By Sean O’Donnell
“The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.” –Abraham Heschel
Upon returning to the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, I have been re-immersed in a plethora of tantric, non-dual practices and teachings. The amount of information and reminders of my True Nature has been almost overwhelming, but in a beautiful way. I’m at a point where when I start to feel this way, I like to take a moment to touch base with my past to establish a reference point for where I am now.
Coming Home to a Familiar Experience in a New Light
Last Saturday evening, I took a dip into my expansive pool of freedoms to take advantage of an opportunity to connect with friends, family, and a culture that sometimes seem distant while living in Mexico. On this particular night, tantric rituals were not in my field of awareness. Rather, my entire home state was buzzing about an entirely different kind of ritual―the biggest American football game of the year. This was a feeling that I grew up with, and felt very far removed from, but the buzz from so many of my loved ones still permeated the ether and was calling for me to tune in to a game I had told myself I no longer cared about.
So, I took a walk and found the perfect spot: an empty café across the street from the beach, owned by my friend Lorenzo. I needed a break from spiritual work, and as I opened up my computer, found a stream of the game online, and started talking to Lorenzo about sports, I was much more interested in escaping from daily life than trying to see Advaita in daily life. I expected to quickly escape into my past and reconnect with my secular roots. But, as a popular American football commentator would say, “not so fast, my friends!”
Seeing Unity in the Profane
My friend Lorenzo and I, at first glance, could not seem any more different. Both of us are a long way from where we were born, but have found a sense of “home” in Mexico. Aside from that, Lorenzo fills the role of a fit, stylish, European café owner. I have the form of a tall, pale, and scruffy spiritual aspirant. Lorenzo goes surfing every morning when he wakes up. I have an irrational fear of fish biting my toes when I go in the water. Lorenzo grew up watching Italian football where they almost never score and don’t use their hands. I grew up watching American football with pads and helmets and lots of TV commercials.
As we sat and chatted while watching the game, I started to share about what football meant to me 20 years ago, and what it meant to me now―and so did Lorenzo. My father started taking me to games when I was very young, and I bonded with my dad over this Saturday pastime. Lorenzo and his father had a similar bonding experience. Lorenzo’s hometown team was known for having the loudest and craziest fans in the entire country, exactly the same as my hometown team. I shared with him how I can still get goosebumps on command while evoking the feeling of being in the presence of the amount of energy that is created when 70,000 people are in the same place and focusing their attention on the same thing. Lorenzo smiled and agreed as he looked at his arm, experiencing goosebumps the same as mine. My father and I sat with the same people week after week, year after year, and so did Lorenzo and his dad. I sat next to a guy who would high-five everyone after every touchdown and behind an old lady who always gave me a lollipop after every point. Lorenzo sat next to a guy who would hug everyone after every goal and behind an old lady who gave him a cookie after every point.
As the conversation went on, the sense of wonder and delight started to become obvious to me. I was amazed at the similarities in experience. I was 5,500 miles (9,000 kilometers) and 9 years apart from Lorenzo’s experiences, but he had an almost identical experience to mine. Beyond that, I had strong emotions surrounding this part of my life, and Lorenzo shared that with me as well.
Even more fascinating was how my relationship with this aspect of life evolved the same way as his. After some time, these football teams started to become very popular. Tickets to games became ten times more expensive than they used to be. The stadiums were filled with wealthy businessmen who didn’t have the same passion as the loud and crazy people who used to attend every weekend.
In short, everything changed. As it always does. The experience was made even more powerful for both Lorenzo and me because it was temporary, but at the time that it was occurring, it was so magical that it never crossed my mind that life would ever be different. As time went on, I’d start to see my friends getting very angry every time my team lost a game. This became exhausting. I had seen them win so many times before and seen them lose so many times before, the success of the team rising and falling with such consistency, I realized that the only lasting enjoyment of this passion could be found by detaching myself from an outcome. The transition was very much one of watching a game with a strong desire for my team to win to one where I just witnessed the game taking place and finding joy in so many parts of it that had nothing to do with my team winning or losing.
Lorenzo shared a very similar process in his life. He didn’t want to shun his culture, his past, his family, and the friends he grew up with who love to use sports as a means to come together and connect. There really is no need for that. I avoided football at times because I felt repelled by a lot of the violence it evoked in people that I loved. Last Saturday night, though, I found as much joy in it as I’ve ever found in my life, but this time from a much more sustainable place.
Advaita in Daily Life: Teachers are Everywhere
I set off that evening with the intention of experiencing something mundane. I ended up experiencing something divine. To me, this is one of the most powerful aspects of a tantric worldview. I found a connection with another person that reminded me that I could see myself in others, and they, too, could see themselves in me.
In ways that might seem superficial at first, in the context of my limited knowledge of Advaita, I felt that these similarities were easily taken as a definite reminder that the reality of my origin was not separate from other people’s origins. The experiences shared were very worldly, but the identical nature of our perception of them pointed to something far deeper.
Long before I started to consciously cultivate a spiritual outlook, I was given a quote by the artist formerly known as Richard Alpert, and he sums up the perfect reminder of the beautiful insights we have to gain by being open to learning about Advaita in daily life. This is exactly what I experienced watching football in a café on a very ordinary Saturday evening:
“Now, in our culture, we have been trained for individual differences to stand out. So you look at each person and the immediate thought is: brighter, dumber, older, younger, richer, poorer … and we make all these dimensional distinctions, put them into categories and treat them that way. And we get so that we only see others as separate from ourselves and in the ways in which they are separate. And one of the dramatic characteristics of (…) experience is being with another person and suddenly seeing the ways in which they are like you, not different from you. And experiencing the fact: well, yes indeed we are brothers, in the true sense, of that which is essence in you, which is essence in me is, indeed, One.” –Ram Dass
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.