Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

It’s Not Always Kumbaya

People think that when you live a spiritually awakened life, you are always serene, always la la happy, always wise.

But that’s not true.

First of all, spiritual awakening is not a one time thing. As Adyashanti says, there is no such thing as enlightenment. There are only enlightened moments, because enlightenment, or awakening, can only happen in this moment. And this one.

Second, even enlightened moments are not always kumbaya. Enlightened moments are those in which we are fully engaged with what is, directly experiencing the present moment. Without the filter of our judgments and stories about what is happening. Without the desire to hold onto or change or avoid reality. Without the refuge of alternative facts. Just realizing and accepting that what is, simply is.

Sometimes what is happening is hard, or sad, or unpleasant. We might have a variety of feelings, including some we might label as “bad.” Perhaps I am angry. I can try to deny it and hide it, especially from myself. Or I might try to transform it into something more lofty, more spiritually acceptable.

Or I can just let it be, knowing that without my adding energy to it through struggle, it will soon dissipate on its own. I need not express it outwardly towards others, but I can acknowledge it with compassion and hold it tenderly like a cranky baby until it is soothed. I can refrain from adding judgment to whatever is happening and however I’m handling it.

One time something happened that was so startling and frightening, I was immediately thrown into my reactive, reptile brain. I lashed out in a violent response that later, when the adrenaline was spent, seemed like a humiliating abandonment of all my “inner work.”

Pouring out my misery to my qigong teacher, I bemoaned my lack of spiritual fortitude. I felt like a fraud, preaching what I utterly failed to practice in the moment of testing. He listened patiently, his face open but neutral. When I finally wound down, I looked to him, seeking guidance, penance, redemption. I expected he would tell me where I went wrong and how to do better. I wanted to do better.

He didn’t say anything for what seemed like a long time but was probably just seconds. Then he leaned forward and said gently, “How do you know that what you did wasn’t exactly what was called for in that moment?”


Our notions of how we “should” act, our efforts to mold ourselves into some walk-on-water guru, our judgments of how we always fall short, all do violence to ourselves by perpetuating the very separation that we seek to heal.

What we yearn for is right here, in this moment, in plain view if we look with unclouded eyes and embrace what we see with the arms of compassion. And while it might not always be kumbaya, it is always perfect.

I am what I am, and that’s all that I am. ~Popeye the sailor man

14 thoughts on “It’s Not Always Kumbaya”

  1. This is so good! My moments as a person with Bi-polar can sometimes be treacherous to me and to the person I'm addressing. Sometimes the opposite can happen. My smile can be so untrustworthy. Food for thought…I think I'll make spinach as a side dish tomorrow! (Pun intended! ;o)

  2. Betty, thanks for sharing your perspective. You have a front row center seat to witnessing the various facets of "what is." I understand how that might seem treacherous at times.

    But untrustworthy? You? I will have to think about what you mean by that. Someone said to me once that we are all doing the best we can at any given moment. Now there is some more food for thought!

    In the meantime, enjoy the spinach–ha!

  3. "It's not always Kumbaya, but it's always perfect . . ."
    I had one of those this weekend, Galen, when granddaughter, Virginia, was visiting with us. It was chilly, for me, outside, but she wanted to draw with her sidewalk chalk on our driveway. Of course, I acquiesced. Her pictures were wonderful. I find my mind wandering to other things I could be doing, but suddenly, the Lord calmed me, and I found I was only immersed in the moment, the then and the now. And when she came to sit on my lap, after all her artistic forays, I found I was the most present for her than I have been in a long time. Be still and know . . . Our God is so good!

  4. For me, I am being taught that 5 decades of bad habits don't go away overnight. And this was my reading tonight:

    Zech 8 And it shall come to pass
    That just as you were a curse among the nations,
    O house of Judah and house of Israel,
    So I will save you, and you shall be a blessing.
    Do not fear,
    Let your hands be strong.’

    Yep, tonight I was a curse. But He's still making me into a blessing.

  5. I had a less than Kumbaya moment yesterday. I am a work in progress. Jane Fonda made reference to being here in search of progress not perfection. I have progressed in that my outbursts are often in private now, kind of like when the lid blows off the kettle. I can return to equilibrium a lot quicker and I am more aware of the catalysts and remedies. I can only trust that I am on the path to blessings and enlightenment.

  6. That's the key, Mona, to be aware. What is happening in each moment is what "is." Understanding the dynamics, just as you describe, helps release us from the struggle and allows us to fully engage with the present moment. When you put your "less than Kumbaya" moments in a context of awareness, they become steps along the path. And you absolutely can trust that you are on the path to blessings and enlightenment, because blessings and enlightenment are yours in every moment! Thanks for commenting.

  7. I love the word enlightenment. I usualy think of it in terms of spritual enlightenment. Your thoughts brought up other ways of looking at this word. I always love it when I have a moment of enlightenment. They are growing experiences. I have had other times where I am not in the present at all and when I wake up to it; I have missed something important. I am trying to be better at being in the moment. I am a work in progress.
    I did love the thoughts from your qigong teacher; so wise. I feel if I just keep on the path and am trying that I will receive the enlightenment needed in my life even in those times of struggle.
    Warm thoughts and hugs being sent your way!

  8. "I feel if I just keep on the path and am trying that I will receive the enlightenment needed in my life even in those times of struggle." That's it right there, LeAnn! We just need to show up. We are all works in progress. Thanks for commenting!

  9. I too have the gift of Bi-Polar disorder. I've embraced the mania for years and fought off the depression. Now as I slide out of the mania stage into the depressive side I want to try to just be in the moment knowing that this too shall pass.

  10. The path of radical acceptance, to use Tara Brach's term, encompasses everything, accepts everything, and most of all ceases to struggle. This allows everything to move in its own natural rhythm. That doesn't mean not seeking support when needed; it means not judging ourselves for needing or wanting support. When you recognize that your Bi-Polar condition has its own rhythm of highs and lows, you can move through the cycles with awareness and compassion. If needed or desired, you can get any support that is helpful, and at the same time accept the gift (I love it that you see it as a gift because of course it is) that you have been given. Thanks for your comment, Mark.

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