Smorgasbord Spirituality

I was going to scroll on by when I noticed this video last week, but something made me stop and listen, and I’m glad I did.

Liz Gilbert with her upbeat enthusiastic nature and infectious smile is compelling. And I really appreciated the stark honesty and obvious enjoyment of her plans going awry. Covid meant that her ‘travelling for ever more’ bubble was about to be burst with a vengeance, and the irony wasn’t lost on her. I also welcome the honesty surrounding the visceral fear and panic she felt at the beginning of lock-down, when she felt the need to return to her habitat with the urgency of a salmon going upstream. We all did to a greater or lesser degree. And then once she got home, the dawning realisation that spiritual practices are not something separate from us but an integral part of who we are and though I don’t know her, it’s all screaming that she’s Enneagram 7. Why have one spiritual master when you can have them all? I recognise the type because it’s also me.

What a pity in the West, that we feel we need to earn our stripes on the spiritual journey, acquire practices etc when there is actually nothing to be learned. If the journey is about anything, it’s about unlearning; clearing away the debris of the persona and the shadow and appreciating that underneath all of that illusionary ‘stuff’ we already are that which we seek. You cannot reach spirit anymore than you can reach your feet without bending over. You already are Spirit and you’re not going to reach it by any external searching.

But how few of us seem to embody that. But if you don’t live from your own centre, especially right now you’re going to be spinning around prey to the next fear that rears its ugly head in the Covid or Brexit redundancies or whatever the dailies insist is our only ‘reality’ 😊 The great opportunity that Coronavirus offers us is the choice to go down the next rabbit hole of fear and uncertainty, or to experience the radical unity that solidarity with the rest of humanity brings us.

In his influential book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chogyam Trungpa says

‘It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of the ego. This means stepping out of the ego’s constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort, or whatever it Is that the particular ego is seeking. One must step out of spiritual materialism. If we do not step out of spiritual materialism, we do in fact, practice it. Then we may find ourselves possessed of a huge collection of spiritual paths. We may feel these collections to be very precious. We have studied them so much. We may have studied Western Philosophy or Oriental philosophy, practiced yoga, or perhaps studied under dozens of the great masters. We have achieved and we have learned. We believe that we have accumulated a hoard of knowledge. And yet, having gone through all this, there is still something to give up. It is extremely mysterious! How could this happen? Impossible! But unfortunately, it is so. Our vast collections of knowledge and experience are just part of the ego’s display, part of the grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world and in so doing, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe and secure as “spiritual” people.’

Much to ponder for everyone, but maybe particularly for the Enneagram 7s, the generalists among us who love to contrast and compare different systems of thought. At this point, I hope William Blake was right when he said “ A fool who persists in his folly with become wise.” It does dawn on 7s eventually that no matter how much prayer or meditation comes from the dualistic mind, it’s still a dualistic mind. The only way we can serve the group is to surrender to our own helplessness and littleness and to own up to our pain and fear.   

Of course, she’s right. This is where we see God in the virus. As she says, her realty was cracked open when she realised that all the knowledge of all the spiritual practices in the world are no use to her unless she’s living them. It’ one thing to know something intellectually but quite a different thing to live with faith in your practice. We often confuse freedom with the option to do as we please and many of our actions and choices are for the purpose of serving our ego needs, doing our own thing, free of the group or the crowd and that’s precisely what happens. We are free of the group and now were imprisoned in the self-centred ego. It’s true that we might be required to surrender our plans, the old self might have to go. We might have to look at restricting our options and letting go. We avoid this kind of surrender at all costs but it’s a big mistake. But out of the ashes will come new strengths new perspectives, new ways of being for a new world. Surrender always results in being more than, not less than, we were before.

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