Last week I took a trip to the outskirts of Baltimore to visit an old friend, someone I first met in 1990 in Tucson where I was doing my internship at the church where she was a member. Since we both liked to sing, during that year I was in Tucson we got together now and then to practice duets, accompanying ourselves on our guitars and enjoying how well our voices blended.
So this past week I loaded up my guitar to take along with me, and during my visit she and I had a couple of singing sessions, trying our best to remember the songs and harmonies we used to sing and, even though we were both rusty, we had a blast.
Of course, before we started singing we had to tune our guitars, which is why I’m telling you all this.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve written about what I see as the essential aspects of the spiritual life. First I wrote about knowing oneself as foundational, then last week I spoke about opening to the Great Love and shared a watershed moment in my own spiritual life.
But it’s the third aspect in which it all comes together, when we bring our way of being into closer and closer alignment with what the first two aspects of the spiritual life have revealed to us. We can have all the depth of self-awareness and all the profound moments of awakening imaginable, but unless those things play out in our daily lives they are meaningless. Which brings me back to the guitars.
When you’re tuning an instrument, unless you have perfect pitch, you need a tuning fork or an electronic tuner to give you the proper frequency to tune to. The musical scale we use in the West is commonly tuned to A 440, meaning the note A above middle C sounds at a frequency of 440 Hz. When orchestras tune up before a concert, the oboist, tuned to A 440, plays the A which all the other instrumentalists tune to.
I see the third aspect of the spiritual life as something similar; it is the care we take to tune the various areas of our lives to the frequency of love, which is the spiritual equivalent of A 440.
Love is the connecting force, the truth of oneness, of interconnectedness and interdependence. The closer we bring our daily lives into alignment with that truth, the greater the inner harmony we will experience.
Like the six strings of a guitar, all of which need to be in tune with each other, there are different elements in our lives that, ideally, we bring into greater and greater alignment with the truth of love. Here are the “strings” I’ve identified, and perhaps you can think of others:
Our relationship with Earth and all her creatures. It is because this “string” has been so out of alignment with love for so long, especially in the psyche of people living in the so-called developed world, that we are currently facing global environmental challenges of enormous magnitude. This is one of the most crucial aspects of our lives that must be brought into alignment with the reality of oneness, of love. Like the process of tuning a guitar string, gradually moving the peg bit by bit to correct the disharmony, we can take small actions that express love in our relationship with the Earth. Some of the things we do in our household, for example, is minimize our driving, buy local, sustainably-raised food or grow our own whenever possible, hang our laundry to dry, and buy electricity generated from renewable resources.
Our relationship with the larger human world. This is, as Jesus put it, how we treat our neighbor, someone who isn’t necessarily the person living next door to us, or even someone like us. We tune this “string” to the frequency of love whenever we encounter another person and treat them with dignity and respect, or when we respond through prayer, physical assistance or advocacy to the suffering of others, thereby acknowledging the truth of our oneness.
Our relationship with loved ones. This can be both the easiest and the most challenging “string” to tune because this is the arena in which we may feel most naturally resonant but in which all of our injured or immature parts are likely to act out as well, which is why self-knowledge is so important. We tune this “string” by honoring and accepting our loved ones for who they are, not demanding they conform to who we want them to be, and supporting and encouraging them in their struggles and their dreams.
Our relationship with money. Money, needless to say, is an important aspect of our daily lives and one with which we can either do damage or support wholeness. Tuning this “string” means being increasingly mindful of what we do with our money. Are we directing it to needless consumerism, participating in an economy of exploitation that is injurious to people and planet, or are we directing it toward things that enhance life and help bring forth beauty, justice and healing for ourselves and others?
Our relationship with time. As Benjamin Franklin once said, time’s the stuff life’s made of. Bringing this “string” into alignment, as in the case of money, has to do with being mindful of what we do with the time we have. Are we squandering this precious gift doing activities that do not feed our goals, body or soul? Or are we dedicating some of our time to the things we care about and that enhance our well-being, such as meditation, reflection, prayer, creativity, self-growth, exercise, relationships, play?
Our relationship with ourselves. Funny how we sometimes think about all the other people and things in our lives that need love but forget about ourselves. Tuning this “string” to love means we become increasingly mindful of how we are treating ourselves. Are we denying ourselves things we know we need for our own well-being, or doing things we know to be injurious to ourselves? Are we careful with our self-talk, refusing to engage in cruel self-criticisms? Tending to this aspect of our lives is much like the instruction given on airplanes before take-off: put your own oxygen mask on first before you try to help anybody else.
Like tuning a guitar, or any other instrument for that matter, bringing our daily lives into alignment with the frequency of love is a process that happens through specific, incremental steps. It isn’t something we ever accomplish all of a sudden, perfectly, or once and for all.
Just as an instrument exposed to variations in temperature or humidity loses its tuning, life’s challenges can cause us to slip out of alignment, which is why tuning to love is an ongoing practice. But it is one well worth undertaking, because the more closely we tune these various elements of our lives to the frequency of love the more we will inevitably become a presence of healing and peace in the world.