For me, leading ceremony is not about making something happen. Yes, there are structural and energetic components to attend to, but the real work is creating a space for people to have a direct spiritual connection inside and outside themselves.
It is the art of un-doing, the space holding, the emptying.
We have been taught to look to someone else to tell us our deepest knowing and show us what spiritual connection means to us. We have given up our own power and because of this, we are eager to place it on others. This is hurting us individually and collectively quite deeply.
For me, leading is as much about disentangling from this dynamic as it is about the creation of the ceremony. If you want to deepen your spiritual practice, learn to listen. If you want to create a ceremony, learn to listen.
It does not matter whether you get a form just right – that your hand moves precisely the right way, that your prayer is spoken perfectly, that you even know exactly what you are doing.
I say this as an artist and someone who deeply honors a well-developed technique, and as an academic who values knowing. These are beautiful embellishments, but not necessities. What is necessary is the unmediated connection with spirit. A connection that is yours and yours alone.
For me, my non-doing speaks louder than my doing. My lack of showmanship is a vehicle for others to see their own brilliance. The emptiness or absence of activities is an opportunity for others to step forward.
Disentangling from the misplaced spiritual power dynamic is complex. As soon as the space is open, it is often filled with all sorts of things that are not in service of direct spiritual connection or upliftment to try and put the familiar dynamic back in place.
Stepping out of the “I have the spiritual truth” game brings up unconscious fears. Fears because suddenly we are faced with our own spiritual nakedness and want desperately for someone to wrap us in the blanket of “you don’t need to know because I do.” These fears can be projected on leaders in the form of “you need to do more so that I feel secure.” The remedy is that we vulnerably step in and ask for our own spiritual connection.
It can also call forward an ego-driven superiority simply because the person experiences that lack of condescension and middle-manning as an indication of limitation. They have bought in, so deeply, to the idea that competence and spiritual connection mean dominance and oppression. The remedy again is to work on our own spiritual connection. Direct contact makes these dynamics untenable.
When I am talking about divine feminine principles, I am not talking about goddess work. There are plenty (and most setting predominantly are) goddess works that support the patriarchal structure that keep us detached from our inner knowing all while having a fabulous goddessy face.
I am talking deep in the bones dismantling of the structures that keep us from ourselves and our deepest spiritual truth. I am talking the remembering of how to steward our own spiritual journey and gather the wisdom from the universe one handful at a time. This requires something totally different.
Yes, it is divine feminine work. It is the work of non-doing. It is the void, the vessel, the opening. And like the feminine, it gets devalued, criticized, feared and condemned. And like the feminine, it has been told that it is nothing and that something needs to go in its place. It forgets its own value. Yet it gives and gives and gives to us because it is the divine mother herself understanding that we, as children, need time to grow up.
So ceremony for me is not about doing something, it is about creating an opening – or in some cases working to create even a small crack so that this wisdom can find its way into the room and hopefully the world. Because I know that people with a direct spiritual connection can heal themselves and heal the world.
Ethics in spiritual work have not changed. The teachings have remained the same for as long as we have been writing them down, and most likely for longer than that. There are not new ethics to discover—we know to be kind and offer understanding as much as possible; we know not to lie, cheat, and steal and instead to be honorable; and we know not to harm others, especially for our own gain. This and so many more ethical stances have been taught to many of us.
“Ethics has nothing to do with external considerations. It is independent of time and space, beyond fashions and civilizations. It is derived from the foundations of the Ancient Wisdom and the essential nature of man. ” — Danielle Audoin
But there is sometimes a great chasm between knowing and doing. We all struggle with this to some degree, but we do have a sense of what is right and wrong, and it is up to us to take appropriate action.
We can, however, easily fall into the trap of contextualizing our ethics: Our lie is OK because that other person would have reacted badly to the truth. Our actions were justifiable because we are only human, after all. That person deserved retaliation because of the way they acted.
Being an ethical person does not mean that we make the same decision in any given ethical dilemma that another person would also make in that situation, but rather that we adhere to our ethical code regardless of the situation. If we do this, we can consider ourselves ethical.
