The Whole World Has Gone Whole
Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. — Henry David Thoreau
Between the surf communities of Carlsbad and Solana Beach, a lush garden spreads out atop oceanfront cliffs. Its northern gate opens to a meandering brick and flagstone path flanked by tropical trees and koi-filled ponds. I arrived at 7:00 AM for my daybreak tradition.
Faded blue-jean light illuminated the Pacific before the sun crowned the eastern horizon behind me. The garden looked empty as far as I could see. Whispering green space, swaying palm umbrellas, trickling brooks and pools—I had my pick of havens. I followed the flagstone path to a favorite spot on the west end; a bench nestled on the edge of a grass island facing a spectacular view of the reefbreak below. Local surfers call the break “Swami’s”, after the garden’s founder and longtime resident, the Swami Paramahansa Yogananda. He penned his renowned 1946 book The Autobiography of a Yogi while watching the same ebbs and flows.
Rounding the path’s final bend, I approached my familiar perch. It was only then I noticed a grayed, middle-aged man reclining on the bench swallowed by blooming snapdragons. Disappointed, I slid quietly to another bench and watched for him to leave.
Legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles, a plump gold pillow beneath him, the man alternated between closed-eyed meditation and open-eyed trance. Thirty minutes passed like seconds while my eyes ping-ponged between the man and the surfers 100 feet below. Eventually, I realized the only meditating I’d done was on my desire to ride a wave and my need to drink coffee. I pushed myself up, left the garden and walked to the café across the street.
As I waited in line, I read the corkboard’s local ads:
Ion Therapy—Living energy medicine
Somatic Life Coaching—You hold the tools necessary
to find the solutions to all your challenges
Naturopathic Family Care
Living Prana—Enhancing your well-being holistically
Bon—The indigenous practice of Tibet
My turn came and the young lady behind the counter handed me a white cup. I pumped it full of caffeine and headed back to the garden. As I arrived, the middle-aged man was climbing the steps to leave when our eyes met at the garden gate…
I’d thought a lot about spirituality in that garden, especially lately—about themes for Sundays sermons or topics from recent conversations. Specifically, I’d been thinking about the term wholeness. It weaves its way into a lot of conversations these days. From yoga to Thai chi to meditation and naturopathic medicine, millions of Westerners are adopting and practicing Eastern philosophies centered on improving the whole person—body, mind and spirit. The café corkboard is Exhibit A. These pursuits represent a deviation from our historical pursuit of wholeness, which focused only on physical and mental treatments, without consideration for the soul.
Eastern-minded wholeness is no short-term fad either. Americans spend an estimated $3 billion a year on yoga alone, and approximately $40 billion a year on naturopathic treatments in general. Wholeness has clearly become a booming industry with no signs of slowing down. Crowds flock to places like the cliff-top meditation garden and its property-mate, the world-renowned Self Realization Fellowship. Every summer, I watch buses spill out wide-eyed visitors wearing hope on their faces. They all hope for the same thing, and it’s a hope common to us all.
I decided some time ago that if opportunity presented itself, I would talk to those I met in the garden. Most are wonderful, warm people and their stories are fascinating. Unless they ask, I rarely tell them I’m a pastor. It tends to muddle their perceptions and our subsequent conversation. Instead, I enjoy simply listening and learning from them. I love to hear their hearts speak and understand their deeper desires. The middle-aged man on my favorite bench was no exception. Before he passed, I struck up a conversation.