‘The Deepest Spiritual Experience’

We need, above all, to disentangle ourselves from habits of speech and thought which set the two apart, making it impossible for us to see that this—the immediate, everyday, and present experience—is IT, the entire and ultimate point for the existence of a universe.

But the recognition that the two are one comes to pass in an elusive, though relatively common, state of consciousness which has fascinated me beyond all else since I was seventeen years old.

I am neither a preacher nor a reformer, for I like to write and talk about this way of seeing things as one sings in the bathtub or splashes in the sea. There is no mission, nor intent to convert, and yet I believe that if this state of consciousness could become more universal, the pretentious nonsense which passes for the serious business of the world would dissolve in laughter.

We should see at once that the high ideals for which we are killing and regimenting each other are empty and abstract substitutes for the unheeded miracles that surround us—not only in the obvious wonders of nature but also in the overwhelmingly uncanny fact of mere existence. Not for one moment do I believe that such an awakening would deprive us of energy or social concern.

On the contrary, half the delight of it—though infinity has no halves—is to share it with others, and because the spiritual and the material are inseparable this means the sharing of life and things as well as insight. But the possibility of this depends entirely upon the presence of the vision which could transform us into the kind of people who can do it, not upon exhortation or appeals to our persistent, but consistently uncreative, sense of guilt. Yet it would spoil it all if we felt obliged, by that same sense, to have the vision.

For, contradictory as it may sound, it seems to me that the deepest spiritual experience can arise only in moments of a selfishness so complete that it transcends itself, by “the way down and out,” which is perhaps why Jesus found the companionship of publicans and sinners preferable to that of the righteous and respectable. It is a sort of first step to accept one’s own selfishness without the deception of trying to wish it were otherwise, for a man who is not all of one piece is perpetually paralyzed by trying to go in two directions at once.

As a Turkish proverb puts it, “He who sleeps on the floor will not fall out of bed.”

And so, when the sinner realizes that even his repentance is sinful, he may perhaps for the first time “come to himself” and be whole. Spiritual awakening is the difficult process whereby the increasing realization that everything is as wrong as it can be flips suddenly into the realization that everything is as right as it can be. Or better, everything is as It as it can be.