One large problem that we have at this point in time is the number of people who perhaps have attained a certain spiritual knowledge yet have not made an ethical commitment or developed this understanding.
And, then of course, there are people who have neither understanding nor ethical practice. In a world desperate for spiritual connection, the superficial trappings of a wise tradition can be enough to find followers.
If you are a spiritual person, the most important place to focus is on your ethical development. This is not magical power, extensive knowledge, or a large following. Your ability to know and live by your ethical code is what will make the difference in your own life and the impact that you have on others.
“We practice ethical behavior by creating the intention to follow a particular ethical guideline. We do this for the purpose of spiritual awakening, not for the purpose of being “good” or escaping criticism–either internal or external.” –Robert Brumet
Once we have committed ourselves to an ethical code, our job is to live and learn by it.
We will have many chances to grow in our understanding of how to be a good person; as we do this, we will grow in our spiritual depth and move in the direction of enlightenment. Inevitably, many of us will face difficult circumstances that pose an ethical dilemma.
These challenges hold the potential for great spiritual wisdom and are the moments we have trained for in our ethical practice. In each of these moments, large and small, we become a light for others, ultimately fulfilling our mission to be a spiritual being.
It is ethics — not yoga pants, indigenous jewelry or obscure spiritual artifacts — that make a spiritual practitioner and ultimately a spiritual leader.
Understanding how to use personal power to reach your next spiritual level is the key to achieving this transition. According to writer and theorist Ken Wilber, development is a continuum of processes that takes us from psychological “growing up” to spiritual “waking up”. Growing up refers to our personal development, while waking up refers to our spiritual development. In other words, our individual development of personal power allows us to reach our spiritual enlightenment.
Your personal power is central to your spiritual growth. The key component of this empowerment is recognizing that you are “at cause” for everything that happens in your life. In other words, the common denominator in each and every situation you encounter is you. Taking responsibility for your life, in a loving and compassionate way, will launch you to your next spiritual level.
It takes two to tango. Yes, the person you’re in conflict with may not have done right by you, but before you go on the offense, figure out the ways you have contributed to the conflict situation. The time you spend thinking about your own contribution to a conflict is not meant to assuage guilt from anyone else, but it will help you see your own role and help you be as constructive as possible with your feedback. Be honest with yourself.
How to use personal power is often about looking for ways to create more of what we want. If you do not like the way a situation — or even your whole life — is going, you can choose to create more of what you want. Spend less time discussing, arguing, or even engaging with what you are trying to get rid of, and start to focus your efforts in the direction you want to go.
Clear communication finds its ground in your personal power. It is from the place of clarity and responsibility that we find in our personal power that we are able to constructively interact with the world around us. From here, we are able to let others know what we truly want, and negotiate the details of how it comes to us. The clearer that we are with our communication, the easier it is to create and co-create our vision for our life.
Our spiritual development is grounded in our ability to be intentional. What do we want to create in our life? How are we showing up to each moment? Being intentional is a sign that we are effectively using our personal power. It is a sign that we are connecting to ourselves and what the deepest part of ourselves wants.
What good is a sense of personal power if we leave a wake a disruptions behind us as we claim our place in the world? A sure sign that you are using your personal power effectively is that you are able to be gracious in most situations. This ability to be responsive, kind, and supportive will ensure that you have less to clean up as you change your life and will allow you to take your next steps more easily.
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Do you know how to revive yourself spiritually? If you are feeling depleted, you might be feeling disconnected and disempowered. Moving on from a state of disconnection and disempowerment is easiest when you have treated yourself well during your times of connection and empowerment. It is simple matter of learning the tricks – like how to revive yourself spiritually – and practicing them, so they are ready to go when you need them.
There are many ways to revive yourself when you are feeling depleted, but taking the spiritual route is one of my favorites. Connecting with your spirituality allows you to quickly access a strong, internal power source and bring your focus to what is most important for you. Strengthening this direct line to your inner core is a great way to decrease your “revival time” when you are feeling depleted.
It is important to remember that spirituality is a process more than a goal. Sometimes, even if you know how to revive yourself spirituality, the reality of feeling totally depleted and overwhelmed can make it hard to put this into action. If you find yourself in such a situation, try these easy steps to revive yourself spiritually, even when you’re feeling totally depleted.
