This is the second of a series of blog posts on how to move more gracefully through the turbulence of current events in the world. Each post can stand alone, and the order does not matter, but I suggest reading the whole series as they support each other. I am calling this series “patience and fury” though I could just as well call it “empathy and apathy”, “mercy and punishment”, or “hope and despair”.
Many of us are drawn to ancient Egypt, and of those a small number linger to find and follow the spiritual path embedded there.Soon we find that for all the wealth of published material about Egypt, there is very little about modern spiritual practice.Egyptian Pagans are also a small minority in the wider Pagan world, so it can be difficult to connect, find teachers and gather for ritual.
My early years on this path were probably characterized by more bumbling and feeling alone than anything.But much of the first advice I received was to read the Egyptology literature, surely a daunting task for the non-scholar.After all, few have set out to simply write about religion; more importantly, there was no monolithic single religion in ancient Egypt, at least not as we understand religious affiliation today.Here are a few things I learned along the way.
What does Egyptian religious practice look like in the 21st century?Maybe more to the point, why do we turn for inspiration to a culture which disappeared nearly 1800 years ago?
The second question makes me think of my friend Marion who just loves to travel.He’s been in more countries, more times, than I can count.He and I have mused together about how deeply one is changed by stepping outside of everyday life and being immersed in something completely new and different.For some of us, religious travel is just the tonic needed for a weary soul.
In Awakening the Sacred Body, the author asks a hard question: "Who does your spiritual practice benefit?" That question isn't asked often. In fact, I can count on one finger the number of times I've come across this question in all the books I've read. It makes me wonder why this question isn't asked more often, but I think we can answer that by simply recognizing that a lot of the focus in spiritual books is on helping a person improve him/herself. Ironically, what isn't recognized is that in some ways what this encourages is a lot more focus on the self than on other people.
I think there's an assumption that goes into spirituality, which is that if a person is engaged in spiritual practices they somehow are becoming better people or more enlightened, or whatever else, but the problem with that assumption is that there is no guarantee that being engaged in any type of practice automatically makes you a better person. And that may not even be the point of the spiritual practice. Spirituality isn't always about making a person into a better person. It's a relationship, but what comes out of the relationship is also informed by what goes into it. Why we engage in spiritual practice is ultimately a personal matter.
Success brings you to your edge- and that’s where the growth happens. Being successful means to accomplish something, to be in balance, and to contribute to society and coworkers. To accomplish something means you are wrestling with the material to create something where there was nothing. To do that AND to be in balance is not straightforward! It means you are able to let go and let come, to make great effort without getting adrenalized, and to work with the flow of things, to name a few. These are spiritual qualities. It takes you far beyond the realm of protocol and right behavior. It asks that you walk a razor’s edge, always balancing opposites. It means you recognize a greater truth then can be captured in words. That IS what the spiritual journey is about!
Then to ALSO contribute to coworkers means that while in this process you are also aware of the interhuman level and are able to not be hooked into ego patterns. In every situation, you are both able to see the other person and be caring, yet stay grounded in the bigger process and what needs to happen. Again, this is beyond what protocol, rules and regulations can give you. This demands an inner source of wisdom. And that is exactly what spirituality is about.
As I cross the St. John's Bridge and start up the hill toward my usual Forest Park trailhead, my stomach tightens with anticipation. I've been praying for renewal, for a re-awakening of my spiritual awareness, and today I'm returning to my favorite woods for the first time in months. I walked this path several times a week last summer and fall, finding the sacred in the creaking trees and cool shadows.
What do we do in the darkness – either literal or metaphorical – when our bodies or souls convulse with pain, and our minds can’t stop spinning? This is when we need a spiritual practice. The habit of a achieving a quiet mind and sense of purpose is like any other habit or skill (which is not to say they are functionally different), it is one we must practice.
I’m not talking about monthly rituals here, I’m talking about some form of daily practice, which was once referred to as piety. Piety got itself a bad name when, in the context of Christianity, it became a reference to rigid behavior that justified abusive acts. My grandfather ran away from home (permanently) because he was getting beaten for not saying his catechism correctly. But piety is simply showing reverence for deity in a consistent manner. In other words, some form of daily prayer.