Thursday, August 21, 2014

The wild fruit

My teachers—who were orthodox, but not completely orthodox—always felt that a spiritual work, an organization, existed only as the starting point for a real inner work.

One joins the organization to get one's beginning in spiritual life. The organization is not the end in itself; life itself is the end in itself, and this living-within-life consists of a full, inherent, organic, and conscious relationship to life. Spiritual organizations are like greenhouses; they ought to be places where seedlings are started. From this point of view, they are vital and necessary; and we ought to deeply respect and nurture them.

But the seedling can't grow properly if it's kept in the greenhouse forever. It may produce fruit; but everyone knows greenhouse fruit is never as satisfying as (for example) berries grown in the wild, which are undoubtedly the best, no matter how small, misshapen, or tart they may be. The whole point of the wild fruit is its uniqueness, the strange and wonderful character of its Being; and its Being is formed by a dense, complex, rich, and unexpected interaction with so many influences of life: rain, wind, sunshine... even pests and predators. None of these exist in the greenhouse.

The soul is like this: a wild creature destined to interact with all of creation. The greenhouse may seem like a safe place—we may think it will produce beautiful souls in perfect rows, well groomed, without any spots or blemishes; and the fruits may be fat and sweet. This is, of course, just a dream; but we fall in love with it.

Is this really what nature intended? I doubt it. The soul ought to be tested; and a soul that grows in the light of the sun with bugs crawling on it, offering its fruits to other creatures and sacrificing a part of itself to great nature: this is what is intended, at its root, by the nature of life itself.

In this way perhaps I begin to see that I cannot live in the greenhouse forever. I have to take the risk that my soul may not grow in the way I expect it to; that it may need to encounter many unexpected forces I cannot predict and have no control over. This is its real environment; a wild place of testing, a place that constantly demands interaction with a creation that does not agree with it, that tries it. This is never going to take place in the greenhouse, that place where neat rows of plants are tended by gentle gardeners.

We cannot rely on protected environments for inner work. The habit of fleeing to retreats, of flocking to temples and institutions, only reinforces our domestication; and the domesticated animal can never know what it is to risk itself, to run free, to suffer its own life for what it is in the context for which it was designed.

It's this creation of artificial context we must, I think, be wary of. I create enough artificial contexts for myself as it is; all of society, all of enculturation, is an artificial context. It's tempting to rely on that; it's what's expected, and that always seems so safe, doesn't it?

Yet there is nothing artificial about my inner life; it's an organism, a living thing, my Being, and that needs to be respected, not kept on a leash. Being has to learn to sniff the earth and root through the bushes; not walk neat, manicured paths.


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