The One Needful Thing
Jesus once said: “One thing only is needful.” (Luke 10:42). This is a concise but truly profound statement made by the greatest spiritual teacher our world has ever known. And though he did not elaborate on what that one thing is, he did say that for those who lay hold of it and live by it this one thing will set them free forever and will never be taken away from them.
Some may find this statement to be a gross over-simplification of human life. They will counter that there are many things in life that are important and therefore needful. Moreover, there are even more things that may not exactly be needful but on a daily basis press upon us for our attention and action. In other words, human life is a complex affair, and to narrow it down to only one especially needful aspect is not realistic.
Jesus, however, understood the human predicament far better than most. From his perspective of spiritual fruition human life had ceased to be complex. Rather it had become as clear as the science of mathematics. Two plus two equals four. All of life’s complexities arise because we fail to abide by the true answer to this equation. One thing is needful—that is, to know the truth that two plus two always equals four and to live accordingly. If we insist that two plus two equals five or seven or simply whatever we want it to be, we will invariably have plenty of troubles and inconsistencies in our lives. And these troubles and inconsistencies will, in turn, render our life experience hopelessly complex.
What this means in non-mathematical language is that only the truth can set us free, and anything other than the truth will lead to our ultimate demise.
To better understand this we must go inward and consider the inner makeup of man. This makeup is not something we conjure up through our individual human orientation. Rather it is a given we inherit—which is to say, it is part of our created mandate. As such, it is both universal and common-to-man, as well as beyond our ability to change. It is fixed and immutable. Therefore wisdom dictates that we not only learn the truth about this shared human inner makeup but also come to a full acceptance of it. Furthermore, this truth about our inner world is not complex. In fact, it is so simple that even a child could understand it.
To illustrate this, in his writings the Prophet Isaiah often compares the inner world of man to a landscape. He tells us that it is like a field—a field that can reflect the two extremes of fruitfulness and absolute barrenness and everything in between. On the one hand, this field has the potential for such glorious fruitfulness that it is compared to the Garden of Eden. On the other extreme, it can be so barren and unfruitful that it is like an utter wasteland—a place where nothing can grow, not even a blade of grass.
Contrary to most modern thought, the condition of our individual inner landscape is not decided by forces outside of us, such as circumstance, fate, luck, genetics, or early family dynamics. Rather it is decided by us and us only. In other words, we decide whether our inner landscape will be fruitful like the Garden of Eden or bleak and barren like a wasteland. But what does it mean that we decide? Who is this we?
The mechanism that decides, and it is the same mechanism inside all of us, is our spiritual consciousness. When our spiritual consciousness is active and in control of our inner world it will set in motion the power that brings fruition and flowering. But when our spiritual consciousness is ignored, forgotten, or simply not acknowledged as real, it will lie dormant and do nothing. And when our spiritual consciousness is dormant, our inner landscape dries up and becomes barren. Does this sound simplistic? It is!
Another word for this latter condition is unconsciousness. When we are not moving in the awareness of our spiritual consciousness we are unconscious. And when we are unconscious, our inner landscape is ignored. The question then becomes: what are the things in life that cause us to become unconscious?
First of all, we must realize that, spiritually speaking, all that is not conscious is unconscious. This may sound redundant, but it is important. In fact, it is this realization that reduces the human predicament to a simplistic equation: All that is not conscious equals unconsciousness, equals the ignoring of our inner landscape, equals an overall inner condition of barrenness and unfruitfulness. Only being conscious and present with the spiritual impulse within us results in fruitfulness. This was the “one thing” Jesus spoke of.
So what are the factors that can lead to unconsciousness? Thought, emotion, and behavior are the main ones. We think; we emote, and we act. And generally speaking, all of it is unconscious. Why? Because while we are doing these things we tend to be completely forgetful of our spiritual consciousness. For example, let us say we indulge in a stream of thinking that is negative and fearful. Such a stream is usually a conditioned reflex that we have been rehearsing over and over since childhood. Before long our thoughts have created a relatively powerful emotional reaction inside of us—one that feels too strong for us to gain control of. Then to top off this progression from hell, we take action in the form of decision making, physical implementation, or spoken words. If the people we are interacting with are also moving in unconsciousness, the situation will in all likelihood spiral into an even greater complexity of entanglement. Meanwhile, all this time we are absent from our true Self and completely forgetful of our spiritual consciousness. We are like absentee landowners. We still own our inner landscape but we simply let it go. We let it fall into total abandonment.
This is the condition of most people living in our world today. Their inner world is not just neglected; it is utterly forsaken and unfruitful. Then to exacerbate matters, if this condition of barrenness persists year after year, it can and does impact our life’s chemistry and circumstances. In other words, over time, out of our inner barrenness comes hopelessness. Out of hopelessness comes desperation. Out of desperation comes lawlessness, etc., etc., etc. Out of the stony ground of our heart come uncaring, hurtful attitudes towards others. Out of our lifelessness comes the determination to try to make things happen in our own strength. Out of this posture of strength and determination come health and supply problems, all of which are neatly finalized by the inevitability of death. Can you discern and acknowledge these progressions? First, our unconsciousness turns our inner world into a bleak barren land. Then that inner condition eventually comes to define our personality and color our entire life experience.
What is the solution? Turn the unconsciousness into consciousness. Focus on the one thing that is needful. Every one of us has a spiritual consciousness within us just waiting to be fanned into flame through our own conscious awareness and sense of presence. And when this spiritual dynamo becomes active it is like streams of living water flowing into a desert. These streams of life lift our life levels out of the doldrums of hopelessness. They fill the empty places of despair and desperation. They saturate and soften our heart, breaking up the fallow ground. And before long we begin to notice that our formerly barren inner landscape is showing signs of new growth and fruition.
This may take a little effort on your part. You will have to practice mindfulness and concentration. You will need to take a little time out of each day to get quiet and focus your attention on your inner world. At first, as you take on this discipline you will, in all likelihood, encounter a mind that is like a runaway train. But this perception is not a power in and of itself. A few moments of watching and listening, coupled with a few deep breaths will cut the speed of that train in half almost instantaneously. Many thoughts are frivolous and even silly. You don’t need them. Just let them go. Other thoughts are obviously conditioned reflexes. They feel weighty and substantial but are, in truth, impertinent to the present moment. Emotions are a little trickier. They make it hard to see the wood from the tree. Isolate them and see them for what they are—emotions, nothing more. They too tend to be conditioned reflexes. They too are often impertinent. And they too are not the power that we think they are.
If you practice this kind of truthful perspective on a daily basis, pretty soon both thought and emotion begin to lose their power to catapult you into unconsciousness. When this happens, you will find yourself becoming more and more conscious. And this will, in turn, release the streams of life that soften, saturate, and make your inner landscape fruitful.
The power is within your own being. You do not need to look for it somewhere else. It is a simple, uncomplicated matter (though not necessarily simple to implement). When you have learned to make the unconscious conscious, you will look back and marvel. You will see that though your inner landscape was once so forsaken and cold that all appeared pointless and hopeless, through the releasing of the streams of life that flow from your own spiritual consciousness it has now become like the Garden of Eden. One thing, one basic realignment of your inner world—from unconsciousness to consciousness—can change your life forever.