We now know that vows are more than a ritual, more than a promise or declaration of intention; we know that they are pre-existing states of consciousness that we enter into. But if we say that poverty is an aspect of God’s consciousness, we make God something external and different from ourselves; if we say that we are God, then the states of consciousness begin to feel like personal constructs – merely ideas having nothing to do with power, force, and energy. No cause, no effect – just bubbles in the mind.
But having lived with vows, we know that they are real, that they have real effects in our lives, that life would be different without them. This is why we study them, to try to understand what it is that we are experiencing. What is it about taking vows that puts our life on a different trajectory than if we had not taken them?
Poverty is the one vow we all wish we had never taken. Ironically, it is the one vow that we have all lived up to. At least, that’s how it feels. Mark Twain said, “Money isn’t everything, as long as you have enough of it.” No one is more obsessed with money than a person who has too little. These days, 99% of us fall into that category. But, as with all the vows, the vow of poverty is about something deeper, something universal. As we saw with Sarah Connor, it is a state of mind, a level of training, an unwillingness to let any thing get in the way of our connection to God. Let’s look at one more aspect of this before moving on to the next vow.
Non-attachment is a tricky concept. Wrongly understood, it can lead a spiritual seeker to drift untethered across the vast open spaces of the mind. The subtle distinction is this: because it is human nature to prefer to set our own course, we have a reluctance to be led. We might say that we want to surrender to God’s will, but when it comes to actually doing it, well, that’s another story. We always want to have the last word, to engineer our own destiny. This is why we are so obsessed with money, because money “is” power, and power is the Great Enabler.
The idea of being led is carefully woven into the words we use for spirituality. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word yug, meaning “yoke.” The image is of two oxen yoked together, suggesting the union of opposites, but this is a misreading of the idea. The ox is a symbol of power, divine power, stemming from the Age of Taurus when this symbol was first used. The idea is to tether yourself to the oxen, to the divine power, and let it pull you along. Metaphorically speaking, most of us get through life by pushing our carts from behind, trying to do it all ourselves, as though personal effort were the highest virtue. But on the spiritual path, the only effort required is the willingness to let go and let God.
Another word we use to describe spirituality is the word “religion.” Like “yoga,” it also refers to tethering. The Latin root of this word is ligare, which is the same root for the word “ligament.” Ligaments connect bones to muscles, another form of motive power.
Tethering is different (at least in its connotation) from “binding.” Binding feels like bondage, whereas tethering empowers. We tether a computer to a cell phone in order to go online without an ethernet connection. We tether a dingy to a boat, or a horse to the back of a truck. The purpose is to accomplish something, not to restrict – to perform an action, not to prevent an action. Too often, vows are seen as restrictions and not as agents of empowerment, which is what they are. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Symbolically, the “young” person is he or she new to the path; the “old” person is one who is spiritually advanced and is able, even over the objections of his or her preferences, to be led by the Spirit. We follow our inner guidance, even when we don’t feel like it. We say to God, “Take these hands and use them.” This is the mark of spiritual maturity.
The best investments we can make are investments in ourselves. Rather than a boat in the driveway, we learn to play a musical instrument. Rather than more stuff, we hone our talents or develop new ones. This is true wealth, the kind we can take with us. Compassion, generosity, an affinity with God – these are “possessions” of the soul. No one can take these from you. But, the more encumbered we are by the things of this world, including ideas and opinions, sentiments and desires, the less able we are to be led by the Spirit. This is true impoverishment and the source of sorrow. Why be tethered to the past? The past can only drag you down. Cut that rope, the ties that bind, and tether yourself to God. God will pull you up.