From The Gentle Art of Blessing
Blessing has been a spiritual practice of humankind since time immemorial. The ritualized form of blessing that usually concludes many Christian religious ceremonies is only one of the many forms of blessing found across almost all cultures. But far from being simply a ritual that punctuates religious ceremonies, the practice of blessing has the power to enrich your life in ways you never dreamed possible, ways that I have experienced personally.
This book is born of a spiritual experience that profoundly marked my life and enabled me to discover the deep meaning of the act of blessing. Blessing rests on spiritual laws that each of us can discover so that we may live better and more fully. My own experience reinforced by intuitive sense that these spiritual laws, described in the great spiritual teachings of humanity a long time ago, constitute the very basis of our living in the universe – often without our knowledge. They are as precise and efficient as the laws of the physical world, and the discovery of these laws could be one of the greatest breakthroughs of the new millennium. It would give an extraordinary impetus to the evolution of human consciousness, of individuals and nations. You will see that by blessing, you begin living your life in alignment with these spiritual laws. From there, untold rewards await, including lasting joy, a sense of renewal, and peace within.
I have not written these pages as a professional or a master in the field of spirituality or religion. During my whole career, I have been committed to the creation of a world with a little more justice and compassion, a world that works for all (nature included). For many years, this commitment was lived out in the field of sociological research and international development, then through the trainings I gave for the elderly unemployed and those living on a minimal income. More recently, I live this commitment through workshops I give to people from all walks of life about achieving more value-centered, holistic lives.
Very early in my career, an incident alerted me to the fact that it is useless to attempt to transform social, political, and economic structures if we do not also transform people’s hearts. In the mid-sixties, I was working as a sociologist in Algeria, one of the rare developing countries to have won its independence after a long, hard, and often ferocious war of liberation. The head of state of the country was a general who had imprisoned the president appointed at independence. All legal opposition was forbidden, but clandestine opposition groups still existed.
I was responsible for a team of interviewers undertaking a nationwide attitude survey. One of the interviewers had contacts with the opposition. He shared with me that a friend of his had been tortured in a police station exactly where his torturer had himself been tortured by the former colonial army.
I was deeply disturbed that someone who had been tortured could turn around and inflict that kind of pain on another person. I had come to this country out of political idealism, because it had undergone a “real” revolution. Yes, the material structures of the administration, economy, and legal system had been overturned, but the torturer’s behavior showed me that the hearts of those who ran the country had apparently not changed in the same measure. To effect true change, I realized, there must be a transformation within.
This was the point of departure of a lifelong reflection that culminates, many years later, with this book. It never would have been written without a short sentence pronounced by Dr. Gerald G. Jampolsky, founder of the internationally known Center for Attitudinal healing in Tiburon, California, and author of Forgiveness and Love Is Letting Go of Fear. He uttered the first sentence in a lecture given with his wife, Diane Cirincione, PhD, at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, in the early nineties: “Each time I go to my center, it is to heal myself.” This made me understand that we do not need to be a master to help others and that we always have something to give and share, however modest our achievements.
Another idea that gave me the courage to embark on this venture was the well-known saying that we teach what we most need to learn. I write this book as an apprentice on the path of blessing, and I continue learning lessons in this field every day.
My work has taught me that unemployed people begin to really listen when they discover that the person talking to them has also experienced unemployment. We identify more easily with someone who is struggling like us, and this realization was the final impetus to write this book. Having been unemployed myself for a long period, and with no unemployment compensation, I had much greater credibility in their eyes than someone who would have spoken from pure theory. So I hope, dear reader, that you will accept this book as the work of an apprentice who shares it with other apprentices, in the spirit of the great Persian Sufi writer Farid ud-Din Attar’s poem, “Mantic Uttair.” Attar describes a group of birds that decides to look for their king, the Simorg. After many adventures they meet again, facing each other in a circle. They look at each other and, lo, they discover that they are the Simorg. The king is in each of them. The kingdom is in each of us.
How redundant to speak of living our spirituality in everyday life! For either spirituality is lived in everyday life, in the most mundane circumstances – at the office, at the factory, while gardening or washing the car, in business or married life, while washing dishes, in suffering and joy – or it has no reason to exist. If the spiritual path is not lived in the everyday, where will it be lived? Ashrams in the Himalayas and monasteries in Tuscany may be conducive to spiritual seeking, but that’s not where the majority of us spend most of our time. Rabbi Hillel is reputed to have said, “If not you, who? If not now, when?”
What is appealing about the spiritual path, as the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass has stressed, is that everything is “grist for the mill.” Absolutely everything – a traffic jam, an illness, a theft, a noisy neighbor, a flat tire – becomes an opportunity to learn, discover, progress, repent, rejoice, unveil, awaken, love more, and wonder. The smallest detail of life, every single encounter – be it with a saint or a snail – can sparkle with tender interest and become aglow with enchantment. That is the real excitement of the spiritual path, its beauty, depth, joy, and yes, its fun. Every single event in life can become an opportunity for a silent, “Yes, thank you.”
If you cannot live your spiritual path in the subway, in the middle of a street fight, when facing a major challenge, or when playing tennis or baseball, you might question its very use. This book will also demonstrate for you that spirituality is not a concept to be debated abstractly but a transforming power that has meaning only if it is lived daily.