Duck, Duck, Duck, Zen

My good friend and sherpa-guru, Denise, recently reminded me of the spiral quality of the spiritual path.  The idea is that the journey is not a straight line or even a chaotic one; it’s a purposeful and patterned returning and returning and returning to constant themes throughout our lives, each time seeing them from a higher place.

This might show up in our emotional work in this way: We visit a therapist in our 20’s to work through a particular emotional pain.  We journal and scream and talk and cry it all out until we feel a release.  It’s gone!  We’re light and happy and free.  Life is beautiful.  Until a year later when the same old shit pops up again.  It might seem we wasted all of that time, energy, and money.  But if we’re really aware, we recognize that we’re seeing the old pain from a slightly different perspective.  We’re a floor up in our spirit, but we’ve circled back around to the same side of the building.

The spiritual journey follows a similar stairway to heaven, and I’ve gone round and round.  I’ve learned to recognize different levels (“fifth floor: ladies lingerie, peace of mind”).  An early level is one I call:

Practice-Practice-Practice-Forget About It

Actually, there are at least two preceding levels: Practice-Forget-Forget-Forget, and Practice-Forget-Practice-Forget.  But, we can talk about all three together.

The practice is our spiritual work.  It looks different for each of us.  My practice is meditation, yoga, engagement with my spiritual community, reading, walks in nature, and general mindfulness.  Some people practice with prayer, church/synagogue/temple, playing tic-tac-toe.  Literally ANYTHING can be part of a practice if you have imbued it with that energy.

Early on the journey, I had really great intentions.  (Pause for delayed laughter.) I knew what called to me, but I hadn’t quite found the groove.  I worked at it.  Boy, did I work at it.  And I would forget it, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, and at least a time or two for years.  It took getting beyond those levels to really see how important the forget-about-it times were.  Those were the incubation periods.

Then came the next level:

Practice-Practice-Practice-Wander In The Wilderness

Until we completely purge our inner victim, we’re destined to periodically wail into the heavens, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” This is done with a flourish of great drama.  This is the level on which we find ourselves saying things like “But I’ve been doing my work; really I have.  Why does God let this HAPPEN?” (Wail, moan, general gnashing of teeth.)

This, too, is an important time.  I believe Jesus may have been on this spiral when he spent his 40 days in the desert.  It’s the level where we wrestle with angels . . . and devils.  At times, we threaten to scrap it all and live our entire lives in happy hour at the beach.  We are tempted to buy happiness by giving up the hope of joy.

The most important moments of transformation happen here.  We make a decision: keep climbing or jump over the rail.  What we don’t realize is that jumping over the rail only puts us back into a forget-about-it state.  We WILL be back.  We can’t un-know what has been revealed to us.

Eventually we reach a new landing:


We’ve achieved consistency.  We walk our talk.  Life still presents challenges, but these are much rarer, and we tend to view them from a place of detachment.  This doesn’t mean we don’t care; in fact, we have learned compassion at levels we’ve never known before.  We just don’t internalize pain so readily.

This is a beautiful level.  It can also be exhausting.  The practice brings peace, but in those 3:00 a.m. moments when no one is watching and we’ve dared to be really honest with ourselves, we still sometimes wonder, “What’s the point?  IS there a point?  Is something supposed to HAPPEN? Is this IT?”

And then magic happens.  It happens because of our practice.  It happens in spite of our practice.  It happens most often in those 3:00 a.m. moments of heart-opening honesty.

The magic doesn’t have a level.  It dances around the spiral like pixie-dust and star stuff.  It waits until we’re ready.  And then it teaches us the next step:


Every great religion teaches it.  Every great master has done it.  Every enlightened being lives it.

How do we know God?  How do we align with Divine Mind?  How do we step into the One-Ness?  We. Stop. Practicing.  At least for a moment.  We stop everything.  We release.  We let go.

We surrender.

Much like the early levels, I’m sure there are some additional levels here, and perhaps the place of true bliss is one of surrender-surrender-surrender-surrender.

Maybe there is even something after that.  I’ll let you know.  I’m still climbing.

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