These days I find myself working through much of my spiritual curriculum during long-ass walks through the Rio Grande Bosque. I'm a highly sensitive and painfully shy person much of the time, so I require a tremendous amount of courage and gumption to say hello and wave at passersby. So that's one thing. But the real big spiritual work happens when I notice the reaction of the other. Or the lack of reaction from the other, as it sometimes turns out.
When I summon the fearlessness to wave and say hello and the other person ignores me, I feel feelings. Strong ones. Like, "What a fucking asshole! Don't they know how deep I had to reach into my sack of self-confidence to acknowledge them? And they just fucking ignore me? Fuck off!!!"
This is where the work lies. I have to remember that, historically, I am usually the one who avoids and ignores. I am typically the "asshole." And it isn't because I am actually an asshole, really. I am just terrified of normal situations sometimes. I bet those other people are, too. So my work is to notice my emotions and reactions. Then I can decide consciously how to move forward.
So instead of reacting negatively and judging those people, I am trying to pay attention to all the ways in which they are just like me and I am just like them. I am trying to expand and include. Through this process, I have grown up quite a bit as a human being. I have transformed myself from an angry, judgmental atheist into a calm, inclusive spiritual entity.
But it's not really that simple. How could it be?
I have a habit of being really mean to myself.
I am rarely good enough for myself. I set impossible standards. I make it really easy for me to be angry about my thoughts and actions. I create lists of infractions just so I can find myself guilty of making them, which affords me the opportunity to dole out punishment to myself. It's all very exhausting.
Would I let anyone else treat me the way I treat myself? Gosh, I sure hope not. But being kind to myself does not come naturally. There's a fucking cop inside of me who notices each infraction, ever eager to issue a citation or make me pay a fine I'll never be able to afford. Officer Fucking Dickweed. This internal cop character is so good at playing their role that sometimes I believe they are the one in charge. And when I start giving them so much power, I stop being able to live according to my actual values.
Sadly, my internal cop is never satisfied by making me their bootlicking best bud. They want more control. They want to deputize me and put me to work judging and citing all the wrongdoers who stand in my way. The cop makes lists of good guys and bad guys. I find myself powerless to stop myself from engaging in its ugly, penal, carceral worldview. No one is safe from Officer Dickweed.
This is why I need spirituality in my life.
I am an angry person with a maniac cop inside me. But I also know all that stuff is just mud, which has caked on to the person I really am. In reality, I am a spiritual being.
My spirituality resets my internal pecking order. It gives my fucking interior cop a suspension without pay to teach it a lesson. But it does so lovingly, in a way that's meant to heal and reintegrate my little law-enforcement officer into the ecosystem of my existence in a manner more conducive to living my best life. The cop still gets their say, but they are not in charge.
I Am That, Too
When I'm out trekking through the woods and I encounter others, my internal cop encourages me to be friendly; to acknowledge others, regarding them as the fellow nodes of the same energetic organism that they are. This is an example of the cop playing their role properly and appropriately. Sometimes the cop goes for a power grab, though, and insists that they have the authority to judge and condemn others for reacting the "wrong" way. So it tries to convince me that those other people are other people. That they are not part of my group; the in-group. They represent some other organization with opposing values. They make up the out-group.
But the truth is that I am them and they are me. Separation is an illusion. Ram Ram.
When I notice my cop thinking they are Denzel in Training Day, I know it's time for me to step in and assert my authority as the soul in charge of the whole operation. The soul reminds me that I AM THAT, TOO. There is nothing I am not. There is only everything. I am a part of it. So is the person who offends me or ignores me. So is my internal cop. It's all just one thing. So when my cop tells me I need to be pissed off at a dog walker for failing to smile and wave at me, my soul job is to expand and include, rather than to constrict and exclude.
Am I an angry person? Sure. Am I a judgmental asshole with a tendency for pedantic hectoring? Yeah, sometimes. Am I a beautiful, timeless and incandescent soul that realizes it is connected in a webwork with all the other beautiful, timeless and incandescent souls? Definitely. I am that, too. There is nothing I am not.
There is also nothing you are not. I am you and you are me. We are all one thing. So I can forgive you. Just like I can forgive my foot for tripping. Just like my left hand can forgive my right hand for dropping the ball.
So when I say I'm a spiritual person, it doesn't mean I behave like some sort of calm, monk-like heavenly space child who has never known anger or frustration.
My spirituality encompasses and includes all my anger and frustration. It expands to make room for all of my bad habits and selfish tendencies. It gives me a greater awareness of myself, which allows my soul to take its rightful place at the head of the hierarchy inside of me, pushing past the cop on its way and telling them to get caught up on their reports and paperwork.
I meditate. I practice mindfulness. I also get angry and notice myself making petty judgments about people. It's all there inside of me. It's all true. My spirituality provides a framework through which I can make use of my anger. It gives utility to my asshole tendencies. It gives me the chance to continue growing, improving, transforming and transcending, even now in my 44th year. Right now I hear my cop telling me to get my shit together and grow the fuck up; this is no way for a person in their mid-40s to behave. Thank you, cop. Thank you for being you. Now get back to your desk and finish up those reports, okay, bud? Great!
The other day when I was out walking, I noticed myself getting pissed off at all the other people sharing the trail with me, many of whom failed to acknowledge me or return my friendly greetings. My cop started arresting and incarcerating them for violating the expectation that I would have the Bosque to myself and that every other being out there would be friendly and completely deferential to me. I noticed all this going down, and instead of submitting to the "authority" of the internal Five-O, I decided to let my soul be in charge. I felt the feelings. I emptied the jails. I got back into the present moment and threw out all the old cases on the docket. I continued to stroll through the forest, allowing my friendliest self to come to the fore in all its naked vulnerability, regardless of the likelihood of its kindnesses to be returned. I let go of the bile. I let go of any need to have anyone acknowledge me in a certain way. I felt better.
A little farther on down the trail I noticed two riders approaching. The wind did not begin to howl; this was a sign of peace and transcendence, not apocalypse. I stepped off the trail to make room for the equine beings and the humans mounted upon them. The riders and I chatted for a few moments. We talked about the loveliness of the day. The horsies seemed delighted to be moving their impressive bodies. I reported on the conditions of the trail behind me. where they were headed. They informed me of the conditions of the trail behind them, where I was headed. We all saw each other. It was good. It was spiritual. No law-enforcement officers or authority figures were present.