“The spiritual journey is simple, beautiful and full of Love,” read the meme. Perfectly true, but taken out of context it doesn’t actually tell you all that much, does it? Not really. Like so many of the quotes out there on the internet, usually displayed against the background of a sunset, dove or some other visual symbol of serenity, it simply drops a seed into the mind and allows it to grow… or not, as the case may be.
I remember studying the parable of the Sower and the Seed in Religious Education in school, long ago. It tells of how when the Sower sows the seed, it may fall upon stony, barren or fertile ground and where it falls will determine how the seed grows. It is a well-known story, easily understood in symbolic terms, though there are many deeper elements involved in the imagery than may at first appear. Re-reading the passage I fell to thinking about how ideas are seeded and more specifically about those beautifully presented inspirational quotes that abound across all the platforms of social media.
Such phrases, thoughts and quotes may come from the heart and be personal glimpses of understanding offered in all simplicity and with no other motive than to bring hope or share beauty. Many come from the writings of established spiritual teachers, from ancient texts or those to whom the world has attributed the mantle of wisdom. They carry with them the aura of authority; these people, we are assured, knew something, had attained something to which, perhaps, we aspire.
Sometimes they worry me.
Not so much on their own, but as a symptom of a disconnected spirituality that seems to be scattering fragments of light like glitter. And yet…
The proliferation of such illustrated quotes shows how deeply ingrained is our need for understanding, but as most offer little in the way of practical instruction, they carry the risk of misinterpretation. They may make the whole spiritual journey seem like sweetness and light; something so otherworldly and ethereal, in fact, that it seems impossible that it should be integrated within the harshness of ‘real’ life. For me ‘real life’ is a spiritual journey, and like any voyage, it can be hard, painful, exhausting and confusing. It takes effort, will, and commitment to get from one end of it to the other.
But what about the journey itself? Even a straight race, where the winner is determined at the finish line, can only be won by what happens between the starting block and the tape. It makes little sense to me to think that the only goal is at the end… To ‘real-ise’ the divine within, however we may define It, and to live it daily seems, to me, a better option.
These inspirational quotes may also, silently and quite unintentionally, imply that those of us who have not yet attained such mystical mastery have way too far to go to be able to reach spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps we have, but believing in ourselves can be hard enough in the mundane world; I am not sure that questioning our worthiness to progress is helpful. I wonder if these wonderful phrases sometimes make the goal seem just too distant and unattainable. A goal which, I believe, is not far away at the end of some lofty quest, but already within us, waiting quietly to be known.
This seeding of ideas and phrases without context is a traditional technique that can have enormous value as a meditation. Usually, however, when such a technique is used, it is within the framework of a predetermined belief system. This is where schools such as the Silent Eye and other spiritual systems have their place in what is always and ultimately a personal journey, by providing structure, background and points of reference … a jumping-off place from which to begin and a whole set of symbolic signposts by which the seeker can navigate.
We each have our own beliefs. None of us are without some kind of framework, whether it is pan-, poly- or monotheistic, atheist or agnostic or any shade in between… we have our own personal context which is the ground into which such random seeds fall. We interpret them against that backdrop, dismissing them or shaping our understanding of them in a way that fits with the other pieces of our personal puzzle. There is, however, always the possibility of misinterpretation or missing the true depth of such phrases, simply because we lack context. It may only take a single phrase, rightly understood, to change our view of the world and our concept of our place within it. Yet we have to see it clearly in order for it to be able to have an effect.
And yet, we all use quotes, even inspirational ones. And there is value to them. Why struggle to explain what someone has already phrased perfectly in a few words? They may be perfect illustrations of a point we have to share. But more importantly, when they speak to us, they may become the very first burgeoning fragment of light that awakens the seeds of awareness.