Category Archives: Spirit

Twelve Practices for Spiritual Insight

I had occasion recently to reacquaint myself with Carolyn Myss’ Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, one of her 5 New York Times best-selling books. She’s a self-described subject matter expert in the fields of human consciousness, spirituality and mysticism, health, energy medicine, and the science of medical intuition. The book explores “energy anatomy,” a line of inquiry that correlates emotional, psychological, and spiritual stress with disease.

As one who has been interested in the mind-body connection and its impact on well-being, I found her work intriguing. It ties the 7 chakras, bodily organs, and related mental/emotional issues to specific physical dysfunctions. (See attached.) While I would pursue conventional medical treatment should I experience any of the indicated maladies, I’d certainly give due consideration to the indicated mental/emotional issues should they exert an influence on recovery. Read the book for a detailed exposition of her work.

For today’s post, I thought I’d paraphrase her twelve practices to attain symbolic sight and increase one’s ability to mirror divine reasoning. They’re good advice and may very well contribute favorably to a healthy lifestyle. They are:

  1. Practice introspection. Notice what you do and what you believe; explore the roots of your behaviors and worldviews.
  2. Be open-minded. Be an attentive observer to your thoughts and take notice when your mind “shuts down.”
  3. Be on the alert for defensiveness. It’s a clear indication that your mind is working to keep new insights from entering and influencing your consciousness.
  4. Recognize that all situations and relationships as “teachers,” even if you cannot recognize the messages or lessons in the moment.
  5. Pay attention to your dreams; they may provide valuable guidance and insight.
  6. Process and release thoughts that promote self-pity or anger; stop blaming others for things that happen to you. Such thoughts keep you stuck in unhealthy places and forestall growth.
  7. Practice detachment. Gather relevant data dispassionately to make the best possible decisions in the moment. Don’t constrain yourself to work toward a specific outcome.
  8. Refrain from judgments about people, situations, and the size and importance of tasks. The narrow window of the present does not provide a complete view of all the facts or details of any situation nor the long-term consequences of your actions.
  9. Recognize when you have been overtaken by fear and allowing its influence to govern your behavior. Identify the source and its impact on your mind and emotions. Make choices that diminish its influence.
  10. Distance yourself from value systems that argue for achieving certain goals as the precursor for success. Visualize success as an energy force through which you achieve enlightenment, self-control, and the wherewithal to navigate the challenges and opportunities that life presents.
  11. Act on your inner guidance; don’t wait for external validation of your intuition. The more you cling to a need for “proof,” the less likely you’ll receive it or recognize it when it comes.
  12. Focus your attention on the present moment. Don’t linger on the past or worry about the future. Learn to trust what you cannot see.

A Healing Balm for the Holidays

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the day on which the holidays officially begin. (Yep – I ignored the Christmas decorations that were already going up in October!) We’ll spend time with my mother at her Memory Care facility and enjoy a (small) bite to eat while we watch a DVD together. Then we’ll share a meal with friends who were gracious enough to include us in their family gathering.

I’ll confess that I’m having trouble putting myself in an appropriately thankful spirit. On a conscious level, I am well aware of the many blessings in my life, not the least of which are family, friends, purposeful work, and the good health and resources to enjoy them. However, I’m overbooked for the umpteenth time in my life and wonder how I’ll get myself through the next few months. I can’t scan the headlines without getting a knot in my stomach.

As I was flipping through an old notebook in search of inspiration for this week’s post, I came across a poem that I first read in high school. It is timeless and good medicine for what ails me… and perhaps you, too.

Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

peaceful gardenGo placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

The Road to Character

New York Times columnist David Brooks has made his living observing and commenting on the political and cultural developments of the day. In The Road to Character, he turns his attention to the annuls of history to explore a moral ecology that stands in sharp relief to the prevailing focus on the self. He writes:

the road to character“My general belief is that we’ve accidentally left this moral tradition behind… We’re not more selfish or venal that people in other times, but we’ve lost the understanding of how character is built. The ‘crooked timber’ moral tradition – based on an awareness of sin and the confrontation of with sin – was an inheritance passed down from generation to generation. It gave people a clearer sense of how to cultivate the eulogy virtues, how to develop the [better] side of their nature. Without it, there is a certain superficiality to modern culture, especially in the moral sphere.”

