The road to Grace and Bliss can be paved with potholes and slip-ups
By Edward Hirsch
Some people might think that being on the spiritual path must be a purely delicious ride, for after all, one gets to receive all this Light and Love and Grace and Bliss, endlessly. And for some, it comes with prestige, fame and something almost akin to worshipful admiration. Yes, that could be the image, the fantasy. But then, there’s the reality.
Very few want to face reality, even though they might hear that it is all Bliss. The spiritual path makes one so open that one can no longer hide from one’s inner truth as one had done so well from an egoic standpoint, with all its defenses, denials and plain unconsciousness and insensitivity. True, before the Truth of Love, there is nothing one really needs to hide from, but that doesn’t make it a joyful free ride.
One doesn’t get to indulge in the old egoic pastimes of blaming, judging, reacting and so on, especially to do so and be indifferent to it — or even more — justifying it and glorying in it. But such indulgences are now seen for the suffering that they are, so one can’t very well reminisce about the good old days.
As long as one is playing in the sandbox, mistakes are going to be relatively non-impactful. But with greater power comes the opportunity of inflicting great harm that can have long-lasting consequences both for oneself and others. Therefore, one has to be very vigilant, because one mistake can cause a great loss on the slippery slope of the spiritual journey. Yes, the Loving Presence holds it all in Grace, and yet the law of cause and effect remains in place on the relative levels of the universe. And one is more sensitive to, and conscious of, even small slips. And the Great Teacher holds one to account in ways that would have been unimaginable in the heyday of the egoic life.
True, one receives great and loving guidance, and there is the recognition that there is no doer, and yet the burden of responsibility falls squarely on one’s shoulders. And if, in addition, one becomes responsible for the spiritual welfare of others, it is a great privilege as well as a great responsibility. If one has more visibility, one no longer has the refuge of anonymity and invisibility, so that one’s virtues as well as one’s flaws are there for all to see — and you know which one of these that people notice more. The impact of one’s thoughts, words and deeds becomes much greater. One sees the suffering of others and must meet it with compassion. And one still has to endure all the pitfalls of the human condition, with great understanding, yes, and yet also with greater sensitivity.
There is no great flash of Light and Grace, after which one is perfected and all one’s old egoic flaws, temptations of pride and all the other vices disappear forever. That is some naive fairy tale. Certainly, there is enough Grace for one to know better. And yes, there is Grace shown to you in all manners of ways, large and small, but that doesn’t relieve you of your tendencies to err.
If in the past, you were critical of people claiming to be spiritual but mostly indulging in reading and writing about spirituality, now you understand why they intuitively backed off. And yet, you nevertheless heartily recommend the spiritual path and the spiritual life. And further, with all of this, one wouldn’t turn back, for one knows one is moving in the right direction, and the former ways lose their lure and luster. In the midst of it all, the Presence is with one presently, not as some distant goal and vague promise, and one surrenders into it more and more, without reservation, and the path keeps unfolding. There is simply no other choice.
Edward Hirsch, M.A. teaches about the Practice of Presence at OLLI and offers free weekly Zoom meetings in the teachings and practices of Presence, Saturdays 1 to 2:30 p.m., on a drop-in basis. us02web.zoom.us/j/84805886301.
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