GTU Voices - Spirituality x Daily Life

Spirituality x Daily Life

By Sam Shonkoff

Reflecting on everyday spirituality, I could write about the importance of daily practice. I could emphasize that exercise is no less essential for souls than for biceps, how spiritual growth takes discipline, how contemplative techniques open hearts, attune senses, and deepen wonder in the world. Sure, I believe all of that, more or less. But it’s not where my heart is pointing right now. I want to think, rather, about how daily practice can also mislead and muddle. Rituals can massage our egos, assure us that we’re checking the boxes of sacred living, and thereby smother the wildness of holiness.

Spirituality must be embodied, of course. But therein lies the tension. Sensory, somatic being is strangely elusive. Existence is in flow, dynamic, slipping through tentacles that try grasping too tightly. The ultimate question for a seeker, in my mind, is: Can I love? In other words, can I see beyond my own cerebral muck and petty games, can I belly laugh, can I cry, can I be moved and surprised? In part, this demands surrenders of control, which punctilious practice can help but also hinder. I like Walter Benjamin’s description of “that squandering of our own existence that we know in love,” which then paradoxically “throws us, without hoping or expecting anything, in ample handfuls toward existence.” 

I write so many essays and lectures. But to express this spiritual abandon, I want to try another medium. Here’s a poem. 

Sam Shonkoff

I stand knee deep in this 
            river unfurling across forest floors,
                     a voice saturating sound itself,
                              whispering shhhhhhhhhh but I 
                                      hear only the drum of 
                                               what passes away. 

                                      I want to perceive this river with every 
                                            cell of my self, to know and be 
                                                              known until I am 
                                                                              filled and overflowing into 
                                                                                                     the current, but

                                                                 I am so finite
                                                                         damn it

                                                                      I grab buckets and contain what I  
                                             can. White-knuckled, shallow-breathed, buckets
                                                 upon buckets litter the banks, exhibiting
                                                     mute dusty water while river flows 
                                                   past, tickling granite, gurgling, 
                                             softening ancestral trees to soil.

                                   My knees unbuckle and I descend 
                       inside, dispersing like tea leaves, river 
             washing over all sweat, streaming between 
                        fingers, between eyes, holding all
                        earthly breath, streaming, 
             streaming over me like 
over everything else. 

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