Pause: Even on the day-to-day, it is virtually impossible to connect in a deeper way when each moment is filled with activity or our minds are filled with constant clutter. When we become really depleted, this activity and clutter can become so overwhelming that we become unable to make good decisions. The best thing we can do is hit the pause button. If you are doing too much – stop. Take a day, an hour, or even 5 minutes off. The longer the better. If your mind is racing – stop. Use prayer, meditation, or even self-hypnosis to give yourself a break from yourself. P.S. Do yourself the favor of not believing the lie that you “can’t afford to pause.”
Breathe: It has been scientifically proven that changing our breathing helps us relax. Relaxation –the movement out of our usual readiness for fight or flight—is essential to our having higher level experiences, such as spiritual ones. By remembering our breath, we are that much more likely to benefit from the pauses that we take. Yogic practices show us that we can use the breath to move energy and open certain centers of the body. This can help us reconnect with our spiritual sense of things, opening our access to this internal power source.
Do something small: It can seem like a drop in the bucket, but if we are longing for spiritual connection, we benefit from doing something right in that moment. Too often we get preoccupied with chasing larger spiritual experiences and forget that every little thing we do is helpful. Put up a picture that reminds you of your spiritual connection, say a quick prayer, or read something inspiring. It does not matter what it is, but only that you do it. Then keep at it as much as you can. These small efforts compound into large pushes in your spiritual development.
Reconnecting with your spiritual self is a challenge in and of itself, but the work pays off when you know how to revive yourself spiritually, even when you feel completely depleted. By practicing pausing, breathing, and doing something small to connect with your spirituality, you will strengthen this connection, preparing you for a final step:
Start or resume your daily practice: If you are recovering from a period of being off-track or down, the first thing that I recommend that you add back into your life is your daily practice. We’re talking the cornerstone of your spiritual connection. This can be prayer, meditation, attending service, or whatever feels right to you. It is best if you do not make it too long and complicated, especially at first. Try starting with 5 minutes each day. Better to tackle 5 minutes than to plan for 1 hour and not get anything done at all. Little steps are still steps in the right direction!
If you’re struggling with revitalizing yourself spiritually, I can help you. My Personal Breakthrough Intensive is a great way to create total transformation in an area of your life in which you’re feeling stuck. Click here to learn more.
There are times in our lives when, for one reason or another, the spiritual aspect of our experience moves to the side-line. For some of us, learning how to nurture spiritual development was never a part of our lives at all, and this shift may go unnoticed. For others, the shift may be a wide and gaping rift in our lives. Reconnecting with your spiritual self begins with learning how to nurture spiritual development.
Spirituality means many things to many people. Some people might associate it with a magical feeling, others a state of inner calm, and others a sense of being connected – to a greater being, a greater meaning, or to themselves. Personally, I define it as the knowledge that there is a consciousness to all things.
The sidelining of our spiritual experience might occur for some of us because we have outgrown our usual paradigm of understanding spirituality – this sometimes manifests as a feeling that our prescribed religion ceases to make sense to us.
For others, Maslow’s hierarchy rules out – the day-to-day of life becomes so overwhelming that there is little time to dedicate to learning how to nurture spiritual development.
There are also those of us for whom there never existed a connection to the spiritual. We were raised in an environment that did not honor the spiritual and so we did not learn how to connect with our internal sense of spirituality.
Whatever the reason, when a distance grows between our self and our spirituality we become cut off from a powerful resource. Relearning how to nurture spiritual development takes openness and intentionality.
First, remember that spirituality is a process more than a goal. Linking your spiritual experience to an event (like meditation, yoga, or sermon) is good and well, but let’s push ourselves in our development so that we can reconnect with our spirituality in an everyday kind of way.
Let go of what doesn’t work so you can let in what does work
If your religion no longer aligns with your beliefs, if you’re turned off by some of the atrocities committed in the name of religion, or if you cannot put science on hold to believe a literal interpretation of the creation myth, put down these thoughts.
