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I have heard many people criticize our culture for being shallow. While it may be true that many or even most of us are shallow, we must be careful not to deduce that we are shallow by preference. We must be careful not to take the observation of shallow behavior to signify that our motives are shallow. This is a vital mistake that most of us make and the result is that we diminish the spiritual capacities of others and we also create an unnecessary and debilitating distinction between them and us.
Organized religion is particularly prone to making this mistake. Years ago, when I worked in a local church, I remember a common narrative was that non-churchgoers were shallow people who only wanted superficiality. Anyone who opted to ski on Sundays rather than attend services was viewed as shallow. Many who attend services are truly seeking a deeper experience, though not all. The same can be said for those who don’t attend service.
The rhythm of our week is to work five or six days and then to have the weekend off.
We call our weekends downtime.
Six days to ascend, one day to descend. The Hebrew scripture tells us that God employed the same formula. “…and he (God) rested on the seventh day from all his work.” (Genesis 2:2) You don’t need to subscribe to a particular faith system in order to subscribe to this rhythm. We all intuitively know that the majority of our life is purposeful for the expansion of our surface or horizontal life, but we all instinctively know that we must take a break from effort and output and rest.
Life is both horizontal and vertical. Both dimensions are vital to each other. We need to move away from the idea that we have a spiritual life and the rest of our life. As we mature, we learn that everything is spiritual in its origin and nature.
This is our first key to descending. The descent is rest. The descent is when effort is replaced with wonder. It is when we exchange clinging, or activating with stillness and purposeful coasting. When aiming high we must pause and turn our eyes downward (inward may be more accurate). The view of the climb is not the same perspective as the view from the climb. Do not diminish this vital soul work. Wisdom would ask us to make regular space for this kind of reflection.
May I offer you a word of caution? Please resist the temptation to think that the more time going deeper actually makes you go deeper. Most of us would do well to go on a spiritual retreat or even a sort of hermitage or sabbatical, but these are never ends in themselves. The ascent enables the descent, and the descent empowers and clarifies the ascent. We need both and we err when we perpetually strive to exclude or minimize one or the other.
A second key is this: by not ascending, we are not by default descending. This is the reason I am doing this series. I want us to know how to go deeper. Just because we have no conference calls on Saturday, does not mean we are doing soul work. In fact, how many times have we sat on the couch all weekend, eating junk, watching junk on TV, and literally doing nothing but turning drinks into pee? The result is that we end our downtime feeling even more tired and unfulfilled. This is because plopping on the couch is actually ascent, not descent. Depression is the inability to descend, which causes the brain to rewire itself in ascent mode.
So how do we go deeper in life?
Soul work (depth) re-creates us. It is the essence of recreation. When we get down, depressed, tired, or hopeless, we need re-creation. This is why I started by emphasizing that people are not desiring shallowness. Most of our world defaults to shallow ascents because there are few teachers who can show us the downward path. A shallow culture is the byproduct of a disabled or defunct spiritual community. This should free us from the assertion that we need to go to church in order to meet or know God. The right community certainly can help you, but I’m sorry to say that many of them will only take your life, not re-create it.
The process of re-creation is always, always, always, always a God experience. It’s not a lecture, a dogma, a theology, or a framework. It is not even the ritual of praying, studying sacred text, meditating, lighting a candle, ringing a bell or singing. All of these things are tools to help us open up the doors of our soul, but they are not it. It is always an experience, even a tiny or brief one. It is a glimpse of uncommon clarity. It can come through music, or a sermon, or a poem or something much more organic, but it is always an experience with transcendence. I call this proximity. Some might call it consciousness, or the spirit, or illumination or contemplation.
When we step outside during a lunch break in order to gain just five minutes of sunshine on our face, we need to recognize that this is an early form of soul work. We know it is because we long for it, we miss it, and when we have it, we realize that nothing is missing from that moment. We think we want the sunshine, but what we really want is the Shalom (well-being) contained within the sunshine.
Do not glance over this. I really want us to see this in an everyday example, because we will build on this as we go forward. Sorrow is being outside on our lunch break while our mind is ascending elsewhere. Two people can share the same location under the sun but not share the same experience, and all of us can tell the difference. This is our most basic introduction to proximity or the presence of God. We are told this is how God reveals him/herself to all people. We call it natural revelation and none of us can miss it, except when we are depressed or sorrowful. “For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20)
We are just beginning our descent. On your next lunch break, take a ten to fifteen minute walk. Within the first five minutes look down at the something small, like a tiny insect, a pebble, a crumb or a leaf. Spend the next five minutes or so simply observing. This is the incubator of contemplation. Notice the questions that bubble up. The tiniest thing has the power to keep you in this moment. Try and catch the experience of wanting more time in this space or notice any reactions to it. This will prove that you actually long for depth of life even if you don’t yet have the skill to possess it. Soon you will. If you catch the flow of this tiny moment, you will go back in from lunch slightly more re-created. Notice the tiny bit of inspiration that accompanies you.
Behold, you just descended ever so slightly, and you are now on the path of life. Everything you have ever really wanted is just down the way.
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