Spiritual Evolution

Everyone has a definition of what it means to be spiritual.  For some it’s following the rituals prescribed by the scriptures and doctrine of their faith, for others it’s spending time in nature, and for still others it’s a statement of belief such as- There is no God but God or Jesus Christ is my savior.  All faiths and spiritual paths have one goal in mind, however, and that is union with the Higher Power.

Let’s examine four ways in which spiritual evolution might be expressed.

God_father_kotarbinski-bThe first of these is the concept of the Higher Power as parental authority, a giver of laws, and the source of reward for good behavior or punishment for undesirable behaviors. This is, perhaps, the most common approach to spirituality.  Probably this is because we have copious examples of how authoritative expectation functions in life- from our parents, teachers, employers, spouses, and even our friends.  Most connections have a set of expectations (laws) that govern the success or failure of that relationship.  When we conform to expectations we receive the reward of being accepted, appreciated, and belonging.  If we transgress those expectations we are likely to experience rejection, admonishment, and possible divorcement.

When Divine Spirit is perceived as parental we believe that everything happens because it’s God’s will.  Everything happens for a reason and it’s all good. We get a job because spirit wants us to have it.  We lose a job because spirit wants us to do something else.  Earthquakes, fires, and floods are sent as messages from the Higher Power. We make decisions and hope our spiritual allies will make it all come out right in the end. So, in this phase it’s not unusual to become dogmatic and even rigid in our expectations of ourselves and others on whatever religious or spiritual path we have chosen.

personal-empowermentIf we make it past the concept that there is only one truth, one way, and one faith we might arrive in the territory of personal empowerment. Personal empowerment is an important psychological development of our personality so that we can make independent and considered decisions, and create our lives in a way that is rewarding and comfortable.  However, personal empowerment it is not the goal of spirituality.

When personal empowerment is made into a spiritual goal it often entails the rejection of all established faiths or any group that appears to have a hierarchy.  There can be, and often is, a rejection of spiritual teachers as well. Everything of Spirit is already inside of usI am my own guru.   However, how will we learn to access this spirit self or tell the difference between wishful imaginings and true spiritual enlightenment?

Sometimes our relationship with the Higher Power may be measured in how successful we are in attaining prestige, wealth, health, and the “right” relationship. There are, of course, a plethora of self-help, and how-to, books that describe in detail ways to bypass a tutor or spiritual mentor and get what we want from life.  Some of this information may actually be helpful on the journey.  But let’s consider that if we want to become proficient at any life skill it’s easier if we work with someone who actually knows what they’re doing and have experience in expressing the skills we hope to attain.

event_221557182Occasionally, personal empowerment becomes a yearning to acquire psychic skills or abilities such as clairvoyance, levitation, channeling, fire-starting, astral traveling, spirit guide acquisition, angelic encounters or visions of being God. Many consider these demonstrations to be evidence of spiritual attainment.  We can even find numerous examples of spiritual masters who demonstrated many or even all of these qualities.  However, they also exhibited loving-kindness, generosity, equanimity, compassion for all life, and a radiant presence that inspired others to find a way to experience divine fullness for themselves.

The third stage of developmental spirituality can take the form of complacency.  We have created a life that works, are engaged in service activities, and comfortable in our psychological understandings of self and spirit.  We are willing to explore possibilities of enlightenment but don’t wish to have our concepts and beliefs questioned or upset.  Spiritual alignment represents the occasional retreat, workshop, or meetings with a trusted mentor who is supportive of our investigative and experiential relationship with the Higher Power.  There is little or no desire to make a major commitment to enlightenment or awakening.  No desire to enter the realms of no self. My life works and I don’t want to mess with it.

GalaticAlignEyeSomeday we will have a profound desire for awakening.  When we are committed to removing anything that stands between us and a full, heartfelt, and impassioned relationship with Divine Spirit- we have reached the fourth stage of our spiritual evolution.  We awaken to the great being within.  This great being accepts life as it is- loss, change, death, old age, and illness. And yet this self knows that we remain woven to the wholeness of all life- that life is really only about loving, sharing, and living enthusiastically for the benefit of others. As long as space and time endure, as long as sentient beings remain-may I too remain to assuage the suffering of the world.

