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#59 Grail Space

April 2012

Last month I wrote about “connecting the dots.” In that essay, I described a particular practice of mine. Looking around a room I’m in, I begin by imagining a line of connection between myself and some object in the room:

This is a line of love and appreciation. I love and appreciate this object [for what it is]. Whatever other connections there may be, I can generate a connection of love and appreciation between the two of us. As I do this, I broaden my focus, allowing this sense of loving connection and appreciation to expand, embracing other objects around me and expanding into the room itself. My love and my appreciation then become lines of connection not only between the objects and me but between the objects themselves. I make this explicit. I ask that as my love expands out into the room and beyond, that everything it touches discovers its connection with everything else. I let the love connect the dots.

As I sit doing this practice, I’m aware that a new sense of wholeness is emerging in the room around me. It’s not just a room full of objects of varying sizes, shapes, materials, and uses. It’s an energetic “ecosystem” in its own right. It doesn’t take long for this awareness to arise, but then I’ve been practicing this for many years. People talk about taking a “moment of silence.” I think of this practice as taking a moment of Love.

This practice of connecting with my immediate environment in a mindful, appreciative and loving way is based on the subtle perception that everything around us, no matter how seemingly inert, is part of a universal fabric and network of connectedness that is alive and sentient and capable of response. When I join with the matter and objects in my environment in a mutual sharing of recognition and blessing, a field is co-created that draws forth and holds the deep love and presence at the heart of creation. To me, this presence is sacredness, and I call the space that holds it “Grail Space” after the legendary chalice that held the blood of Christ.

Creating Grail Space is one of the fundamental practices of Incarnational Spirituality, and I teach it in most of my classes. It’s a practice I’ve been doing for nearly fifty years now, long before I ever even thought of something like “incarnational spirituality,” so it’s become ingrained and second-nature by now. This doesn’t mean there’s anything rote or automatic about it. For it to be effective, it has to be a mindful practice. It’s easier to be mindful under some conditions than others, though!

For the past ten years I’ve been dealing with bladder cancer. At the moment I am happily cancer free, but numerous operations have taken their toll. Thus a few days ago as old scar tissue gave way, I began bleeding internally which led to other, painful complications. Julie rushed me to the hospital emergency room. As I waited for help, I began doing my Grail Space routine: Bless the gurney I was lying on. Extend my energy to it, acknowledge it, thank it for being present to me, honor its energies, let love flow through my fingers to it; bless the various medical instruments around me; bless the walls, the floor, the ceiling; bless the nurses, hold them all in gratitude, honor the energy enfolding us….and so on. Putting it into words like this makes it sound like going down a laundry list, but of course, it wasn’t like that. It was a radiation of presence occurring all around me simultaneously as I took in what was present in my surroundings and sought to connect to it in a loving way.

In the world I experience in which everything is alive and sentient, this kind of acknowledgment is simply good manners. But it’s also good energy hygiene. Hospital rooms are pretty sterile and kept that way, and I’m sure the cleaning and care to which they are subjected has effects in the subtle energy environment. Nevertheless, they are also places of suffering and pain, loss and grief, agony and fear (to which I was adding my own quota!). Some of this psychic pollution can stick. Coming into a room with an attitude of blessing it, thanking it, honoring it, and loving it helps to clear some, if not all, of this stuff away.

Furthermore, doing the Grail Space practice focuses my mind. After all, I’m scared, too. Why am I bleeding? What am I now in for? What’s going to happen? And I’m in a great deal of pain. My body’s energy is constricting in self-protective ways. My mind wants to curl up in the fetal position. I have absolutely no desire to be where I am! Part of me wants desperately to go away!

Opening up to Grail Space helps me keep my attention and intention present. It keeps my own personal subtle energy field more open and flowing, which is what I want. And, though this may seem counterintuitive when in pain, being in loving and caring touch with my own body as part of that Grail Space and not trying to abandon it is an important part of the process. Being mindfully present to myself and holding my body as my incarnational partner was healing and comforting in its own way. Besides, Grail Space isn’t something I do; it’s something I co-create with the life in the world around me. I’m a participant, and as such, it wouldn’t do for me to absent myself! The field could collapse.

