Making Room for Something New

Spring is a time when something new arrives. New shoots emerge from the soil. New leaves appear miraculously all at once. When you think of something new, perhaps you imagine buying the latest iPhone or iPad. You might approach spirituality this way too, collecting sacred objects to comfort you and ease your troubled mind. Buying bright, new and shiny objects is enticing, but it doesn't make room for something fresh because it actually fills up your psychic space with more stuff. What is genuinely new only arrives when you begin doing some spring cleaning. When you live a Zen-inspired life you begin a spiritual journey. The trouble with this kind of trip is that it comes with no itinerary or pre-existing answers. It comes with no guarantees or insurance policies. You don't know how the journey will turn out, and you won't unless you actually take the journey yourself. The journey begins as an inquiry. Zen is an ancient tradition but the role of that tradition is not to restrict or limit your search but to open you to your own journey. Tradition should inspire you to keep going or challenge you when you get stuck.

Meditation is the boat you use to take the journey. It's purpose is to more fully engage you with your own experience, with your suffering and with your world. Myths can provide some helpful hints. The journey will be hard. It may be dangerous, so you'll need all the help you can get. If you meet animals, dwarfs or strangers at the side of the road, slow down and show them respect. They can help you. They are a grace that arrives unexpectedly. Don't try to figure it out. Accept it when it comes with gratitude and joy.

Your journey will be uncomfortable. You will often be tired, sleepy and hungry. Open to the discomfort. Open to your body. The task of some myths is to retrieve a precious jewel at the bottom of the ocean. Remember, this is a spiritual journey so you won't find the jewel somewhere outside of your own experience. You'll find it by descending into the darkness of your own body. The jewel is something new that arrives when you fully inhabit your body and surrender your conceptual mind's need to know, control and objectify. This kind of surrender and letting go is the way you begin cleaning house.

Corporate culture rewards those who can keep up. It values efficiency and being in control. It easily dismisses the wisdom that arises from your embodied experience–the intuition and empathic awareness that help you listen and open to yourself and others. You might be successful in business by putting yourself on this kind of treadmill, but you'll pay a price for it as well. As Henry David Thoreau said, "Most men leads lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

The spiritual journey teaches you how to re-inhabit your body. You are not a separate object floating in space. Your objectifying mind knows only things and turns every process into an object, a dead concept with no value of it's own. This is how you become disembodied because you live your life primarily through your discursive mind. You begin treating others as if they were expendable objects. And this leads to much suffering. Here there is no space for anything new to arrive at all. No journey is taking place. You may be in control of your life and it may be safe and predictable, but the joy has mysteriously disappeared. And sometimes you wonder where the grace has gone too.

Your real life is full of uncertainty and paradox. Your discomfort or embarrassment is actually an opportunity to open further. Rather than avoiding it, approach it with respect. You may find such experiences surprisingly enlivening and refreshing. A steady diet of meditation is an excellent way to keep yourself company and make space in your life for the strangers the show up at the side of the road. Enjoy the spring!

Robert Althouse