Let us look at the qualities of spiritual maturity:
Nonidealism: The mature heart is not perfectionistic: it rests in the compassion of our being instead of in ideals of the mind. Nonidealistic spirituality does not seek a perfect world; it does not seek to perfect ourselves, our bodies, our personalities. It is not romantic about teachers or enlightenment based on images of the immense purity of some special being out there. Thus, it does not seek to gain or attain in spiritual life, but only to love and be free.
The frustration of seeking perfection is illustrated by a story of Mullah Nasrudin. One day in the marketplace he encountered an old friend who ! was about to get married. This friend asked the Mullah whether he had ever considered marriage. Nasrudin replied that years ago he had wanted to marry and had set out to find the perfect woman. First he traveled to Damascus, where he found a perfectly gracious and beautiful woman but discovered she was lacking a spiritual side. Then his travels took him farther to Isfahan, where he met a woman who was deeply spiritual yet comfortable in the world and beautiful as well, but unfortunately they did not communicate well together. “Finally in Cairo I found her,” he said, “she was the ideal woman, spiritual, gracious, and beautiful, at ease in the world, perfect in every way.” “Well,” asked the friend, “did you then marry her?” “No,” answered the Mullah, “unfortunately, she was looking for the perfect man.”
Mature spirituality is not based on seeking perfection, on achieving some imaginary sense of purity. It is based simply on the capacity to let go and to love, to open the heart to all that is. Without ideals, the heart can turn the suffering and imperfections we encounter into the path of compassion. In this nonidealistic practice, the divine can shine through even in acts of ignorance and fear, inviting us to wonder at the mystery of all that is. In this there is no judgment and no blame, for we seek not to perfect the world but to perfect our love for what is on this earth. Thomas Merton saw it this way.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths where neither sin nor desire can reach, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way there would be no reason for war, for hatred, for cruelty ... I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.
- A second quality of mature spirituality is kindness,. It is based on a fundamental notion of self-acceptance, rather than guilt, blame, or shame, for the ignorant acts we’ve committed or the fears that still remain within us. It understands that opening requires the warm sun of loving- kindness. It is all too easy to turn spirituality and religion into what Alan Watts called “a grim duty.” Poet Mary Oliver wrote:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves . . .
In deep self-acceptance grows a compassionate understanding. As one Zen master said when asked if he ever gets angry, “Of course I get angry, but then a few minutes later I say to myself, ‘What’s the use of this,’ and I let it go.” This self-acceptance is at least half of our spiritual practice. We are asked to touch with mercy the many parts of ourself that we have denied, cut off, or isolated. Mature spirituality is a reflection of dour deep gratitude and capacity for forgiveness. As the Zen poet Edward Espe Brown writes in The Tassajara Recipe Book:
Any moment, preparing this meal, we could be gas thirty thousand feet in the air soon to fall out poisonous on leaf, frond and fur. Everything in sight would cease.
And still we cook, putting a thousand cherished dreams on the table, to nourish and reassure those close and dear.
In this act of cooking, I bid farewell.
Always I insisted you alone were to blame.
This last instant my eyes open and I regard you with all the tenderness and forgiveness I withheld for so long.
With no future
we have nothing
to fight about.
BUY the BOOK:
"The Never Ending Journey (excerpt) In the Absence of God—Dwelling in the Place of the Sacred by Sam Keen
“Never Ending Journey” by Marianna G. Mills
In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred
by Sam Keen
In the desert nothing is exactly what it seems. A distant lake shimmers for a moment, promising relief and refreshment, but as you draw closer it vanishes. Sandstorms obscure the sun and cause the unwary traveler to walk in circles. Springs and oases that were once verdant dry up and disappear beneath the shifting sands. To live in the desert is to become part of an unending quest for water and wild game. To join any new quest we must challenge the values and concerns that have governed our lives to this time. Freud got it slightly wrong. True, many of us suffer from the thorn in the flesh of childhood wounds, but we suffer more frequently from a void, from what hasn't happened to us, from what we haven't found as a result of the questions we haven't asked.
Questioning is not something we do but something we are—an elemental force. Were you to dissect my brain, you would find that the neurochemical circuitry, the complex strands of cells that make up my brain and my mind, are as individual as my fingerprints. But beyond the wetware, what makes me Sam Keen rather than Rupert Murdoch are the questions that shape my life. Instead of spending each day asking myself how I could acquire more news media, I wonder about the vagaries of the experience of the sacred and the shape of future religion.
