"You should not be surprised at my saying you must be born again" John 3:7
This phrase has a lot of emotional trigger for me. Early in my spiritual exploration there were a lot of people who would ask this question "Are you born again?"like your answer granted you access to an exclusive club. This deep mystical question became a judgment used to divide us from "them" And sadly (but honestly) I now kind of associate this with a fundamentalism that doesn't smell of spiritual maturity. I am not sure if this is judgment or discernment, but just because I have wrestled with this phrase and come out bruised doesn't make it go away. So, "living in the flesh" is not born again and "living in the spirit" is born again? What does this even mean? Is it the Christian equivalent to the Buddhist idea of Enlightenment? Just because a group I don't identify with has appropriated this "born again" phrase for themselves doesn't mean that being "born again" isn't something spiritual seekers should explore. But where to start? So, I am no theologian but I really don't believe being born again has anything to do with saying any magic words about accepting Jesus. Yikes! I know that's a big statement. So, what might it mean? Is it tied in with the term "spiritual awakening"? Enough with all the questions: here's what I think I know about this scriptural command to be born again. And even though "think I know" is a dangerous phrase I will proceed!
There is a point in our lives when we don't know that we are also something separate from our thoughts and emotions. At this stage we have a thought or emotion and automatically act on it, because we don't know better. This is what Buddhist call being "trapped in a trance of thought". Maybe this is "living in the flesh" This stage will last forever if we don't begin to question the dictatorship of our minds. This questioning is often prompted by the suffering our thoughts casue. So, we begin to watch our thoughts and every once in awhile not act on one. And every time that happens our flesh or small self is disempowered. Then with a simple accumulation of practice hours our mind begins to still enough to make space for another voice. Once the thoughts stop being so loud a small soft voice emerges. Some might call this Holy Spirit, Higher Self, Intuition ... doesn't matter what you call it, this voice is not your mind. It is a seemingly new part of you emerging, something being born. But ironically this voice that seems newly born is something ancient that has always been there. Our personal Wisdom voice begins to override our automatic thoughts and we are born again as someone sitting in their power because they're sitting in something bigger. Instead of being tossed to and fro by the waves of our mind we are sitting on the throne of our wisdom. More watchful and less busy this new self of ours is as sweet and precious as a new born baby and as old and wise as the ages .
I think there are two factors that allow us to be born to a new way of living: faith and practice. To have faith that it is possible to escape the clutches of thinking is the facet of our faith diamond that prods practice. The possibilities for practice are vast: yoga, meditation, contemplative prayer, creative expression all of these activities and more can be used in a manner to still our minds. We can simply watch our breath but doing just that still gives the mind a lot of wiggle room so I like to use mantra or what I call breath words. Breathing in and thinking the word "in" breathing out and thinking the word "out: is a practice tool that can be taken anywhere and is super effective. Thich Nhat Hahn says "If you want to become enlightened you know two things: "When you are breathing in you know you are breathing in and when you are breathing out you know you are breathing out".
All these big terms I am trying to untangle "born again, enlightened, awakened". these were not my motivation to practice, but rather the pain of being trapped by my thoughts instigated a spiritual journey decades ago. It is universal that some portion of our thoughts are self bullying and when we identify with our thoughts they become emotions that frankly beat the crud out of our tender hearts. But when we begin to let this unchecked mind be transformed a tender new part emerges and we find space to breath. Thoughts don't cease, emotions don't go away but a part of us has been seemingly born that allows us to witness thoughts and emotions knowing there are only the waves but we are the ocean. You are so much bigger than you mind lets on. So keep the faith and keep practicing because you are wise and wonderful.