Being Aware Joyfully

Looking for squirrels and spiritual reality

Spiritual reality is subtle and elusive. In those respects, itís a bit like squirrels in a forest.

We have kangaroos, koalas and wombats in my country but we donít have squirrels. So I was very excited indeed, some years ago, to be visiting a picnic spot in the New Forest, England, that was reputed to be full of the furry little creatures. Arriving in a soft-top, Citroen 2CV and skidding to a stand-still in the car-park, I bounced out happily imagining myself to be some kind of Enid Blyton character on his way to visit the magical Faraway Tree. Striding purposefully into the murky ambience of the 1,000-year-old forest, I looked eagerly everywhere for a few minutes in hope of catching my first glimpse of a squirrel, but saw nothing apart from the wood and the trees.

Concluding there were no squirrels to be found, I lost interest in looking for them. Walking back to the car, my gaze naturally fell down towards the narrow leaf-strewn forest path and my attention drifted inward towards thoughts about work in London, home in Hammersmith, and lunch in a minute.

In that distracted moment, a flickering movement caught the edge of my sight and mind. I looked up at the trees but there was nothing to be seen. Yet my superhero spider-senses were still tingling. Something was happening just beyond the threshold of my vision and awareness – I could feel it, even though I couldnít see it. As I vaguely wondered what was going on, it occurred again. In the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a quick motion on the trunk of a nearby tree; but the movement was gone by the time Iíd brought the tree into visual focus. For a little while more, I kept imagining movements in the trees, but didnít see anything when I looked.

Then, all of a sudden, everything changed in a flash of realisation. The apparently empty forest was in fact teaming with squirrels. But they were all scared out of their wits and hiding because of my intrusive presence! My concentrated attention must have felt to them like the threatening cross-hairs of a gun-sight. The moment I started to look in their direction something in my body-language warned them of my intention, so by the time I focussed on the trees the timid little creatures had already scurried to the far sides of the trucks. But whenever I turned my attention inwards, the squirrels would come out to play.

Itís interesting that the squirrels were always one step ahead of my intentional thought – by the time I looked up they were gone. Thus, it was only with my peripheral vision that I could catch a glimpse of them. Once Iíd worked out they didnít like me staring at them, I kept my eyes downcast and hoped to see them in the corners of my visual field. Thereafter, the elusive little creatures emerged from behind the surrounding tree trunks to scamper in plain sight as long as I didnít scare them away by trying to look directly at them.

From that experience in the forest I learnt a lesson about the spiritual journey and the nature of life itself. When we're on the path looking for squirrels, soul, spirit, or God, what we're seeking is always present everywhere all the time, but we just donít always see it. As I discovered in the forest, we seek without finding because our way of seeking gets in the way of our finding.

When we look with physical eyes at things in the world and expect to see spiritual reality, weíre often disappointed, because weíre using instruments that arenít adequate to our goal. The principle at work is, ĎLike only knows like.í To see spiritual things, we need to look with the inner spiritual eye of the soul, for the inner eye is suited to seeing the spiritual reality of existence, life and mind that is invisible to the outer eyes of the body.