In the classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Shunryu Suzuki writes “It is necessary for us to keep the constant way. Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine” (57). The important lesson to glean from this teaching is that the spiritual life is not about feeling good all the time. In our spiritual journey it is important to cultivate a way of life that is sustainable and authentic. What I mean by sustainable and authentic is the ability to embrace the reality of each moment and continue through each moment regardless of external circumstances. If we are keeping a spiritual practice with the hope of receiving something such as excitement, superficial happiness, or respect from others we will eventually lose motivation because these feelings are temporary and dependent on certain circumstances. Or if we judge certain experiences as good and others as bad, for example if we think of excitement and joy as good experiences and sadness and anger as bad experiences, we may begin to suppress those experiences we dislike in order to maintain an experience that we do like. This is also not helpful on the spiritual journey because it is inauthentic. Life goes up and down. When things go the way we want we feel good, but when things go other ways and we experience loss, then it hurts. The point of the spiritual journey is not to learn how to deny certain emotions while fostering others, it is to be fully present to the experience of being human.
So, then we may ask, if we will still feel sadness and anger then what’s the point of keeping a spiritual discipline? My response is that there is a difference between experiencing an emotion and being controlled by an emotion. When we keep a spiritual discipline such as meditation or prayer we begin to recognize the ephemeral nature of thoughts and emotions and we are not carried away by them. We are rooted in the ever-changing now and we develop the discipline necessary to always act from our deepest and most authentic Self. Suzuki described it by writing “if your mind is calm and constant, you can keep yourself away from the noisy world even though you are in the midst of it” (58). Along the spiritual journey the external circumstances of our lives may get better, get worse, or stay the same. I cannot promise anyone that they will get that job promotion, be healed of their illness, or meet the woman or man of their dreams. However, I do feel confident in saying that if you are true to your spiritual path you will grow in inner peace, freedom, and clarity so that you can recognize all that comes your way, good or bad, as an act of grace. And this is the purpose of life: to simply live it with gratitude instead of fear.
I am an artist, writer, spiritual director, and educator living in Salem, Oregon. I am fascinated by the intersections of art and spirituality and believe that art can be a powerful tool in leading us deeper into the experience of being human.