In watching Charles Eisenstein's kindhearted and thought–provoking TED New Haven talk (I am a fan), I was again struck by that age-old difficulty that our form presents us in coming to terms with our apparent duality; the schism dividing the nature of our tangible material being in relation to our less physically tangible spiritual self.
The possessor of inspirational intelligence, Mr. Eisenstein suggests a very rational, and a somewhat mystical, alternative to both the obvious "real-life" demands of our day-to-day material existence, and those elusive, "unprovable" ideals of an underlying spiritual reality; namely by taking part in giving. By becoming part of that circle of unconditional concern for your fellow human beings – the approach to Life, the action that some might call "compassionate consciousness."
It's an idea that while certainly not original is one that becomes original to each of us (over and over and over...) when we experience it's significance for ourselves.
Having had the great [mis]fortune of surviving more than one "near-death experience," I've found myself (unintentionally) quite certain of the spiritual reality that underlies, enfolds, informs, and probably precipitates all of this success-seeking, rent-paying, toe-stubbing material existence – what the Hindu call maya, the illusional surface of Life. For me, proof of the unseen is not an issue
While being hit on the head very hard has most likely permanently excluded me from thinking at a level anywhere near Mr. Eisenstein's, it was probably what I really needed – an experience that (painfully) proved the existence of a reality that's magically extra-dimensional in every sense – physically, spiritually, and conceptually. To those less identified with their thinking, I suppose this is called Faith.
There is a real endearing charm to Mr. Eisenstein's pensive onstage struggle with this faith, a sincerity and naîveté that's maybe a bit more touching to those who've suffered a few more slings and arrows. I'm grateful, on his account, that it only seems to require small things to set his remarkable mind to work on finding ways to bridge the gap, when it apparently takes incomprehensible demoralization for some of us; though what you might be lucky to see while peering into that abyss is the incontrovertibly quirky intelligence and order alive in the universe. You see Love – which appears to me to be what Mr. Eisenstein is struggling to express.
So while I don't at all recommend near-death as a solution to bridging that awkward gap between the harsher physical and cultural realities of material life and the blissful recognition of The Divine inherent in a fully spiritual life, perhaps I can augment Mr. Eisenstein's excellent start on a solution with these suggestions that arise from this simple "alternate" reality:
We are spiritual beings learning through physical experience; we are designed to overcome the barriers presented by the physical (assimilating sensory experiences) and realize our spiritual nature; there are bridges – invisible spiritual mechanisms (choices) – built into our physical experience that afford us passages to our spiritual evolution.
Here are a few that seem to work to bridge that gap:
The Giving he mentioned: Compassionate consciousness (altruistic effort, like charity and volunteerism), often referred to simply as service (responsible parenthood, being a good friend, etc.), is clearly one of these bridges. It is the singular most effective means to experientially overcoming the sense of separateness we develop while sitting and thinking about ourselves and our life situations.
With selfless service, we are immediately attached to universal intelligence by the lightest of all yokes – the attachment created by contributing to the cycle of well-being with no regard for reward or recognition. We almost immediately escape the harsh realities dictated by our ego; and lighten and align our karma. (Karma Yoga)
Unconditional kindness is another one of these mechanisms that engages us with Life at a spiritual level by giving us heartfelt identification with others; the warmth and support that we respond to ourselves when it is unconditionally shown to us. It is being unconditionally kind to ourselves. Of course, with kindness there's no exploiting, manipulating, or participating in killing of any kind. (Karma Yoga)
Honesty – intellectually, and in what you might think of as a constant variation of (appropriately restrained) confession is a rather visible invisible bridge. You'll have few of material life's complications to fear, because you simply never add to them. Your motives remain those of a seeker of truth and wisdom. You become seen and known as a person who is resolutely trustworthy, whose intentions are of the highest order – and that sounds pretty spiritual, doesn't it? (Gnana Yoga)
Conscious contact with Source Energy: The personal attachment and conscious surrender into the energy and intelligence alive in the Universe, regardless of whether we personify that power in popular traditional ways, or form our own concept of it as a field or other force. In this way, we surrender (as a strategy) into the power that energizes and directs our being, recognizing the limited control that the choices we make give us over our lives. You become aware of all kinds of beauty; the inherent divinity in nature; and realize that your actions in Life can be devoted to this Source of creation – to Love. (Bhakti Yoga)
And finally, Humility (as Mr. Eisenstein so sincerely demonstrates). Not humility as described by Screwtape ("Hell's definition" in C.S.Lewis' The Screwtape Letters) as a form of self-deprecatory ineffectiveness, but instead as a subtle sense of reality and connection. As an extraordinary underlying energy that filters all of your Life experiences, and provides an intuitive ideal to live by with purpose and grace. We've all experienced this powerful kind of humility as a truth-bearing, holistic force in Life.
Giving is a very important bridge, to be sure, and to an agnostic it's a major break-through. I don't pretend to know the designs of the Universe, only to have experienced the effectiveness of these invisible (visible) mechanisms in my own life, and in the lives of those I'm close to; but I do know this: You deserve the life that you have – with your difficulties most often defined by whether you travel these bridges towards the spiritual, or away from it. All of it is magic.