Administrator: Change is coming. This is apparent in the renewed interest in spirituality and social justice. As such, I have decided to republish this article (first published in 2008 by the Writing on the Wall) to help us better understand what we mean when we say that spiritual enlightenment = social engagement.
Come Holy Spirit…
Send forth your spirit
and they shall be created,
And you shall renew the face of the earth.
I was in grade four when a profound restlessness took over me. As I went to church every day, a question nagged me no end, “What is my life for and why?”
This led me into a long spiritual expedition. This long subjective quest triggered a series of realizations and religious experiences. Ardously, I went from insight to awakening as I went striving from one spiritual goal to another. In high school, I started my fascination with St. Francis of Asisi. Then I encountered modern mystic Thomas Merton and devoured his books.
Years passed and I was endlessly enduring the so-called “dark night of the soul” so aptly described by St. John of the Cross. While remaining faithful to my baptism, I scoured through the world’s wisdom traditions beginning with Taoism, the Gita, Siddharta, the Jewish Kaballah. Richard Bach’s Illusions captured my imagination as well. In college, I experimented with various types of meditation as I experienced untold ecstacy as the kundalini energy dramatically rose up my spine. Through thick and thin, I took a crack at the lessons of Don Juan until inner silence unstoppably dawned.
From the heights of spiritual ecstacy to the depths of existential depression, I plodded on and on until at last one day, after years of hardship, reached the end of the road – the proverbial Enlightenment. Transcendental bliss.
Collen Mccullough was right in saying, “The best is bought at the price of great pain.” At this point, no tragedy could ever affect me. I reached a place where no pain could be so unbearable; no problem too great for me to solve; no burden I could not carry. The perplexity and chaos of the self had evaporated. I was surrounded by deafening perpetual silence rising from within. Life’s troubles passed me by as I was unmoved and completely at peace. I was bound to eternity and the world had “stopped”. I became transparent as a shadow passing the land.
And yet, in some concealed location of my seeming contentedness, an emptiness was precipitating into a giant storm. An infinite sadness and longing coming from some unknown place in the universe overtook me waves upon waves and destroyed my silence with an even greater silence. The Buddha said, “Only those who go where few have gone can see what few have seen“. Yet what I have seen was to push me farther from my transcendental position to a more factual place: back to the objective reality of this world. I thought that I was at the end of the road only to find that I was only beginning – to trek the road on the way back. Yet, true to T.S. Elliot’s poem, The Little Gidling, I saw the world for the very first time.
We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to come back where we started
And see the place for the very first time.
I not only came back. I returned with vengeance as I immersed myself in suffering humanity – the peasants, the workers, the urban poor, the fisherfolks, the indigenous peoples. At first it was only to reclaim my sanity and solidity to get the “feel” once again. I never thought that the road on the way back was going to be even more difficult to traverse. Yet indeed I saw the world for the first time. The world which I sought to conquer within my soul had become so engaging it had become a daily challenge.