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In the World, But Not of It: Spiritual Graduate School

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waterpath
An archetypal Spiritual Path image. For many, it doesn’t look quite this bucolic in the Real World.

I know a lot of people for whom the spiritual journey is the major focus of their lives. It naturally comes with the territory of being a healer and minister, participating in spiritual circles, going to seminary, and spending a life as a “seeker”—or as I often prefer to call myself, a “finder.”

A good part of the last two decades has been spent walking the proverbial razor’s edge between the desire to live a life wholly devoted to spiritual pursuits, and the need to deal with details like having a roof over my head, a functional vehicle, health insurance and the like.

I am not alone in this. Most of my independent ministerial and healer colleagues report the same. Sometime after we graduated seminary in 2004 I penned a musical parody called “Keep Your Day Job,” a warning to would-be ministers and healers who are part of the starry-eyed “lightworkers” navigating this treacherous territory better known as The Real World.

The guru on the mountain asks question

 

 

(Excerpt from Keep Your Day Job

Lucy
Lucy Van Pelt, eager to help the masses from her divine font of wisdom. (credit to Charles Schulz, of course)

Now it is true, as you have read, to trust Me to provide

But get it through your airy head

And brand this on your hide

Before you jump without a net, seeking greener grass

A lot of ministers like you have ended pumping gas

 

Keep your day job; I need you right now where you are

Keep your day job: it makes the payments on your car

Keep your day job; even Jesus had a job

Until the time when I told him: Now go and feed that mob”

(Keep Your Day Job, ©2006 Rev. Nettie M. Spiwack)

 

My main mentor in this arena, Rev. Dr. Ron Roth, who had a 25-year career as a Roman Catholic priest before leaving the Catholic church and launching an inclusive healing ministry, once exhorted his ordination students at a Family Day: “For heaven’s sake, just because your brain squeezed out an extra pheromone, don’t quit your day job and hang out a shingle as a healer!”

I noted that this was spoken by one of the most powerful healers of his time, who had left his “day job” of being a Catholic Priest wherein all his worldly needs were provided, and entered  the Real World as a monastic without a monastery or a church to support him. He encouraged his students to first realize their ministries in the life they were living, whatever that was.

Indian monk sadhu
Sadhu (renunciate) in India

In India, the Mother Ship of Spiritual Realization, there is a many-thousands years’ tradition of renouncing the world to be a Swami or Swamini (feminine) dedicating one’s life to the Quest for God. In its most austere form, this renunciation involves a loincloth and a begging bowl, and sometimes not even these. Renunciation of different kinds has parallels in monastic traditions of other faiths; but the image of going to the forest or the cave to block out all worldly distractions in the single-pointed pursuit of God comes to us directly from the Mother Ship.

From time to time since the 1800’s (and perhaps before), along comes an Indian Master who is told by his own Master to stay in the world as a householder as an example to the masses who struggle with daily life that Realization can indeed be attained while living a life in the world. A well-known example of this is Lahiri Mahasaya of the SRF lineage (Yogananda’s Guru’s Guru), who was given those instructions by the immortal Babaji.

Sri M
Sri M of Madanapalle

Still with us today, Sri M of Madanapalle—who this month is launching the 18-month Walk of Hope across India, lived three of his young adult years in the Himalayas with one of those legendary Masters—also a Master in the Babaji lineage—and then, to his utter dismay, was sent by his Guru back to the plains with instructions to live a married life, find a career and work for a living like any other person. Else, he was instructed, how could he understand the problems of the many who were destined to come to him for advice in our modern world? Sri M wears no robes and looks, for all intents and purposes, like anybody else. Except, that could not be further from the truth*.

My own preceptor, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, had a maxim: “Hands in the world, head in the forest.” This is the same as the biblical injunction to be in the world, but not of it. Sai Baba said that in this age, it’s greater tapas (austere spiritual discipline) to live a spiritual life while doing your work in the world than it is to go to the forest to perform ritual austerities as a renunciate.

No kidding.

SaiBabaNarayanSevaB&W
Sai Baba doing Narayan seva (feeding the poor). For many decades, he insisted on doling out food to the thousands with his own hands. Narayan (name of God) seva (service) means serving the other as one would serve God.

Sai Baba’s many years were spent building enormous free hospitals, universities, providing clean drinking water for millions and millions and countless other Real World activities.

He once reprimanded an older university professor who wanted to resign to earnestly pursue spiritual disciplines (sadhana) full-time: As long as you keep making the separation between spiritual and worldly life, you won’t achieve your desire (liberation) in thousands of lifetimes.” (paraphrase). The teacher stayed on and became a beloved font of wisdom to another generation of students.

In other words, not just Keep Your Day Job, but Your Day Job IS Your Sadhana (spiritual practice) and your “ministry.”

I have been aware for a long time that all distinctions between “real life” and “spiritual life” are artificial. In fact, I hold myself to a failing grade on the Enlightenment Report Card according to the degree to which I experience that they are different. Some semesters in this Graduate School are better than others. Some years I surely need special tutoring. Homer.GradSchool

Intellectual understanding and actualization still have an 14-inch road to travel from the head to the heart. That’s why realization is called Realization. You have to make it real in your own experience.

