Over at the wonderfully named Ambivablog, amba is “Calling all spiritual nomads.” Her piece is well-written and thoughtful, as befits a blogger with an impressive literary resume. (I’d love to be able to say about myself, “wrote a lot of reviews for The New York Times Book Review.”)
I was pleased to note that amba says that Church of the Churchless is a new favorite blog of hers. Same back at you, my churchless sister. I thoroughly enjoyed your spiritual nomad piece. Especially the musical chair analogy.
Say “Religion” in this strange new world of ours, and I see a game of musical chairs. The music stops – that promiscuous Pied Piper world beat that got Catholic priests dancing with Buddhist monks, Israelis with Palestinians, Southwest tourists with sacred kachinas -- and everybody scrambles for their chair: their church pew, synagogue seat, prayer rug or meditation cushion. And in the silence, dotted with distant gunfire, I’m left standing there. Without a chair.
And in these lines you perfectly captured the I’m Footloose But I Don’t Know Where I’m Heading predicament of many, if not most, spiritual nomads:
I don’t care what faith you were born into, what you call your higher power, what spiritual disciplines you do or don’t practice: if you viscerally resist having your religion organized for you, if living with your questions is the only form of worship that feels honest and alive to you, you’re one of us. Like many of our biblical forebears, we postmodern pilgrims answered a call to leave the houses of our fathers and strike out for an unknown future. We’re deeply convinced that that call came from the Spirit, and we’re not turning back. But right now a lot of us feel lost, with no promised land in sight.
I’m with you. And also, not. Together and solitary, that’s the paradoxical duality of the spiritual nomad. I don’t want to pitch my metaphysical tent at one of the crowded religious oases where hundreds of millions find solace and comfort. Christianity, Judaism, Islam—too confining. At times even Buddhism and Taoism seem too dogma-bound for my increasingly theologyphobic psyche.
Yet I sure don’t want to wander in the wilderness forever. The temptation is to find my own just-room-for-one spiritual oasis and settle in comfortably under my own home grown belief system. Lie on my back, stare at the stars, and feast on the nuggets of wisdom that drift down from the Truth Trees that I’ve planted myself.
But then what difference would there be between me and all the religious true believers camped out at their own oases, apart from numbers? In essence, I’d have formed a Religion of Me and become my one and only disciple. What’s up with that?
As with so many other questions concerning the meaning of it all, I’m left with a big fat “I don’t know.” A few intuitions seem to be attempting to scurry under the fabric of my tent of unknowing, however.
In the vast philosophical, religious, and metaphysical desert where countless people have sought ultimate truth, and no one has brought back definitive proof of having found it, tracks abound. My bookcases are filled with them. It isn’t paths that we lack, but rather the certainty that any of them lead somewhere.
And just about all that I’m certain about is that such certainty is a mirage. It doesn’t really exist. Faith is an attempt to reassure ourselves that the spiritual path we’re on will take us somewhere good. Heaven, enlightenment, nirvana, paradise, the promised land. The problem is, nobody living or dead can show us that they’ve gotten there themselves, so why should we believe in the path they urge us to tread?
I’m rapidly losing faith in paths. Yes, I’d rather be a spiritual nomad who is free to explore all paths than a true believer who is locked into only one. But that still leaves me on a path, albeit of my own choosing. What are the chances that my own individualistic wandering is going to lead me any closer to Truth than the well-worn paths trod by so many other seekers?
Slim. My growing suspicion is that the way out of the wilderness isn’t via any path at all. At least, not one on ground level. I want to believe in a Way. However, some forty years of research into spiritual ways, via both direct experience and the descriptions of others, has led me to strongly suspect that the only path leading somewhere real is absolutely unlike any means of getting around in everyday life.
In spiritual traveling, movement keeps you stuck. Stillness is what soars. When it’s combined with lightness. Unbearable lightness. “Unbearable,” because achieving a state in which spiritual lift-off is possible means discarding everything that keeps me tied down to wilderness level.
Including concepts. Thoughts, beliefs, hopes, imaginings—these are dead weights. I know so. Every day in meditation I feel them wrapped around my consciousness. They’re damnably difficult to let go off. They allow me to travel horizontally in any direction I choose. Oases of all sorts are easy to reach. But that keeps me in the realm of the familiar.
Where Truth doesn’t lie. I don’t know that for sure. Yet the deepest insights of both science and mysticism, and my own intuition, tells me this is the case.
So, I float. Or rather, attempt to float. To become stiller and lighter, a bubble of being capable of being wafted aloft by…whatever. I’d love to become a truly far-out spiritual nomad.
Someone who wanders in places unseen and unknown. Even to myself.