Movement, however, is not only critical to growth,
it’s one of the essential vehicles of spiritual transport—
used by shaking Shakers, quaking Quakers, whirling
Dervishes, walking meditators, holy rollers, trance
dancers, and labyrinth walkers. If restlessness were
only about running away from something, then how
to explain the psychology of pilgrimage, the search for
godself precisely through walkabout?
Also, among the most common symptoms of
spiritual awakening, as in ecstatic trance or dance, is
physical activity including vibrating, shaking and
contractions. In fact, spirituality itself, which Robert
Solomon in Spirituality for the Skeptic describes
as “the thoughtful love of life,” requires an active
emotional life (e-mote meaning to move out), as well
as impassioned engagements and quests.
These, of course, can sometimes tip over into
instability and insatiability, a kind of possessiveness
that has us flailing around in life, whacking at pinatas,
but spirituality isn’t only about peace of mind. As
Solomon writes, “It’s a passion, the passion for life and
for the world. It’s a movement, not a state.”
The ancient Greeks spoke of pothos, meaning a
longing for the unattainable and incomprehensible, a
word into which is rolled both desire and regret. On
a vase in the British Museum, Pothos is shown as the
chariot driver for Aphrodite, goddess of love. Literally
love’s driving force.
Pothos drives all impossible dreamers, wanderers,
and seekers. But he also tells us that the objects of our
desires, whether person, place or thing, are ultimately
just stand-ins for the Unattainable, for an experience
of perfect union, or self-transcendence, that keeps
drawing us on and on through life, only dimly aware
that no perfect place, romantic love, earthly paradise,
Olympic gold medal, or controlled substance—no It in
Making It—will fill The Void.
This isn’t to say it isn’t filled for brief and rapturous
moments when we fall in love or gain the promotion
or land in the new world. Then, for moments or hours
or even months, the walls come tumbling down, the
angel sheathes his flaming sword, and we’re back in the
Garden. For a visit.
The painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in
Rome captures the dilemma of our reach exceeding
our grasp: God and Adam are always reaching for one
another, but never touching. Restlessness and questing
are the passions at the core of spiritual life, creative life,
scientific life, and faith, but they can’t be resolved once
and for all. Longing is a human proclivity; quenching
it is not.
The secret of life, the sculptor Henry Moore once
said, is “to have a task, something you devote your
entire life to, something you bring everything to. And
the most important thing is, it must be something you
cannot possibly do.” So we go in search of the Garden.
We leave the sheltered cove and set coordinates for the
Unattainable. We try to change the world. Heaven is
there to help us keep our chins up. And if we’re lucky,
our questing brings us back to what may be the great
work after all: falling in love with an ordinary life, lived
on ordinary holy ground.
Excerpted from Vital Signs:
The Nature and Nurture of Passion
by Gregg Levoy with the permission