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We are asked sometimes what practices we recommend to seekers who are new to the spiritual path, or to seekers whose progress seems to themselves to be sluggish or otherwise not rewarding.
The answer to that question depends almost entirely on who is asking it. That is, the spiritual process is by definition the most intimate and personal undertaking any of us will undertake. How and where we begin is unavoidably a factor of who and where we are at the start.
The safest and most reliable solution is to find — or be found by — a Teacher or a Guru, and then follow his or her instructions.
However, in the apparent absence of that condition (apparent because a seeker may very well be — almost certainly is — in the custody of a Teacher, and not aware of it, as the awakening of spritiual interest is in itself evidence of a Teacher’s influence), at TZF (The Zoo Fence) we are generally inclined to suggest the path we took at the outset, precisely because it is the only path we know from personal, successful experience.
First, truly to succeed as a seeker — or, for that matter, in any other human endeavor — one needs to make a firm and indelible commitment to the process. We need to affirm to ourselves and to God (in whatever Form or Formlessness we understand that word to mean at the moment, fully and comfortably aware that our understanding of it will grow, change, and mature over the months and years ahead) that our commitment to the spiritual undertaking overrides and supersedes everything else in our life. Just so, in the Gospels, Jesus commands, “First seek the Kingdom of God”. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna instructs, “Fix your mind on Me”. Similar injunctions can be found in virtually all traditions.
What that means to us is that we need to see ourselves first as a seeker, and then as a husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, banker, farmer, airline pilot, bus driver, postman, dress maker, and so on. In other words, everything else we do in life, every other role we play, must be put into the context of our spiritual search, and be relegated to a place below it. Now, this is not to suggest that we should become less enthusiastic in our role as husband or wife, dress maker or airline pilot, or whatever; indeed, quite the contrary is likely to be the case. However, what it does mean, in the very beginning at least, is that now the Supreme, and our relationship with the Supreme, has entered into and tempered every relationship and role in our life.
Why is this commitment so important? As we at TZF understand the Universe, our lives are a manifestation or expression of ourselves. In effect, what each of us sees and feels and experiences “out there” is nothing more (or less) than what we are within. This is what we mean in the book Take Off Your Shoes by the expression, “the universe is plutonic”. In geology, the term plutonic describes a formation whose shape and nature are determined by what is taking place beneath the surface. That is, inner activity creates and shapes and determines the outer formation. Our lives are precisely like that. Everything that happens “to” us is a direct and perfect reflection of something within. So if we wish to change our outer lives, if we wish our lives to reflect and reward our spiritual search, we must first make the change on the inner; we must decide and express our new spiritual intent. If we wish to progress along the spiritual path consistently and successfully, we must absolutely commit ourselves on the inner to that undertaking. Otherwise our progress will be uneven. In other words, if we are “sort of” committed to the spiritual path, then our lives will unfold “sort of” successfully. The outer follows the lead of the inner.
The mechanics of making such a commitment will vary with every seeker. We recommend a ceremony of some kind to which God is invited. In this ceremony, seekers are urged to explain to God what it is they think they are doing, and what it is they expect in return. In effect, execute a contract, a contract which we recommend be in writing. A simple, single sheet of paper will do, an exchange of vows between ourselves and God: we promising our attention and obedience as seekers, God promising encouragement, instruction, and love. A few words will do, something like, “From this day forward, I consider myself first and foremost a seeker, and I promise to devote my life to that role, so that whatever else I may be or do, will be in that context. In return, I expect You to guide me, teach me, protect me, and awaken me, and to love and nourish me.”
Ask a Teacher, a Realized Master. He or she will tell you: Even while being stoned or nailed to a cross, they love everyone and everything around them, because they love what they are, and they are at peace. Peace is all they know and all they see. Likewise, you and I will see the lion and the lamb in the jungle lay down together the very same moment the lion and the lamb within us lay down together.
Search deeply within, and find out who you are. Ask yourself why you think the way you do, behave as you do. What is the source of your likes and dislikes, your inclinations and your prejudices, your habits and tendencies? Everything you believe about everything. Who taught those things to you? Suppose you had been born of different parents in a different country, attended different schools and had different teachers, would your beliefs be the same as they are now? Might you then be friends and allies with the very people you now distrust and despise? What does that tell you about the nature — the depth, the permanence, the validity — of your convictions? Remember, all of this stuff is being reflected back at you every single day, as your life.
Now, having written it, sign it. And read it. In the early days, read it frequently. You want this document, both its letter and its spirit, to become firmly anchored within you.
With that done, the rest will surely follow. Opportunities will arise, books will become available to us, we may discover new websites, meet new people, learn about workshops or conferences, and so on, all of which will in some way relate to our spiritual commitment. In effect, we will have enrolled in a new course, entered a new classroom, and the curriculum will begin to unfold — naturally and on its own.
