The Five Touchstones

The Journey of Illumination is a five-fold practice, informed by rich spiritual tradition, that invites you to show up and pay attention to the presence of God in your life. This is not another list of obligatory to-do’s to add to a list of oughts and shoulds, nor THE method that will bring you salvation or enlightenment.  Rather these are simply practices and rhythms that we have observed are present and even essential in a healthy well-rounded life.  The goal of this path is to realize a full, intense and well-grounded spiritual journey.  In observing them all that is not important is stripped away, and in so doing you discover more deeply that which is deeply important.  Here are the five core touchstones of our practice:

centering: show up and observe

We are men who are grounded in the power of the here and now.

Presence matters. As men of Illuman we care to be present to Presence. In an ancient tale, a disciple asks his teacher where he should look for the truth about life. “Here and now, in simple ordinary ways,” he is told. “Then why don’t I see it?” he asks in frustration. “Because,” replies the Holy One, “you are mostly somewhere else.” We get distracted too easily, regretting what was or fretting over what is yet to be. Being present requires intention and practice.


gathering: show up and get together

We are men who listen deeply to each other's stories.

Storytelling and story-listening are two halves of a life-giving art. Both are crucial in any relationship. In ancient China, we’re told, there were two friends—one who played the harp with exquisite attentiveness and skill, and another who listened with equal attentiveness and skill. When the one played or sang about a mountain stream, the other would exclaim, “Yes, I can hear it now splashing over the rocks!” Their playing and listening were part of a dance they shared together. But after a time the listener fell sick and died. In grief, the first friend cut the strings of his harp, unable to play anymore. To this day in China, the cutting of harp strings is a sign of intimate friendship.


connecting: show up and share

We are men who choose others with whom to walk, shoulder-to-shoulder.

For Illuman men, connecting is one of the five touchstones we want to advocate as being a necessary component in all aspects of our work, from the Journey of Illumination to our Chapter events like the MROP or Firmings, and from how we meet communally to our one-on-one relationships. We want the five touchstones to permeate all aspects of our communities.


releasing: show up and let go

We are men who let go of the ways that no longer serve us.

To release ourselves from our enslavement to past events or addictive patterns of thoughts or feelings is an ongoing, necessary transformative work in the task of maturity. The word “release” has its root in the Latin word relaxare which means “to stretch out again, to slacken.” This is the opposite of “to brace.” Many of us live with a braced approach to life; the brakes are on and we wonder why we are not moving forward! Everything stays the same. We find ourselves blaming everyone and everything for our “stuckness.” How can we change? “Let go of your old way of life, put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusions” (Eph. 4:22).


serving: show up and act

We are men who honor the earth and serve the whole human community.

Leo Tolstoy said through a character in What Men Live By, “I know now that people only seem to live when they care only for themselves…it is by love for others that they really live. He who has Love has God in him, and is in God—because God is Love.” Certainly, a circle drawn too close to the body is too small for love. Love always extends our borders and boundaries beyond and beyond. This is partly why all Wisdom traditions invite us to move beyond the concern for the small me to the larger Other, found not only in God, but also in our neighbor and even in the more-than-human world. Like the Na’vi, in the epic film Avatar, we greet the entire world and all its inhabitants with, “I see you,” humbly acknowledging the other as one with us. Our boundaries are enlarged to include everyone and everything, and, in the process, love has its way with us.

I wake from nap
And the same clear words greet my mind
That I say every day upon waking,
”Where can I find the Friend?”
— Hafiz

The Journey of Illumination is not a one-sized fits all approach, every person implements these practices in a manner that fits him. Tradition encourages the developing of regular rhythms that develop all of these muscles and we suggest varying ranging in the size of the context and the frequency.  For example you might practice daily prayer/meditation by yourself, participate in a weekly/monthly men’s group, attend an annual retreat either regionally or our national gathering each November.  Time out in nature is often a valued practice of men involved in Illuman.

Council is a core practice for men on the Journey of Illumination as it is a gathering that involves all five touchstones.  We have council gatherings twice a month in the greater Washington DC region, on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month from 8-10 AM.

As the product of the collective efforts and consciousness of hundreds of initiated men, the Journey of Illumination awakens men to two essential challenges of the Journey—to choose a specific action (show up) and to be present (pay attention) in the body, the heart, and the mind.

By choosing to participate in the Journey of Illumination, you are not agreeing to follow some imaginary moral imperatives, but to the extent of your commitment you will enrich and enliven your existing spiritual practices, and create or restore balance in each step of your journey by doing the work that is the essence of spiritual discipline.