When we have gained skillful means to navigate the difficulties of life- equanimity becomes truly possible.  We have true faith.  This faith remains even if we lose everything we have acquired- money, property, prestige, fulfillment in our career, and even our loved ones. At the center of our existence there will reside a deep and abiding love and communion with Divine Spirit.   We will have merged into the Ocean of Oneness and although waves and storms may rage outwardly, within we are at peace- resting in the tranquil wholeness of Divine Spirit’s grace.  This is the path without delusions.

Willing To Go Into The Dark

Truth-Himself-Change-It-To-Reality-Final-Cover-FITAOne thing that has to happen on the spiritual path is to take a journey into the dark to find the light of truth, to discover our precious and true self.  There’s a difference between reality and truth.  Reality is what we imagine life is, truth is what life actually is.  Every time something happens we imagine an interpretation of the event and weave that meaning into the story of our lives.

Example- Marlene tried to reach a hospice patient on the phone.  She called three times in a three hour period but couldn’t reach her.  The patient lived alone so Marlene was concerned that she had died and worried about it for many hours.  But when she finally called the same woman later that evening her patient was fine.

So we can see the facts (truth)- a telephone call was made and there was no answer.  Then we see there is an attempt to interpret why the telephone was not answered.  Attempting to figure out why the telephone was not answered is pure imagination.  Reality is created from imaginings while the Truth is created from simple facts with no interpretation.

6627345_origWhat you know to be the truth about you does not need to be interpreted.   To say I have a heart of service does not mean you a good person. It means you have a heart of service. To say- I love people does not mean you are spiritual- it means you love people.  One is truth and the other is an imagination of meaning.  This could also be reversed.  I was angry, therefore, I am a bad person.  I told a lie, therefore, I am not spiritual.  These are imagined interpretations of an emotional state of experience.

When we take a journey into the dark to find the light of truth…we are attempting to find the thing itself not the stories about it.  So as we take the journey of finding our precious self- we will need to work our way past the interpretations and stories into the true purpose of our lives.  This means that we are going to come to new understandings about what it means to be human.  Everyone has an opinion about what it means to be human.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAANrAAAAJDNmNDEyOTQyLWQyZTUtNDdkYy05MjYxLTM2NjA0MjZmY2IzNwExample- At some point we may have experienced betrayal from a loved one, or at least know someone who spoke of betrayal by their partner, friend, or family member.  Once a betrayal occurs there is a tendency to stop believing in love and instead simply wait for everyone we love to betray us. However, having something happen, even many times, does not make a truth- it does not automatically become THE WAY LIFE IS.  Questions need to be asked, how many times has this happened to us or another, once, twice, three times-  was it truly every time in every relationship?  How many people have we known in our lives- was every one of them involved in a betrayal incident with us?  When looked at logically we can see betrayal is not a truth- it is a perception of reality.

Most of what individuals consider truth is a perception of reality.
A perception is formed when we give meaning to certain events
and hold onto that interpretation when making future decisions.

As we proceed to go into the dark to find the light of truth- there will be some ideas that are universally true and some concepts that are only a perception of reality.  For example there is a perception of reality that women who live in cultures where there are multiple wives have a true space of sisterhood.  Or men in other less civilized cultures always work together to help one another.   Neither of these statements are universally true.  These things may be true sometimes and not true at other times.  There is no place on earth where life is always wonderful.  It is universally true that all beings fear violence and death, and seek to be safe and loved.  But how individuals go about seeking these truths might require lengthy journeys into the dark of imagination and interpretation.

There isn’t anything wrong with having thoughts about our lives.  But life could be less filled with suffering if we learn to separate fact from generalizations and storytelling.  Life can be wonderful when we allow our stories to mean less and our true heart experiences to mean more.

Remember we are deeply entrenched in a belief system about perfection.  Most of us are trained into the idea that there is a certain perfected state which we must attain through struggle and hard work.  But as soon as we begin to measure ourselves against some imagined state of perfection we are creating a mental and emotional hell for ourselves and others.

