I’ve been reading “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English”, a great book by Bhante Gunaratana. (He has also written “Mindfulness in Plain English”, a classic and essential book for those looking to initiate or energize an existing meditation regime, and the foundational book for the Four Foundations.)
This short book takes the concepts of mindfulness meditation (also known as insight or Vipassana meditation within Buddhist circles) and expands them – via the Buddha’s four foundations – into tools and techniques to develop mindfulness “off the cushion”. It’s worth a read. Anyhow, the author defines a unique feeling he calls “spiritual urgency”:
As we meditate, certain special feelings may arise. One of these is called “spiritual urgency”. We see clearly that pain arises and pain disappears; pleasure arises and pleasure disappears. As we watch this repeating pattern, an insight arises that as long as we take birth in any form, we will continue to suffer. This insight inspires us to accelerate our spiritual practice and find a way to end this vicious cycle of birth and death right now, once and for all.
Ever since I began my journey into spiritual practice, I have been followed by a sensation of immediacy – anything from a gentle inner challenge to an earth shattering, un-ignorable, apocalyptic urgency .When I was previously involved within spiritual community, dedicating much time to meditation and mindfulness, I felt a comfortable level of spiritual urgency. This might manifest as a desire to maintain a sharper mind through my sadhana, or an urge to wake up earlier to meditate longer. I felt a gentle inner challenge to move towards mindfulness.
BUT – all this changed when I came back from my initial stay at the ashram and re-enrolled in university. I was in a different world, with old friends to catch up with, new people to meet, love interests to pursue, clubs and sports, and a plethora of other attractive options. Within half a year, my practice was faltering and inconsistent. [Note: This is not an excuse. Meditation needs no special consideration – it can be done in anyone’s life, no matter how busy/exciting. I dropped the ball.]
This is when I began to learn a profound insight: Once our spiritual urgency has been deeply felt and sincerely followed, we must not turn back.
It’s too late. You are down the rabbit hole. You have realized that the only Truth, and the only permanence, lies within union to the universe. To try and make any attempts towards satisfaction in any other realm – no matter how initially appealing and productive – will never quell the fire of spiritual urgency. They may, perhaps, cover the flames and even reduce the fire to smoldering embers, but eventually whatever distraction placed over top of the True Desire will be converted into fuel for a raging inferno churning upwards into the Infinite.
The thing is, this spiritual urgency is not something suddenly awakened through deep meditation. It is present – and has been present – in every human on this planet. We are all trying to fill this void, whether we know it or not. We’re all on the same path, whether we know it or not. As the old Japanese saying goes, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view of the moon from the top is the same.” The main point separating our universal desire for liberation from “spiritual urgency” is that of awareness. If we happen to be at a point in our journeys where we can recognize spiritual urgency for what it is, then take action now, because rest assured we are destined to keep feeling the inner inferno burn until we take action and deeply integrate spiritual practice into our lives. You now know this path you are on is going to be summiting that mountain over there. May as well get prepared for the hike.