Brooks explores this terrain by providing real-life examples of how the shaping of a human soul worked. His intent was to allow his readers to glean important lessons and insights by bearing witness to these extraordinary lives. I found each of these biographies riveting – well worth the time it took to engage them.

While Brooks is loath to suggest that there is a twelve-step program to lead interested parties to a moral life, he identified a number of “threads” that seemed to run through the lives of the individuals that he highlighted in his book. The associated prescriptive for righteous living might read something like this:

  • Lead a life of purpose, righteousness, and virtue, not just one of pleasure.
  • Recognize our innate tendency toward selfishness and overconfidence as well as our propensity to see ourselves as the center of the universe; use this awareness as the starting point for moral and spiritual development.
  • Engage earnestly in the struggle to overcome our baser instincts and grow in moral strength through a lifetime of effort. Sacrifice worldly success for the sake of inner excellence.
  • Practice humility, recognizing that we are underdogs in the struggle against our weaknesses.
  • Be vigilant over prideful tendencies that ignore our failings and deceive us into believing that we are better than others.
  • Be more attuned to the internal struggle against our deficiencies than the external journey up the ladder of success.
  • Become more disciplined, considerate, and loving through a thousand small acts of self-control, sharing, service, friendship, and refined enjoyment.
  • Build enduring character traits – e.g., courage, honesty, humility – through sustained attachments to worthy people, causes, callings, and convictions. Be faithful through thick and thin.
  • Leverage redemptive assistance from the outside – faith, family, friends, ancestors, exemplars, traditions, institutions – to achieve self-mastery.
  • Recognize and surrender to the saving power of grace – from love of family and friends, from the assistance of a stranger, and from God.
  • Be a grateful recipient of the endowment of practical wisdom, traditions, habits, manners, moral sentiments, and practices from our forebearers, recognizing that experience is a better teacher than abstract reason.
  • Serve work that is intrinsically compelling and commit to its pursuit, ever mindful of what life is asking of us.
  • Be good stewards of organizations over which we are called to be leaders, passing them along to others in better condition that when we found them.
  • Attain maturity by being dependable in times of testing, straight in times of temptation, sure-footed in pursuit of noble purpose, and clear-headed amid reactions from admirers and detractors.

For those who might find the narrow path to righteousness stringent, Brooks provides a comforting and salutary observation:

“There is joy in a life filled with interdependence with others, in a life filled with gratitude, reverence, and admiration. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to people, ideas, and commitments greater than oneself… There’s an aesthetic joy we feel in morally good action, which makes all other joys seem paltry and easy to forsake.”

Read the book and have a vibrant discussion with friends about it. It just may change your life.

True Community

I dusted off another of M. Scott Peck’s books this week to continue pursuing the theme of spiritual wellness. It’s called The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace.

Peck defines spiritual healing as the process of becoming “whole” or “holy.” In part, it is a call to individuate – to take responsibility for our lives and actions, to deal with others in integrity, and to make full use of our gifts and talents. Yet we are social creatures who need one another to survive. So “wholeness” also carries an expectation of living harmoniously in community and serving the common good. In fact, Peck argues that we cannot fully become ourselves without sharing the commonality of the human experience with others – e.g., our strengths, weaknesses, triumphs, failures, our self-sufficiency, incompleteness, etc.

true communityA spiritually enriching community isn’t just any old collective of people. According to Peck, it has very specific characteristics.

True community is, and must be, inclusive. It is always reaching out to extend itself and accepts individual and cultural diversity. To that end, the members must be willing to empty themselves of bias, prejudice, and expectations to make room for the other. They must be willing to co-exist in peace, surrendering themselves to the shared journey.

True community is realistic. It encourages many different viewpoints; it does not force conformity or smooth over its rough edges. It doesn’t expect easy answers to challenging questions or circumstances.

