Awaken to the Awe of Everyday Living
David Xi-Ken Astor Sensei
Human historical experience is constantly evolving, and with it, our awareness of how the universe reveals itself. Yet we still tend to look to the past for the “real” in a spiritual practice to emulate. To experience the mystery inherent in how the universe expresses itself in order to build an inner dimension to our Buddhist practice, we need to cultivate the practical tool of inner-vision and focus so we can find lessons in what our legacy mystics have given us to ponder. By mystics I mean those that have seriously reflected on these universal mysteries and validated them in their own experiences. They contemplated what can be revealed among the shadows of their inner thoughts. This is not about what is beyond human contemplation, but about what is right in front of us when we take the time to awaken to the practical side of our world that seems mysterious only because we don’t give enough thought to the reality revealed in each moment.
As absorbed as we are in seeking spiritual answers to secular living, we still tend to look to the past for real wisdom from these “mystics.” We may read the latest bestselling guru of the moment, but reserve our greatest respect for a Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, or Buddha. We also revere more recent mystical messengers, such as Emerson, Thomas Teasdale, the Dalia Lama, or Thomas Merton, as their works age and become part of our spiritual culture.
This phenomenon reveals two underlying beliefs. First, we may often feel humanity is regressing in some way, and we are no longer as wise as we used to be, Second, we think we no longer have the tools to access the highest levels of consciousness we once could. So are these beliefs founded in reality? Certainly there are some qualities from the past we would do well to respect. These qualities are simplicity, humility, and non-attachment. They echo a time when we were less distracted by materialism, less controlling, and more in awe of the unknown Universe and our role in it. To become more aware of the spiritual in modern life, we must recapture a sense of the sacredness of everyday living. To do this, we need to find tools we can apply to ensure our understanding, knowledge, and wisdom continues to evolve. We may not have the time to spend sitting under the bodhi tree as the Buddha did, or even forty days to spend in the wilderness as Jesus did. We must find creative ways to incorporate introspection and spiritual contemplation into our everyday lives. To do this, we have the very practical tools of personal experience, vision, and focus. It also takes a degree of trust that we are treading on one of the validating paths up the mountain, although one that has uncertain aspects to it. How we interpret what trust means, however, may different among us.
I will define “trust” to mean a belief that the Universe is bigger than what we can experience when our view is filtered through dualistic lenses. Believing in the correctness of the path we are walking can be challenged by that fact that much is unknown. Otherwise it would be a “certainty.” Our modern culture does not support acceptance of the unknown, outside of having trust that there is “something” we don’t know. And that something we give certainty to. We want to know everything — how does it work, where did it come from, what will it do next? In the same vein, the spiritual sometimes is thought to relate to the supernatural which implies the presence of something beyond our mundane, human understanding. To practice modern-day spirituality, we must develop, with great trust, a robust relationship with what we are studying against our experiences, in order to add a spiritual aspect to our practice. In every day moments we have a chance to encounter the wonder and mystery of this vast world of ours, and a chance to demystify the unknown in order to realize that the supernatural is yet another delusion.
The good news is that there is no special magic involved in doing this. Each of us has a “sixth” sense I think, an intuitive faculty that is active to the degree that we use it. Buddhist recognizes that the mind is a sense organ that makes it the sixth sense. Whether it appears as a gut reaction, a premonition, or an inspired idea that comes “out of no where” we are much more sensitive to and in tune with other dimensions of reality than most of us realize. Developing this awareness simply takes practice. It’s a process of refinement as we become more aware of what is going on around us. This is the focus of a meditation practice. When you achieve the ability to get beyond all the mind-chatter you will begin to perceive the world around you in a whole new way.
Most of us have at some time in our lives glimpsed this deeper level of reality, and so it is with our understanding of the spiritual. To access it, we have to open ourselves up to the unfamiliar, to that which cannot be seem, heard, or felt through our base perception. We must seek out the wonder and the mystery of life, an ability we all possess innately. I am reminded of what Wordsworth wrote: “heaven lies all about us in our infancy! At length the Man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day.” It is only by making a conscious effort to accept that there is an unknowing universal expression(s) separate from our own that we can begin to contemplate, that we begin to build a spiritual-self. And by doing that we awaken to the reality that everything is connected and interdependent; the know and the unknown. Although we may not be able to give it a name.
As we develop this ability to discern the differences between the dual and the non-dual, and our perception of how our world is begins to expand how we act in it, we find a new inner-vision emerge. Inner-vision is the expression of the spiritual in our lives. As humans, it is our nature to seek the wonder and spirit of our world. It doesn’t necessarily appear as something visual or as a specific idea of the future. It is an awakening to a new and clearer version of what is real, which then affects the way we live our lives. No matter the form or feeling, inner-vision is the manifestation of awareness honed by our meditation practice. You will begin to recognize it by the peace and awakening it brings.
Whatever your higher vision for a greater life may be, the most important factor is that you trust and follow it. If we are to live a modern life with spiritual sensitivity, we must have the courage to follow through on our inner-vision, trusting its reality as we explore the validity of our experiences.
As we set out, we need one more tool to keep us on track. This is the discipline of focus. All inner-vision needs form through which to be expressed, and staying focused channels this inner-vision into physical reality. You practice focus by making sure all your thoughts, words, and intentional actions are in alignment with the reality of your experiences, allowing your inner-vision to emerge through every step you take. This is the primary lesson reflected in the Four Noble Truths, and made pragmatic in the Eightfold Path.
Modern spirituality is not about spending time on the mountaintop. Our challenge as modern humans walking a spiritual path is to learn to incorporate our sense of the spirit and wonder into our life so that we can live more lightly, feel more deeply, and think more expansively. By practicing simplicity, humility, and non-attachment, and using the tools of trust, vision, and focus, we (mankind?) can open ourselves up to a new human age and continue evolving to an unprecedented level of wisdom, peace, and understanding.