There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t ask myself these two questions: “Where am I, and who am I?” These may seem simplistic, when considered as superficial queries. But my inquiry is rooted within the context of relationships: My relationship to my inner being and outer self, to others, to nature, to the universe, and to God, whose existence is found in all of these.
When we understand the interconnectedness of all of our relationships, we have the opportunity to experience a harmonious balance of spirit, heart, mind, and body. All too often, we ignore spirit and heart and focus instead on the physical aspects of life, and the mind only as it relates to the goals of the material world.
What Is A Successful Life?
If something negative or tragic has occurred to us, it can draw us closer to God if we allow it to do so. I’ve often observed that a significant illness such as cancer rearranges priorities in life, and compels an individual to go within, to ask the important questions in life, and to find true balance.
Or it may be that we have experienced a sense of failure or disappointment. This can be a great means to true humility, which can also bring us closer to God. I realize this is not the language of success, but I believe we have oversubscribed to that language.
My vision of success is to devote myself to healing; to facilitate union, harmony, and understanding; and to live by the light of respect and love for all. In my quest, I humbly surrender myself to God. I desire to live in His presence and to be filled with Divine Love at all times. I have turned my life totally over to God, for He alone will I trust. Jesus says, “He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to nothing for my sake discovers who he is.” To bring oneself to nothing–no thing–is to cease to identify with the tyranny of our emotional programs for happiness and the limitations of our cultural conditioning.
The Wise Use Of Freedom
We are given freedom so that we may make choices that will unite us with the Divine. I must develop and use this freedom always to do what is good. With the freedom to choose, I am always free to do more good and to bring myself closer to God, while serving and loving all of creation.
Our freedom to choose makes us susceptible to all types of false-self motives of purpose. Our purpose must be the right purpose. Our conscience must teach us the right purpose. Conscience is the face of the soul, and the light that teaches and helps us to interpret the will of God in our lives.
I can only make good choices when I cultivate maturity, patience, and a wise conscience, so that I may have an accurate account of my motives, my intentions, and my moral acts. This is why a discipline of daily prayer is so essential. This is why reading the Gospels is so necessary.
In this way, we find ourselves truly happy knowing that our “doing” in life reflects our “being,” and that our being is a result of the freedom to pursue union with God. This is the fundamental purpose of life, to find God and to respond to God.
Happiness Comes From Letting Go
Most of us live our entire lives believing that happiness revolves around three main biological objective needs: (1) security and survival, (2) power and control, and (3) affection and esteem. But because the experience and presence of God is not found in these strivings, where do we go to find true happiness?
Most of us live either in our emotions or our intellect; our life patterns usually develop in childhood and rarely change unless we open ourselves to God. For example, people who want power will always want power and will always want to dictate what is going on unless they allow God to take control. But if we put God at the center of our lives, and do our best to live in His light, we will find true peace and joy.
The spiritual journey—involving God in everything—is more than a psychological process. It is first a process of grace. That is what we must be open to. Grace comes to us in the form of the Holy Spirit, which is God within us. God also speaks to us through Nature. The more we learn about Nature, the more we learn about God. This is what St. Francis discovered and is what brought him such joy.
I’ve observed that most people carefully and quietly fit God into their lives, not allowing God to disrupt or alter in any way their strivings for what they believe will bring them happiness. But the simple truth is that there can be no true happiness unless we are willing to give ourselves completely and honestly to God. This requires us to let go, which few are willing to do.
I can relate this to my experience as a jazz musician. The way to become a great jazz musician is to hone your skills to the point of mastery, to develop your own unique sound, and to then let go. It is through letting go of all thought patterns and relinquishing the idea of what notes are safe and fit into the chord progressions being laid down by the rhythm section that allows a musician to reach the innermost place of being and to express that experience.
This is, in a way, the same when practicing inner prayer. Once you have the skills and guidance, you need to let go in order to find the presence of God. Inner prayer is not served by overanalyzing, because when our mind chatters, we cannot experience God talking to us. This is why so many people tell me they cannot meditate. The psychological-self, not the spiritual-self, is trying to “do” it. We need to release the hold on our ordinary senses and way of thinking to expand into a new interior sense of who we really are. This will provide us with a new way of seeing—“for I was blind and now I see.”
This deep opening is more often found in the creative self through music and art rather than the intellectual thinking self. Music and art allow us to lose ourselves, and to then find ourselves all at the same time.
The Creative Self As A Path To God
Explorations of our inner spiritual experiences through music or art expose us to a place otherwise hidden, a place where we discover spiritual vitality, a place that lifts us above ourselves to a level of being we otherwise did not know we could achieve.
Music and art provide the opening that allows us to journey to the depths of our being. It is here that we gain a sense of true freedom, a dwelling place for the spiritual journey. In my opinion, the famous jazz saxophonist John Coltrane was the perfect example of this. Coltrane allowed himself to explore the vastness of spirit through music like no other human before or since. Listening to him express himself on his horn takes me to new places each and every time that I did not know existed.
All of us need to be free to manifest God through our own uniqueness. In a sense, to be one is to be everyone. I must share in God’s Divine Love, and so must you. I want to live out “the Word of God” in my life. I want to manifest God and not the false self.
When you are liberated from self you are now free to be in a space that is both empty of self and full of God. This is where we experience unconditional love. If we have not experienced ourselves as unconditional love, we have not lived, because that is who we really are. Our hearts need to sing the melody of the deep music within. That is the true spiritual journey.