About two decades ago, after entering into a 12-step program, I heard the most wonderful saying, ‘we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience’. I’ve heard it since in different circles, and I don’t know to whom it should be credited, and I’m not sure that that matters anyway. It brought a smile to my face and resonated with something deep inside my being. So it became catalogued in my mental bank of clichés and beautiful sayings, and repeated now and again without any inquiry into its essential meaning. But then again, the meaning is obvious and needs no heady effort to understand, right?
If there is a deeper understanding to be had here, all we have to do is look at what we do: we make grand efforts to become spiritual, to avoid negative experience(s) like pain, sorrow, suffering, loss, betrayal, and so on. We go to even greater lengths to predict the future so that we get only that which is thought to be good and pleasurable. Why not simply trust being human if the essence of that is always already spiritual?
I think I know the answer. To be truly human is to experience everything: pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow, success and failure.
Some of my favorite line(s) from the Bhagavad Gita (loosely translated) go like this: they are dear to me who run not after the pleasant, nor away from the painful, who grieve not over the past, lust not today, but let things come and go as they happen. This does not indicate a life of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, but a life of receiving what comes. Without investigation into why we make distinctions between good and bad, better than and worse than, we live a life taking everything personally, either feeling praised and supported by the universe or alienated and betrayed by it, never feeling our deep and intricate connection to all things.
And so we begin seeking, gravitating towards “spiritual” promises and practices, not as natural expressions or extensions of what we are, but rather ways to avoid feeling ourselves just as we are. We turn outward, or try to escape “inward” via some theoretical construct, and miss the magnificent depths of our being to which the cliché we are discussing points. Without question we think “it” must be out there. Although that is true in some weird way, we have mistaken reality, and have not recognized that “there” is always already here.
Now, imagine for a moment that you have been informed that you had just a few more minutes embodied on this earth . . . what would you do? Would you suddenly try to achieve some ecstatic state? Or, would you open to life as it is in the present, marveling at every bit of it? Would you complain about what you thought was a problem just seconds before you received this terrible news, or would you wrap your arms around everyone and everything you love, and breathe its very life into the depth of your being.
Quite simply, the time to live is now. Not after a state of enlightenment is reached, but now. To fully live the human experience, YOUR human experience, accept what comes, and surrender to what is.
Inquire into why you do what you do, and ask, is it taking you away from what you are, or pointing you back to you?
You really are what you’ve been looking for, and the purpose of spiritual practice is to celebrate and reveal just that, a Human Being.