Spiritual Principles behind the Traditions
In a way, it was a vision realized. It inspired me as much as a fulfilled dream, or a milestone reached along that path; for, as the sages say, “Happiness is not a destination, it is a way.” Sure is nice, though, when you get some crumbs along the road to let you know you’re on the right one.
It’s something I realized might be a central aspect of “spirituality”, distinguished from the lesser form of a mere religious identity: that, when actually living a vibrant expression of belief, you do just that: you actually live your ideals. While you may not continually live up to them, you do actually live in a way consistent with your professed beliefs. And I’ve been preaching a message of global awareness and spirituality since before I moved over to Germany.
There’s this guy over here in Germany who’s the closest I’ve come to making friends with. I’ve often heard that it’s really hard to break through the German walls (they don’t make as fast friends as we often do back in America), but once breached, you’ve found yourself a friend for life. With drinking embedded as much as it is in the culture out here, and being in recovery as I am, it’s often challenging to reach across cultural borders and weld a bond. Often an easy way to is through drink, to be honest.
But, apart from drinking, there is another way to form a deeper bond with someone: do shitty, manual labor with the person. And Gregor and I have done just that, having worked together on re-tiling the kitchen together. My girlfriend Carina knew him from childhood, but it was I who ended up shoulder to shoulder, trying to keep heavy floor-tiles from slipping off their tenuous bond to the wall (and the tile salesman assured us it would be so easy…). Great good came from the work, however, and not just in terms of kitchen aesthetic: Gregor is the first German I feel completely relaxed around. Hell, he even knows the reason I don’t drink.
Beyond tile work, Gregor has offered a sympathetic ear for me to try out my German on. Wouldn’t you know, not everyone you meet on the street is all that interested in your efforts to learn the native language? So, when you can find someone willing to speak with you, apart from a teacher paid to do so, it’s a wonderful opportunity.
One I took him up on once more. Two days ago, the situation was a bit more awkward than usual, as another of his friends came over at the same time. She was a native German, and I tried my best at small talk—which is quite difficult; the reality of small talk requires much more than simple questions of ‘what did you do today?’ or ‘how are you?’–worried that the situation wouldn’t be conducive to my German development. Gregor is actually quite patient to wait for my sentences to unfold, offering some vocabulary or grammar tips when necessary; first, though, a good foreign language teacher has to wait. It’s like letting your baby crawl through the carpet—so it is with language learning, though you wouldn’t know it from all the people trying to crawl for the babies (which is to say they finish your sentences for you). This new girl, whose unexpected presence I tried not to resent, I was still unsure about. Would she let me stumble through my sentences unimpeded?
“So, how is your book going?” Gregor asked in slow-enough German. As he plopped himself onto the third-empty stool, I inwardly sighed: the small-topic conversations had long grown dry, and awkward silence loudly ticked the moments between Gregor’s re-entrance to the room.
It was polite of him to ask, and I tried my best to respond in German: “Yeah, it’s good. My proposal got turned down by the first publisher, but they weren’t the right one, so I’m looking for new publishers to send the proposal to.”
“What is it about?” Victoria asked. I decided I liked her after she offered me a generous helping of cheese-cake she had brought with her (another nice cultural quality of the German people: they rarely come over empty-handed).
“It’s about the difference between religion and spirituality.” At this point, as usual when I get kind of worked up about a topic, I have to switch between German and English, smattering a quick-dab of English to finish the sentence when I can’t find the German way to do so. Somehow, I manage to describe to them how I perceive that most religions—particularly the mystical strands of each one—describe the transcendent realm or “God” nearly identical, and this greatly intrigues me.
“Verstehst du mich?” I ask this question regularly after venturing even peripherally into the German language, needing the continual encouragement that yes, in fact, “Ich verstehe dich.” (I understand you).