Nothing shapes our lives so much as the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never dream of asking. Our minds, bodies, feelings, and relationships are literally informed by our questions. The defining essence of an individual is his or her quest print. The men and women who made an enduring mark in history, for better and for worse, ignored the accepted worldviews, values, and myths of their time and chose to pursue their own answers to their deepest questions.
Here's a random sample:
How can we put an end to suffering?—Buddha
What is eternal and unchanging?—Plato
What is the will of God?—Jesus Of what may I be certain?—Descartes
How is a falling apple like a rising moon?—Sir Isaac Newton -
Why were men born free but are everywhere in chains?—Karl Marx
What is the meaning of dreams?—Sigmund Freud
How can we create a master race?—Adolf Hitler
Does God play dice with the universe?—Albert Einstein
How is a woman unlike a man?—Betty Friedan
The questions we habitually ask determine whether we will be superficial or profound, acceptors of the status quo or searchers, creators of the peace between nations or the cause of its destruction. They reflect our values, needs, circumstances, and situation. It is the courage to ponder the great mythic questions that gives depth to human life. These queries form antibodies that protect us from the diseases of orthodoxy and ideology, although sometimes they lead us to create new pseudo religions, such as fascism or communism. But so long as we return again and again to the great unanswerable questions, we will never wander far from the endless sky and quickening winds of the spirit.
And if we don't?
If I don't ask, "What are my gifts?" and "What is my vocation?" I may spend my life working at a job that has little or no meaning for me. If I don't ask myself, "Am I willing to kill the designated enemies of my government?" I may join the military, and possibly be placed in a combat situation where my only choice is to kill or be killed. If I don't ask, "Should I compromise my values to serve the interests of my employer?" I am more likely to tailor my personality to what is demanded for advancement. If I do not ask, "Who am I? What is my story?" I am more likely to be informed by the myths, scripts, and stereotypes of my culture. If I don't ask, "What do I believe about G-d and the ultimate purpose of life?" I am more likely to live unconsciously, within either a profane ideology or an uncritical religious orthodoxy.
To be authentically religious is not to affirm any one creed or to have unwavering faith in a transcendent God. It is to be passionately concerned with the meaning of existence, and to linger with questions of origin, destination, and purpose, not because they are answerable but because we are swept up by our cultural myths when we cease to ask these questions.
These perennial, unanswerable questions send us forth on a philosophical quest that lasts a lifetime:
Origins: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the origin of life? Of my life?
Destination: What is the end toward which history and my life are moving? Who or what is the moving force?
Death: For what may I hope when I die? Is there life after death? Immortality of the soul? Resurrection of the body? Reincarnation? Complete annihilation?
Identity: Who am I? How do I become that unique self that fulfills my destiny? How do I win my freedom from biological necessity and from the myth my culture has imposed over my body, mind, and spirit?
Vocation: Does my life have meaning? If so, what is it? How do I contribute to life beyond my own?
Community: Who are my people? With whom do I belong? Do I have enemies? If so, who are
Authority: Who is in charge? Who is the author of my story? What are the rules? What am I obligated to do? Why?
Path of life: What is the map of life—the stages along the way? How should I conduct myself as a child, an adolescent, an adult, and an elder?
Evil: Why is there evil? Why do the good suffer and the evil prosper sometimes? Or vice versa? Is there ultimate justice? What can I do to reduce the power of evil?
Dis-ease: What is wrong with me? With human beings? Why does dis-ease exist? Pain? Why are we self-destructive sometimes?
Healing: What is wholeness, health? What nostrums, medicines, means of healing are available? Who can help, who can heal?
G-d: Are we alone in the universe? Is there a supra-human caring intelligence?
In the beginning, the prodigal son was comfortable in the household of his father. He accepted and practiced the ancient faith. But one day his spirit was disturbed by questions neither he nor his elders could answer. Leaving home on a quest for answers, he wandered in the desert and in the distant land of the skeptics and flesh-pots. Often on cold nights among strangers, he longed to return to the warmth and security of home and put aside his doubts. But his questions would not be silenced. They resounded in his mind like the beat of a great drum in a vast emptiness.
In time, haunted and exhausted by finding no path that led back to the innocent land in which he had once lived, he fell into despair and decided to abandon his quest. But some impulse encouraged him to keep going, and gradually he resigned himself to being an anxious pilgrim on a road whose destination he did not
know. Then, one night in a foreign land, he realized with the clarity of a star falling in a moonless sky that his agonizing questions had become his treasure, his joy, and his guide to a never-ending adventure in a desert, an oasis, and a wondrous world that had become his home.