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Musings on Enlightenment

If we but turn our hearts into a cow stall,
Christ would be born again on Earth.

Antonio Machado, Spanish poet

The lowliest of earthly conditions imbues a mystic realization that Spirit permeates all. So many times we fantasize about escaping the mundane drudgery of daily life in preference of a spiritual calling. It behooves us to remember divine example to clarify this misunderstanding.

In Websterís dictionary the term ecstatic is defined as pertaining to extreme emotional excitement. The experience isnít limited to pleasure. Seeking communion with eternal consciousness, subtle body awareness, or divine intuition requires continuous participation. Conscious participation most often occurs without the trappings of temples or consecrated attire.

Karma yoga is a practice of merging service with spiritual intention. What abundance our lives offer for the seekers of enlightenment! Changing the babyís diaper, shopping for groceries, filing reports and returning phone calls are a few ways we may chop wood, carry water, as the Taoists say. The difference between a dull task and a spiritual practice is as basic as a perspective. "Do I offer reverence in this moment?"

Still we seek a haven from our saddlebags of lackluster obligations and predictable routines. It would be wonderful if we celebrated common ground with neighbors, colleagues and family members regarding our intangible needs. Unfortunately, weíve become accustomed to cutting our esoteric corners because they arenít dense enough to be counted when that bottom line looms. Sometimes itís our lunch break that suffers. Often itís our recreation. Even our sleep is denied its chance to replenish our souls through restoration and dreams. For those who come to equate these compromises with necessity, it isnít surprising that fantasies of holiness creep into oneís desires.

The word spirit connotes sanctuary, stillness, peace and higher purpose. Since those attributes arenít integrated naturally into our lives, we see them as being unattainable. The voice within says, "Iíd like to quit my job, toss out my calendar and leave my family to enjoy a spiritual life." What weíre really saying is, "I want to feel satisfaction, and I want to sense meaning."

There isnít much about our American culture that values the practice of well being. Of course, we feel the void. Instead of filling it, we market it. Bath products, exercise equipment, health food, mega-vitamins and more sound like solutions to our hunger for vertical fulfillment.

That cow stall is a pretty simple place. Because itís humble and uncomplicated, the divine is able to enter. Itís an apt metaphor for meditation and for duty. Trying to sit in stillness, even when thereís internal chatter, bears reward. Attempting to undertake a job with willingness, however challenging, offers the no loss quality of humility. We learn as we try. Issues of control and perfection dissolve when we risk being uncertain of success and fully engage in possibility. "I think I can," said the little red engine.

Think of some platitudes that validate simplicityÖ
Itís not the destination; itís the journey.
Wherever you go, there you are.
Youíre already there.

These all sound very sweet on the surface. What happens if we integrate them into our ritual mundane? Letís say that Iím nursing my ailing mother, and the ongoing preparation of meals and changing of sheets squelch my scheduled asana practice. I can resent the feeling that my spiritual practice has been taken away from me. On the other hand, I can embrace a new practice. Perhaps my development needs to cultivate compassion more than physical discipline? Or perhaps Iím refining my capacity for patience? A yoga mat or meditation cushion isnít necessary if Iím integrating those gifts into a practice of the sacred mundane. In other words, Iím already there.

YetÖ those temple altars, those embroidered silk shawls, the heavenly scented incense and the images of holy and luminous beings entice my longing. If truly unnecessary, what is their purpose?

As with any practice, beauty enhances our experience. Itís possible to prioritize the benefits of arranging flowers, lighting incense, and kneeling at a lovely shrine. Offering loveliness gives loveliness to us. As life co-creates the nature of our daily practice, determining our subtle needs and filling them restores our spirits with encouragement, light and wonder. Creating a sacred space facilitates our conscious attendance. Enjoying our practice intensifies our emotional vibration. We touch the Ecstatic whether it be through comfort or in distress.

The planet is robust with learning, with practice, with darkness and with love. It isnít realistic to say, "Itís all good." We can, in our humble attempts to listen and participate, say, "Itís all God."

by Toni Zuper
Alternative Healing
Center City, Philadelphia

published in Yoga Living -- March 2006 issue