This is the second installment of a three-part series on the topic. Click here for the first installment.
During the past two decades, a curious phenomenon has swept this nation. Inspired by the teachings of several Master souls from the East, an unusually large number of ashrams and retreats have made their appearance on the scene -- spiritual centers designed to provide seekers of the truth with a focused environment in which to practice their particular spiritual path.
While most people who spend time in these places are extremely dedicated and sincere, there still remains a goodly number who, in their attempt to have "an experience," miss the point completely. Seduced by the Western notion of cause and effect, they somehow think that spiritual attainment is related to the way they act -- as if God were some kind of transcultural Santa Claus looking for good little boys and girls to bring his shiny red fire trucks to.
Not surprisingly, the spirit of the law is all too often traded for the letter -- a letter that, no matter how many stamps are put on it, is continually returned for insufficient postage. Surrender is replaced by submission, patience by hesitation, and humility by timidity. Alas, in the name of finding themselves, our God-seeking brothers and sisters have tended to lose the very thing that makes them truly human -- their individuality.
And so, with great respect to your personal God, your Guru, your Guru's Guru, and your favorite tax-deductible charity, I humbly offer you the following soul-saving tips should you decide to visit (or move into) the ashram or spiritual center of your choice. Take what you can, leave the rest, and remember -- it's not whether your shoes are on or off, but if your heart is open.
4. Do Not Think That This Is the Only Place Where It Is Happening
Spiritual retreatants have a marked propensity to think that the grounds they inhabit are somehow more blessed than any place else on earth -- that they are privy to a special command performance by God, revealing himself in thousands of exotic ways for those lucky enough to be there, while thousands, nay millions, of George Bush-like souls are stumbling around in uncool places recently vacated by the Power of Life so a very cosmic thing can happen here and only here this weekend.
Life, in fact, is often perceived as so good in the "Center," that the rest of the world becomes eerily cast as the "booby prize." Indeed, to new age seekers, everything else is simply referred to as "the world," much like Manhattanites speak of New Jersey.
In short, the new age retreat comes to represent all that is good -- about God, about the Guru, about life itself. Somehow ("and I don't know how, but you could ask anyone who was there this weekend") flowers seem sweeter there, the moon seems fuller, the air seems cleaner. Even the bread tastes better. If you glimpse a shooting star at night, it's the "guru's grace." If you see a double rainbow, it's directly over the meditation hall.
I guess it's all in how you look at it. The same shooting star convincing you that your guru is, in fact, the Supreme Guru, was also seen by a plumber named Leroy who just happened to be drinking a beer in between innings of the Mets game. His conclusion? The Mets were gonna win 20 of the next 25 and bring the pennant home to Flushing!
What do the signs in the sky (or what we perceive as signs) really mean? Isn't the whole world our ashram? Isn't the real issue one of appreciating what is happening all around us? The flowers? The stars? The beggars asking for spare change?
Flowers aren't any sweeter on retreat. It's our willingness to breathe deeply and enjoy them that's different. What's stopping us from being in this place right now? What's stopping us from realizing that the very ground beneath our feet is the promised land -- wherever we happen to be at the time.
5. Do Not Put a Red Dot on Your Forehead If You Don't Want To
You probably already know what the red dot thing is all about. That's right. The third eye. The sixth chakra. High holiness. INDIA!!
While sometimes mistaken for a beauty mark or a random bit of watermelon, the little red dot is actually a useful reminder to focus one's attention on the space between the eyebrows, which, for some people, is where God lives (or if not lives, at least vacations). Nothing wrong with that, now is there?
Still, you have to concede that the third eye isn't the only spot on the human body that's sacred. What about the earlobes? The belly button? The nipples? They come from God, too -- not too mention chakras #1-5 and the highly under-represented center of consciousness at the crown of the head. Sacred, every one of them!
Don't you think that, if the body is the temple of the soul, it follows that our entire physical structure is sacred? Shouldn't we be covered from head to toe with little red dots? And if so, why is it that we routinely quarantine people with measles -- the very people who have selflessly chosen to manifest disease just to remind us to honor our body's ultimate holiness?
6. Play With the Children
The only sentient beings free from the collective mentality of spiritual seekers are the children. Children visiting "holy places." in fact, behave the same way the world over no matter what adjectives their elders use for the unspeakable name of God. When they're hungry, they eat. When they're tired, they sleep. They cry when they want to, laugh for no reason, consume ice cream without guilt, and rarely wonder why your picture of the Master is bigger, newer, or better framed.
Mitch Ditkoff, Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, once lived in an ashram for five years. He loved every minute of it, but along the way noticed all kinds of trips and spiritual ego, his own included. He dedicates this article to everyone looking for themselves, but sometimes confusing the "show" with what there is to experience beyond the show.
For more by Mitch Ditkoff, click here.
For more GPS for the Soul, click here.