However smart we may be, however rich and clever or loving or charitable or spiritual or impeccable, it doesn’t help us at all. The real power comes in to us from the beyond. Life enters us from behind, where we are sightless, and from below, where we do not understand. And unless we yield to the beyond, and take our power and might and honor and glory from the unseen, from the unknown, we shall continue empty. (D.H. Lawrence)
In Experiencing Spirituality, Ernie Kurtz and I write often about the word “beyond.” Spirituality itself is beyond words, beyond analysis, beyond even understanding. It just is. And it is also true that those who have it don’t seem to realize that they have it.
A cobbler approached the Rabbi Isaac of Ger, seeking advice. “Tell me,” the cobbler asked with a heavy heart, “what shall I do about my morning prayers?” He went on to explain that his clients were poor men who had only one pair of shoes. He picked up the shoes late at night, when the men returned from work, and then he worked all night to repair the shoes. But when dawn came around, there were still shoes left to be repaired and so he often missed his morning prayers.
“I don’t know what to do,” the cobbler said, his head bowed down in shame.
“What have you been doing so far?” the rabbi asked.
“Well, sometimes I rush through the prayers, which makes me feel bad,” the cobbler admitted. “Other times I am so busy that I will let the hour of prayer go by, and at those times I feel even worse. Lifting my hammer, I can almost hear my heart sigh, realizing what an unfortunate man I am that I cannot find the time to say my morning prayers.”
“If I were God,” the rabbi said, “I would value that sigh more than the prayer.”
And those who believe they “have” it may benefit from a rude awakening . . . or may not, depending on how tightly they cling to control.
During a presentation on spirituality a woman rose and said: "I have no need of these practices. I feel spiritual all the time without doing anything."
Reb Yerachmiel looked at her for a moment and said: "The next time you have an urge to be spiritual, take a cold shower. Then dry off and do something kind for someone else."
What is spirituality? To have the answer is to have misunderstood the question. Truth, wisdom, goodness, beauty, the fragrance of a rose: all resemble spirituality in that they are intangible, ineffable realities. We may know them, but we can never grasp them with our hands or with our words. These entities have neither color nor texture; they cannot be gauged in inches or ounces or degrees; they do not make a noise to be measured in decibels; they have no distinct feel as do silk, wood or cement; they give no odor, they have no taste, they occupy no space.
And yet they exist; they are. Love exists, evil exists, beauty exists, spirituality exists. These are the realities that have always been recognized as defining human existence. We do not define them, they define us. When we attempt to "define" spirituality, we discover not its limits, but our own. Similarly, we cannot prove such realities -- it is truer to say that they "prove" us, in the sense that it is against them that we measure our human be-ing: the act and the process by which we exist.
Life is not what we "have," or even what we do, connected as these may be: we are what and how and who we are, and be-ing is a real activity. Like "love," spirituality is a way that we "be." This way of be-ing defies definition and delineation; we cannot tie it up, in any way package it or enclose it. Elusive in the sense that it cannot be "pinned down," spirituality slips under and soars over efforts to capture it, to fence it in with words. Centuries of thought confirm that mere words can never induce the experience of spirituality. (The Spirituality of Imperfection)
The disciples were absorbed in a discussion of Lao-tzu's dictum:
"Those who know do not say;
those who say do not know."
When the Master entered, they asked him what the words meant.
Said the Master, "Which of you knows the fragrance of a rose?"
All of them knew.
Then he said, "Put it into words."
All of them were silent.
I have so many “favorite” stories. I even have a dozen “most favorite” stories. This story, which I think answers the question “What is spirituality?” falls in the latter category.
Once upon a time a curious observer asked a monk, "What is your life like as a monk?”
The monk thought for a moment and then replied: “We walk, we fall down, someone helps us up. We walk some more; someone else falls down. We help them up. That’s pretty much what we do.”