Sunday, June 28, 2009

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

From Songs of Kabir

O SERVANT, where dost thou seek Me?
Lo! I am beside thee.
I am neither in temple nor in mosque:
I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
Neither am I in rites and ceremonies,
nor in Yoga and renunciation.
If thou art a true seeker, thou shalt at once see Me:
thou shalt meet Me in a moment of time.
Kabir says, 'O Sadhu! God is the breath of all breath.'

(translated by Rabindranath Tagore & Evelyn Underhill)

I am a restless person. In that, I am really just a man of my time.

This is, to be sure, a restless age. We live in a time when anything we want is available to us at a moment’s notice. We live in an “on demand” world. TV, iPods, the internet, smartphones—all these devices enable us to have any momentary whim satisfied in an instant. It is my belief, however, that this does not bring us any real comfort or satisfaction. I believe it causes agitation and anxiety.

At least, that’s the case for me. I like to think of myself as a patient person. I have practiced Tai Chi, meditation, and prayer. I study and practice Jungian psychology. And despite all of this, I remain a restless person. I have forgotten how to sit still, to wait, to be bored or impatient. Whenever I have a free moment, I jump on my computer and begin to surf the ‘net. Once I’ve made a pass through my usual bookmarks, I get stuck. I don’t know what to Google next. I think to myself: “What am I looking for?”

If my computer is not at hand, I reach for my cell phone. I just bought a new Palm Pre and I love it. With one device, I can place a phone call, check my email, surf the internet, look at photos, watch videos, listen to music, and read a book. However, I come up against the same problem. Often after about five minutes of flicking and scrolling on my smartphone, I’m at a loss for what to do next. Again, I think, “What am I looking for?” Or, perhaps I find myself driving in my car with some free time to spare. Quite often I'll have the feeling that I want to buy something, but I won’t be able think of anything I want or need. “What do I want, what am I looking for?,” I wonder.

In the poem above, Kabir teaches that “What am I looking for?” is the wrong question. It is not the what that is important, it’s the where. “O Servant, where dost thou seek Me?”

I tend to interpret my restlessness as a feeling that some Thing is missing. And so, I begin seeking for that elusive Thing. But my seeking only increases my restlessness. And if, by chance, I find The Thing that interests, excites or entices me, well, I might like it, I might be happy with it, I might even have fun with it, but usually it doesn’t serve to make my restlessness go away.

Again, my mistake becomes clear in the light of Kabir’s poem. The Things I seek are something other, something external to me. I am looking outside myself when what is missing is actually much closer by. “Lo, I am beside thee.” My restlessness is a spiritual restlessness. And I suspect that at the heart of our current age there is an almost universal spiritual unrest. And just as I cannot satisfy my spiritual hunger with the daily bread of technology and consumerism, Kabir teaches us that this same hunger is not quelled by any particular belief, creed, or ritual. “I am neither in temple nor in mosque: I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash.”

I don’t think Kabir is stating that there is anything inherently wrong in the temple or the mosque, or, we could add, the church. I think he is saying that God cannot be found in any of those places unless we have first become aware of the presence of God in our own lives, in our minds and hearts. “If thou art a true seeker, thou shalt at once see Me: thou shalt meet Me in a moment of time.” I think what Kabir is saying is that we must have an experience of the divine before we can “find” God. God is not to be found in the church, the temple, or the mosque, unless we take Him there with us, so to speak.

From a slightly different angle, Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his book, Man is Not Alone, puts it this way: “In formulating a creed, in asserting: God exists, we merely bring down overpowering reality to the level of thought. Our belief is but an afterthought.”

Over time, I have become more and more convinced that the primary religious statement is “Be still and know that I am God.” I am far from being an enlightened being—as I said, I am a restless person—but I know that my most meaningful moments have always been moments of stillness. Whether in meditation, or work, or an afternoon spent playing with the kids in the backyard, the decisive factor is the extent to which my mind and my heart are quiet and stilled from their usual longing and clutching, fear and anxiety.

Stillness and centering have always been understood as the essential means to finding God, or Ultimate Reality. Almost every tradition has some form of meditation. Rather than taking the attitude of the seeker, meditation puts the practitioner in a receptive position. Whether one practices Dhyana, Vispassana, Centering Prayer, or Taoist Standing Meditation, one of the main goals is to let go of the striving ego and simply experience the divine energy. It suggests that the path to experiencing the Ultimate is, in a sense, to stop seeking and be found. Perhaps this is what Kabir is talking about when he says, “God is the breath of all breath.” No need for seeking because God is right here, closer than you can even imagine.

I guess this suggests that I need to learn that God isn’t waiting for me to find Him. Maybe He is waiting for me to stop moving around long enough to recognize that the divine presence is all around me and within me. And if this is the case, then maybe that original question not only is not about what I’m looking for, it’s not even about where I’m looking for it. Maybe the reason I can’t find what I’m looking for is that it can’t be found. There is nothing to look for and nowhere to look for it. It’s already here looking for me.

This is a wonderful poem by David Wagoner that expresses exactly this idea. It is a poem taken from a Native American teaching story about what to do when you are lost in the woods. As the poem so beautifully describes it, the goal is to stand still until you can be found.


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.