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Journeying Inward: The Beauty of the Empty Vessel

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We send ourselves to school to get titles and degrees, to acquire knowledge and develop the intellect. We comb the far corners of the world to explore, see or experience more. We strive in our jobs and careers in order to become richer, promoted faster or accredited and known in the process. We save and scheme and plan for a bigger house or more luxurious car, to live in a better neighborhood or to send our kids to superior schools. Elite athletes train to break records, celebrities vie for more time in the spotlight and press than their peers, and politicians must outdo their opponents in fund-raising and face time to even get in the game.

Such is the metaphor for success in the modern world: climb, rise, move up, escalate, soar, transcend. Most days it feels like if you're not advancing, you might as well not even get out of bed.

This is a serious pitfall for any seeker, because the reality is that all apparent "spiritual paths" are nothing more than a journey to the Self. Strengthening the outer identity (ego) isn't the point. When it comes to ego, less is most definitely "more".

All journeys reveal to you who you really are. All apparent paths lead one to know oneself. As my good friend and author of Be Still and Know I AM God writes, "There is no time and there are no paths ultimately. You are already what you are looking for."

Most people find that incredibly difficult to swallow. It's wildly inconsistent with our conditioned beliefs. It flies in the face of the outer world and the society we've built. We're not taught that we're fine "just as we are" past about the age of say, two (if ever).

But what if you realized that you -- yes YOU -- are the living expression of the Divine made manifest as human? What if you could see yourself as God made flesh? As infinite consciousness experiencing itself within the limitations of a human being simply so it could do just that -- experience itself? (Feeling a little lost? Check out Enlightenment for Beginners)

How would that change what you choose to do with your life? Your time? How would it mold what's important to you? How would it make you see your personal journey differently? See life -- period?

With Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love" not only a book blockbuster but now a major motion picture release, I suspect many accidental seekers like Gilbert herself will feel far from perfect. Like Gilbert they may feel compelled to embark on a serious seeker jaunt, envy the author's journey or both(!). I have nothing against Gilbert or her journey. In fact, I'm a huge fan of that book and adore her story, but it's her story. Not yours, not mine, and not a recipe for anyone in particular.

There's no "higher", "better", "superior", "transcendent" place to strive for. You don't need to forsake your home and family, sell it all and go live with monks in caves (but hey, if that's your deepest desire, go for it). You don't need to meditate until your legs are numb nor read spirituality books until your mind is. If you have such an experience you would describe as transcendent, consider it not that you've reached new heights, but dropped baggage instead.

Your journey, such as it is, is not taking you anywhere but inward. You are simply peeling an onion, layer by layer discovering what's at its core. And the goal, if there is one, is to lighten rather than increase your load along the way. You are already everything you need to become, and your journey, such as you perceive it, is simply the process by which you're discovering that.

Considering our conditioned associations with journeys and destinations, with achievement and accumulation, I think a better metaphor than "being on a path" when it comes to spiritual awakening and discovery is "coming home". You're not being taken to a new and climactic place where you can feel superior over your fellow beings for having arrived first while looking down upon all the humble, ignorant souls who have yet to awaken or begin the ascent. You are, quite to the contrary, being taken on a journey of remembrance to where you came from in the first place, and there are plenty more who have "arrived" before you. When you remember your essence, your true essence, you'll realize there's no where to go, nothing to achieve and no pinnacles to transcend.

Best of all, you'll be able to live in the outer world from that inner space (now that's liberation). Verse 11 of the Tao Te Ching says it -- as the Tao says all -- exquisitely.

"We join thirty spokes

to the hub of a wheel,

yet it's the center hole

that drives the chariot.

We shape clay

to birth a vessel,

yet it's the hollow within

that makes it useful.

We chisel doors and windows

to construct a room,

yet it's the inner space

that makes it livable.

Thus do we

create what is

to use what is not."

Let that seep into your pores this week. And in case no one else is telling you, (believe me, I can empathize more than I care to admit) I'm telling you this: I love you and, whether you feel it or believe it or not, you are absolutely perfect just the way you are.

Around the Web

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The Accidental Seeker - NetworkedBlogs.com

Karen Talavera: Where to Go When You've Stumbled Into Spirituality

Eat Pray Love - Official Sony Pictures International Movie Site

Barack Obama's Spiritual Journey - TIME