You Already Have It

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” – Indigo Girls (1)

Driving through Yellowstone National Park a few years ago, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Your ego is not your amigo.” Gratefully, I’ve been around long enough for that statement to ring true with my lived experience. As a younger person, I would not have known what to do with that aphorism. I remember not even being sure what “ego” meant, much less whether a sense of ego could prove helpful or problematic as life went on.

For much of my life I have just thought, felt, and believed that I am me. James Jarrett. Sure, there’s a part of me other people can see and there is a part they can’t. My own sense of “me” included everything about myself—inside and outside—readily accessible to my perception. 

And for much of my life, I have felt as though I’ve been looking for something that was missing. A sense of lack seeking fulfillment. Something I never could quite identify. I know I am not alone in this. The Spiritual Naturalist Society exists because of people like me. What are you here looking for, dear reader?

Expanding that sense of lack to a grander, even universal scale, we could speak in terms of a cosmic struggle between heaven and earth. Between “us down here” and “the gods up there.” Which side will win? Is the struggle unending? Is it even real?

Many people are able to go through life happily as if there is no problem, and for them, there isn’t one. William James calls them, “once-born” people. Many other people live as if there is a terrible problem between earth and heaven about which something must be done. This clench of conflict can lead to existential, spiritual, and personal despair. Finding out what “must be done” can lead to a rebirth of sorts and a new sense of peace and wellbeing. William James calls such people, “twice-born.” This is the kind of person I am. (2)

Both perspectives are legitimate arising from demonstrable phenomena rooted in embodied experience. But what happens to a twice-born person when the basis of their rebirth and sense of okayness is again undermined by life? What if the thing that brought “balance to the force” no longer does it anymore? What then? Is it possible for once/twice-born persons to continue re-connecting with their source of innocence, meaning, and resolution and to remain ongoingly once/twice-born, respectively? For some people this works. 

For others this is not possible. Sometimes the experiences of life result in such an internal fracture of personhood that there is no going back. So, adding to William James’ terminology, is it possible to become “thrice” (or more) “born”? Could it be possible to escape this cycle of rebirth and be born to an unshakable awareness that all is indeed well even though at some other level it feels like it’s not?

I love Alex Cheruk’s recent comment in his Executive Director’s Message for the June 2024 SNS Newsletter: “[I]t’s important they know that supernaturalism and nihilism aren’t the only alternatives. Spiritual Naturalism deserves a seat at the table. It deserves to be a part of the public discussion on spirituality.”

In my own practice, I affirm and value the middle-way nature of Spiritual Naturalism without begrudging people who do make sense of their lives in supernatural or nihilistic ways. There are as many experiences of being human as there are people. And nobody’s got it easy. Everybody’s got to cope, and we’re all doing the best that we can. It helps to find what works for you and let go of what is no longer serving you. 

Several years ago after experiencing great personal loss, I began to ask myself two questions: What could it mean for me to sit with and even embrace the void without trying to fill it? What would it look like for me to behave as if I and others are basically sane and essentially good? For me, these two practices have been a significant help to my sense of wellbeing. 

Considering the infinite possibilities of human experience—from the most insulated and privileged to the most marginalized and traumatic—something we all share in common is conscious awareness. It is closer than our own breath. So close, in fact, that we cannot see it with our own eyes, touch it with our own fingers, or access it with any of our other physical senses. We cannot turn it on or off voluntarily. And yet we know it’s there. It’s not something we possess, it’s something we are. Or is it us? I mean all of us. Call “it” Nature, Awareness, the Force, Brahman, the Tao, or God. If you are reading this article you have it, and even though you will die, it does not die. It continues on in each newborn baby. It is the life that is at the same time not about you, and that you are all about. 

The major religious traditions of the world touch on it, each in their own sacred writings and mythologies. And most of them do a fantastic job of obscuring it with their dogmas, metaphysics, institutions, and official teachings. It is the I am that met Moses in the burning bush. It is the oneness Jesus of Nazareth spoke of, “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us….” Or Zen Master Huang Po who said, “All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists.” Or the Bagavad Gita, “Recognize that all things exist in the One, and you will become the One.” That’s it. That’s what it is. That’s what I am and you are too. “Tat tvam asi” (Sanskrit: तत् त्वम् असि). In other words, you’re actually it!

The saying of it seems so simple, yet it is impossible to name. It is what you’ve been looking for, and you already have it! It is so obvious that realizing it and practicing it are the effort of a lifetime. Perhaps more than one. 

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago:

I had a momentary glimpse
during my twenty-minute sit today.

A glimpse of my self–my small self.
My ego, fearful, anxious self.
My thoughtful, feeling, wanting self.

My self that others see and
with whom they interact
more or less easily.

To glimpse is to see
to be aware
to be.

Then who is doing
this glimpsing of me?

I AM.

“Well,” you may be saying, “that’s all fine and good as theory about consciousness and awakening, but what do I do with it in my everyday life? How does this help me at work, school, or with my partner in real life?” Rinzai said, “In Buddhism…” and I would add in Spiritual Naturalism too, “…there is no place for using effort. Just be ordinary and nothing special. Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water, and when you’re tired go and lie down. The ignorant will laugh at me, but the wise will understand.” If you’re it, and you know it, clap your hands!

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Learn about Membership in the Spiritual Naturalist Society

The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.

SNS strives to include diverse voices within the spectrum of naturalistic spirituality. Authors will vary in their opinions, terms, and outlook. The views of no single author therefore necessarily reflect those of all Spiritual Naturalists or of SNS.
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Notes:

(1) Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine. (Available on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HWV5hq4Bh8.) 

(2) James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902 reprinted in 2017). (Available from Amazon here: https://a.co/d/3Uy0c63. For a brief summary on this topic, see, Messerly, John, William James: Once Born and Twice Born People (2016), here: https://reasonandmeaning.com/2016/05/16/william-james-once-born-and-twice-born-people/.)

2 thoughts on “You Already Have It”

  1. I often think that in our lives if we can simply settle for just being here and creating the ‘best’ set of conditions we can for ourselves, then in some sense we’ve have been successful…

    Reply

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