Further, I don’t want negative energies from me impacting and affecting my care givers. I want their energy to be as flowing and attuned as my own. So it’s not like I’m trying to prove my spiritual chops; I’m simply doing good energy hygiene for my benefit and that of those around me. We will all benefit if I can do it.

By now the blood had congealed and clotted in my bladder. For the next two or three hours, these wonderful nurses tried their best to open up blocked passageways. The process was more painful than anything I’ve ever experienced, topping even kidney stones. Needless to say, I was shaking uncontrollably on the gurney and screaming at the top of my lungs each time they introduced more water into the bladder to try to force clots out. Yikes!

But the interesting thing is that even at the height of the pain, I could feel supportive energy flowing back to me from the room around me. The Grail Space was responding. It didn’t take away any of the agony but in some way, I felt held in the space and by the space around me. My consciousness didn’t collapse into the pain; I still felt open to a spaciousness that allowed me to hang in there and not let my energy field collapse. This was a direct result of the Grail Space.

One of the nurses commented how “tough” I was, but the fact was that I was being buoyed up by everything in that room. And when the irrigating and screaming and shaking wasn’t going on, I was also able to reach out and touch the nurses both physically and energetically, to bless and reassure them. They were wonderful, professional, and calm, everything you’d want from an emergency room nurse. But I could tell they were uncertain what to do and were shaken by the pain they were causing me. One nurse kept saying over and over, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry.” And I felt it important that I reassure her, let her know that she was doing OK, that I was OK, that I wasn’t angry or upset.

Again, I’m not trying to portray myself as some kind of spiritual superbeing, only someone applying a very basic and fundamental practice of Incarnational Spirituality under very trying circumstances. I knew that those who are caregivers and helpers need to have their energy held and uplifted because they’re absorbing a lot of negativity from the situation. In effect, I was doing subtle activism with them and I knew the end result would benefit me as much as them. I wanted my nurses to be in as good an energetic state, as clear minded and “in-flow” as they could be, and if I could contribute to that, that’s what I wanted to do.

Perhaps the “connect the dots” exercise that I wrote about last month seemed like a clever play on words describing a concept that was too mystical to be part of the real world. Nothing could be further from the truth. That I was able to maintain as much presence as I did during these events of last Sunday afternoon was not due to anything otherworldly. The thing is I practice what I write about daily. I was busy connecting dots! If I just believe in the principles of Incarnational Spirituality, that’s a step, but it’s the practice, over and over and over—co-creating Grail Space, holding, blessing, honoring, respecting, loving whatever is in my environment and thus connecting myself to the living energy around me–that turns all this into a kind of mental muscle memory.

If in the midst of pain and fear I had to stop to remember “Oh, now, is this when I should do Grail Space? And what are the steps? What do I do first?” it would be hopeless. Pain and fear are very, very loud voices in our heads, capable of drowning most everything else out if we don’t have louder voices to listen to. Practice is learning to amplify a helpful voice.

The second thing I had going for me was my wife, Julie. She was strong, calm, loving, supportive, everything I would want in a partner and companion at such a moment. I want to acknowledge that.

But what I also mean is that I had the power of a relationship and the larger field it creates on my side. Of course with Julie it was a loving field that we’ve built up over 30 years of marriage and 41 years of friendship. But a larger relational field can emerge out of any relationship in which there is a smidgeon of connection and caring. I set about right away forming such a relational field with my nurses as well, joking with them, being friendly and interested in them, thanking them, connecting to them, seeing them not just as nurses but as the fellow sacred humans that they are.

In the end, that’s all Grail Space is: a loving relational field with the things, creatures and people around us. I cannot overstress the importance of these larger fields that can hold our spacious and sacred energies. When my body was convulsed and concentrated on survival, having that larger field to hold my own greater energy, my own larger self, was invaluable.

Incarnational Spirituality is not about removing the struggle and challenge of being human but about embracing it through a vision of our sacred and loving humanity. It doesn’t shield me from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” but it helps me pick up these stones and arrows so I can use them as resources in building something of beauty and blessing.

For me to do so, though, I must go beyond belief, cosmology and teaching and into realm of practice and doing. Whether it’s Grail Space, prayer, meditation, or some other practice, it’s when we make our spirituality part of our flesh, part of our lives, that it comes alive and can serve us when we most need it.

David’s Desk by David Spangler