The Universality of That Which We Know – End Chapter 8
Chapter 8 has focused on those spiritual attributes that children innately possess but which tend to fade away or become obscured as we grow older and continue to engage in the process of self-formation. Ironically, it’s often only after we’ve fully matured and begun to struggle with our “grownup” life that we begin to sense that something is missing. Our experiences of loss or our lack of fulfillment frequently prompt us to engage in some form of religious exploration in the hopes of finding what we don’t yet even realize we once enjoyed without any effort whatsoever. And so we struggle some more, and perhaps we grow even more jaded, disillusioned, or unfulfilled along the way. It can be hard to find what we’re looking for when we’re not even sure what it is!
My hope for this book, then, is that it encourage seekers to look close to home before assuming that the answer lies in or on the other side of some intricate practice or presently incomprehensible teaching. We need only to recollect that which we already know. Indeed, at their core, the various religions exist to guide us to something that we already know. Unfortunately, even those in positions of religious power do not necessarily realize this to be so – enamored as they may be with their intoxicating feeling of specialness.
Religion stems from the deepest and most universal longing that humans share. It is rooted in the very neurobiology with which we experience the world. Whatever ineffable religious visions, ecstatic states, transcendent experiences, or sensations of communion with God we might enjoy arise from this neurobiological structure that we all share. It is only after we try to put these ineffable experiences into words and position them within some presumed metaphysical framework that the various religions of the world become recognizable.
Most religious adherents, however, swim only on the very surface of their respective traditions where the waves may appear to be very different than those of any other religion. They never dive into the depths – where the waters become still, and the crashing of waves is far away, and the ineffable is actually experienced rather than merely spoken of. So, too, with many religious leaders. Like good ship captains they dutifully steer their passengers through calm and stormy seas alike, without being able to guide them to that place of universal stillness.
That which is universal is present in us from the earliest age. My explorations in this chapter of wonder, belonging, trust, acceptance, and humility are meant to facilitate our reengagement with these universal depths that we used to know so well. Perhaps what I’ve written here will serve to deepen and strengthen your experience of whatever religious tradition you might call home. On the other hand, it might also serve to bolster your belief that all religious experience is merely a mythic interpretation of biologically explainable phenomena. I am not in control of what you may do with that which you already know. I intend only to bring it into greater awareness.
Wonder, that wide-eyed, direct experience of reality that was so common in our childhood has never left us. It has merely been covered over with knowledge, explanation, and conceptualization. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with knowledge, explanation, and conceptualization as long as we don’t let it get in the way of our direct experience of reality. This is where wisdom comes in.
Belonging, that sense of safety, connection, and even oneness that we hopefully experienced in our families of origin and in our earliest experiences of the natural world still remains – if only as something that we long to re-experience in some way. We used to trust in our belonging so completely that we were fearless, and totally free to be whatever it was that our being was blossoming into in any given moment. Along the way, however, we got sidetracked with fleeting concerns that are meaningless in the ultimate sense. The recognition of the fleetingness of these concerns is wisdom, too.
The acceptance of that which is comes much more naturally to children. The realization that our various struggles with the ever-changing circumstances of our existence need not be so is a return to the wisdom that we once embodied. Before we came to believe in, crave, and celebrate our ability to control every aspect of our lives we embodied the humility to realize that we could not. This, too, was the innate wisdom with which we were born.
So, it is one thing to recognize these spiritual attributes as being present in, if not integral to our childhood being, it is another thing to recognize these spiritual attributes as having a place in our adult lives, and it is another thing altogether to work towards making these spiritual attributes an integral part of our present day existence. Shall we count on our recognition of the meaningfulness of these attributes to somehow elevate them to regular appearance in our day-to-day lives? Shall we hope that our insight into their importance will, in and of itself, precipitate their actualization? This will be the topic of the next and final chapter of this book. I hope that you will return in order to read the conclusion.
L’Extase by Jean Benner via:
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:
Copyright 2015 by Mark Frank