It would be easy to conceive of the spiritual journey as a journey inward. But it's an outward journey as well. Otherwise our naval gets a lot of attention while the world burns. We journey inward precisely so we can make a difference when we journey outward.
In classic meditation technique, distractions from the outside world--sirens racing by, voices on the street, the snoring of the meditator next to us--are not intrusions to be fought, but blessings to be released. The passing siren represents someone's suffering. We don't recoil from that as if it's a personal assault. Instead, we hear it, we acknowledge it, and we let it go, perhaps with a blessing--"May all who suffer find relief."
The world is set aside in order to break our pattern of compulsively reacting to everything that comes at us. That only engages our ego and often brings fear and anxiety to the situation. We turn inward to reconnect with the deep spiritual resources that enable us to make a difference in the world. We don't reject the passing siren. We prepare ourselves to make our offering of healing and peace.
In fact, the inward and outward journeys need each other. If I attend to myself without attending to the world, that can become a kind of flight, revealing perhaps my fear of the world. Yet, if I attend to the world without attending to myself, the risks are great that I'll sow seeds of fear and confusion in the world rather than those of healing.
I find it useful to distinguish between spirit and soul, though these are imaginal ideas at best, not discreet realities. My spirit leads me up and out, so to speak, a journey of transcendence. It is the part of me that longs to rise above the world, to see it all as if from a distance, and ultimately to leave the world altogether, when I die: “a pie in the sky when I die, by and by.”
My soul leads me down in the other direction, a journey deep into the world, where things tend not to be clear, but messy, requiring my engagement and my commitment. It is the part of me that wants to explore the world, engaging all my senses. If there is suffering, my soul desires not prayer but action: “not so heavenly minded to be of no earthly use.”
I hate conflict, so the spirit’s desires are attractive to me, leading me to where all is peace and light. But whenever I’ve followed the urgings of my soul, down into the midst of suffering, I have found there not only human pain, but blessing as well. God, if you like, is in both places, within and without.
The spiritual journey requires us to be as engaged with the wounds of the world as with our own wounds. Justice, in other words, is part of the journey. And love makes it so.
Next Week: Love and Justice