Many of us involved in this practice use words like "sacred" and "spiritual" as a way to point to what we hope to find, how we hope to live and what we find helpful or supportive of our effort to live in a way that contributes to inner and outer harmony, compassion and peacefulness. So I was surprised by the strength of my reaction this month when I came across this in a book review in Tricycle magazine:
"The central message of Jack Kornfield's Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are is that every part of your life is sacred."
What rose up in me was that this was not true.
As I reflected on this reaction what came to mind was a conversation I had with Ginny Morgan in 1993. We were driving down a hot Kansas highway after attending a retreat in the Colorado mountains with Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg. Ginny had been talking about "spiritual" off and on throughout the trip. Finally I admitted, with a bit of shame, that although I was quite committed to meditation after about six years of practice, I had no idea what the word "spiritual" meant, what it referred to.
After about another twenty years of practice, and after having used the world "spiritual" many, many times myself —and knowing I will use it many times more— I still have to admit that I really don't have any idea what it means. But there's no longer shame in admitting that. Instead, there's a sense of relief. This is part of what the practice has done for me. Helped me to see that there is not a reality –sacred or spiritual– where we can live our lives in some way separate or distinct and preferable to this one.
There can be a shift in perception or glimpses of something undefinable. If this happens, our perspective on life can change radically.
But this life is the one we have. It may not be the most convenient or the most preferable life. It may not be the one we thought the practice was going to bring to us. But it is our life. It is the one we have.
Our practice isn't to become some kind of superior spiritual being or to attain some special, preferable kind of reality. Our practice is to more fully become a human being living this life, the only life we have, as fully and completely as we can. Our practice is to find a way to be present in, intimate with, the life we have. When we live in this way the mental chatter that keeps us separate simply blows on through and the heart is open and responsive.
But these are just words, creating another idealized reality. The only way to be intimate with our lives, to realize this is to do the work ourselves, to see when we're distracted from this, whether by greed, by aversion, by thoughts that there is some perfection to attain, or maybe even by thoughts that we've arrived, that we've finally got it.
There's no sacred, no profane. There's nothing to attain. And of course, everything.