Post-modern American culture is not famous for embracing spiritual values. And you thought that outer space is the only thing that operates in a vacuum. Welcome to our world -- a high-tech spiritual wasteland. If it cannot be measured, weighed, separated in a particle accelerator, or grown in a Petrie dish, most people in the Western world are going to have a problem with its credibility. After all, if you can't stick a pin in it, slap a label on it or point to it on the Periodic Table of Elements, then it does not really exist... right?
Whatever the spiritual traditional practice is, it most likely exists for one inspired purpose: to move us out of our limited, cerebral method of thinking and relating to life, into the unlimited wisdom and knowingness of our hearts. And that is truly not just the final frontier, but also the longest and greatest journey we will ever make. But to start that trip, most people in North America have to be dragged, kicking and screaming. Or, they insist on doing it while clutching scientific journals, data, and research materials to their breast, as if it were their first born. Spiritual traditional practices are designed to activate something higher, greater, more comprehensive in the human experience than just the simple secretions of the frontal lobe. Think not? How many people do you know would be insulted by the suggestion that their intellectual opinions are not the most important and profound things in the universe? I rest my case.
Is this really the enlightened age? You would never know it by looking at mainstream America, which is more a spiritual tradition stepchild of the modern world. The only established traditions we have in this culture were brought here from somewhere else and not even generally accepted by the rest of us. Thank God it is not up to the FDA, TSA, FBI, customs or any other government regulated agency to determine the legality or value of a practice. If we had to wait for the AMA to determine the healing benefits of meditation, we would be taking a little yellow gel cap to quiet our minds or watch the breath.
I have great respect for traditions that allow us to bypass the ego-created self and connect to our spiritual identity. That action is deeply, and in most cases, fundamentally needed and healthy. That is the purpose and value behind, within and around these practices. It is the culturally-brave soul that resists the ethnocentric conditioned social current to acknowledge only what science deems useful and precious -- to reach beyond to what cannot be seen, into the infinite, exploring the archetypical mysteries that lay beyond the corporal.
Imagine an America where the cost of seeing your local shaman at a drumming circle was included in your health insurance plan. Or a tax revenue system where the price of smudge sticks, rattles and holy ash was a tax deduction line on your 1040 form. Picture a mainstream U.S., where parents have their child's astrology chart drawn up before they go in for their first round of immunization shots. Visualize walking into you doctor's office and seeing a "localized field of energy" and "auric chart" right next to the anatomy poster. Or having a computer with spell check that can even recognize "auric" as a word! And wouldn't it be nice if we not only had an eye doctor, but also an "I" doctor.
Consider what America would be like if we, like the Tibetans, practiced preparing for death on a daily basis. The Tibetan culture embraces death as an upgrade into a greater reality, which allows for a much less traumatizing response to that 100 percent probability that someone in your life will die someday. Traditionally training the mind that death is a natural part of life, and reminding ourselves of this reality in the flow of our everyday life, really does take the sting out of the whole mortality thing. Especially for that ever-predictable moment when we finally realize that our lives here are finite. It seems pretty obvious that there are some very healthy and empowering side effects to a ritualized practice of accepting an ultimately irrevocable and eventually universal ubiquitous death process.
So, for those of us who are willing to avail ourselves to the counter-culture movement of an integrated spiritual practice of some kind, any kind, we will have to be happy with the benefits and grounding influences that tradition brings us. For in this country, it is unlikely that the popular obsession with empirical, double-blind, better living through chemistry, underwriters laboratory tested, government inspected, grade "A" ways of embracing reality will be fading away anytime soon. Most people prefer working from the outside inward. We, as a group, are much fonder of caustically telling each other "you have a brain -- use it!" than valuing and taking advantage of time-honored methods of accessing wisdom and balancing one's life from the inside out.
To all those out there ready and willing to blaze your own spiritual traditional trail, for everyone strong enough to swim against the cultural tide of intellectualism, for those of you amongst us with stronger hearts than know-it-all egos, many divine blessings to you. May you find what no atomic powered microscope can see. May you explore inner space and go deeper than Dr. Timothy Leary on an acid trip. May your underdog methods of discerning what is useful and wise always serve and strengthen you. May you continue to challenge those around you, who myopically limit reality to only what their five senses can comprehend and acknowledge. But most importantly of all, may these creative and imaginative means of engaging with life and the mysteries it contains make you a more loving, compassionate, sensitive and insightful being. Or as the ancient runes and I Ching tells us: Rock on, babies!