’s the Goal of Spiritual Practice?
So you’re a goal oriented person?
The goal of spiritual practice is living each moment of life sacramentally, which entails treating the moment itself as sacred and eternal, and orienting our lives toward those things we view as ultimate concerns.
Reaching this goal has been called The Tao, The Way, Nirvana, heaven, the kingdom of God. And so on.
It’s a big goal. It doesn’t fit well into a “to do” list.
This is the first consideration and the first wake-up call.
What’s the Problem?
Somewhere along the line, sometime before we even begin to speak, we discover that we are not God.
That we are not all-powerful.
That the universe will not do our bidding.
This is shocking news; and some of us take the news better than others of us.
Yet, oddly, none of us remembers this news, this reality, all the time. All of us have moments when we forget; when we feel like throwing a little tantrum because the universe doesn’t bow and scrape to our wishes; because the angels do not come to minister to me, me, me. Getting lost in egotism and self-love—what mystics call the “false self”—is what we do when we are on auto-pilot.
This is one aspect of the human condition. How we deal with the situation forms character.
By saying that we are not God, I am not saying that we are not part of God; or part of the universe or the cosmos. We are part of the larger whole. That fairly clear. But we are small parts. And it is this that often—and for some people, continually—upsets us. When we forget our littleness, ever the weather can feel like a personal insult. Certainly things like cancer and the deaths of loved ones do.
Our power in our interactions with the universe takes some getting used to. Yet the central challenge in our lives is adjusting to what is. Let me repeat that: adjusting to what is.
Therefore I believe that the first spiritual/religious commitment lies in adjusting to the realization that I am the Other, which is really about realizing that there is no Other. As Martin Luther King put it, “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment.”
But I like to turn that around and look at it more positively:
We are embraced in an unfailing network of mutuality, woven into a single garment.
The practice of spirituality/religion is the practice of being with the Other, with all others, as if there are no others. Because there aren’t!
That is how we can love our neighbors as ourselves. It is also how we find a place of love, comfort, and hope in the universe.
We take a long step on the spiritual journey when we feel the need to have a deeper relationship with reality, to take reality on its own terms without screaming “me, me, me!”