The conversation was one I felt most proud about, because I couldn’t help but feel I actually communicated a depth of a topic through another language channel, explaining (albeit mish-mashed) that the book was more an overview of existing traditions, and historical figures within those traditions. It closed with a subject I hope to likewise close the proposed book with: a discussion on the “new way” of spirituality; for, without bringing it up myself, Gregor opined that it was easier to maintain some spiritual way in the past, when there was only one way in town, and not so much information-overload and alternative a finger-tip removed from the internet.
Which is exactly what inspires me to write even this post. I offered my own assessment, saying that a new way is developing, that no longer needs the cumbersome structure of the old religions.
“For, I think we all have belief,” I now spoke solely in English, lost on the crest of a tangent, fueled because I could see interest sparkling in Victoria’s eye, “but it doesn’t even seem plausible to channel it through those old structures anymore. The belief doesn’t even seem plausible.”
As clearly non-religious as Gregor is, I could see his head knock back an inch at such a radical idea. But, in Germany especially, the magnificence of the church buildings themselves reflect quite accurately the spiritual reality: archaic and historic, out of place in the modern age, but nice to look at and appreciate the old beauty. The point of the book, I admitted, was to offer a glimpse into a new channel.
Suddenly I realized something along my own evolution of thought, which was manifesting into a breathed and lived reality: I was sitting and talking about global spirituality in another country, partly even in another language. What’s more, these people were truly relating. Gregor even put it into German words where I could not (I can understand much better than I’m able to express):
“You and me come from quite different worlds, really, but I think in the end, we understand this same ‘transcendent dimension.’”
This conversation was an appropriate analogy on still one other level: at the intersection of cultural communication, there is kind of a gray area of non-translation, where depth is being ‘lost in translation.’ I would communicate part through English, Gregor understanding a great deal of it, and Gregor would sometimes fill in his gaps through English, me understanding some German. However, it was a kind of awkward no-man’s land of tenuous communication. The depth of a common set of symbols the shared users of a given language share cannot be matched. This point didn’t escape me when I thought about religion:
The emergent, global culture is kind of this gray, intersection of culture and language that is able to meet, but lacks a certain depth. When speaking about a spirituality of it, that can actually express itself in the day-to-day requirements living in the modern age requires, some danger of losing depth exists. But, as I insisted to Gregor, however implausible, this culture is emerging; and as all my business English students realize, it is only growing as Capitalism requires the opening of more and more markets, and greater and greater inter-connection. The trend is only going to continue.
The fact that I, an American (not a very wealthy one, either), was sitting in his German living room already attested to the prevalence of globalism. Why, I was living what I was preaching.
Still one other point that relates to the fusion of thought-lines my mind’s been constructing for awhile: when speaking about the future of Capitalism to a German student of mine (he speaks really good English already, and I only try to develop it through intellectual, nuanced conversations of macro-economics), he talked about the growing necessity of an inter-national watchdog to oversee the prevention of tax-evasion through profit-funneling into tax-havens. It wasn’t necessarily wrong, he argued, that the businesses wanted to maximize profit, but some sort of international governing agency was needed if the problems produced by an unrestricted Capitalism continued. He offered IASB as a great example of “an international standard without a government.”
But, he realized, it was probably coming to the point, however implausible, where some sort of global, governing body would be needed. “But I just can’t see that happening.”
Looking as ever to history as my guide, I counterpoised, “Yeah, but at some point in history, fiefdoms were united into a kingdom. Kingdoms at one point became Nations, as much as the national vision encroached on the interests of smaller sovereigns.” As much as the two perspectives continue to clash on terms of interest, the fact remains that a push forced smaller units of autonomy into greater collections of a ‘whole’.
A fact that doesn’t just exist in political boundaries. A phenomenon that exists at the very fundamental level of atoms. A phenomenon that exists spiritually…
One best represented, actually, by the prophet Muhammad and his vision of God which would transform-and rapidly-a nomadic culture into an empire (to be continued)…