My Mom helped me with an analogy last night when we were talking about my deep urge to find a spiritual path. When I talked about what Jack Kornfield said about needing to “take the one seat” and dig one’s well deeply, as opposed to flitting around sampling nectar from every source but never making any real progress, she said that a river has many tributaries.
I could tell from the moment she said it that this analogy would make for some delicious brain food.
In some truly insightful ways, a spiritual path is like a river; flowing to the Oneness of the Sea; following the terrain by taking the lowest position; feeding, washing, healing and inspiring beings along the way; becoming deeper, wider and calmer as it moves along; finally to lose and find itself completely in the Ocean of the All as One.
And is any river fed by only one source? Does any river purposely dam up the inflow from any particular spring, creek or brook? Does it refuse to accept rain that has blown in from a certain area, or reject melted snow for its chill?
I can see how Kornfield’s recommendation to follow one path deeply rather than many paths shallowly is another way of saying to be a river, to have a course and a way rather than to simply spread oneself thin until one is just a scattered collection of puddles that evaporate quickly in the midday sun.
But each of us must travel our own path, and so to give it a label is deceptively simplistic. “I am a Christian.” “I am a Buddhist.” Does that really mean anything at all, other than what the listener assumes it implies based on their own personal understanding?
In the book A Chosen Faith by John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church, D. H. Lawrence is quoted on the subject of religion: “A person has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together, adding to it, shaping it; and one’s religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be undergoing modification.” This resonates with me deeply, having begun my gathering in earnest at age 13 and never having settled or called my basket full. I bristle at the idea of being choked into unconsciousness by a label, church or path that does not allow for my full participation with eyes and heart open.
The authors then summarize Lawrence’s opinion as it relates to traditional concepts of religion vs. this more fluid approach: “For him, religion has little to do with a body of beliefs or practices; it represents a gradual process of awakening to the depth and possibilities of life itself.” And indeed this is also my view; religion has to move with the terrain also, has to respond with compassion, be informed by humility, and participate in harmony. Anything that attempts to be a rock in the way of the flow will be worn down, turned to sand, and washed out to Oneness with everything else.
I am water.
And yet I desperately crave fellowship, guidance and validation (or thoughtful challenge). I see others who take on labels finding such things. But what does a person have to give up to belong?