Going into the dark is finding our way out of illusions
and dreams into what is awake and true. 

The-sacred-lifeWe are sacred and life is sacred because it is, not because of what we believe or think about it.  Everything is a unique expression of Great Spirit’s energy.  Some people say that in order to be sacred we must be able to take action.  But a flower is sacred and it is not taking action- it is only being.  What exists can be considered sacred.  It has life- even a flower has life- it has an indwelling spirit.

What makes humans different from other creatures of the earth is discontent.  When we let go of discontent what happens?  Peace.  Joy.  Freedom.  Love.  Harmony.  Humans are capable of discontent but we are not doomed to discontent.

What thoughts are we going to bring into our awareness?  Can we know our holiness of being?  We can share our holiness of being; which does not require us to do anything except be that energy.  When we come into beingness we have found the Light of Truth.

It is important to learn to center ourselves in truth.  Remember that Truth begins with what we know is precious about ourselves.  We are all well trained into pathways of discontent.  If we find something precious within us what will happen if we don’t express it all the time?

We are discontent with ourselves.  When I am full of peace then I am sacred.  When I am full of joy I am sacred.  When I am serving other, when I have a willing heart, when I am offering my gifts…then I am sacred. The rest of the time I am profane, confused, angry, hurt, and unhappy.

unborn_babyWhat if we just are sacred without doing anything?  To rest in each day is important because it is only by going into a place of non-action…into the dark… that we can truly appreciate and find the precious light.

Before we were born we were in the dark.  There was nothing for us to do and we did not understand that we were supposed to be bored and unhappy with our lack of accomplishments.  We just existed.  And for most of us- our experience was- that our mother knew we were precious even though she couldn’t see us, hold us, or do anything for us.  We must go back into the dark womb of Our Divine Mother so that we can find once again remember and find the Light.  There is nothing to do there.  There are no questions to ask

Let us go back into her dark womb and allow ourselves
to be reborn from Divine Mother.  

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Thinking Mythologically

Our lives are not just created from our experience, but also from  books we have read, movies or television shows that have attracted our attention.  Our unconscious takes them in as though they were our personal experiences.  This happens because we are giving our full mental and often emotional focus to the imagery being portrayed, the experiences of the characters, and what we wish to have happen next.  Producers and directors count on it.

sleepora-iceberg-unconscious-mindThe brain cannot tell the difference between what happens in the actual world and what’s visually imagined in movies and television.
This is both good news and bad news.  Because we’ve  grown up in a world with ample opportunities for these visual experiences, we have a deeper and richer unconscious than was possible in times of the past.  In ancient times the storyteller was vital and very important to the health, education, and evolutionary consciousness of the tribe or village.  Now, more than ever we are surrounded by stories that affect us.

To enter the realm of personal myth we need to undertake a journey to find out if the person we believe ourselves to be is the person we truly are.  We begin by defining or redefining core values.  We examine our dreams, both waking and sleeping, to discover our hopes and our fears.  And perhaps most of all we begin to realize that we are creating life from conscious and unconscious reactions to the energies and behaviors of those around us. The more conscious we are, the more we are able to make wise decisions.

comic-heroWe have two kinds of awareness:  our waking, logical, problem solving, decision-making consciousness and the unconscious, reactionary, emotion driven responses to circumstance.  Self-realization, self-awareness, and self-actualization imply that we are making conscious, deliberate decisions instead of reactive, unconscious, impassioned choices.  It is  okay to react, but it will not bring peace or happiness. The more we learn to recognize our mythical, internal constructs, the more we are capable of making a conscious decision.

A true spiritual life is formed from choice rather than experienced by happenstance.
While it is possible to have transcendent visions, or exciting encounters with other-world beings it is rarely a daily occurrence, nor would it be wise for anyone to indulge such manifestations.  Leading a spiritual life requires steadiness of heart, discipline of mind, and a regular, determined prayer life.  The unconscious can throw up endless imagery to entertain us.  But making a conscious effort to live as a spiritual being aware of our responsibility to contribute to the welfare of our world constitutes a genuine heroic effort.  We can decide to become a person of divine consciousness, but it’s not going to happen by accident.

