Are you a human being having spiritual experiences, or are you a spiritual being having a human experience?
This question is posed by Mark Nepo in his newest book, Surviving Storms: Finding the Strength to Meet Adversity. It is the kind of question that troubles me: not because I can’t answer it, but because the question itself is irrelevant.
The roots of this question can be traced back to the Catholic theologian Teilhard de Chardin’s assertion that we are indeed spiritual beings having human experiences and not human beings having spiritual experiences. I won’t argue with de Chardin. I would just ask him a follow-up question: Why would spiritual beings need human experiences?
I spend much of my time maximizing the possibility of having a spiritual experience. I sit in silence, recite a variety of mantra, and work with my breath to prime the pump of spiritual awakening. Based on my limited experience with such awakening, it seems to me that the wisdom of awakening is the full-bodied realization that I am a part of and never apart from the nondual Happening I call God.
This makes sense if I am a human being having a spiritual experience, since being human carries with it the illusion of separateness. But if I am a spiritual being having a human experience, if I am a being who knows itself to be part of the whole, why would I want to experience being separate from the whole?
As far as I can discern, I wouldn’t want this at all. But maybe it isn’t a matter of desire or will. Maybe the universe is so constructed that all beings of a certain level of consciousness experience wholeness and separateness. Maybe there are no human beings and spiritual beings. Maybe there are no beings at all. Maybe there is just the dynamic ebb and flow of the One that pretends to be other than itself on the flow and pretends to be none other than itself on the ebb?
Why would the One do this? Maybe it can’t help itself. Just as a sun cannot help but shine, maybe the One cannot help but be other as well.
Somehow this makes more sense to me than having to choose which kind of being I am: human or spiritual. It also is less stressful. If I am God and God ebbs and flows because ebbing and flowing is what it is to be God, then I don’t have to change my situation: trying to have a spiritual experience when human and trying to have a human experience when spiritual. I can just be whatever it is God is doing at the moment.
To really accept this idea, to know it to be true the way you know when you are very hungry, puts an end to religion and spiritual practice altogether. Why try to ebb when God is flowing? Why try to flow when God is ebbing? And why try to elevate one state over another at all?
All that is required of us is to be true to the ebb or flow of the moment. This is what the author of Ecclesiastes teaches us when he writes, “To everything there is a time, a season under heaven.” The key isn’t to be other than what the moment calls for, but to be exactly what the moment calls for.
And, since you cannot really be other than what the moment calls for anyway, you can relax.
Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay.