Imagine that you are on a visit to Hollywood, California — birthplace of your favorite films. You decide to take a tour of one of the studios while you're there.
The tour isn't very interesting, however, and mid-way through you slip away and wander into a giant building.
Suddenly you find yourself inside a giant studio set. The set is a magnificent reconstruction of a nineteenth century wild west town, complete with saloons and a horse corral. Even the dust feels real.
You keep wandering, and soon find yourself in a futuristic city set — something from a sci-fi film. Hovercraft buzz far above you; computers blink everywhere.
Wandering farther, you find yourself in an elaborate English garden filled with flowers, cobblestone paths, and even rabbits. You sit down among the splendor and take it all in. The grass is soft. The fountains bubble with water. It's a remarkable re-creation.
As you sit there, you begin to lose the sense that you are in a Hollywood building. Your senses tell you that you're in a European garden. The only way that you can remember that you're in California is to remind yourself of that fact.
Eventually you stand up and look for the exit door. There it is, hidden in the corner. You walk through, and head back toward the tour. From the outside, it's clear that these elaborate sets are just buildings. Inside, though, the illusion is remarkably complete.
In that example, you reminded yourself that you were on a movie set rather than in an English garden or a wild west town. Remembering that fact helped you to appreciate the sets for what they were.
Each set appeared to be a world unto itself. However, you remembered that there was a "second" world — a far bigger world — just outside the studio walls.
In much the same way, we can remind ourselves of a "second" world as we wander through the scenes of our lives. This second world is a spiritual world — a world that is far more vast, stable, and powerful than the immediate world that we see.
Even though our concrete senses attest to the material world, we can practice touching the second, spiritual world.
Eventually we can reach a point where we can experience both worlds simultaneously — just as an actor in a movie might interact with the set, while simultaneously perceiving the director, camera, and audience beyond.
This, you could say, is the goal of many spiritual practices. We perceive the first world, but rest in the second. By experiencing both, we can bring the riches of one to the needs of the other.
Not So Unusual
I remember when I first read these ideas in various spiritual books. I thought to myself: What the heck are these books talking about? Seeing a second, spiritual world? What does that mean?
Now, however, I realize that virtually everyone has experienced this — at least, for brief moments.
Think, for example, of two parents looking upon their newborn baby. On one level, they see, just as a camera might, a seven-pound human body. But the parents' vision goes far beyond that. They see a miracle of life — an indescribably beautiful soul whom they will be connected to for the rest of their lives.
Other people have a similar experience when they fall in love romantically. Regardless of how their romantic partner "looks," the material characteristics of this person are transcended by a sense of connection and love. The person seems to "glow." There is be a powerful sense of the person's beauty, worth, and presence. Instead of two disconnected individuals, both people see themselves as joined.
These are beautiful experiences; in fact, most people describe them as among the most real and powerful experiences of their lives. However, these experiences don't need to be rare.
The spiritual teachings remind us that these types of experiences can be ours all the time. We merely need to allow that "second world" — that world of the spirit, of love, connection, and glory — to shine forth.
You might be wondering: If that "spiritual world" is so great, why don't we experience it all the time?
One part of the answer is: It takes practice to experience it. Sometimes a lot of practice.
To return to the original metaphor, imagine that everyone was born and began their lives on that English garden movie set. Imagine that very few people ever ventured beyond. Imagine, in fact, that most people were quite content living on the set, and had no interest in experiencing anything else.
Imagine further that "seeing past" the set didn't involve walking through an exit door, but rather training the mind — from moment to moment — to focus on the elements of a world beyond. Those who did engage in this practice might be looked at curiously. And they might have a hard time communicating what they were seeing to the people around them.
In that situation, few people would engage in the practice of seeing beyond the immediate garden. It might seem "abnormal" to try to look beyond the immediate world. And it world certainly take work.
So it does take practice (often a great deal of practice) to see beyond the immediate scene. Not many people even try. But it can be done.
How? There are countless methods; you might very well have your own favorite techniques. However, let me share three simple approaches that I have found helpful.
1. Meditation or prayer
In traditional forms of meditation and prayer, we set aside time in which we quiet down the stimuli of the world and seek another type of experience. We close our eyes, turn off the computer or television, and seek an inner experience of warmth, love, connection, wisdom, or other spiritually-inspired qualities. This is one way of touching that "second world."
2. Seeing people through spiritual vision
Another approach is to practice seeing people through a spiritually-inspired vision. Think of what it is like to see your newborn baby, or your deeply loved romantic partner. Then try to see the people around you through that same perspective. Each person's soul is radiant and beautiful. As you open your vision to that radiance, you will see the second world shining forth.
3. Seeing the beauty in little things
The poet William Blake wrote about seeing "infinity in a grain of sand, and eternity in an hour." These are descriptions of seeing the second world shining through the first — the glory of the spirit infusing the scene before us. Some people find it easiest to adopt this vision in natural settings — in forests, mountains, or by the ocean. However, we can practice seeing the beauty in everything around us.
Those are three basic approaches; there are countless others as well. Regardless of the techniques, the important thing is to remind ourselves about the presence of the spiritual world, and to seek the experience of it. Even just a glimpse can be heartening. And every moment we spend touching that world makes it easier to access.