River RescueWhat about difficult circumstances?   When we don’t react from distress, anger, fear and grief, we must consciously decide to 1) give the emotional reaction a non-harm way of expression 2) Practice patience until we are no longer emotionally driven, and 3) decide for what we know is appropriate, right, and for the true good.  Of course there will be times when we must react, and not ponder unduly because our life or the life of another is in danger.  But how often is that going to happen?  We create a self-aware, self-realized, and self-actualized life by making conscious choices based on the heroic image of ourselves as the Beloved Children of Great Spirit.

If you don’t know your personal unconscious, it will trip you up when you try to decide for your heroic and divine inheritance.    What mythological tale do you live in?  Another way to ask this is-what’s your favorite story?  That story is a fundamental belief or ideal inside of you. What thoughts support it?   Is that myth of use to you?  Is it helping you create love, joy, peace, and wholeness?

If we can always adopt a new story-  create a new attitude- or change our mind- what are we waiting for?

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This day Great Spirit Mother, Father & Weaver
We open to Divine Grace,
Surrendering, letting go, and being held
By the Great Mystery- in which we trust.

This day Great Spirit, we open
To the Divine Guidance.
Surrendering, letting go, and being held
We let divine movement carry us to the fullness of life.

This day Great Spirit,
We remember who we are.
We remember why we are;
We are your hands in the world,
Your voice for our people.

Free to create and bring love, joy, and peace
To fill all the empty places of this day.
We are spirit, we are people of heart.
Guild us as we bring our heroic self
Into this world today.

The Monastic Journey

The secret to spiritual mastery is to become more of who we already are as spiritual beings.  We did not become who we are today in a year, or two years, or even in ten years.  It took a lifetime to be ourselves.  IMAG0820Who is this self?   To be human is to long for an unfettered union with the divine although we often strive to meet that need, that goal, through friendships, companions, and lovers eventually our soul will turn to the Maker of All Things and rejoice in the possibility of that unconditional, loving union.

We can never eliminate our ego, or personality self, but we can be aware of the voices inside that do not speak to us of love, compassion, forgiveness, and grace.  We can let go of guilt, anger, and self-pity and take the journey of awakened consciousness.  The only thing standing between us and our highest spiritual good is our fear and an acute sense of our own unworthiness.

Monasticism is a joyful journey toward Great Spirit and the sublime heights of spiritual love but it is also an arduous climb out of the shadowed valleys of self-hatred, despair, and childhood psychosis so that we can touch the sublime heights of spiritual love.  taktshang2But if effort were unnecessary we would not need courage, determination, and a passionate, even obsessive love for The Master, for Her or His Grace, or for the ultimate goal of knowing the Self, which is called Enlightenment.

To free ourselves it is necessary to change the past and our story of the past by reviewing the emotional decisions connected with earlier unhappy events.  We do this by redefining what those things mean to us now.  What did we learn?  What treasures did we find?  What do we need to leave in the ashes?  And what shall we carry with us into our future?

On the monastic path we spend a great deal of time noticing our thoughts, our arisings or mental images, emotional reactions, and bodily sensations.  We become so familiar with our inner landscape that we finally wish to release it, forgive it, and find some new adventure on which to embark.  However, our old self has to go with us.  We can’t run.  We can’t hide.  And we can’t destroy any part of us.  starangeAnd why should we?  We are a beautiful, unique, divine spark of the All Spirit Energy.  There has never been anyone just like us…and there never will be again.  Shouldn’t we try to enfold all of our beingness in the loving arms of compassion?  Great Spirit doesn’t make mistakes…and the Eternal Spirit of All Life doesn’t make junk.

