"It's our daily dilemma," says David Steindl-Rast, a 77-year-old Benedictine monk who lives as a hermit in upstate New York. "A spiritual energy flows through the universe, a superaliveness—an active yes. Yet even though our greatest happiness comes from feeling this eternal connection, there's a tendency in all of us to close off from it. Those who counteract the tendency through practice deepen their sense of belonging and free this latent energy."
Focusing on gratitude enhances the feeling of connection. "When we say 'Count your blessings,' this is a very profound teaching," Brother David assures me. "A stream of energy—of blessing—is flowing from the universal source as blood pulsates from the heart. Knowing this, I'm energized and pass the blessing along to my brother so it flows again to its source. We create a network of grateful living."
Gratitude can also arise through meditation. Tara Brach, a psychologist and instructor of mindfulness practice, counsels students to harness an active yes through something she calls radical acceptance. "Our basic nature is loving awareness, but we forget," Brach says. "We disconnect; we perceive separation, and along with that illusion comes most of our suffering."
An excellent means of plugging back in, Brach maintains, is to begin with self-acceptance, opening with kindness to what is. "This compassionate quality wakes us up. We have more choices, we're more connected. Spiritual practice is about remembering who we are," Brach says. "Others' awareness helps us to remember—they become our mirrors. Resting together in this energy, we're not driven to create more violence in the world, nor to violate ourselves."
Hearing these words, I can't help thinking how closely the process of connection resembles love. When I mention my observation to David Steindl-Rast, he insists, "It is love." Not personal or romantic love but the love described in the various gospels—the love "which passeth all understanding"—the unconditional warmth that arises naturally from our humanity. It was this that I felt with the Daskalos: enormous, embracing, unstoppable love drawing me toward its own radiance. This force could save the world, I think, melt away borders, give us hope. Another great Christian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, articulated this for all time. "Someday after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness... the energies of love," he wrote. "Then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."
Mark Matousek's most recent book is Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good (Doubleday).
Find Your Spiritual Energy
- How to know you're on the right spiritual path
- The science behind belief
- 10 ways to stay spiritually connected