Despite all my complaining about modern problems, I truly do believe we live in remarkable times. World travel is feasible, even for starving artists and low paid teachers. There’s no three week train rides across the Great Plains or four month passages on cramped ocean liners. The Internet has opened up the world to us. I can get any information I want at the touch of a button. My children can live safe, healthy lives with medicines ready at the corner minute clinic. The first two of my three offspring were born by emergency c-section due to labor complications. One hundred years ago, for every 1000 live births, roughly 6-9 women died and 100 children did not make it to the age of one. So, yes, I’m extremely grateful for modern society. But my favorite part of the modern world is probably the most overlooked. We live in an amazing time in history where almost every spiritual and religious practice that has been developed since recorded history began can be tried and tested. We have total access to the practices and ideas of countless saints, sages, and enlightened gurus. So why aren’t we all enlightened? Is anybody but the yoga pants industry taking advantage of this brave new world? How can you take advantage of the mystical opportunities in our modern world?
In all major fields of study we’ve benefited from integration and diversity. Ideas evolve, change, and grow over time as one great mind or school of thought builds off the last. But are we allowing this to happen with religion? Are we free to mix and match, try and fail and try again when it comes to spiritual practices? Or are we trapped in a pre-Industrial Revolution version of our religion, not willing to let it grow with the times. Good scientists know that they can take an idea from one field, physics, and immediately apply it to all the others. Why don’t we do the same with spirituality?
The good news is we are free. There is no longer a stigma about people of different cultures and religions mixing and sharing ideas. One hundred years ago, heck, even fifty years ago, there was very little mingling. Catholics married Catholics, hung out with Catholics, and went to Catholic Schools. Quakers, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, etc., did the same. This was a way to keep a hold on culture and tradition. And people passed these faiths down to their children. Of course, this is wonderful, a great way to keep the traditional practices alive in the world. But a lot of us have dumped our folks’ dogmatic religions, probably because a lot of the “musts” and “shoulds” and “have tos” started to appear too rigid for our modern understanding of the world. But in many cases, we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, or, more appropriate, we’ve thrown out the benefits of spiritual living with the dogma of religion. Just because we don’t believe that Mary was a literal virgin doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from the spiritual practice of saying The Rosary, which, if you look at it with an open mind, is really just another way of using centering prayer; which is just a Catholic euphemism for mindfulness meditation (Yes, Catholics and Buddhists do the same thing sometimes–they just don’t like to admit it).
These days we are all about “celebrating” diversity, and we enjoy hearing about other cultures and practices. But how many have we really tried? The one exception to this might be yoga—a practice which I enjoy (watching my wife do in those skinny little pants). But most studios use yoga primarily as a form of exercise, even if they throw in an occasional Namaste. When my wife comes back from her yoga class, she’s more likely to say, “that instructor kicked my ass,” than, “wow, I think I touched the eternal.”
What are we so afraid of? We have nothing to lose, so why not monkey around a little with mysticism, or meddle with meditation, or experiment with animal sacrifice? Okay, you can pass on some practices. But really, why not try a spiritual shenanigan or two?
I was thrilled this holiday season when my son, who attends our neighborhood public school, arrived home with a dreidel, a menorah, some fake gold coins, and promptly announced that he wanted to celebrate Hanukkah. His culture-conscious class was, of course, studying all the major religions around the holidays. The ecumenical mystic in me thought, cool! In fact, why stop there? Let’s do it all. Let’s throw in Kwanzaa and Hmong New Year and whatever else I can find on the calendar. That proved impossible (especially since my son thought more holidays equaled more presents), but it did get me thinking about how lucky we are. We are free to explore and try all sorts of spiritual practices. What are we afraid of? So, what are some things worth trying? I got some suggestions.
But first, let me say, that if you are devout, or even moderately devout, I don’t think you should feel bad trying out another religion or spiritual practice. You don’t have to chuck your family’s faith and traditions in order to try a new one, just as you don’t have to denounce pizza just because you like sushi. I’m still 30% Catholic, mostly for family heritage reasons (much like a friend of mine who is atheist but still a practicing Jew). In honor of my parents and our traditions, I will have my children baptized, but you bet they’ll be learning how to meditate as well.
Here are some things worth trying out in our big, beautiful world of spiritual opportunity.
1.Get a New View on Spirituality
Try some new reading (or video viewing). We live in a moment in history where there is a wealth of wonderful spiritual books and videos, both new and old, mystical and real, new-agey and classic. Frankly, I’m still surprised by how many forward-thinking people still use The Bible as their only source for spiritual development. I mean, I’m not gonna knock a bestseller—I love the Bible and Harry Potter—but there are other books about wizards out there. The Tao Te Ching, Confucius, The Dhammapada, The Torah, The Koran—these books have shaped entire cultures. Why not give them a read as well? Challenge yourself a bit and pick a religion or spirituality outside your comfort zone. See what it has to offer. Sure, it sometimes feels a little like a fad. Just because Madonna (not the virgin one) and Oprah are into Kabbalah doesn’t mean you have to be. But, hey, if there’s something to it, why should movie stars be the only ones to get the benefit. I recently got sucked into watching The Secret, a much lampooned new-age movie about The Law of Attraction. There was a lot of focus on getting a new car by imagining it, which I thought was hokey, but there was also a lot of intriguing ideas about how our thoughts create our world. I love jumping around YouTube to watch videos by all the gurus out there. Some are outrageous. Some are life-changing. But how cool is it that in one evening, from an armchair, we can compare the mystical perspectives of a Hindu guru, a Sikh teacher, and a Benedictine monk.
2. Test Drive a Different Ceremony or Service
There are so many great ways to worship. Add a little spice to your life by trying out something new. Go to a synagogue. Try a Quaker meeting. The Unitarians. A Baptist church. Get saved at an Evangelical service (I’ve been born again more than once myself–it’s quite exhilarating). Ask a Muslim friend to take you to a Mosque. Go out to a Full Moon ceremony with a merry band of witches. What a great opportunity to see God from a myriad of different perspectives.
3. Get into a new Spiritual Practice
Meditation, yoga, chanting, fasting, renunciation, laughter—so many practices and so little time. Fulfill your calling to become not smarter, but deeper. Go get Bo Lozoff’s wonderful book, It’s a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice. What a gift this book is. I had this dream of writing a book about all the great spiritual practices in the world, including instructions on how to do them. Turns out, Bo Lozoff already did it. It’s a great book with detailed instructions on a range of practices that span many religions.
4.Remain Open to New Ideas Around You
Be open to the opportunity of transcending the everyday. The reason people were so attracted to Jesus was because he came out of left field and hit them with some very powerful new stuff. How wonderful that there were people back then who were willing to step outside their comfort zone and think about things in a new way. We should honor Jesus, the Buddha, Mohamed, Lao Tzu, and all those great thinkers, by being open to the new ideas around us today. When you hear something different or counter to what you believe, give the idea some space. Resist the urge to fight it, mock it, or throw it out. It could change your life.
We live in remarkable times. We benefit greatly from the global community. If a scientist in Asia discovered the cure for cancer, we would immediately use it here. Why don’t we make the same attempts with other culture’s and people’s claims regarding enlightenment. What are we afraid of? What do we need to give up and die to in order to expand or transcend our current spiritual state?
Give up and die…you’ll be glad you did.
Read about more opportunities for being mystical right now here: Instant Mystic, Just Add Practice.