True community is contemplative. It is attentive to its health and growth. It acknowledges its fallibility and takes action to affect remediation. It is also keenly aware of the world outside, the world within, and the relationship between the two.

True community creates safety. It creates the space for members to explore their vulnerabilities and brokenness. It provides the breathing room for genuine healing to occur. It is accepting of one another’s limitations. And it supports members as they experiment with new kinds of behavior.

In true community, there are no sides. Alliances interfere with the group’s functioning. When conflict arises, a core of mutual respect and concern governs resolution. (I call it “disagreeing without becoming disagreeable.”) The members are committed to struggling together, not against each other.

True community decentralizes authority. Ideally, decisions are reached by consensus. Leadership flows freely among different individuals as the need arises. In fact, the so-called “natural leaders” refuse to take charge and tell people what to do. They want to avoid creating unhealthy dependencies.

Community-building takes time, intentional effort, and commitment. It takes time to empty ourselves of all the prejudices that impede our ability to be attentive and compassionate listeners. It takes conscious effort to communicate effectively while resisting the temptation to “fix” everyone. Rather, we’re called to be present to their experience while fostering individual and collective learning. It also takes effort to establish mutually agreeable “rules” and governance. Finally, it takes a commitment to hang in there through thick and thin, even when things get chaotic.

Peck warns against the formation of “pseudocommunity.” It’s a place characterized by forced politeness and a pressure to conform. In such communities, niceness crushes individuality, intimacy, and honesty. It fosters a quick retreat to organization as a vehicle for minimizing chaos and uncertainty. It is akin to building a house on a foundation made of sand. It won’t withstand stress and strain.

Community is always something more than the sum of the parts. It is never painless. It does not avoid conflict but rather reconciles it. In so doing, community lowers walls and creates pathways for growth and understanding. It exists for the purpose of inculcating love and harmony among us.

We are ultimately interdependent. Why not find ways to live together in peace?

The Power of NOW

Once dubbed by the New York Times as “the most popular spiritual author in the United States,” Eckhart Tolle helps people awaken to lives of purpose and presence through books, television appearances, membership in his on-line community, and face-to-face gatherings. One of my good friends counts herself among an international cohort that has embarked on a six-month training program jointly delivered by Tolle and Kim Eng, creator of Presence Through Movement. Given her enthusiasm, I went to the library and checked out a copy of The Power of NOW: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment to see how it might speak to me.

It’s safe to say that Tolle’s book is not designed to be a quick read. In fact, he inserts “pauses” in each chapter to encourage readers to stop and digest the content. While I couldn’t begin to capture the richness of the material, I’ll share a few concepts that I found especially meaningful.

live in the nowTolle defines true wealth as “the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakeable peace that comes with it.” Enlightenment is a state of felt oneness with Being.

Our minds prevent us from attaining enlightenment when we’re inundated by our internal chatter – i.e., commenting, speculating, worrying, judging, comparing, complaining, pondering. We may be stuck reliving and acting from old pain that still live within us (a.k.a., “pain bodies”). We may be steeped in anxiety about future events. We may escape reality by daydreaming.

When we are caught up in our internal chatter, we give our power over to our thoughts. They’re driving us. We aren’t free.

As an antidote, become identified as an Observer of thoughts, not a Thinker of them. In that state, we notice when moodiness, anger, resentment, unease, fear, and other emotions well up, but we aren’t driven to act on them. We make conscious choices that benefit ourselves and those around us. We aren’t feeding our “pain bodies” or calling others’ “pain bodies” into action. We make room for love, joy, and peace. So long as we are invested in emotional anguish, we will resist or sabotage attempts to help it.

Focus on the present moment. On the NOW. Let the mind be what it is without getting entangled in it. As Tolle says, “In the now, you leave behind the deadening world of mental distraction… You feel a presence, a stillness, a peace.” The NOW is all any of us really have.

Being present means that wherever you are, be there totally. Complaint suggests non-acceptance of what is. It may well be that we find ourselves in persistently difficult relationships and/or circumstances. We are not called to simply surrender to them. We have three choices in the NOW: accept what is without complaint, take action to effect change, or leave. Persistent grumbling should not be an option!