Why? Because, despite the idea that faith requires you to accept the beliefs of your religion whole-cloth, most spiritual teachers think for themselves. Most atrocities made in the name of religion have less to do with faith and more to do with small-minded human behavior. Spirituality does not create harm to others. Hateful, fearful, and judgmental people do.
I encourage you to look for what makes sense to you, what creates meaning for you, and what helps you be a better person. Make these things part of your spiritual life regardless of what they look like.
You’ve got something to learn from the disconnect
Maybe you once felt very spiritually connected, but you do not feel that way now. When this happens, we can feel that we’ve lost something and we jump to all sorts of conclusions about what this means about us.
These moments of loss and disconnect can be as meaningful as our moments of spiritual connection. These difficult times have their own sweet reward and often teach us how to open more deeply to our spiritual truths.
When we learn to surrender to our heart, reach toward higher ideals, and let go of our shallow needs, our experience becomes more profound and meaningful. We learn that what we need to be deeply fulfilled is here and now in the present moment.
Instead of looking for change, take a look at what you are resisting and see if you can embrace it.
Hit the pause button
A moment of pause is infinitely important and almost always helpful.
Simply put, if we stop and let what is happening around us sink into our consciousness, we reconnect to the truth of our experience. The only thing we need to do is to stop long enough to let this happen.
We can stop in different ways. We can go on a retreat or spend a weekend at home being quiet. We can stop the raging of our anger and create space for love in our heart. We can stop the chatter of our mind and allow for more presence. Ideally, we can do all of these.
If you don’t have time to pause your life, do what you can. Even brief pauses like stopping to take a few deep breaths can bring in a deeper connection to yourself and what is around you. Over time the effects will become noticeable.
Remember, Spirituality is a process and it doesn’t come with dogma. So, open up, explore and find your own pathways to your spiritual connection. You’re the only one who knows how to nurture spiritual development in yourself.
Understanding why personal power is important to your spiritual development begins with understanding that personal development and spiritual development are interdependent, mutualistic processes. The idea that each of these processes is separate and strictly secular/spiritual is a misconception that will prevent us from truly claiming our personal power.
Personal development resources take many forms, but they often manifest on one of two paths: a spiritual path or a secular path. In my experience, people in need (or in hope) of developing themselves turn to their spirituality or they turn to therapy. Each of these paths boasts many strengths, and some shortcomings. Neither is inherently “better” than the other, but both tend to leave out some of the valuable components of the other.
Having a toolkit of personal development skills will help you go deeper in your spirituality. Likewise, your spirituality will help keep you grounded and centered as you work your way through personal development practices. Each of these paths offers value that will enable you to reach a level of personal clarity beyond what can be found by just pursuing a single path alone.
In the same way that spiritual development provides a firm foundation from which to begin personal development, personal development is part of the essential groundwork that spiritual development is built on. Our personal power, or our empowerment, is a critical component of our spiritual development. Here is why.
Spiritual Development Demands Humility: The more that we grow in our spiritual power, the greater the problems that can be created by our unchecked egoic needs. Because of this it is essential that we are humble and true.
“Please let me say it loud and clear, the more you powerful are, the more your actions will have impact on people. The more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t your power will ruin you and you will ruin the other.” — Pope Francis
Without a sense of personal power, one is subject to the whims of the ego. One uses power to cover up for their limitations. Personal power is not power over. It is the power of choice and being right-sized. It allows us to know our limitations as well as acknowledge our greatness. It provides the foundation for being humble and therefore worthy of our spiritual development.
Spiritual Development is Challenging. There is not a single person on a spiritual path who goes untested. The tests, both successfully met and not, are means by which wisdom, impact, and spiritual capacity are gained, much more so than the peak experiences and other epiphanies we might be lucky to have. Each test that comes our way is an opportunity to learn and to grow by recognizing our role in its creation.
“Swami Veda says that whenever he gets sick first he thanks the Lord himself that he has the opportunity to close himself and he goes into silence. So each time he has pain he just closes his eyes and he thanks that now I have an opportunity to look within more.” — Pandit Hari Shankar Dabral
Personal Power helps us to be strong enough to ask the important question, how have I helped to create this problem? Without a toolkit of skills developed in our personal development work, we are unable to do this in a healthy way. We may blame the other party or situation or we blame ourselves when we ask the question. Either way, our spiritual development is curtailed.
