On Being A Surd
I’ve been gone awhile. Been out on the road. Book talks, seminars, travels. I’ve learned a couple of things, being a roadie.
First, take a hobby. Book talks happen in the evenings. You get a lot of down time in the days. I was glad to have my guitar and some practice tapes.
Second, food on the road is, at best, digestively unpredictable. Take, ahem, aides for the large colon.
Third, speak as much truth as you are able. The more I could drop into the real and invite others there, the better were the talks. People know it when you speak of what is really so, and a kind of intimacy comes over an audience when you do. For me, it generally concerned how our fantasies – my own fantasies – get in the way of living a fully present life. Or what it means to be spiritual today. Or the ambiguity of my commitment to meditation, and what it is to be on a spiritual path. The more I could descend into what is really at issue, where I actually stand in my own way, where my dreams block my path, the more people were with me.
Though I dropped deeper into my soul when I gave such talks, it wasn’t just me. …
An audience lets a speaker know what’s resonating, what’s particularly meaningful, what touches. Their smiles and stirs and pouts and even sometimes their walking out are the clues. You sense it more mysteriously too: you just know what’s touching. There’s a felt-sense that tells you where to keep going. I invite a crowd into the real, and, when it works, it invites me back. The currency is truth, the result is mutual depth.
I think we all want this. This too is a lesson of my travels. I went to six states and four countries. Everywhere I’ve been, the deeper I could drop into the really real, what it actually means to love, the more folks responded.
A man like me, and probably like most of you, my readers, has a peculiar task. We humans grow up in a system, live out our particular personas, inhabit our social roles, and take on tasks we think we should. We get busy with to do lists and the instant messaging, and get caught up.
It is wonderful that we do this. But in getting busy and living the role, we often lose connection with our own depths, with our hidden drives and conflicts and with our soul’s real longings. We turn our eyes from hopes we’ve put aside and disappointments we deny. We all feel these things, someplace, but don’t know how to say them ourselves or to another.
It is here that our task lives. We spiritual types stand for becoming aware of what most cannot say to themselves. By living it, by giving hints, pointers, or even systems, we point with our words or lives towards greater depth, towards opening our arms wide to the great cornucopia of confusion and hope and despair and love that is a full, soulful life. We stand still amidst the frenzy. We live as reminders to drop into and speak out of what is really so.
This is a task that has fallen to us, you and I. It’s as if we westerners live in a collective cultural trance, to use Charlie Tart’s wonderful image, the trance that says that busyness or wealth or overwhelm is a sign of being worthwhile. My job, the job of all of us spiritual people, is to wheedle our way out of the trance and drop beneath the ordinary and unconscious. We live as an invitation to others to engage ever more truth.
This movement into the real is the nub of spirituality. It’s why there are wisdom texts, why there are great sculptures of the Buddha and paeans to great gods. It is why we long for greater meaning. We stand in and for the invitation to reach beneath the ordinary and the expected, and to live out of deep places in our souls.
This is what I saw again and again, and why some talks worked better than others. When I could touch the real more deeply, folks responded with their own depth. For it’s what we all want, I think: the really real. We avoid it because it can be so scary or unexpected or disconcerting. But, however threatening, after the need for food and sex, longing for the more deeply real is the fundamental human longing. And, dear reader, standing up for this particular surd is our challenge. And our privilege.