After 46 years of spiritual study and practice, and Joyce and I immersing ourselves in many forms of spirituality, I am realising for myself that there are ultimately only two spiritual paths–and both are equally important!
I love the saying, “We are human beings on a spiritual journey, and we are spiritual beings on a human journey.”Herein lie the two spiritual paths. These are the two ways I identify myself; one as a human being and the other as a spiritual being. One is no less than the other.
Let’s start with ourselves as spiritual beings on a human journey. Pearl Dorris, a simple housewife from Mt. Shasta without any degrees after her name, was very influential for us as a spiritual teacher. They say the teacher appears when the student is ready. Joyce and I were very ready. I had just dropped out of my psychiatry residency program in 1973. I was tired of identifying myself and others as just body and mind. Pearl was deeply steeped in the ‘I Am’ work, claiming ourselves as spiritual beings. Sitting in her little living room with a small group of students, she would proclaim with her distinctive lisp, “I am that I am”, or “I am the Light”. She clearly and powerfully affirmed her true identity, while the very atmosphere in the room became charged with an invisible power. She helped us to feel ourselves as divine.
I know myself as a soul in this body, a being with a light body inhabiting this physical body. When I identify with my higher self, I am part of all the light and love in the universe. This spiritual practice is not about relating with the Divine, it’s being the Divine. It gives me great joy to pour out love from my heart.
I hesitate to share this very personal spiritual practice because some might see it as egocentric or grandiose. It would be, if I held myself higher than anybody else – but I don’t. I don’t just feel myself as a being of love, but everyone else as well. I know that we are all part of the Higher Power, like a drop of water is really no different from the ocean, like the acorn has within it the mighty oak tree.
Now for the second spiritual path – human beings on a spiritual journey. Ram Dass was another teacher who came along when we were ready. We didn’t, however, know just how ready we were. We wore white clothes with our prayer beads. I, in particular, avoided all negative feelings that would bring my energy down. I hate to admit this, but I even bought into the philosophy that sex would keep us from being truly spiritual. We were celibate for six months, until our repressed sexual energy exploded in the middle of the night, and we found ourselves waking up locked in an intense passionate embrace of love-making. Even so, I still felt we had failed somehow on our spiritual journey.
Ram Dass saw through this spiritual disguise and called us ‘phoney holy’. His work with us was to balance the human with the spiritual, to bring us back down to earth, to fully embrace our humanity and see it as just as spiritual. I had been running away from the human part of me, and it just wasn’t working.
I feel fully human when I am in relationship with God/Goddess as also outside of me. Though I am not a practising Sufi, I like the expression, “Ishq Allah Mabud Lillah”. It means God is the non-manifest, invisible divine love. But God is also the beloved, the one outside ourselves who we can love. The beloved is the energy of relationship, the path of devotion.
The path of being human on a spiritual journey is just as important to me. I love feeling like a child with powerful, loving heavenly parents who constantly have my best interest in mind and heart. I am unconditionally loved and cared for. I can completely trust my divine parents. As well, I can feel and share the pain of my humanity and pray for help.
Sometimes, in the same meditation, I will go back and forth between these two spiritual paths. One moment, I experience myself as a small child learning to trust my Heavenly Creator, and the next moment I am the Heavenly Creator caring for the small child within me. To be completely honest, most of my meditation time is spent in neither of these spiritual paths. Instead, my mind simply does its mind thing, drifting about aimlessly, thinking about how I can remove the broken toilet seat with completely rusted hardware, or some other truly mundane thought. But … if I have even a moment of each spiritual path, I consider it a successful meditation, with its resultant peace, and my day has been blessed.
Thus, worthiness can be claimed and known in two ways. I am worthy because I am part of God, and I am worthy because I have always been worthy in the eyes of God. Same with forgiveness. Every ‘mistake’ is seen by our Creator as a necessary part of our growth. And, as a being of light, in the highest truth of who I am, there is no need for forgiveness.
Once again, we are human beings on a spiritual journey, and spiritual beings on a human journey. It’s both looking and feeling within and without. Only two spiritual paths – but what a great journey it is!
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counsellors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
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