Spiritual Development Requires Effort. To develop ourselves spiritually, we need to maintain continued focus and applied effort. There are no spiritual gains made by sloth or inactivity. Our outcomes are the direct result of the effort that we put in. This continued effort is the act of devotion. Devotion yields powerful results on our spiritual journey.
“That’s exactly it. True devotion only appears when we have just one desire and feel that we will die if we cannot realize that desire.” — Paulo Coelho
Without developing ourselves personally, we are unable to act from our adult self on a consistent and regular basis. This inability gets in the way of any sustained effort on our part. The ramifications of being unable to sustain our efforts is larger or smaller based on the place we are in our spiritual development. Some people have spiritual awakenings that are not in balance with their personal development, throwing them into experiences that challenge their mental health.
Personal development and spiritual development have many areas of overlap. However, they also provide some unique skills, techniques and insights that support us in becoming our full self. I encourage you to dive into both!
Looking to capitalize on the work you’ve done in your personal and spiritual development? Sign up for a one-day Personal Breakthrough Intensive with Dr. Kate Siner. You’ll use extensively researched and highly effective emotional and mental release techniques, combined with values work and strategic planning, to root out your limiting obstacles and eliminate them. Create space for your growth! Learn more →
This week I made the bold move to move to a country farmhouse outside of Providence. This has been part of my plans for the last 10 years and is the first of many steps forward. I always knew that when my son went off to college I’d decide what I’d do next.
Yet, this is easier said than done.
My life is changing in major ways now that it’s no longer organized around raising my son. I’m responsible only for myself for the first time in years. At times, this has left me feeling like I’m 20 years old and trying to figure out what I want from my life all over again.
Rather than coming up with a concrete plan, I’ve decided to explore different options and leave the door open to opportunities that feel right to me. I have no idea if I’ll spend my next 10 years on a farm or if I’ll quickly recognize my move as vestiges of a long-past dream.
One thing is for sure, though: open space and nature connects me to my spirituality and ultimately awakens my best self. So, one way or another, I’ll build the natural world into my plan.
Reconnect With Your Spiritual Self
There are times in our lives where the spiritual aspect of our experience moves to the side-line. And, for some of us, spirituality may not be part of our lives at all.
There are many reasons why this happens.
For some people, the religion they subscribed to ceased to make sense to them. In the process of putting down their religion they put down their spirituality as well. Many people who do this cannot see how spirituality and religion can exist separately.
For others, the day-to-day is so overwhelming that there is little room to attend to the spiritual aspects of their lives. As Maslow clearly outlined: we cannot begin to address our higher needs until we address our base needs for food, shelter, and water.
Some people have never had a connection to the spiritual. They were raised in an environment that did not honor the spiritual and so they did not learn how to connect with their internal sense of spirituality.
Spirituality means many things to many people. Some people might associate it with a magical feeling, others a state of inner calm, and others a sense of being connected. Personally, I define it as the knowledge that there is a consciousness to all things.
People often tap into their spirituality when in a specific state, such as how they feel after meditation, yoga or a sermon. They link their spiritual experience to an event and then seek that event with a measure of satisfaction. Yet, spirituality is not so much a goal as it is a process.
With this in mind, it becomes easier to reconnect with our spirituality in an everyday way, especially if we feel we’ve lost touch with it.
Let go of what doesn’t work so you can let in what does work
You’ve got something to learn from the disconnect
Hit the pause button
Remember, spirituality is a process and it doesn’t come with dogma. So, open up, explore and find your own pathways to your spiritual connection.
Our True Self is defined by seven intrinsic qualities. I initially identified these qualities during my study of Christian anthropology while in seminary. As I went on to study psychology and religion at Harvard, I found that these qualities are confirmed in the great religions of the world and in the modern scientific study of psychology as defining the unique nature of human being.
Human beings uniquely possess these qualities, and they are given to each of us. The true self is not reserved for those who have devoted their lives to becoming mystics. We are born with these resources which are available to all of us at any time.