I know a few colleagues who live at this level of making no distinction between their spiritual and worldly lives. The majority of them, like myself, have lived a professional life in the world of corporate consulting. As I mostly do in my highest Self, they view everything they do as a form of healing. “I’m a corporate exorcist”, I used to joke.

Most traditions, though not all, have teachings about dedicating all your actions in service to God, and relinquishing attachment to any “fruits” of your labor.

It’s a continuous, often tough spiral mountain path. For those who make their sole living in, or have tried to make that leap into the world of personal healing arts or ministry, the Graduate Curriculum can be especially intense. It remains a razor’s edge walk.

Being in the world while not of it is a great training ground for releasing the sense of ego-self. Ram Dass famously said: “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” That quip could as easily be: “Go spend an hour in a team meeting or doing performance reviews.”

For those who have been touched by the true Presence, the desire to spend full time—or at least a lot more time—of one’s working life in communion with that Presence can be overwhelming. Most do experience some sense of duality in that regard. It’s a part of the journey.

May those who are yearning for it achieve Oneness of realization of vision, where all is alike, regardless of the form.

Meanwhile, Back to School.Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 1.27.22 PM

 

 

(*Get Sri M’s priceless autobiography here. I’ve already read it three times. There are also great interviews on YouTube.)

 

 

Tired, But Happy

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The garden of our pousada in quiet time after cleaning

It’s an unusually cold night here in Abadiania, Brazil!

For the only time in my five visits since 2004, the town is almost empty. It’s Saturday; the day that many people end their two-week stay here at one of the B & B’s (pousada, in Portuguese) that host them when they come from all over the world to see the famous healer John of God at the Casa Dom Inacio—the House of St. Ignatius. Most people, particularly those coming with groups, arrive on Sundays or Mondays, so this lull is brief. Late August is often a busy time here, and I hear it’s expected to heat up, both the weather, the population, and, well, no experience here ultimately escapes that description.

Nettie with jetlag!

My sister-in-law Liz, here for her first visit, commented as soon as we stepped into the Brasilia airport how relaxed and non-frenetic the atmosphere was. She’s right—certainly in contrast to the environments of “do, do, and do more!” that pervade our lives; or compared to, say, arriving in Mumbai.

For those of you who know the crew at Irmao Sol, Irma Lua, the pousada that’s been my home away from home, there are a few new residents.

Joining Bono—the black mutt who has long been top dog here—are Max (see below) and a bevy of kittens who look to be about 6 months old.

Max, the new dog.

There’s an older white cat around who may or may not be there mother, but Max in particular has taken singular joy in chasing one very friendly (to us) kitten, literally up a tree. Several trees, in fact. The kitten seems well-used to it, and Bono, Max and the kittens lend the air of a cartoon-chase to the environs. But it seems to be a well-rehearsed routine, and none of them are immune to being distracted from the chase, by say, an interesting piece of chicken or the noise of the dogs in the street.

It was good to have this day to settle in. We’re both feeling—you know—the way you feel when you’ve kinda sorta gotten some sleep, maybe, not sure, for a few hours in an airplane. Liz took a sleeping aid on the advice of her travel-savvy husband, and was out cold, but woke up telling me she hadn’t slept all night. Imagine her surprise when I told her that indeed she had. We’re both ready to hit the hay, and it’s 7:40 p.m.

The adventures pick up steam tomorrow. Boa noite!

Liz with jetlag. Sleep? I did? What sleep?

Weather You Like it or Not

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This confusing image is of my friend’s car underneath the tree limb that smashed it.

In the first 24 years since I left New York City for the suburbs, there was only one time when we lost power for days. It was when my (then) husband and I had just moved to Armonk, NY and Hurricane Gloria passed through, forcing us to move in for three days with my parents in the Bronx since we had no power, water, etc.

(In those days there was no internet, and no cell phones, the fax had just been invented. The reality of being tied to devices in order to run business and life was still a decade away.)

In the scant two years since I’ve moved to my current location in CT, there have been four times when the power has been out for several days…up to four or more.

So, the Northeast was socked by yet another storm that knocked everything off kilter, worse than when Hurricane Irene came by in September. the leaves are still on the trees and a heavy wet snow fell; the weight of it brought down power lines and trees all over. There’s a state of emergency on in many areas around.

After spending a night in a very cold house in the dark, I packed up the perishable contents of my freezer and made my way around blocked roads to my brother’s house 40 minutes away. They have a generator and so had light and heat.

One gets very grateful for such “small” things. I didn’t think I’d get back to my house for a week or more, but they did our block quickly, so it was only two days this time.

Many of my friends, as well as my business place, are still without power and are camping out where they can with friends in the city, or are just making due. At least the temperatures went back up to “normal” fall levels.

In the midst of all this, the street was just clean enough by Halloween that the trick-or-treaters came out in force, including people who migrated here from other areas where power cables are still down and too dangerous.

Disruption of all kinds is the new normal. And with each one comes an increasing sense of vulnerability at just how dependent we are on this fragile infrastructure we call modern life.