Between Birth and Death

“…ecology merges with spirituality, because the experience of being connected with all of nature, of belonging to the universe, is the very essence of spirituality. The original meaning of spirit in many ancient philosophical and religious traditions, in the West as well as in the East, is that of the breath of life. The Latin word spiritus, the Greek word psyche, and the Sanskrit atman all mean breath. Our spiritual moments are those moments when we feel most intensely alive.”

     What is it that comedian George Carlin said, “Life is measured not by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” There aren’t many moments in life that take our breath away. Few are the experiences that stop us in our tracks, make us do a double-take, bring us to our knees. Birth and death are two that come to mind, for as naturally and frequently as they usually occur, there is a dramatic element to both – and when they happen to us, they are once-in-a-lifetime events.

     But what about those less-than-dramatic occurrences that populate so much of our day; what about the many-in-a-lifetime happenings – are they not amazing in their own usually subtle way, and do we not miss out on being “intensely alive” when we fail to notice them? So many things happen between the bookends of birth and death that could, if we were attentive to them, make us realize that we are “connected with all of nature.”

     It is our partial presence to the events that take place and the people we meet every day that keeps us from sensing that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. When we are only “sort of” where we are, we cannot experience the wonder of being where we are. When we are only “kind of” with whomever we are with, we miss out on the uniqueness of that person. And when we are “crazy busy,” we fail to experience the spiritus, psyche, atman – the spiritual depth of every breath and of everything we do.

     It is often thought that being spiritual means rising above the realm of the ordinary and the earthy. But if physicist Fritjof Capra is right about connection and belonging being the essence of spirituality, then the ability to engage not separate, to bond not detach from life and relationships are signs that we are evolving spiritually. This truth is central to all wisdom traditions, and is expressed in a down-to-earth way in the saying: “Zen does not  confuse spirituality with thinking about God while you’re peeling potatoes. Spirituality is peeling potatoes!”

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