These seven gifts guide us from within and define our unique nature. We may nurture these qualities or we may or take them for granted; if we choose the former course, our life will be opened and filled by meaningful opportunities–if we choose the latter, we will remain wanting and helpless, functioning at a level far lower than our potential. Nevertheless, even if we fail to utilize them, these qualities lie dormant, for we never lose them. They exist within us, waiting for us to awaken them:
“Children are born true scientists. They spontaneously experiment and experience and reexperience again. They select, combine, and test, seeking to find order in their experiences–“which is the mostest? Which is the leastest?” They smell, taste, bite, and touch-test for hardness, softness, springiness, roughness, smoothness, coldness, warmness: they heft, shake, punch, squeeze, push, crush, rub, and try to pull things apart.” – R. Buckminster Fuller
Spontaneity is our ability to express our self without hindrance. We preserve and develop spontaneity if we feel safe, cherished, and free from distress. Spontaneity captures the innocence, readiness, and freshness of a child. The spontaneous person embraces joy and affectionate humor just as children, who are less inhibited and socially constrained, naturally express their authentic and visceral feelings. Those who are spontaneous beyond their childhood years retain honest access to the full range of their emotions. People may attribute spontaneity to those with a youthful character; but while spontaneity involves innocence, child-likeness, and having fun, it also entails resilience and the ability and readiness to heal, mature, and develop, to expand our competence. Our spontaneity spurs us to growth because we are destined for expressing our aliveness.Psychologists have identified six universal emotions that we express cross-culturally: happiness, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, and fear. While we often associate access to the positive emotions as a sign of maturity, awareness of and access to the full range of one’s feelings more accurately characterizes one who is spontaneous. To assess our spontaneity, we must ask: Do I feel openness and readiness in my activities? Do I possess a freshness and enthusiasm in life? Do I have access to only certain emotions? Do I feel greater restraint or greater ease with these emotions?
“The first reason for man’s inner slavery is his ignorance, and above all, his ignorance of himself. Without self-knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave, and the plaything of the forces acting upon him. This is why in all ancient teaching the first demand at the beginning of the way to liberation was: Know Thyself. ” –George Gurdjieff
Reasoning is sound thinking; it accounts for our understanding of life and our progress in it. Through reasoning, we can discover more about the world and about ourselves and participate in life in endless ways. With the potential depth of our ability to understand, we are designed to explore, engage the world, and find solutions to our problems.
“Creativity is…seeing something that doesn’t exist already. You need to find out how you can bring it into being and that way be a playmate with God.” – Michelle Shea
Creativity is a unique expression of our ability to make something out of our “originality of thought.” Although we cannot, like God, create ex nihilo(“out of nothing”), we have the power to generate and transform things: to convert our ideas into new forms, to make our dreams realities, to shape our self and our world–to inspire, excite, incite, calm, and originate. When we create in connection with God, we feel inspired and empowered. Through creativity, we can develop skills which we often do not fully understand or engage. By applying our abilities to new possibilities, creativity builds self-awareness and strengthens identity.
When we create, we take risks and embrace new possibilities. The creative process taps the source of both our intrinsic nature and our individuality. This permits us to discover and express more of our other intrinsic gifts and more of our self. It helps us to recognize those qualities and to harness their power.
We generate creativity from within rather than accepting external formulations of it. For this reason, we often feel that what we create is who we are–it is part of ourselves. When our work permits us to create, we often call it art and equate the product with our self-worth. One of the miracles of each of our lives is the possibility of leaving our distinct — creative — mark through the expressions of our creativity. Creativity is a unique expression of our own experience and achievements.
4. Free Will
“The most tremendous thing granted to humanity is choice, freedom.” –Søren Kierkegaard
Free will is our ability to choose. Moreover, it is our ability to think outside ourselves–to gain an observational sense of our situation. Exercising free-will, we recognize that we can draw upon our own voice, rather than echo what we have been told. By examining the choices we have, we can establish our voice in relation to others and feel integrity in our position.
