Goal of the Path
When I find a phrase or sentence in a book that arrests my attention, I feel like I just found a diamond. Of course, it is not materially valuable, but a great phrase or sentence adds value to my life and the way I understand life. In fact, I wish I had started collecting these “diamonds” early in my life---maybe from college to today. I wonder how many of these I would have in my treasury?
I am sure if I were to cull the various things I have written, I would have a minimal list of these phrases and sentences. They would fill many pages in a notebook and would be a wonderful reservoir of inspiring thoughts. Even though I don’t have that notebook, I still go in search of the phrase or sentence that stops me in my tracks and lets me exclaim, “Yes!”
I found one of these sentences recently when I was re-reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s little book, Going Home. I have read this book more than once. I have used it in some classes. Although I am not Buddhist like Hanh, nevertheless I very much resonate with his sense of life and how to make life meaningful and purposeful. This quotation is not Buddhist-specific. Maybe that is part of its value to me.
Hanh says, “True faith comes from how the path you are taking can bring you into life and love and happiness everyday.” I realize this sentence has to do with true faith. However, that part does not interest me very much. I was much more captivated by the notion of our “path.” I know that “path” is a timeworn image for our lives. Along with other favorite images, like pilgrimage, journey and others, the image of a path does a good job of portraying how our lives go from point A (birth) to point Z (death).
Of course, a path is meant to be walked. We can say that we walk our path day by day. There is directionality to a path; it goes somewhere. At my age I confess I am pretty well along on my path. That equates path quantitatively to specific number of years. But a path can be qualitative, too. Qualitatively or spiritually, I might be an old guy, but still early on my path. I can be old in years and young in spiritual development. Seen this way, I have a long ways to travel on my path.
As we said, a path has a destination; it is meant to get you somewhere. I like the way the Hanh quotation articulates the destination. He uses three words to describe it: life, love and happiness. I would be delighted to have my path take me to these three goals. I would be thrilled to find a path that enables me to live---really live---instead of merely existing. I want a path that takes me to love and, hopefully, to a deep love. I want to love life, love others, love my enemies and love the natural world, which is the mother of us all. And finally, I would very much desire to be happy. Most sane people would opt for happiness, as opposed to sadness, disappointment or sorrow.
So I resonate with Hanh’s goals for a path. The question he poses is whether how my path can bring me to these three goals. Perhaps, the prior question is whether my path can deliver me to these three. Only if it can deliver me, can we ask how. Of course, we know there are many paths that our lives take. I am sure not all of those paths take us to life, love and happiness.
Many years ago, I chose a path that is spiritual. It would take a book to describe the detail of what that choice means. Succinctly, it means choosing a path that would be different than, say, a material path. A material path might focus on getting rich with the hope that money would ensure life, love and happiness. In the short run, money might just do that. But in the long run, I doubt it. That is why I cast my lot with the spiritual path.
My spiritual path includes a role for God. In fact, I feel like God is a fellow traveler with me on the path. Often that fellow traveler is a Spirit who offers inspiration and leadership. I like to think God has desires for me---perhaps directional desires. I sense the Spirit drawing me in the direction of life---a fuller, richer life. I sense the Spirit luring me in the direction of love---a deeper, satisfying love that is satisfying to every aspect of my soul. And I sense the Spirit opening me into a happiness that passes all understanding.
The happiness I find in the Spirit is not some giddy hilarity I have experienced with girlfriends when I was a teenager or other occasions. These are nice, but they are more temporary experiences of happiness. The happiness of the spiritual path is a happiness that endures. The spiritual happiness is more like well-being. There is a satisfaction with life in this happiness: that I am ok, that grace abounds and that, as Richard Rohr put it in a book title, everything belongs---me included. That is the goal of my path.