Letter from the Editor: Miracles and the Joy of Being Human

The spiritual path never goes as expected. At one moment I think I am “there” and in the next I make myself promise never to say that I am “there” again. Something happens which I can’t explain and I punch the air and say “yes that’s proof ” and one day later I tread on the loose floorboard and hear it make that sound again – one which yesterday was unexplained and supernatural. You declare anything to be conclusive, and a week later you find yourself saying “Oh well, sorry, it looks like I was wrong again”.

You don’t do it for the results. Both Buddhism and the Yogic tradition tell us not to be distracted by sudden siddhis or special powers. There’s a great anecdote in Rami Shapiro’s Holy Rascals. The author sits in Zen meditation and complains to his Buddhist teacher that enlightenment hasn’t come. The teacher however explains that there’s nothing you can do to achieve Nirvana, because it’s a matter of grace. “Sit because you like sitting. Or quit because you don’t like sitting. But don’t sit for any reason other than to sit.” We practise because it seems right.

In my case it always has felt right and I believe it always will. My life is better for it. I feel the grace in so many ways even though I never get the proof. Anyway, doubt is one of the great human qualities. Much of the time I wish I didn’t have doubt but actually– when I have my head screwed on properly – I know that it makes me a better human being. It’s part of the essence of being human.

The novelist Ursula K. Le Guin passed away this week. She was an inspiring person and will be much missed. She was a Taoist and published a wonderful version of the Tao Te Ching. I think she would have also recognized the above sentiments. Among the obituaries, I read a great quotation from her: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.” The quotation went on to make a political point, but I found it inspirational from a spiritual point of view. Change can happen that we find totally unexpected, and events can take place that change things utterly: no one expected them, yet they transform the landscape and a new landscape then takes shape around them. Some examples in the political world include the fall of the Berlin Wall or the election of Donald Trump, which virtually no expert predicted, even a week before it happened.

We need to remind ourselves that the same can happen in spiritual terms. We know that everything is flux. As Mooji says, “All forms appear inside the formless. How paradoxical that our most firm ground is in formlessness”. Great saints can levitate, masters can still appear youthful fifty years after we last met with them and alchemists turn lead into gold. We can of course dismiss these things as legends or just fanciful thinking, but, on another level, we have already seen that reptiles can grow new tails and humans can have new working limbs attached. Science can work apparent wonders and, let’s face it, no one knows where it might take us.

We have to stay aware that anything is possible and that miracles can happen. What we thought was a given can overnight become history. We must never lose heart. Likewise we must remain comfortable with doubt and uncertainty. Proof or certainty would be a blessing but if we never get it we don’t have to become disillusioned or give up. We are unsophisticated creatures on the cosmic scale, who spend much of our time groping in the dark. On the other hand we are capable of living with our doubt; we manage our waywardness and uncertainty and meanwhile rise to ecstatic heights and create Chartres Cathedral, the Taj Mahal and the Golden Gate Bridge. And that is why – according to legend – the angels themselves are said to envy us.

It’s a new year and a fresh start. There are going to be miracles and I hope some of what we have to offer here will help them to happen.

Adam Gordon is the Editor of the Cygnus Review. This letter was published in the Spring 2018 Cygnus Review.