Have you ever thought of what it means to be “spiritually cool”? Whether or not you’ve personally embarked on this path, you’ve probably encountered someone who has.
That’s the guy who shows up to yoga teacher training and models pristine peacefulness as a means to get accolades. It’s the girl who rattles off sage advice as if each word were a medal she’d won and is now awarding to you out of sheer magnanimity in spite of her sterling greatness… And it’s the guy who shapes a Facebook profile by striking a pose that says, “I’m spiritual, man…”
Of the latter breed, I’ve seen a lot on the World Wide Web in recent times. And there seems to be an audience:
“All your pictures are so cool!!! love it.”
“that's a hot pic!!!”
“70 others like this”…
That’s all real! And if you’ve been on Facebook, I know I don’t need to convince you…
Time and again, we dress up our egos in fine cloth aimed at the oldest goal in history – to impress… Nothing bars from doing so, not even the purported opposite – spirituality. Rather, that holy opposite is the cleverest of hiding places for our old egos to graze freely.
Better to be an oxymoron than to be naked! we unconsciously proclaim. And so we hide behind ego masks of all flavors, including the spiritually scented.
When I was a young monk, new to my practices, I was most impressed by those who tried very sincerely to impress. Indeed, there is an audience for the spiritually cool… I was front and center!
When someone was a smooth-talker, sharply dressed, or sported a sexy resume, I was all ears. In fact, I recently recounted a rather revealing story at L’Oreal about how I delivered the first “big talk” of my monastic days…
Back in 2007, when Rasanath first asked me to partner up with him, I was freshly graduating from the first informal Bhagavad-Gita class he taught in New York City. The call was to fuse our passions and create a structured, experiential curriculum of Gita classes that would apparently require my creative faculties and Tisch training.
I thought he was crazy… I had just read through the Gita my first time cover to cover with him and was hardly ready to start teaching it. He knew that!
And then I quickly thought I was crazy… I was not about to pass up the opportunity to join forces and learn from the experience! Carpe Diem!
After lots and lots of planning with Rasanath, seeing his presentations, and coaching his presentations, in the summer of 2008, it came time for me to step up to the plate and teach. I was extremely nervous and extremely excited.
We were in Townshend, Vermont on a retreat we’d organized. I’d just led a group of students on a hike up to the summit of a small mountain that overlooked a gorgeous panorama of hills and fields. At that moment, we stopped, and I asked the intimate crowd to take their seats on the rocks that faced the cliff’s edge.
I stood before them for what became deemed by my monk friends – “The Sermon on the Mount.” It was triumphant!
I received such an ovation I would never forget it. I loved giving “big talks”! …Even to small crowds.
And people loved my giving “big talks” too! Such a thrill! What could be better?
Turns out only one thing. But it would take me years to learn it. Spirituality.
Those who make the real thing the goal are the needles in the haystack of the universe. For a substantial stretch, the spiritual knockouts knocked me out, and I tried to become one myself, until I deeply recognized that there’s more to the process than what you project.
Spirituality is an internal project that manifests outwardly by dint of our practices, not our desperation for attention.
In the interim, we don’t get rewarded for internals and so we don’t learn to value them. Thus impatience for the internal to become externally rewarded runs us.
Now, we all need attention. I’m no exception. But if we don’t get this equation right, we’re at risk of losing the very thing we strive to possess. Sadly, we won’t even know it, because we’ll have been fumbling for something we never really tasted in the first place.
Honesty is the only way out of the ego mask that disguises our very self. Honesty is the only way into the spiritual identity we crave at heart.
It takes a long time to arrive at the real summit of spirituality. And I have a long road ahead myself! But our coveted coolness has a nasty habit of getting in the way.