So from what are we trying to free ourselves?  Simply put it is the deep seated belief that we are intrinsically bad, wrong, unworthy, and wrong-headed.  When we free ourselves from this misconception into the possibility that somehow we need all of our qualities and the wisdom of all our experiences in order to serve Great Spirit… we will be free indeed.  The monastic life gives us an opportunity to practice accepting ourselves, as we are, right now…and maybe even more importantly to accept others as they are right now.  This is a daily practice because we will be living in intimate community with people we don’t know very well, who have habits we don’t always approve of, and who may be individuals we almost certainly would avoid if we were living in the world.   And yet there they are day after day being themselves… as we continually express being ourselves.  Oh, boy, what a recipe for suffering!  So in monasticism we practice accepting others as they are and continually strive to accept ourselves as we are.11537595-bells-inside-the-buddhist-monastery-square-composition

Acceptance is not approval.  It is ALLOWING.  In allowing we find concern and kindness for others who are also on a great journey to enlightenment, and are struggling with their own doubts, challenges, and suffering.  We find care and compassion for ourselves because we are suffering.  And softly, with great gentleness we surrender to Great Spirit in prayer, pohwas, and the mighty nectar of mantra.  Slowly, bit-by-bit, prayer-by-prayer Enlightenment brightens up the world around us until we are Holy and we are Free!

Being Your Authentic Self

What is Equanimity?
A dictionary will say: equa·nim·i·ty  noun \ˌē-kwə-ˈni-mə-tē, ˌe-kwə-\ : calm emotions when dealing with problems or pressure

But perhaps we can describe equanimity as the ability to compassionately accept where we are and be okay with that – even if we are still crying, shaking or overwhelmed with pain. We become able to say “Yes, this is what I’m feeling.”equanimity

This is not what most of us are taught. We are more likely to hear- “if I do this I will be punished” or “don’t be such a baby!”  or “What’s wrong with you?”  Equanimity is “Oh well, I was overwhelmed with…”  Equanimity_webWith equanimity we’re not living from the point of how much guilt our emotions cause in us, but how we show up in life and navigate all the unpleasant things that happen.

“I know who I am and I am authentic in my being.” If we are questioning and denying the legitimacy of our experiences we are denying the expression of our true self.  It is our experiences that makes us uniquely who we are, that and our ability to decide how we will respond to those experiences.  Animals respond to life by seeking to survive.  They have all the same emotions we do, but they can’t decide to laugh instead of cry or share a blessing instead of biting someone.

Pain, anger, and grief are a natural part of life therefore all beings experience mental/emotional/ physical pain sometimes. Feeling what we feel does not make us spiritual cripples, it allows us to practice compassion.

A Buddhist StoryGolden buddha hands

There once was a woman who lost her son. She was very sad. She went door to door seeking healers of all sorts. We cannot help you they said, “He’s dead.”
“He should not be dead” she cried!
Finally the woman came upon the Buddha and weeping told her sad story begging for the return of her son. The Buddha agreed to help her, “All you have to do,” he said, “is bring me a grain of rice from a household that has escaped the curse of grief.” With great hope, she went through the village, door by door, and through the neighboring villages, only to hear story upon story of suffering and loss. Finally she returned to the Buddha, no less in pain, but far wiser, more compassionate, and willing to accept her human lot. Life holds pain. There is suffering and it is caused by “This should not happen.”

This woman became enlightened by understanding these facts.  When we are flattened by the things life can do to us- let’s remember that there is suffering- we are not going to get a spiritual ticket stamped “Saved from Life”.  But remembering to realign ourselves to the Higher Power and enter the state of equanimity might be enough.  Try it and see!

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Great Spirit,
May I find joy in each moment.
May I find humor in my difficulties and laughter at my mistakes.
Often, Great Spirit, I am striving, trying, seeking, learning,
grasping, working to be good, to be loving, to be kind, to be successful, to be abundant.  Life is exhausting for me when I fall
into those places where I don’t really believe
you can, or will help me.

Teach me to have faith, Great Spirit.
Help me to know that you are there for me.
Help me to stop striving and let you take care of me,
the way you do the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
I accept your abundant, loving care in my life now.


