Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | July 5, 2008

Spiritual Path or Spiritual Home?

We’re very used to talking about our spiritual life in terms of a path, but sometimes we talk about ‘finding our spiritual home’, and the other day it occurred to me that these two different ways of thinking about our spirituality reflect the two primal modes of being best articulated by the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang.

If we use the metaphor of a path, we see ourselves as taking a journey through life, and we find ourselves seeking the best path to attain our goals – of enlightenment, self-realization, fulfillment, or however we choose to articulate the ‘Holy Grail’ we are seeking. Seeing ourselves taking a path is a product of linear, rational, left-brain thinking – it is set in time, and is disposable – in the sense that a path should have obsolescence built into it. A path is like the booster rocket to get you to your goal. Once there, it should fall away. As the spiritual teacher Sean O’Laoire, quoted in a post on this blog a few days back, says: At the beginning of our search we may set out together on a common path.  At some stage, if we persevere long enough, we will each chose a path less travelled.  And for the final stretch of the journey you will “go where no man has gone before.”  You will forge a brand-new path in the trackless, uncharted wilderness that leads into the very heart of the Mystery.

But how does Yin rather than Yang see the spiritual life? If you use the metaphor of a ‘home’ rather than a ‘path’ you are switching to right-brain thinking, and your understanding is more feeling-based than intellectual. When you’re on a path you’re thinking about moving along it and the goal ahead. When you come home, you switch off your thinking and settle into a feeling of warmth, safety, comfort and nurturing. This feeling is not time-bound and is about settling in rather than moving on – a spiritual home is not disposable.

Neither metaphor is more right or ‘true’ of course – they both have value in helping us understand spiritual life and practice. They certainly seem to correspond to brain function, but I suspect they correlate with our evolution too – the path appeals to the nomad, the wanderer in us, the home appeals to the agrarian and urban.

If the ‘Alchemical Marriage’ of God and Goddess Within is what we seek, then we can have our cake and eat it: following a path, and finding our home at the same time.


Responses

  1. So perhaps this Unio Mystica transcendents space and time?

  2. What a lovely idea! This really speaks to me. Perhaps it is also a mark of our evolution that (hopefully) we might be able to hold the seeming paradox of these two approaches within us without viewing them as dualistically opposed, and thereby moving away from the ‘either/or – I/other’ that dominates our culture and seems to cause so much conflict and intolerance.

    I think in my early life, I perceived myself far more as being on a path, or journey. Now I think that the concept of home is stronger within me; somehow that linear path seems to curve its way back into a circle, one that speaks so much of belonging and being rather than doing or quest. But I am aware that these perceptions move in and out of each other, fuelling each other – just like the beautiful Taoist symbol that, in a simple and powerful way, expresses the constant movement, flow and interaction of the forces that support life.

    It makes me feel excited to think that I am already home and yet I have the joy and anticipation of the journey ahead too! Thank you Philip -this has been a very timely post for me (for reasons too big and boring to mention here!) -a little light has switched on in my head.


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