Faith is a controversial subject these days. The dark side of any kind of faith or world view based and expressed through religious fundamentalism promotes hatred, condemnation of others, and a certain kind of religious ethnocentrism or elitist attitude. One has only to think of the Crusades, Hitler, or Jihad.
Faith is usually associated with religion and a system of belief in a deity, cosmovision, the trustworthiness of a spiritual teacher like the Buddha or the Christ, or a transcendent meaning or purpose for life. We spend most of our lives differentiating from the unconsciousness of the womb, developing our ego, personality and identity. We rush around from job to job, project to project, go to school and building a family or career in the great effort to find meaning and purpose to our lives.
Many at the more mythological stages of consciousness may find such meaning, for awhile at least, in religion or a career. But there comes a certain point in our psycho-spiritual growth process, when we begin to realize that all these things are not enough, do not truly satisfy our innermost being. But without the buoyancy of some kind of faith that there is a greater meaning to life, even some of the most accomplished in education, careers or wealth, give sway to numbing their existential pain through greed, drugs, alcohol, or even suicide.
However, there is a deeper meaning and experience of faith that promotes well-being, wisdom, tranquility and a greater love and connectedness with the universe and each other. It’s not merely an intellectual subscription to a set of creeds, morality or worldview. Rather, it is an experience developed partially through the normal and healthy psychological growth process and maturity that comes with age and experience; but more specifically is an experience of transformation cultivated through spiritual practices, especially meditation.
Most, if not all, of the great world religions and many primitive and tribal spiritualities like the Aborigine, Native American Indian or Shamanism in general, contain a perennial wisdom that sinks deeper than the superficial level of the mythological and ritual dimension of religion. Historically, the process of learning and developing the higher faculties of the mind were relegated for only the few, the priestly cast, shamans or monastic’s. It involved intensive training in stillness and awareness practices through silence and meditation.
Most of us live in the egoic level of consciousness. We are so completely identified with our own ego, our persona, and attached to our emotional states, that it is difficult to differentiate between our false self system and the deeper inner self. Because of this we are prone to frenetic and impulsive behavior depending on what energies are arising in our minds (thoughts), emotions or physical sensations. We identify with what we are thinking or feeling in the moment. I am angry. I am tired. I want this or I want that. I dislike that person, place or thing. There is no end to the waves of feelings, cravings or aversions that keep us running around like a mouse running on wheel. But through spiritual practices and disciplines, like meditation, we learn to slow down, become still and aware of the various energies that arise within us. We learn to be physically still and mentally aware of the inner movements of thought, emotions and sensation.
The realization that all these interior energies are constantly changing, constantly in flux, begins to dawn on us. We become aware that there is a deeper center to our existence, an inner being, which can simply watch and be aware of the arising of these energies, without our attaching to them. We become aware that we are not our thoughts, feelings and sensations; and so we learn to let go of our attachment and identity with all of these inner energies that are constantly changing and raging within us. Try it for yourself as a kind of experiment. Sit quietly and try to focus on one single thing (perhaps an apple) for just two minutes and see how many different thoughts, feelings, and sensation arise; and how quickly we try to attach ourselves to the onslaught of these energies. But these energies are not really who we are at our deepest existential level of being. The more we practice stillness, silence, meditation and simply letting go our attachments and aversions, the more our sense of peace and tranquility begins to develop.
The exciting thing is, where once such practices we reserved for the few, they are now available to all of us. Our world is growing smaller. People of different faiths and cultures now live side by side as citizens of a larger global community. The internet has also expanded the availability of information about almost anything we want to learn about. More importantly, the sages who once reserved these teachings exclusively for disciples and ascetics who live in ashrams and monasteries, are now intentionally making many of these teachings available for those of us who live and work in the modern world.
As Jack Kornfield says, “Take up the One Seat of Meditation and become your own Monastery.”