Lately, I’ve found myself examining my life carefully—what I want it to look like and what I have to do to create that reality. I have moved closer to many of my goals, but there are a few that involve, as author Thomas Moore would say, “care of the soul” that I have not taken steps toward creating.
Although I often complain about not having enough time to meditate, read spiritual books, journal, or pray, lack of time really is not what has stopped me from achieving my spiritual goals. I simply have not committed my time—and my energy—to my spiritual pursuits in the same manner I have committed time and energy to other goals. I have to admit that I am quite productive most days, but I don’t do things related to my spiritual practice. So, I recently asked myself, “Why don’t I put time and energy into the activities that are most important to me, the goals that will help me not only lead a more spiritual life but also help me feel my connection to God?” The answer I gave was simple: “Fear.”
The Fear of Spiritual Connection
I have always considered fear the primary factor that stops you from moving forward on the spiritual path. Like me, you say you want to care for your soul, to nurture your spirit, to connect with your inner being and with the Divine Essence that creates all things. Yet, you constantly find roadblocks and obstacles in your way—or, rather, you place them there. Why? Because you feel afraid to care for your soul, nurture your spirit, connect with your inner being and with God.
Each person possesses a personal fear all their own that keeps them separate from God. Speaking for myself, I’m afraid that if I achieve my spiritual goals I will be changed and that those changes will cause other changes within myself and within my life that I don’t desire or won’t like. I might not want to do anything but sit among the Redwoods surrounding my house and meditate. I might neglect my children, my husband, my work, and, in the process, I might lose them all. In addition, I might change in such a way that I no longer fit in with so-called “normal” people. While I always have felt a bit like the “fringe dwellers” described by the late author Stuart Wilde, I would hate to feel all the more “different.” I would not like to discover that other people regarded me as so different they no longer wanted to associate with me.
I also am afraid I won’t be able to handle the experience of Divine connection. Most people who have delved into the study of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, have heard or read the Talmudic story of the four who went into the Garden—a space or realm where they directly experienced God. According to the Talmudic sages, four went into the dwelling place of God, thereby entering into the glory of God’s heavenly kingdom. One was so overcome by the experience that he died, another went mad, and the third became an apostate. Only one, Rabbi Akiba was able to look upon God’s holy place, delve into the meaning of God’s holy words, experience direct connection with God, and survive unscathed. As the story goes, the reason for Akiba’s ability to do so lay in his great wisdom and scholarship. The moral of the story is clear: Only a great scholar can experience God and continue living life as before.
I harbor some fear that like the second of those who entered paradise, I will go crazy. However, I would rather be like Rabbi Akiba who left the garden having experienced the Divine and was able to take this experience with him into the world. I am sure in doing so he was able to feel his Divine connection more readily, more often, yet he was able to live as did others, albeit with greater understanding, wisdom, spiritual connection. I believe he was likely able to be, as Jesus taught, in the world but not of it.
I, too, would like always remember that I am in the world but not of it…to know that I am a spiritual being having a human experience and not a human being having a spiritual experience. Yet, I am afraid that if I “enter paradise,” I won’t be able to do that.
Walk the Narrow Bridge
While attending a conference sponsored by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal a number of years ago, I took a class with Rabbi David Cooper, author of God is a Verb. I asked him why we don’t meditate like we want to, why we don’t do the things we need to do to have an experience of God. His response came in word: “Fear.” This answer confirmed what I already knew. It’s ironic that what spiritual seekers say they most want also is the thing they most fear.
I have been thinking of my vision for this year. To manifest that vision and to achieve my goals, I must recommit myself to walking Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlov’s “narrow bridge.” He wrote a song called (in Hebrew) “Gesher Tzar Meod,” which means, “The Very Narrow Bridge.” The song’s lyrics are simple: “All of this life is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to fear at all.” I have to remember every day and in every moment to keep moving forward despite my fear, to move through the fear, to use trust and faith as a “bridge” between my fear and my goal.
Our lives truly are narrow bridges. You and I just don’t see them that way. Our beliefs make us see a solid floor beneath our feet, just as we see a solid table when we place our cup of coffee or tea down upon it. Our senses confirm these “facts.” Both the table and the floor feel solid. In fact, neither is that; rather they consist of rapidly moving molecules and particles and air.
Each time you take a step forward, you don’t know if the floor, the road, or the bridge will support your weight. You don’t truly know these things are solid. You assume and trust it is. You have faith it is. Thus, you move forward.
When you have fear, you lack trust and faith. In response to that fear, you remain standing where you are. You do not move forward toward your goals.
When I used to drive down the mountain from my former home I’d pass a little sign that says, “narrow bridge.” Just beyond the sign, indeed, lies a bridge. Despite the sign’s warning, however, the bridge is not narrow, especially in comparison with the rest of that particular road, which winds up and down the mountainside with barely enough room for two cars to pass comfortably. The bridge seems much wider than the road and much safer. Its white side rails offer the appearance of a bit of protection given that much of the road has no such barrier between the edge and the sheer drop off beyond.
This sign and the bridge reminded me every day that what I see and experience are not always reality. I create my own reality, and fear is part of what I sometimes create.
Trust in Your Safety
Most of your life you live in faith and trust. You have faith that your home will still be standing at the end of the day, the traffic signals will change, the road will not cave in, your heart will beat, your lungs will take in air. Thus, you must also have faith as you pursue your spiritual goals and engage in a spiritual practice—faith that not only will you reach your goals but that attainment will move you in the direction you desire to travel.
All of us (including me) must realize that, despite what our minds and our senses tell us, despite our beliefs otherwise, we always are connected to the Divine Spirit. We were created in the Divine Image and were brought to life with a Divine Breath. We may not feel connected, but we are. We may not feel like partners with God in the continual creation of our lives, but we are.
Acknowledge the reality of these facts, and you have nothing left to fear. The narrow bridge becomes a moment to moment meditation on faith, trust, and connection to God. With this consciousness, you remember that you are always in the world and not of it and constantly having a spiritual experience.
Are you afraid to have a spiritual experience or have you overcome that fear? Tell me about your experience in a comment.
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