We are all great rivers
flowing to their end
Swirling inside us is the silt of ages
and creatures and lands
And rain that has fallen for
millions of years.
All this makes us cloudy
Unable to see God.
As we struggle for clarity
and the open sky
The Lord keeps saying
the same thing:
Come to me now and be blessed,
—Hafiz (version by Deepak Chopra)
One year, in lieu of my usual pilgrimage to a distant holy place like India, I opted to stay at home and make a daily, committed, pilgrimage journey to the deepest recesses of my own heart in search of the divine who dwells there. To support this journey, and to aid my commitment to rest and spiritual renewal, I arranged conditions in my life to be more conducive to meditation and contemplation. It was a good journey, and some grace-filled moments illumined my days not unlike those I have experienced in far away holy places.
A pilgrimage is often filled with divine coincidences and miraculous glimpses of Spirit that are far removed from our everyday experience. Why is this, if God is everywhere? On pilgrimage we expect the holy, we make ourselves available to experience it, and we look for it. The world shimmers in the divine light at sunset on a pilgrim’s trek. Yet that same sun shines in our own backyard. The main difference is that we rarely pause in our own place to experience it and to allow it to speak to us of God’s glorious presence. On a holy pilgrimage we anticipate the holy in unexpected ways. Our eyes are not accustomed to the sights and our mind has not yet judged what is there, so we are open to experience in a new way. Because we think we have already “seen” our own home, our family, friends, and ourselves, we often do not directly perceive what is truly there. Instead, we meet our familiar world with a mental commentary that precludes direct experience. The concepts painted over the landscape of our life obscure the potential for divine sight.
One of the first questions I asked myself during my backyard pilgrimage was: How can I experience that same sense of spiritual depth and connection that often seems so readily available at distant holy places? After all, I knew it would be a stretch to even come close to matching the energy generated by thousands of pilgrims offering their prayers of devotion and the presence of the saints themselves. Yet, my own faith, and the teachings of all those who are spiritually awake, tells me that wherever we are, God is. So I asked inwardly: What can I do to make this pilgrimage home to the heart of truth? How can I let go of what I think I already know so that I can experience my life directly? The response that came was direct and simple: Just sit in the grace bestowing presence. Don’t effort, don’t strain, don’t try to make anything happen, just sit and receive the grace that is right now overflowing. Sit in Love’s presence and be filled. Walk in Love’s presence and look. Look at those around you and see the One shining in their eyes. Peer into your day with the eyes of love and you will see Me. This is my pilgrimage gift that I offer to you—a reminder, to be still and know the truth. Be still and be healed. Become whole once again, restored to balance. And from that place of balance, look. Look into the beauty and grace of your life today.
It is easy for our lives to get out of balance, with too much emphasis on doing and not enough on simply being present to God, to our higher true Self, and open to experiencing peace. Balance makes our life fruitful. Yet often we labor under the mistaken belief that if we just work harder, or longer, or more, we will accomplish what is needed and find our rest after. The constant pressure is to have and to be more through greater effort but spiritual wisdom offers this paradoxical solution: the answer is not having more, or being more, but simply, more being.
In the teachings of Jesus we find a beautiful invitation into spiritual consciousness when he says: “Come to me, all of you who labor and are heavily laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you will find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) The invitation is to lift up our mind and rest in truth—the truth that we are not just physical beings working for a living, but spiritual beings—heirs to the kingdom of infinite possibility, infinite joy, and blessing. Grace, the transforming energy of divine consciousness that moves through all of life guiding and supporting us and moving us in the direction of fulfillment, is always present. When we cease our frantic pace and turn toward divine remembrance, we open our awareness to this gift.
With fall upon us I encourage you to consider your own backyard pilgrimage. Instead of planning to get away, consider arriving! Consider arriving home and seeing it for the first time with the eyes of love. The saints tell us that the kingdom of heaven extends fully to this earth plane, one undivided holy expression of God—your backyard and mine included. Let us anticipate the holy today by looking with an open heart and mind. Seeing others as expressions of God, remembering our own true nature as spiritual beings, and remaining open to what life brings while expecting the holy to be revealed to us are the basics of our pilgrimage home. Spend more time being by practicing superconscious meditation. Sit consciously in the grace bestowing presence and cleanse the mental field of the chatter that blocks the light of truth. With the mind calm and clear, and the heart open, we can see with fresh eyes.
After some days of meditation and silence on my retreat, I went out for a walk in my neighborhood. I was amazed at what I saw. At one spot near my home I discovered a flowing creek that I hadn’t even known was nearby. It’s hard to see the water ripple or hear a creek’s gurgle from a moving car, which is how I usually went past it. From my new vantage point as a pedestrian, I could see others, like me on another day, rushing by to their next appointment, seemingly oblivious to the beauty around them. My heart ached as I looked into the faces of those passing by that were asleep—eyes open, but minds occupied with the past or the future. No time to connect, or to notice, or to be. Then, the expected, unexpected meeting happened with someone who walked by me on the street. His clothes were ragged and dirty, his hair disheveled. It looked like his worldly belongings were traveling along with him in the sack slung across his shoulder. He was certainly not a conventional image of peace or well-being. But when we passed one another our eyes met, or perhaps I should say our souls. Right then, walking down a busy city street in the middle of the afternoon, I was blessed with a moment of true meeting, of greeting and being greeted in God. I have not forgotten that face, or that moment, or that flood of light that filled my being. God’s presence was revealed in one simple moment, on an ordinary afternoon, on a pilgrimage to the holy in my own neighborhood. Swami Vishnu-Devananda notes, “Sometimes the Lord will come before you in the form of a beggar or a sick man with dirty rags. You must have the keen sense to detect him. Your hair will stand on end when you meet him.”
Once long ago, the Bal Shem Tov, the great Hasidic master, promised his disciples he would show them Elijah, the prophet whose presence is said to foretell the coming of the Messiah. He simply instructed them to prepare by “opening their eyes wide.” First the disciples saw a beggar who entered their temple and was seen leaving with a book tucked under his arm. Later, they saw him at a wedding, on his way out, slipping a silver spoon into his pocket. On another occasion, he was dressed as a soldier who stopped to ask for a light for his pipe. The Bal Shem told the disciples, “It was he. The secret is in the eyes.”
Perhaps this is true. The secret is in the eyes—in others, and in ours. May our own eyes be opened wide to the divine presence, may we expect to meet the holy today. Let us hear the call of the beloved, and come! Come home to love and be blessed.
–Yogacharya Ellen Grace O’Brian