Waking Up Your Inner Jukebox
We recently had an older man come see us for private mentoring, and when we asked him what he would like to address he said, “I want to feel a real connection to spirit. I wish I could really feel that inner spiritual fire and energy you talk about. I have had a lot of suffering in my life, but also my share of joy. I am getting older and I have been to hundreds of workshops on different kinds of healing and spirituality. I have learned a lot that has helped me and I feel that I try to live a spiritual life, but something is obviously still missing. I worry that I will always be lost and not find the peace and joy that comes from being connected to the core essence of things before I die.”
Many of you might resonate, at least partly, with this man’s plea, particularly if you remain hungry for a deeper spiritual experience than what has been sampled from the smorgasbord of workshops available on healing and spirituality. Though it is easy to criticize the sometimes artificial and non-nutritional offerings of the new age, we should compassionately recognize that many of us simply don’t know how or where to find what can truly quench our soul’s deepest thirst. At the same time, it’s important to highlight how too much sampling leaves us both unsatisfied and lacking an authentic main course.
Even those with roots to a particular spiritual tradition can be easily distracted by the seduction of offerings that promise quick access to better health, wisdom, or spiritual magic with little effort. Most long-standing traditions require greater commitment, sacrifice, and service. In addition, an authentic spiritual path requires boldly and often uncomfortably confronting the way “ego” or “self” wants to be in charge, as opposed to spiritual marketing strategies that aim to please and ease the very source of what needs to be reformed. With the proliferation of quasi-Buddhist teachings, often seasoned with a dash of Freudian reflection and psychological introspection, most spiritual seekers have adopted the opinion that wrestling with or dissolving the ego is a beneficial thing. However, there still remains a reluctance to step into the actual process of enacting such transformation, and again everyone looks for ways to avoid it.
Grazing at the Spiritual Smorgasbord
If you only graze at the spiritual smorgasbord, you get to skip the discomfort and keep the Big Self (should we shorten this to B.S.?) pretty much intact. Here you pick and choose what you immediately crave from the desserts on offer, avoiding anything that doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth. You then only pay attention to positive thoughts, personally desired outcomes, and the exaltation of your evolving consciousness. This is how you get stuck in the glue of your egoo – a better name for “ego” because it is sticky like honey and traps you like quicksand. Egoo will even hand pick your preferred form of discomfort as you congratulate yourself for surviving a vision fast, an egregiously long meditation retreat, and whatever else makes you feel spiritually proud and accomplished. Most likely you will be unable to recognize this kind of self-aggrandizement, and that’s one reason everyone needs a good spiritual teacher.
We appreciate the dilemma our client found himself in because like others throughout time, we all long to have a real, authentic closeness to divinity and be touched by mystery. But in our day and age the process of seeking it can get you totally lost and clog your spiritual pipes. Here is what we told the man who came to see us: If you want to go past talk and embark on a well-guided holy walk, you have to keep things simple. Here’s the first key that helps open the door: To make the journey you don’t need a story, you need a song.
There is an unbending highway that goes straight to God. To actually get on this road rather than only think about it, take the first step of out-of-the-stuck-box action. This requires de-emphasizing spiritual or psychological insight and interpretations, as these only build the very boxes that try to capture and organize experience in conceptual understanding. What needs to happen first to get you jump-started and moving toward spiritual fulfillment? While it is simple to say, the words are meaningless unless you actually enact their prescription: drop all your stories and sing. Know that music must arrive to silence the script of a narrated life.
The Alternative to “Mindfulness” and Meditation
Many people say the mind is a monkey, but it’s more like a dog that can’t resist stopping and sniffing every piece of trash, flower, or patch of dirt, and it often can’t discern rotten from sweet. If you leave your spiritual life up to your mind alone, you will amass concepts, elaborate interpretations, and their specified practices that all serve pleasing and maintaining the dominance of mind, which tends also to contribute to too much self-focus, evaluation, and assessment. Old-fashioned meditation masters point to the same risk of drowning in mind’s illusory productions.
The ecstatic spiritual traditions and the contemplative traditions both aim to free you from the thought-chains that bind, but they go about it differently. For ecstatics, the mind is not emphasized – there is no practice that observes mind, stills mind, expands mind, or cultivates any kind of so-called mindfulness. Ecstatic spirituality goes neither with nor against the grain of mind’s grooves. Instead, the aim is to wake up the inner music, igniting spiritual excitation rather than stillness and relaxation. We call this being “cooked” in the spiritual heat because it awakens a fire inside. Instead of harnessing mind and piercing the illusory veil to reveal greater awareness, ecstatics seek to raise the spiritual temperature and set the heart and soul on fire. You know this is taking place when a strong sacred vibration is awakened in the body, your heart feels full of love and longing for the Divine, suffering turns to joy, and a song fills your throat. The mind is automatically attuned and put in its rightful place as your inner narration ceases naturally and without effort.
To experientially enter the spiritual fire, you need a special kind of song that serves as an able vehicle for the journey. The ancient lineages of the walk-sing-and-dance-way-to-God found it useful to begin with a simple prayer that quickly transforms into the lyrics of a chant that in turn becomes a song. When all of this is sincerely and passionately voiced with heart and soul, you automatically start moving toward the divine heat.
The beginning prayer should be simple and evoke vastness, such as “Thy will be done.” A prayer of this kind helps keep your think-ishness and self-ishness at bay. Don’t set an intention to make anything happen, including any kind of big spiritual experience or outcome. In other words, the Divine does not need your input on how things should unfold. Only surrender to being a small part within the vast, sacred whole. Aim to get on the main highway to the sacred. You know you are on it when each step forward makes you feel smaller in relationship to the Divine.
