A lot of people who grew up in a traditional Western religion have absolutely no use for "God." Because they were taught that "God" is a punishing, vindictive, jealous, self-preoccupied male who is ready to squash us if we either make a mistake or become the least bit adventurous with our spirituality, they jettison the entire "otherness" dimension of the Divine. For them, God - if there is a God at all - becomes simply "the self" or "the higher Self."
However, this kind of spirituality is just as unsuitable as the traditional one. In American pop spirituality, the "God is Self" dogma often leads to narcissism, small-mindedness, disconnection and a loss of the radical sense of Mystery that true spirituality is supposed to provide. Whenever I find myself tiring of the usual "New Age" self-talk that is so prominent these days, I revel in listening to American Indian elders and teachers and their continual awe in the face of "The Great Mystery." For example, I love two of the Lakota words for God: "Tunkashila" ("Grandfather") and "Wakan Tanka" ("The Great Mysterious"). Together these provide a sense of both the personal and transpersonal dimensions of the Otherness of God. Added to these two is the term "Unci Maka" ("Grandmother Earth"}, which expresses the feminine aspect of the Divine.
Western Mysticism (and some forms of Eastern Mysticism, like Bhakti Hinduism) do a good job of balancing the "God" dimension and the "Self" aspect of the Ultimate Mystery. Or more accurately, the "God as Other" and "God as Self" dimensions. In a Wilderness Mysticism, we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of these two realities, with each side continually and playfully shapeshifting into the other. Using a mythological image, we might imagine that when we look Within into the mirror of our own self, we see God as Other reflected there. But when we turn our gaze toward the Horizon of Being in order to find God there, we instead see another mirror - one in which we see clearly our own true self. But when we turn our gaze back toward ourselves, we actually can find NO substantial self.
According to this myth, we have "mirrors" and "mirror-images" but no Originals from which those reflections could have arisen. This situation highlights three things: the mysterious Nature of God and Self, the eternal self-emptying of each into the other, and the fact that our true identity is to dwell IN BETWEEN Self and Other, and to watch as each shapeshifts continually INTO the other.
In Wilderness Mysticism, we focus on the Divine Presence as it manifests itself in Nature. Here, when we gaze, for example, at a beautiful mountain, it becomes for us a mirror of the solidity and dignified presence of our own inner self. However, when we look into our own self - especially into our own mind and heart and our experiences of awe, wonder, joy, peace, connectedness and intellectual seeking, we realize that we are a mirror in which the Mountain knows its own grandeur, beauty and goodness. Here, we might say that the Mountain is "God as Other," while our own inner workings are "God as Self." And our identity lies precisely IN BETWEEN, in the liminal space within which each side is able to shapeshift into the other. How amazing is this spiritual journey on which we all are traveling!
Photo: Limber Pines and spires above Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, December 25, 2015
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.