That said, to those new seekers who are in the process of making a firm commitment to the path but whose path does not seem to them to have taken shape yet, we are generally inclined to recommend that they undertake to complete the exercises in the Workbook for Students volume which is part of A Course in Miracles. The Workbook for Students consists of 365 daily exercises which are intended to be done one a day every day for a year. We urge seekers to do those exercises precisely as they are presented in the book, without attempting to analyze them or even understand them. That is, simply do them. At first, they almost certainly will seem confusing, even silly, but our experience has been that at the end of a year, an aspiring seeker will not regret having done it.
The reason we suggest the Workbook for Students to new seekers is that, besides its other considerable merits, it provides an excellent means of learning discipline and obedience, two characteristics which virtually every tradition demands. There are, of course, lots of other spiritual tools and vehicles which offer the very same. Here again, which of these will work best for a new seeker depends upon who and where he or she is at the moment of beginning. What is important, in our view, is that a seeker find a method that demands attention and rewards commitment. In our experience, the Workbook for Students volume of A Course in Miracles is that.
Whatever route you choose to take, have no fear. The moment you decide to discover the Truth — of yourself, of the Universe, of God — wheels are set into motion. You will be guided. Your eventual success is certain.
Give up, and you will succeed.
Here is how we define the word “seeker” on The Zoo Fence website’s definitions page: Seeker and its verb forms (like seeking) are words we use frequently. They are, in effect, what The Zoo Fence is about. What we mean when we use the word seeker is someone who has made a sacred commitment to himself or herself and to the Supreme (God), however perceived, in these or similar terms, written and/or spoken, but, in any case, repeated many, many times, “Above all else, I want to Know my True Nature.” Thus, for us, a seeker is one who has bravely and %steadfastly set out on a journey to the Truth, a journey sometimes referred to as the spiritual path, and wherever it leads, the seeker will go. We might say that a seeker is a religious person, except that very often a seeker is not interested in religion as such, its definitions, prescriptions, proscriptions, and so on, except as they relate to his or her Search. A seeker’s overriding interest is in discovering the Truth about his or her Nature; therefore, he or she will often not mind crossing religious barriers and boundaries, if that is what it seems to take to find what he or she is looking for. There is no institutional prejudice, or impatience, or animosity here, only a thirst for Reality. Seekers %re not necessarily easily recognized, for there are no telltale signs. To his or her colleagues, friends, and family, a seeker may appear no differently than themselves, working as they do, dressing as they do, relating as they do; just another banker or farmer, psychotherapist or store clerk, mom, dad, sister or brother. But that normal appearance is deceiving, for a seeker is different. And the difference is that seeking defines and determines a seeker’s self-perception, and therefore everything about a seeker’s life. To a seeker, seeking is not simply an activity, like hang gliding, which one can consign to weekends and holidays, or even just another goal, like financial security. Seeking is what a seeker is, always. Everything about a seeker exists or occurs in that context, and is colored by it. “Where I used to be simply an airline pilot [or whatever],” a seeker will tell you, if pressed, “now I am a seeker who flies airplanes [or whatever].” Whatever else a seeker does, or whatever else a seeker seems to be, a seeker is first and foremost, even only, a seeker. Thus, sometimes, we use the word monk to describe a seeker, because we like the image of one who may seem to live an ordinary life — farming, nursing, making wine, or whatever, but who has consciously, voluntarily undertaken a permanent, indelible, life-shaping Commitment to the Divine, and who, beneath the cowl, is not the least bit ordinary. In a word, as one of the dictionaries on our desk defines it, a seeker is a person who seeks.
“Ahimsa” is a word often heard in a spiritual context. Here is our definition of it: From a Sanksrit word meaning “without injury, or non-harming”, ahimsa describes the principle and practice of non-injury to any living beings, whether by action, word, or thought. For many, it is the basis of vegetarianism. Consider this: Human beings arbitrarily separate the physical world into three distinct kingdoms — animal, plant, and mineral, by drawing lines across the face of reality based upon parameters which we define. Then, we decide which inhabitants of those kingdoms are alive and which are not, and which among those which we consider to be alive, are more alive than others. So, for example, human beings conclude that lava is not alive, and cows are more alive than carrots. Naturally, we label ourselves as the most alive (most advanced) of all. As we see it in TZF, there is only one kingdom, the One, and it is entirely, absolutely, indivisibly, and thoroughly alive, for it is Life Itself, and all the lines, separations, definitions, labels, and distinctions which human beings place upon the One are false, illusory, and misleading. For us, ahimsa means living a life which seeks to understand, to apply, and to Real-ize That Truth. So, we consider what we eat to be less important than why we eat, or than what we think about what we eat. We believe that to look upon a thing as separate and distinct from, not to mention less than, ourselves, does both it and ourselves harm and injury, whether the thing be a ledge of rock, a leaf of lettuce, or a leg of lamb.