 

Enthusiasm

Sometimes we believe being good and walking a spiritual path will guarantee success in all our undertakings. We believe that with the right prayer-right mantra-right meditation- every project, desire, and involvement will turn out according to our plans.  It is important to remember that Great Spirit gives us the OPPORTUNITY to use our skills, abilities, creativity, and enthusiasm to succeed.  Spirit helps us create abundance, but does not guarantee to reward us with abundance. To bring any activity to an abundant, creative conclusion we have to remain committed to that endeavor, and determined to overcome all obstacles to success.  It is impossible to maintain the necessary tenacity if we lack enthusiasm.

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“Great Spirit Mother and Father help those who help themselves & others.”

It might also be wise to remember that any creative endeavor makes a mess.  Think of redecorating, remodeling, building a new structure, etc.  The greater the mess we perceive around us the greater potential exists to create something wonderful. Perhaps this can give us hope in our very messy world.

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Enthusiasm is the result of being interested in the people, places, energies, and opportunities around us. Even an imperfect world offers us a chance to awaken possibles and to kindle hope in our hearts and the hearts of others. If we have a cheerful attitude and a hopeful heart we might even inspire others to come and join us.  Work that is a chore, a duty, a dull responsibility seldom motivates anyone to enthusiasm.  Work that is turned into play,  diversion, games and fun always results in more enthusiastic participation.  If we demonstrate love, joy, laughter, acceptance and excitement maybe even the curmudgeons of the world will join us in creating beauty.

Sometimes we may feel that we don’t know enough to serve Great Spirit and the Light adequately. So what! Think of a fat, happy, playful puppy. The puppy doesn’t know the rules of behavior and proper socialization, but almost everyone loves a puppy, forgives a puppy, and enjoys a puppy because the puppy is the embodiment of enthusiastic love.  Let us make our path of spirit an experience of laughter, enjoyment, and love.

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We often hear the phrase “Have a good day.”  But it is common knowledge that life offers us the opportunity to have “bad” days as well as good ones.  There is nothing wrong with having a bad day.  It is only when the bad days outnumber the good days that we may need to work on our attitude.  So let’s work on a determined effort to create all our days as “good” instead- so we will have more abundance to share with a world full of friends we haven’t met yet.

A Great Being once said: when a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were their own, that person has attained the highest state of spiritual union.

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Great Spirit help me so that-
The door of my heart be wide enough
to receive all who hunger for love.
May I welcome all who have cares to unburden,
thanks to express, and hopes to nurture.
May the door of my heart be narrow enough
to shut out pettiness, pride, envy and enmity.
May its threshold be no stumbling block
to young or strained feet.
May it be too high to admit complacency,
selfishness and harshness.
May my heart be a home for all who enter.
May my heart be a doorway to richness and a more meaningful life.
May I always entertain feelings of friendliness for all living beings in the world.
May I never feel angry with the vile,
the vicious and the wrongly-directed.
May I always remain tranquil in my dealings with them.
May Dharma become the main topic of conversation in my household.
May the heroes of our time whole-heartedly work
in the cause of Spirit Truth.
May all understand the Laws of Truth and be able
to rejoice even in sorrow and suffering.

~ A Jain Prayer

Awareness

Small children naturally practice awareness.  They pay attention to light, color, sound, textures, and taste.  They investigate every aspect of their environment.  They are curious about everything.  As we grow up we are taught to consider if a thing is desirable, worthwhile, or necessary.  Curiosity begins to have boundaries.  Life decisions become an avoidance of mistakes.  Awareness assumes a structure.  The Great Adventure of discovery begins to fade.

The path of spirit is a re-awakening of that Great Adventure.

Become like a small child in curiosity and awareness.

Reawaken the ability to see and hear everything.

Experience each physical movement and re-learn what it takes to walk, sit, or run.

Practice touching things, seeing things, and hearing the sounds of daily life.

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May I remember that my body is a Temple.
May I be aware that every cell is filled
with light and radiance.
I am thankful for health, energy, and life.
May my mouth speak
only what brings comfort and healing.

I am aware of my thoughts
And I keep them focused on Compassion.
My legs walk only in the directions
that take me closer to Great Spirit.
My hands carry forth Spirit’s Work
as I serve those who are suffering and wounded.

May I become like a little child
eager to explore,
curious about everything
and open to experience what life brings
for me
Today.