Let’s pretend you and I are at a well-lit cafe on a sidestreet in Paris. Perhaps it is the vibrant section of Belleville, full of artistic twenty-somethings, near a used bookshop, not far from the skinny platform on which Edith Piaf used to stand and sing.
Imagine we are talking about love and life, which are my favorite things to talk about, and even democracy, and society, and the way people function when it comes to money, and social standing.
You know what I would pay attention to, if I were curious about you, if I wanted to see what makes you tick? If I was trying to uncover whether I’d want to spend more time with you?
I’d look at how you treat the waiter.
Because waiters are some of my favorite people, and they are the ones who give me refuge when I travel, or even when I’m close to home. Waiters live and breathe hospitality (the decent ones, of course), and when I am walking through a large city, or even a quiet countryside, and I find myself at a cafe, and I’m able to order food after several long hours of being hungry, and a waiter delivers that food and gets me a carafe de l’eau, I feel like a princess, and I feel like I’ve come home. And the waiter talks to me, and asks me where I’m from, and responds to my requests. So I don’t take a waiter for granted.
If you’re not kind to the waiter, you’re on my watchlist, because I’m not interested in hanging out with anyone who thinks he or she is better than anyone else, who has some inherent mindset that she is elevated above others in some kind of way.
The thing that wounded people like to do, even people who do not know or admit they are wounded, is find some sort of validation and vindication in placing themselves along an invisible hierarchy in life. They like to paint a little picture of how it all works, a kind of social ladder, and their place in that social ladder. And they either take comfort in where they are located in that ladder, if it’s relatively high, or they feel like self-righteous victims for being lower, as though there is some value in being at the bottom, so they cling to that as part of their identity because it establishes what they feel to be self-worth in victimhood.
Dear Lord, please do not do either of these things, and scrap your ladder altogether, and simply focus on goals. A ladder may exist in the man-made world, but it is not an emblem of truth according to what is inside you, or what it is inside every person. The amount of money you have, or your social status and recognition, is not indicative of your inherent value, or anyone else’s. Each person you meet will offer their own unique gifts. Kindness and a generous spirit wins, though, all the way.
It is hard to believe this in a culture obsessed with money. The wise people know that it’s just a tool, or a consequence.
Which brings me to this next piece of philosophy.
The spiritual teacher is a mirror for you, and what comes out in you when you are in the presence of a spiritual teacher is either the best part of you, or a part you need to look at more carefully, a part that is holding you back.
You could say everyone is your spiritual teacher, in some way. Everyone is your mirror. This is possible, but it’s also confusing to the overthinking brain, and if you’re looking in everyone for a “teacher,” you’re going to have option paralysis trying to find pieces of yourself in the many-colored mirrors of the world.
So set yourself on this: a spiritual teacher is someone who creates some sort of animation in you. Or, a spiritual teacher is someone who slows you down, makes you pause. Or a spiritual teacher is someone who makes you sit back and think, and enhances your curiosity. If you’re moving through life feeling numb, you may be sleeping too deeply to acknowledge a spiritual teacher, but one will certainly come, and you’ll recognize her by the way her presence forces you to open your eyes.
The spiritual teacher may draw out the truest parts of you, the juiciest bits, because you feel safe in her presence, comfortable enough to be yourself, even when being yourself is somewhat surprising. Or you may notice harder, washed-out edges that present themselves inside you, something you didn’t want to see or know.
As a yogi and a shapeshifter, the greatest spiritual teacher, Jesus, was able to adapt and be flexible for what any particular moment called for. He was always, consistently, light and love, but that didn’t mean that he was always calm and blissed out and smelling like roses. People think an enlightened person has no personality, and that their eyes are always half-closed and nothing phases them. This could not be farther from the truth. Human beings are a mimicry of the many faces of the divine, and anyone worth their salt who is teaching you a lesson is going to have their own personal brand in doing so. Because one person is not another, see. We are made of the same essence, but we all have our own unique flavor. And so Jesus, or a spiritual teacher you know, would have brought different gifts to the table in different milieus, in order to relate to the people in front of him, because the divine works as a moving through.
We tend to think spirituality is like the social ladder I’ve described above, a practice of attainment. We acquire and acquire and acquire all these mysteries, this information and practice, all these experiences. But then we are left, in the end, with just a different sort of capitalism, and just one more label for ourselves about all the things we have acquired. This is why I am reluctant to say to anyone that I am “spiritual,” because people don’t know what it means, and I prefer to talk in verbs rather than adjectives.
True Spirituality is a stripping away of all our labels and preconceptions and notions, until we begin to recognize and see the world for what it is, what exists at the root of all of us, this golden, blooming gem. And we operate from that deep, well-rooted place, and not from any sort of hierarchy.
Jesus’s brand is not all blissed out, like smoking marijuana in a white room, all C’est la vie, and “love your neighbor, dude.” And it is not sitting under a tree and sorting out the ways of the universe and having people come to him so he can teach.
Jesus is warm and vibrant, deeply compassionate and alive, traveling from place to place, going wherever he is called. Jesus sees himself, first and foremost, as a servant, led by God to do good work in the world. He had passion in his compassion, vitality in his words and heart, and was constantly moved my people’s faith. That’s what impressed him first and foremost, you know. That’s what brought him to his knees. It was not someone’s daily practices and how they could check the box to show how dedicated they were. It was not someone’s social standing, or whether they were particularly liked. It was not someone’s intellect and how many followers they had. What impressed him was faith. It was when people simply believed who he said he was. He was strong, and knowing of so much, but also human, and of course all humans get a little lonely. But what lifted him up was the way people trusted in him, and came to him, and confided in him, and that humbled him more than anything else in the world, because he just loved people, especially people who could sort through the social ladders and the bullshit and see what was true.
You didn’t have to have a lot of money to discover that. You didn’t have to have a ton of education. You simply had to be humble enough to believe, and ask for help, and your prayers were answered in some manner or form.
Now, perhaps we have finished our plate of pasta, and the wine is down to the last drop. I have finished smoking my cigarette, mon cherie, and it is a nasty habit, but one I only take up while I’m here.
So let’s pay the nice waiter and take a walk, darling. Let’s find an overlook and gaze at the lights. The Eiffel Tower is beaming.