Going In Is 'In'
We live in an era where a lot of people are chattering endlessly about getting in touch with the 'inner self' and hearing the 'inner voice', the voice of the spirit deepest inside of you. Bookshelves are jammed with books and videos on meditative techniques, transcendent spiritual experiences, and ways to build self-identity, self-esteem and inner confidence. The Internet's many voices image the same message, almost in unison. Talk-radio and lifestyle magazines pimp the message without ceasing, even as their commercials try to make you depend on someone else to supply sex-appeal-in-a-bottle. It's the obsession of seemingly every spiritually-interested writer, and a steady stream of self-help and motivational speakers and 'gurus'. Most of today's spirituality is like Peer Gynt's onion: peel off the top layers, and you find an empty core. Because of that, I think that eventually, and unfortunately, the generations to come will flee from that sort of 'spirituality' as if it were a parlor trick of wishful thinkers, entrepreneurs, and crackpots. (We already see the start of this among the so-called Millenials.) If spirituality is to stick, people need to grasp onto the real stuff, not the PR hype, the best-selling authors, or the magical glow.
It's said that there's nothing new under the sun, and the same is true with today's self-ish trends. The pendulum of history swings on how life guides you, from following the outside structure to following the inner voice. Where there's a swinging pendulum, there's a 'paradoxical tension', where the different approaches correct each other. On one hand, you find yourself through the inner voice - that is, through exploring yourself. On the other hand, you find yourself through order, place, work, authority - in short, through dealing with other people. We usually don't find God around us or within in unless we are paying attention. Sometimes, God breaks in when we're not looking -- but brace yourself when that happens, for God is about to shake you.
In the times we live in today, we strain to hear the inner voice amidst all the noise of living.
Why Go In There?
It's a worthwhile goal, to hear this inner voice. It is where God's whispers are to be found : sweet nothings about God's love, hints about where to turn, the quiet early warnings that become shouts if you don't pay attention to them. It's where your prayers ramble without stumbling over words, where ideas begin, images dance and imagination flies, where emotions find root and spiritual longings spring forth. The inner journey is a way past your masks, a way to get at what actually makes yourself do what you do. That can be scary. It can get dark in there. On the one hand, it is where you find the stuff that makes you human, the same stuff all other humans have. On the other hand, it's the home of the differences which define each of us as a person. The experiences you can find within you may bring you great joy or peace, and are there to be cherished and drawn upon all life long.
The Journey Within
As you journey to hear the inner voice, there are some things you need to keep in mind, no matter how overpowering your discoveries are, no matter what anyone claims -- and no matter how much it seems otherwise.
1. You won't get so deep that you're beyond yourself. You will always be there no matter how far in you go. There are some things that follow from this:
- You won't get so deep that you're past your spiritual capabilities. (They aren't boundless, but they are awesome.)
- You won't get so deep that you're past your own evil and foolishness. That too is awesome in its depth. This means that sometimes the inner voice is the voice of a fool. That's one of the many reasons there are 'outer' ways of learning what God wants of you. Also, even the better mystics were not always able to get past their own mental health problems. Sometimes, they expressed their inner journey through what would at other times be insanity.
- You'll always be bearing some of the 'outer world' with you. Your personhood didn't grow up in a vacuum. You can find the stamp of your world and your loved ones in even the deep recesses of your soul. When you're deep 'in', God often redirects you outward, with love toward specific persons and for people in general. This may drive you into working with the lonely or downtrodden, or to create pathways to justice in your society.
- You won't understand it all. You'll have to live and act with less than a full understanding. But you can trust the One whose understanding is full.
2. You won't get in so deep that you're too deep for the Accuser. The Un-Spirit operates quite well at any depth of spirit. You are not safe from temptation or torment, save perhaps for the briefest moments. Within our life as we know it right now, there's no protected place to hide; the whispers will go with you. Yet, God can harness those accusations to lead you to further understanding. The Accuser is not bested by fleeing, hiding, denying, or fighting, but by trusting in God.
3. You won't get into God. Perhaps when the noise of existence quiets enough to clearly hear the Spirit, you might get an awesome experience, reported to be as if your spirit was burning away and transforming into light just like that of the Source. That's about as well as one can interpret the spiritual experience of 'being with' God. But the 'oneness' that you get is a 'oneness' of a kind which you'll find echoed in your relationships with those you most love, or perhaps in a close-knit team. But closer. Yet, not more completely close: only once you die could you be in the type of relationship that only God now has, and it would operate much like God's own inner relationship. It is not, nor will it ever be, absorption into God or 'Being' or 'Nothingness'. It may seem that way from your angle, because the experience is so clear and strong, the relationship so close. But that's because your own awareness and perceptions are just too overwhelmed by it all to know what's really going on. Your inner voice remains yours. God will abide by your yesses and nos, because they're yours, not God's. You will always be you. God will always be God.
4. You won't go far enough 'in' (or 'out') to get past God. God is an Other who is with you at all points of all spiritual journeys. All descriptions become relative. God de-defines and re-defines all talk of 'inner' or 'outer', 'surface' or 'gut', 'individual' or 'society', 'spiritual' or 'material', 'creature' or 'creation'. God is 'in', deeper than your self can go, beyond the brightest of enlightenment, the deepest and emptiest of inner voids, and the darkest nights of the soul. In the burning light, God is its Source. In the tunnel of death, God is in it and is calling you from its bright end. In the swirl of post-consciousness, God is at the hub, powering its churning. In every mystery of existence, God is both the question and the answer, the key inner voice alongside your own, and the key outer voice in a world of other voices that aren't yours. Go to the 'outer realm', and God is there, working in people, in gatherings, in nature and science, traditions, cultures, events, celebrations, and through the words of the Scriptures. God is not left behind nor limited by time, even when choosing to live and act within time for the sake of those God loves. God isn't pulled apart by the forces within a black hole, nor burned away by giant blue-white stars, nor blown away by supernovae. Go to the edge of existence, and God's waving hello at you from the other side of the edge - and then comes up right beside you. This fact has one very important corollary that is cause for great hope:
Do not fear the spiritual journey, wherever it takes you,
for God is with you.