There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the future and setting goals to move toward a desired outcome. Focus on the immediate steps to be taken, not the hundreds or thousands of steps in the journey ahead. Don’t get attached to outcomes. Ask: Is there joy, ease, and lightness in what I am doing right now? Be open to course correction if it seems right to do so. Don’t fall into the trap of attaching self-worth to outcomes.

Finally, nothing “out there” will ever provide deep, lasting satisfaction. There is no salvation in anything that we do, attain, or possess. Rather:

“True salvation is fulfillment, peace, life in all its fullness. It is to be who you are, to feel within you the good that has no opposite, the joy of Being that depends on nothing outside itself. It is felt not as a passing experience but as an abiding presence.”

Life, Truth, Love, and Grace

I’ve written a lot of posts covering our physical, mental, and emotional well-being since starting this blog nearly 2 years ago. I suppose it’s time that I cover some thought leaders in the spiritual realm.

spiritual journeyI read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth years ago and decided to reacquaint myself with his words of wisdom. The following captures some of his ideas, recognizing full well that I can’t do his work justice in this post.

Peck begins with a sobering reality: Life is difficult. We all face a steady stream of problems to be solved. We may be tempted to avoid these challenges because it’s painful to confront them head-on. Yet meeting and solving problems gives life meaning. It creates opportunities for physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social growth. Besides, it’s better to solve smaller problems before they snowball into bigger ones!

We must accept responsibility for problems before we can solve them. That acceptance presupposes accurate perceptions of the world and our places in it. Peck says that our views of reality are like maps for which we are the map-makers. We use them to navigate the terrain of life. The most useful maps are those forged with considered effort, dedication to the truth, and a willingness to make revisions as we gather new information and accept constructive feedback from others.

We must be dedicated to the truth. Peck admonishes us to never speak falsehood. Of course, occasions may arise where we might choose to withhold information rather than cause needless harm to others. Thoughtful disclosure presumes an accurate assessment of another person’s capacity to make use of information for his or her spiritual growth. We can only make such assessments from a place of genuine love, and then only imperfectly. Should we opt to maintain silence, our decision should never be rooted in personal gain – e.g., a quest for power, a concern for popularity, or a need to protect our views of reality.

Love provide a compass for right action and serves as a powerful engine for spiritual growth. Peck defines genuine love as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. This definition packs a lot of punch:

  • It presumes a level of individuation and emotional maturity sufficient to manifest selfless action and attention. Love based on neediness (e.g., loneliness, insecurity) has little to do with spiritual development and rests upon a shaky foundation.
  • Genuine love maintains the distinction between myself and the other.
  • Love is an act of will. It is not dependency; it’s an exercise of free choice. Two people can be said to experience genuine love when they are fully capable of living apart but choose to be together.
  • Love takes attention. For example, listening well takes focused concentration and a sincere effort to experience the world from the speaker’s point of view. It also takes regular investment of time and effort.
  • Genuine love implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom. Growth is fostered through a relationship of constancy.
  • Love is not a feeling; it is an action. It demands that we order our behavior to contribute optimally to our beloved’s spiritual growth.

Real love is a permanently enlarging experience. In order to truly understand others, we must make room for them within ourselves. As they take up residence, we also experience growth by stretching and thinning our ego boundaries. Genuine love is self-replenishing.

With an awareness of the limits of our time, we want to live and love well. Loving always carries the risk of heartbreak. But if we shy away from love, we shy away from life. While there are no guarantees, the most successful strategy for finding genuine love is being a person worthy of love.

Peck allows for the presence of grace which delivers life-producing or growth-enhancing experiences in our lives. He believes grace is accessible to everyone; however, most of us fail to acknowledge its presence or appreciate the value it brings. We cannot will grace into our lives, but we can prepare ourselves to be fertile ground.

He closes with these thought-provoking words:

“The journey of spiritual growth requires courage and initiative and independence of thought and action. While the words of the prophets and the assistance of grace are available, the journey must still be traveled alone. No teacher can carry you there.”