Once you cross over into the spiritual fire whatever happens and is expressed will come forth spontaneously. When filled with song and sacred vibration you are improvised and played as an instrument by the master. In the beginning, however, your dog-mind needs to catch the right scent and stay on it with no distraction. Find a short, simple prayer/chant/song that touches your spiritual heart and points you in the right direction. Once you are in the holy fire, everything happens on its own accord. It’s an electric, vibratory, singing and dancing samadhi.
In the beginning when you are full of mind and spiritually cold, it’s easy to get distracted, especially if you have been taught to regard every thought, feeling, and body sensation that arises as something to catalogue, evaluate, or get either worried or excited about. This is one problem with participating in guided meditations disguised as spiritual or shamanic “journeys” – they teach us to free associate and regard fanciful thought-images as spiritual visions or contact with the spirit world. These exercises take place in the cold zone because they emphasize cool concepts and images rather than heating up song, vibration, and the mystical heart. For ecstatics, the shamanic/mystical/spiritual journey that matters most is the one that experientially takes you up the spiritual thermometer. It departs from the naming and visualizing mind, instead following the soulful singing heart and the vibrating, moving, body electric.
When you are in the spiritual fire, your rope to God is in charge and may put you in contact with any and all plant, ancestor, or animal spirits on the horizontal plane (if such a thing is deemed necessary) without your having to consciously seek out these experiences. The latter purposeful effort leads you astray to the new age cafeteria tray readily filled with whatever you intend and desire. The paradox is that when you are on fire with the Spirit, you will be more empty and available to receive divine direction, yet feel no desire for anything in particular to take place.
Once you take action that brings you to the warmer spiritual temperatures, you will experience your heart (perhaps here it is better to refer to it as your sacred or mystical heart) wake up and take reign over mind. Remain in the cold, however, and you are left in a constant state of sorting and re-sorting thoughts and words. The latter process sometimes brings clarity and sometimes brings clutter, which is why we agree with the Bushmen when they call thinking/naming/talking the work of trickster. (This also refers to the process of trying to not think, watching your thoughts, changing your thoughts, or trying to “evolve” your consciousness. These keep thinking and the productions of mind the main reference point.)
Staying On the Main Spiritual Highway
Of course we also personally enjoy letting our dog-minds out for a stroll to sniff across many conceptual landscapes. Our trickster minds are delighted by their ability to create understanding of all kinds as well as draw new distinctions, associations, and gestalts that serve complexity, diversity, syncretism, and other lofty ideals. We value all this, actually, but recognize that it takes place in the spiritual cold. When it comes to doing the spiritual work that matters most – whether it’s with two people or two hundred – we leave all that mental meandering and go straight to the mainline highway to Divinity. Here “keeping it simple” means conducting the simplest set of actions that help you get on the main road to the ecstatic spiritual fire. In the beginning of any ceremony or gathering – a time when you’re still spiritually cold – the mind needs a simple singular focus so that it doesn’t take a detour and get caught wandering the aisles of the roadside spiritual convenience store.
In summary, if you are like the man who came to see us and want to really feel plugged in to the divine source or “essence” as he called it, you must leave your inner chat room and drop your story. How do you drop your story without getting caught in another story about dropping a story, or another thought about stopping your thoughts? How can you escape the limitations of mind without the paradoxical dilemmas that arise when you try to use mind to do so? Try singing. Find a simple prayer that speaks to the deepest part of you – say it, chant it, and sing it. Wake up your spiritual heart, and let your body move naturally with the sacred vibration of feeling and song. Once you find your way to the main highway, whenever you need a lifeline, direction, or renewal, you will know how to find your way back to this main source.
Our work is dedicated to taking our students into the spiritual heat so that spirit has its way. At the end of this particular voyage, we gave the man who came to see us what we give all our students – a spiritual prescription – a unique task to perform that helps keep you on the main holy road. We won’t tell you what that was, but after Brad played the piano, sang the prayers, and I placed my trembling hands on him he said, “I am now flooded with the memory of the old woman who lived next door to us where I grew up in Guatemala. Her name was Lidia. She was a very simple woman and very poor. She used to take care of me. Lidia radiated joy and warmth. Sometimes people used to steal from her, but it didn’t seem to bother her and this puzzled me as a child. She was very religious, but in a simple, kind way. I haven’t thought of Lidia in years, but now when I think of her I see that I have been living in a kind of spiritual Disneyland. I realize I have been looking for whatever it is that she had inside her.”
We are happy that he found the direction he had been seeking all these years. It had been given to him during his childhood, and he only had been distracted from the straight path by too many seductive roadside attractions. You too never will need more than one simple prayer and one simple song in order to plug into the spiritual mainline. This is how it has been for all the strong spiritual teachers and healers we have personally known. No matter how many times you get cooked in the spiritual fire, you must always return to the simplest beginning each and every day, readying yourself for every subsequent moment and its invitation for spiritual action.
All that spiritual growth brings is a better beginning – each time you start emptier and less subject to the law of dog-mind attraction. This is the virtuous spinning of the wheel of life where each round sheds a pound of whatever is unnecessary. Take the first step over and over again, becoming smaller each time while feeling the expanding, infinite love held inside the embrace of a mystery that brings you a song rather than a story.