The Divinity of Garbage Bags

I've noticed that a lot of experienced meditators find it off-putting when they hear a spiritual teacher say or write something like "there's nothing to do, it's all already here". That's too bad for me, as I find myself expressing that view more and more often in recent times. This got me thinking about what it is about this view that people find uncomfortable. Perhaps some find this view frustrating because it signals that, contrary to a certain popular view, no amount of past or future practice is needed to get you "there". In this context, getting "there" means achieving whatever goal you set out for your practice. The claim is, then, that you are already "there", and that you were always already "there". As a result, there's nothing "you" can "do" to get there. This, in turn, suggests that the so-called "goals" of spiritual practice are attained through a process that owes more to mystery and grace than to exertion and effort.

Why do some people have a problem with this view? A partial explanation may be that even though we are already "there", we don't notice that we are there, foolishly believing that we are "here" instead. As such, we flail around looking for that silver bullet, that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, without ever noticing that the silver bullet and pot of gold were already here within us all along. This view was beautifully put forth by Thoreau in his much-celebrated "Walden":

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this."

If Thoreau is right, as I suspect he is, what needs to happen for one to get "there" is simply for us to notice that we are already there. This noticing could happen in different ways. It could happen with contemplative practice, or by ingesting psychedelics. But it also could happen spontaneously in the midst of daily life. When this understanding dawns on us, we realize that it is foolish to look for a destination, to search for that which we are missing, because, as Thoreau so poignantly put it, there is no other land. There is no destination, no recompense at the end of the journey, for, "there is no other life but this".

Along the same lines, we are missing no-thing for the simple reason that we can only ever be what we in fact are. Our faults and imperfections are not mistakes asking to be healed, in much the same way as there is no reason to heal the absence of leaves in winter trees. Instead, as meditation teacher Jeff Foster is fond of saying, our flaws and imperfections are looking to be held rather than healed. They need to be honored rather than resisted or changed. Just like winter trees do not need to be cured of their "leaflessness", we do not need to be cured of our sadness and sorrows. Melancholy and suffering are as much a part of human life as leaflessness is part of a winter tree's existence. Understanding this obvious but somewhat elusive point goes a long way towards helping us move through life with more ease, grace, and aplomb.

A way of getting familiar with the idea that that which you seek is already here is by getting yourself to see that every experience, every object, every person has the potentiality for Divinity if only you look at things in a certain way. That, with the right framing, God can always be found anywhere and everywhere.* For example, this garbage bag that I see in front of me as I write this blog post can be seen as absolutely Divine, if only I reflect on how odd, wonderful and mysterious it is that the same particles and energy forces that sparked the Big Bang are what make up this deceptively ordinary garbage bag. This, in turn, reveals to me that the bag is, just like us, in the immortal words of Carl Sagan, "star stuff".

And so it is that I can get to see myself, and even the entirety of the universe, contained within a simple and otherwise unremarkable garbage bag. Such is the power of the human mind that it can see itself and the whole cosmos in a single sheet of plastic. More than that, it can see that the divinity it seeks was always there, not only within the garbage bag, but also in every thing and person, including ourselves. Also, and perhaps more importantly, we can see that our faults and sorrows are sacred as well, for they too are an inevitable and mysterious manifestation of this marvelously beautiful unfolding that we call life.

How wonderful! How beautiful! How Divine to know that the beauty that we sought was already there within us all along!


*In this context, I take "Divinity" and "God" to be coterminous with "mystery" and "sacredness", which is different from the view of Divinity and God that is implicit in the Judeo-Christian tradition.


  1. Thanks for the lovely post. It reminds me of one of my favorite movie scenes:

    1. Dear Ben...many thanks for taking the time to read my post and for pointing out the connection between it and the lovely plastic bag scene from American Beauty. I confess that I had forgotten the scene, having not seen the movie in at least 15 years, but upon watching it again now I find it deeply poignant and beautiful. And, yes, it neatly captures the essence of my blog post. Thanks again for pointing me in this direction!

      Metta. Mucho!


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