I have this memory of an Easter long ago. My brother, sister, and I had taken pains to bury our eggs under leaves in the yard, behind the bushes, or under the empty flower pots. My dad, however, had boldly placed his eggs out in the open, flanked by smooth stones of similar size or perched precisely atop the porch handrail like an ornamental fixture. He understood what we children had not yet learned: sometimes it is hardest to see what is easiest to see. Our frenzied clamor to be the first to uncover as many eggs as possible was transformed into an exercise of reseeing.
This is the same sort of transition I have been making in my journey as a spiritual seeker. For most of my life, I had been proud of being energetic and driven in this area, looking under every rock and rooting around in each dark corner. A traveler on the path to enlightenment, I saw myself as a wandering philosopher, an explorer, sometimes as a vagabond. Each time I wandered off course, or was knocked down, I managed to pull myself back up and began my quest all over again. I thought it was my dogged determination to search as long and hard as necessary that set me apart and that would ultimately guarantee my success. When I felt strong, I ran. When I was weak, I crawled. But with few significant interruptions, I moved assertively in what I believed to be the direction of the prize I thought would be mine if I were committed enough.
Here’s the really funny thing: Even as I was investing and reinvesting, over and over again, in the exhausting spiritual project of pinpointing such spiritual attainments, I was becoming well versed in the lessons illustrating the folly of precisely such an approach. In fact, for decades now I have been able to recite chapter and verse all sorts of cautionary tales about being distracted by patterns of seeking. There are the parables about treasure seekers who overlook the chest of riches on which they sit. There is the story of the pickpocket who nearly goes mad searching for a precious jewel only to discover that it has been in his own pocket the entire time. There’s the tale of the banquet guests who become so dazzled by the reception area that they miss out on the feast altogether. Is there any great spiritual tradition that does not warn us about the seductive temptations of overlooking the kingdom within in favor of endless external searching?
We diligent spiritual students have probably heard over and over again that if we overlook what is most precious it is only because of how near it is. Closer than our breath. Closer even than our own heartbeat. If we have been on this path for a while, it has probably been patiently explained to us repeatedly that it is only because of the obviousness, simplicity and ubiquity of “enlightenment” that we overlook it. It’s like when my father hid those Easter eggs in plain sight. He understood the sheer delight we would feel when, in a single shift of perception, an egg would suddenly emerge from its surroundings to be seen. There is, it turns out, sheer joy in the realization that what we have so frantically been trying to uncover has been right here under our noses all along.
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