On page 286 of Circle of Life: Traditional Teachings of Native American Elders, James David Audlin talks about attitudes to avoid when one wants to receive a vision:
we decide in our own minds, 'I am never going to have a vision,' or 'I
insist on having a vision,' we make it harder to have the vision that
the Grandmothers and Grandfathers may want to bring to us. It's like
telling yourself, 'I could never learn to play the piano' or 'I insist
on learning to play the piano.' If you tell yourself either, it becomes
much more difficult to learn to play the piano. Rather, chant[e] ishta,
seeing with the heart, is learning to be quiet within and not make
presumptions, so the vision, if there is to be one, may come to us.
Gautama Buddha taught well that desire (including anti-desire, or fear)
blocks us from progress. Zen Buddhism in particular teaches us how to
be quiet within so the delicate wakan presence of a vision,
like the sighting of a rare bird or of an albino deer, such as I once
saw in Vermont, is not chased off by our loud desires or fears."
I get out of the above passage is that sometimes we need to get out of
our own way in order to have a spiritual experience. Does this accord
with what I have seen, read, or heard? I'd say that many have told me
that I need to work hard in order to have a spiritual experience. "Keep
seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit", a Pentecostal once told me.
"You have to do the first eight steps of the twelve step program, then
you will have the spiritual experience that Step Nine talks about",
people in twelve-step recovery groups are told. The first century
Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria believed that, in many cases, an
ecstatic spiritual experience came after rigorous asceticism and
contemplation. And James David Audlin himself, on pages 273-277, quotes
a story about someone who fasted from the comforts of modern life
(i.e., hamburgers, television, etc.) and repeatedly cried out to the
Great Mystery, but he eventually felt great peace when he accepted the
wilderness around him and, in turn, felt accepted by it.
that having a spiritual experience does require work, discipline, and
preparation. Even James David Audlin says in the passage that I quoted
at the beginning of this post that Zen Buddhism has a technique that
helps practitioners to become quiet within. I'm sure that takes
discipline! But it seems to be the case that the spiritual experience
comes when we are at a state of quiet and peace, when we're just open----when
we're not despairing that we will never have a spiritual experience, on
the one hand, and we're not obsessed over having one, on the other
hand. Sometimes, the spiritual experience may come when we're not
expecting it. An old man once told me a story about how he was praying
on his tractor and, out of the blue, just started speaking in tongues!
C.S. Lewis at the end of Mere Christianity says that we will find Christ when we look to Him and not to ourselves.
can take steps to make ourselves receptive, but when, how, and if we
have a spiritual experience is the prerogative of God, as the spirit
blows wherever it wishes. But, at the same time, I believe that God
loves us, even if we don't have a spiritual experience. That
realization can take off of me the pressure to have one, or the despair
at not having one, and perhaps it can put me in the position of enjoying
God for God's company and being open, whatever happens.
What lies behind the fence?
51 minutes ago