To not make choices is to give up a part of our self. Those who feel as if they have lost their will often feel trapped. If we feel that we have no choice or are locked in, we need to examine what constrains us. By drawing upon our spontaneity, reasoning, and creativity, we can release ourselves from these shackles.
“A return to reverence is the first prerequisite for a revival of wisdom…Wisdom comes from awe rather than shrewdness. It is evoked not in moments of calculation but in moments of being in rapport with the mystery of reality.” –Abraham Heschel
Spirituality is our response to God’s call–our communication with the spirit of life’s Mystery. Spirituality is a Mystery not only because it involves something beyond our mind and knowledge, but also because it comes from our experiences of God. The power of that relationship to spirit is unique for each of us; we tap the power of spirituality in our encounters with God, which gives us a clear vision and an understanding of life. That is why there are different paths to spirituality. Our ability to grow spiritually is made possible through a recognition of, and commitment to, developing our relationship with God. By penetrating beyond the temporal and engaging the Mystery we can find the guide for our journey of fulfillment. To engage our spirituality we must engage our personal relationship with God and make this relationship central in our lives.
You can experience God, but whether you subscribe to a particular religion, develop a personal understanding of spirit, or deny all divinities and are an atheist, there exists one certainty: things occur in life over which you have no control. You can attribute these things to fate, randomness, nature, physical reality, or God. I personally believe that it is the Spirit that provides the answers for us in all things. We find the Spirit when we discover and actively engage our True Self –connect to our Self, Others, and God and hear the voices of our thoughts (our mind), our feelings (our heart), and our spirit (our soul), we both explain and understand our nature and how these connections bring us fulfillment.
“The supreme end of education is expert discernment in all things–the power to tell the good from the bad, the genuine from the counterfeit, and to prefer the good and the genuine to the bad and counterfeit.” –Samuel Johnson
Discernment, as Johnson notes above, is our ability to distinguish Good from Evil–and to choose the Good. When we choose between Good andEvil, we demonstrate what principles are guiding us. Discernment is thus the ability both to make moral choices and to act accordingly. It is not being judgmental, as in disdainful and imperious moralizing; it is judgment driven by Truth. Discernment emerges from knowing, choosing, and acting on the Good.
The simple ability to distinguish “right” from “wrong” begins at age three according to psychologists who study moral development. Howver, from even our earliest experiences, we begin to grow in discernment by developing virtues. Therefore, the extent to which we develop virtue (such as kindness, justice, caring, truthfulness, courage, and the like) we ignite the quality of our ability to discern. While our individual temperament may be drawn to one virtue over another, refining these proclivities through the discipline of enacting virtue shapes both our character and our ability to discern. Through discernment, we express our connection to the concerns of humanity at large and define our character.
“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love.” –Sophocles
Love is the culminating point–where we put the True Self to its greatest use. Love is a profoundly caring and intensely passionate and personal connection that generates respect, honesty, and reciprocity. Love also involves a physical, emotional, and spiritual attraction to another. We are driven by the powerful urge to love and to be loved, for love is intrinsic to our social nature. By trusting another to know one’s own self through their eyes, we free our self to union–to love and be loved. Loving connections convey the ultimate expression of the authentic self through an active engagement of Self, Others, and God. But while love is frequently identified as life’s most fulfilling experience, it can also be our most difficult pursuit — it often gets confined to only one of these three crucial relationships. Authentic love may begin by engaging only Self, only Others, only God–but if the love is authentic it always leads to the other two.
Loving will be a sacred connection — the highest human function, entrusted to us by God. When that sacred trust is broken, by us or by another, we feel it. When a lover does not act with the kindness and respect that a sacred love naturally includes, we can feel that opening up to that person was a big mistake. Although loving may include sex, a relationship based only on sex is not love. Love is a connection that opens the inner floodgates of one’s being to another. Because of the inherent vulnerability of exposing the self in a relationship, you feel love when you feel safe and are comfortable enough to “let go” of your defenses. In this healthy expression of love, both people are accessing their True Self.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of True Coming of Age: A Dynamic Process That Leads to Emotional Stability Spiritual Growth, and Meaningful Relationships. For more information please visit www.drchirban.com.