Spring is Here!... in Northern Maine
When you reflect on the infinite number of happenstances that coalesced to produce you, then you understand how unique, how precious, how sacred you really are. Your task is to cultivate that precious, sacred nature and help it to flower.
*Robert Aitken. Encouraging Words.
I spent several months in a monastery [after my spiritual awakening]; I would have become a priest - wanting nothing more than total dedication to this new life, and was deeply hurt when a certain bishop described me as "not sufficiently Christian." A sense of rejection - of somehow being "wrong" with the Church dogged me for many years, though it also had a positive effect - I was freed to explore ever wider realms of Spirit. I understand now that bodies, focused primarily on outer ministry ..., characteristic of "normal" religion are less drawn to the ultimate stillness of the inner world. But a balance is natural, and sooner or later, it seems, in the lives of certain individuals, an impulse arises for Spirit itself. Then, lesser objectives fall away. Outer and visible indicators are seen for what they are, and doors open to go beyond.
*John Butler. Wonders of Spiritual Unfoldment.
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After a neighbor, who is a retired nurse, and a family next door, whom I rent from, had helped me much during a recent illness, I wanted to give them something to say "Thanks!" I purchased two plants with lovely, new blooms. I gave one to the retired nurse. The family was not home. So, having been permitted to enter the home in their absence, I left the plant there.
Being concerned for the wellness of the plant, after seeing the family had left, I checked on it after two days. The blooms were wilting, and the soil was dry. I talked with it, watered it, and placed it in a window to receive sunlight. Two days later, I returned to speak with and water it. Two days after that, I did the same. It is flourishing. When I look at the window from outside, I feel glad that it looks lovely and healthy.
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We care for our plants, nurturing them, and in so doing, show respect, reverence, and acknowledgment of their sacredness. Ought we not do this with ourselves? Do we not deserve the same loving consideration?
The late Zen Buddhist teacher, Robert Aitken, speaks of this precious human life. I am not sure the word "happenstance" is accurate for how we got here. Still, the potentially infinite number of conditions that came together to make our human birth is mind-boggling. And the Buddha taught this human birth is rare as well as dear. He taught it is even rarer for one to discover the sacred teaching, what Buddhists call the Dharma, or Dhamma.
So, should we not cultivate ourselves, honoring ourselves as precious, even sacred? Would we respect a plant by ignoring it, so letting it wilt away? Are we going to allow distractions to keep us from giving our mind and heart to what will bring out our inherent beauty and innate holiness?
And spiritual care includes the whole self - body, mind, spirit. These three are a continuum of Spirit.
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The greatest foe to spiritual self-care may not be what we call wrong, or bad, or evil. It may be good things that enthrall our mind and heart, and we miss the spiritual nurture that arises with devotion to what is best for our wellbeing.
We are being presented with empty-calorie distractions constantly, especially through technology. But is religion an answer? Often of little help. Much religion is focused on the outer world of words and activity, eschewing the vital need to cultivate ourselves by going within, such as through meditation, or Silence. My experience has been the Christian churches have little to offer beyond teaching doctrine and morals and providing a social group to enjoy fellowship with. So, while one may benefit from a religious group, one may find it offers little for a deeply-felt, deeply-lived abiding in the Spirit of Life. I am not saying that one devoted to a deep spiritual life does not need a faith group; yet, she may need to remind herself of its limitations to enjoy what it offers.
While an ordained clergyperson for many decades, since age 24, I finally discontinued looking to my native faith as a place to find the spiritual atmosphere to support the life I - and many others - had chosen to live and grow in. I realized I was called to a life more than of doctrine, ritual, morality, devotional sentimentality, and fellowship with other church members. I learned I was one of the Christian exiles - persons just inside or just outside the church, unable to feel at home in it anymore, for it was too often not a spiritual place to be. The institutional church became a painful place to be, even while I served as a pastor. And I often felt like I was trying to manage persons and conflict, rather than being with persons genuinely seeking to be Christlike and grow spiritually. To me, the church, in fact, usually hinders persons from growing spiritually beyond morality, good works, and believing what the churches teach is true according to itself. I wanted more; I needed more. I, finally, left the church. Yet, I did not turn from Spirit. And I later began worshipping - and still do - with Quakers who sit in Silence together, and I now refer to myself as interspiritual. So, even as a plant needs to be replanted elsewhere, sometimes we do too, for the place we were planted no longer honors and supports our growth and values.
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Lesser goods, even called religious or spiritual, as well as a cultural fascination with material stuff, can entrap us. If this happens, we will miss cherishing and cultivating this precious self and this priceless life we have been given. We will be poor caretakers of ourselves. We will be like that blooming plant before I returned to nurture it - we will exist while wilting spiritually. We do best by prioritizing what brings out the essence we are from birth and waits to bloom out in the beauty of love, joy, and peace, and all qualities of the Spirit.
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We proceed knowing we cannot beautify this precious self and life. I could not give the beauty of the plant to the plant, but I could create conditions - communication, water, sunlight - to encourage its wellbeing and growth. That is what we do with ourselves. We cannot change our essence - we were born with it, and it is always present, even when hidden by our egocentricity. Yet, we can create an atmosphere, a spiritual greenhouse, that fosters the manifestation of our innate being - a spirit in Spirit. If we create a spiritual atmosphere for our flowering, we will undergo an increasing expression of our union with and in the Light.
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.