No Guru, No Savior
On Being A Spiritual Scientist
For a book club in my twenties I read The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis. The movie based on the book had come out when I was in high school, prompting scandal. Opponents of the film took issue with Kazantzakis’ depiction of Jesus dreaming of a life free of crucifixion while he hung on the cross, a long life full of wives and children and happiness. Telling a story in which Jesus would not simply march unquestioningly to his own death like a determined and docile lamb got some people all up in their feelings.
We prefer our saviors and gurus to be less human than we are, which has never made much sense to me.
Personally, I’m interested in teachers that are human— honest about their struggles and foibles, willing to be vulnerable and reveal their doubts. I don’t want teachers who say, “Follow me and everything will be perfect! You will have everything you ever wanted!” I want teachers who get down in the muck and the mud with me and say:
Oh, honey. Yes. It’s so hard some days, isn’t it? Take a moment to breathe. Now, look back along the long arc of your life. Are you more yourself now than you were before? Would you trade what you have now, even with all of the loss and pain and unexpected consequences, for what you had then, what you thought you wanted? What helped you get here? Do more of that. Trust yourself.
I don’t want someone to tell me what to do. I want someone to teach me how to dig deep inside myself to find my truth and inspire in me the confidence to live that truth no matter what.
I once went to an exhibit of Young British Artists at the Brooklyn Museum. One of the installations was a series of photographs hanging in the stairwell, called The God Look-Alike Contest. The artist, Adam Chodzko, had put a classified ad in a free paper circulated all over Britain asking people who thought they looked like God to send in a picture of themselves.
There was one guy decked out in Western ideas of a guru, all linen and lotus pose. But the vast majority were just everyday people, some in their work clothes, a woman in her lingerie, looking unashamedly into the camera.
I walked slowly down the stairs, looking at each one and thinking, Yes, yes, YES.
I am so very, very human, so imperfect, so often lacking in clarity and faith. But I keep showing up— taking risks, testing my beliefs, working to refine them and myself— so that whatever light is afforded me in this life will shine more clearly out into the world.
I think of myself as a spiritual scientist. Nothing I believe is set in stone. Nothing I am is permanently fixed. My life is a series of hypotheses that I have to live into in order to see if they help me become more of who I want to be in the world. As I get older my questions get deeper and more precise, as do I. This feels right to me.
I am an agnostic when it comes to notions of an afterlife or reincarnation or any of that. I’m not opposed to any of it, necessarily. They simply aren’t compelling concepts for me. If I live my life with integrity today, always striving for more wholeness, connection, peace, and justice, then whatever comes next will take care of itself, I figure.
Even with all the complications of my very human existence, I love my life. I am resilient. I am well and deeply loved. I have the space and desire to grow and change. It is all my soul has ever wanted.
What does your soul want? How is your experiment going?
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