Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Introduction-Our Secret Garden of the Spirit-


Introduction-Our Secret Garden of the Spirit-
(Graphic above attributed to Thomas Keating O.C.S.O. )

The Soul’s Journey   
     Every soul has a journey in this life. Too often we measure our life by the conventional standards of external success or failure in work, money, possessions, or relationships. But our real journey is the journey of the soul to rediscover in the depths of our own Heart or spiritual center, the secret garden of the spirit, and to learn to rest, abide, and live our human life from the Divine Eternal Life that emanates from the secret garden of the spirit.

Two Dimensions of Human Spiritual Personhood
     We are loved into existence with two enduring aspects to our personhood. One aspect is that of the soul, or spiritual consciousness, whose task is to undertake the journey of life and bring into the created world the Light within, and live It fully, with awakened awareness and with the purpose of consecrated love in this created world of human and other beings. The other aspect of our being is the secret garden of spirit, the deep spiritual Heart,  the essential being of our true self that remains inviolable and unchanging. The garden of spirit is known in its fullness only to the Divine Friend and Beloved whose Life and Presence abides in the center of the garden. Potentially the Divine Indwelling is uncovered by the awakened and unified soul of every human being who longs to come home to rest and find healing therein. Our soul finds healing therein from the wound of separateness and isolation into conscious union with the Divine Beloved. It is the destiny of every soul to discover the secret garden of the true spirit and to bring its fruits into the world. Sadly the soul’s destiny is too often ignored and unfulfilled because of spiritual ignorance or unconsciousness in a lifetime of diversion, distraction, and misdirection. The result of that unfulfilled destiny is the human condition and all the ills that flow from it.
    
Abiding in the Secret Garden
     My journey of soul came into awakening as an adult at age 21. In the midst of a spiritual and psychological crisis, afflicted by despairing obsessive thoughts with growing suicidal content, in anguish and desperation I cried out for help. The help came immediately. It came in the form of a memory. The memory was soft and gentle and settled over me like a soothing cloud. I was four years old and I was hiding in the tall grass behind the chicken house at my grandmother’s home. In a seated position with crossed legs, my eyes were closed and my attention was focused entirely inward to a secret place deep within. I had come to this place many times before. It was home to me. In this place was safety and the peace and fullness that comes from being fully known and loved by a Presence that surrounded me in its loving intent. And I simply rested in the Presence, and It in me. Nothing else was needed. In a short time I would open my eyes and go about my play and exploration. Not thinking anything more about it, except that I knew this place and this experience was secret and I should not speak of it to any adult, as they would not understand. I did not give this place any religious interpretation as I knew very little about religion at that time in my life other than the nightly prayers my mother would say.

     In my recovery of this memory at age 21 I remembered again the inner gateway to this secret place. And, as if no time had passed at all, I went there again and rested again in the Presence Who indwelled in me. And the depression lifted and the obsessive and toxic thoughts lifted and I was healed.

Finding a Spiritual Practice
     Not long after this healing occurred I met a young man who spoke about meditation as a spiritual practice, specifically Soto Zen meditation. His description resonated with my experience and I resolved to find a meditation teacher, knowing I needed to have a disciplined daily practice to stay rooted in the grace of this interior place of sanctuary and communion I had rediscovered now in my adult life, as already my mind was inclined to revert to its old patterns. And thus began the journey of my soul as an adult. My training in meditation took me to a gifted woman who was a teacher of Zen meditation, and later to teachers of meditation in the Christian mystical tradition. The Zen tradition helped me cultivate an emphasis on awareness or pure presence in my practice, and the Christian teachers helped me cultivate the quality of the intentionality of self-giving love in my practice. And I learned that both are vital to bring the soul’s abiding in the secret garden in the deep heart rooted in both presence and love and thereby express the fullness of our true spirit and the Eternal Beloved who lives within.

The Universal Perennial Wisdom
     In my life I have lived the interspiritual dialogue of East and West, and while the words and the map of spiritual reality are different, the reality of Spirit, a reality beyond words and concepts, is the same. That reality did not change for me when I practiced in the Buddhist paradigm, nor when I practiced in the Christian paradigm. The secret garden of the true spirit, and the Presence who Indwells within my own center and the center of all things is the same. All words and descriptions are, as the saying affirms, “the finger pointing at the moon.”

   One of the pioneers of the interspiritual East-West dialogue is a monk named Bede Griffiths who died in 1993 at age 86. Bede Griffiths was a western Benedictine Catholic monk who, in his own words, went to India to “find the other half of my soul.” Bede Griffiths remained a Catholic monk but integrated many of the great mystical teachings of the East in his formulation and founding of Christian/Hindu ashrams rooted in meditation practice. Bede Griffiths made the statement on one occasion that his perception was that comparing the great faith traditions of the world was like looking at a hand. Each faith was a finger in a whole hand, in which in its dogma, theology and laws were distinct from others. Where they joined at the palm, the great Wisdom traditions were rooted in the essential Divine Oneness that is beyond concepts, traditions, dogmas, descriptions and laws, but is Eternal Life itself. He noted that those practitioners who partake of experiential knowledge of the mystic/contemplative dimension at the palm, even though they come from different traditions, can communicate in harmony and understanding with one another. Those adherents who are rooted only in law, theology, or dogma usually have great conflict and a lack of understanding in their communication. And as we know in our world today, this has been the occasion of much hatred and ill will across the religious divide, across time and geography.

The Emerging Global Spiritual Consciousness
   An emerging global consciousness is gathering in our world, thanks to growing global communications. Younger people are discarding the old conflicts and loyalties and asking why the former divisions between peoples should continue. They are also asking why religious institutions should make exclusive truth claims to be the mediator between the human soul and the Eternal Source. No human created institution has a claim of ownership of the Eternal, nor a stature of serving as exclusive conduit of the Divine to the human soul. Bricks and mortar are not the temple of God by whatever name we may give the Divine Ultimate.  Rather the temple and true tabernacle of the Divine Presence is to be found at the center of the Heart, the secret garden of the spirit, within each one of us. Only the Divine Beloved can lay claim to that sacred place, and only the human soul, drawn and unified by love can draw near to find nourishment and healing in the secret garden.

     This knowledge is not new. It has been known throughout the ages by mystics who partake of the Sophia Perennis, or the Perennial Wisdom, passed down by practitioners from all the Wisdom traditions. What is new is that humankind is growing to a new receptivity to this secret knowledge, and a growing desire and trust to actualize it in a way that is beyond the control of ideologies and institutions. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, if one percent of human beings were to meditate, the world would be transformed. The time has arrived, and younger generations are ready to bring forth and fulfill the birthright of every human being who is willing. This short book is directed to this step that humankind is being invited to take. Whether you are religious or not, all are called to discover, enter, abide therein, and live their precious human life centered in the Secret Garden of the Spirit.

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