Tag: spiritual guidance

Unraveling Ourselves

Unraveling Ourselves

“Unraveling external selves and coming home to our real identity is the true meaning of soul work.”

Sue Monk Kidd3c15e6af5a296dd861c2bd8ba93aa29e

There is so much to be done in the unraveling department. The good news is that once true unraveling begins, one starts to feel lighter and lighter. The heavy weight of pain and confusion begins to lift and the challenges one faces are laced with hope. Feeling one’s real and honest identity become interconnected with one’s soul is both energizing and life affirming.

If anyone had told me years ago that I would feel younger, happier and freer at sixty-three than I had ever felt at any other time in my life, I would have been convinced they were smoking something. I lived pretty much most of fifty something years under a black cloud, fighting, struggling, despairing…suffering inside in a way I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I was dedicated and earnest in my pursuit of self-understanding from a very early age. I was drawn to the spiritual life, like a magnet. I understand the human need and desire for a connection with the divine, implicitly. What I didn’t understand was my pain in the world. I didn’t understand how the world and the divine spoke to one another. The divine was speaking, but no one was listening.

Repeatedly throughout my life, I moved toward God and then fell away. I moved toward spiritual teachers and an understanding of an inner life, but when I attempted to carry it into the world I felt frustrated and alone. I did not know how to put words to any of what I knew to be true in a way that would convey to others.

The symbolic language I found and used to describe such things no longer worked in my practical, modern surroundings. I desperately wanted to find a connection between the two. I did not want to leave the world behind and go to a mountain top, although at times I wish I had. It could not have been more painful to be alone with God than it was to be alone in the world.

Now all these years later I’m beginning to see more clearly what happened. A product of my times, I found nowhere to go with my spiritual yearnings. Even seminary was an environment that was decidedly pragmatic in its approach to spirituality. One believed in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, even questioned and discussed them with other believers, but when all was said and done it was understood that the ultimate goal was to bring our faith and belief to others in the context of the church setting. What about bringing it into the world at large? Why must we put it into a box only to be brought out on Sunday morning in a pre-programmed environment? I couldn’t buy into any of it.

To my way of thinking what was always wrong with the “church” was what is still wrong with organized religion. It’s religion in a box. It’s not about spiritual listening and learning and becoming. It’s not about looking for God in the everyday world of board meetings and while making peanut butter sandwiches for your kids. We paid lip service to that, but there really was no support structure for such a lifestyle.  Religious traditions are too small, too narrow, too limiting for what I believe God to be and the spiritual life to require.

When “religion” didn’t answer my questions or satisfy my yearnings I didn’t abandon the Divine that lived in my heart. I just stopped paying attention to her voice. She was still there, calling to me, needling me, tormenting me. I chose instead to turn my back on my soul and sought refuge instead in the psychological realm. Therapy. Medication. Pain. More therapy. More pain.More medication.

I learned much about the human psyche, but it did not help me grow in self-esteem or  value the gift of life, because at my core I remained disconnected from my essential myself, my soul self. I was ignoring that place from which all real self-esteem comes. If we are not listening to our deep, inner voice and hearing the messages and guidance of our soul, we will never find peace. We will never understand who we are or what we have to offer the world. We will never trust that we are valuable, or that we matter, no matter what. No therapist, no religion, no worldly structure  or construct can ever teach us that.

Our Spiritual Nature

Our Spiritual Nature

spiritual art
The Tree of Transformation
by Mary Ann Holley

My nights of late have been filled with dreams of struggle. Arguments, unease, confusion. I am going through a deep change. I can feel it happening in many areas of my life and my dreams seem to be reflecting the movement.

What’s different this time is that some of the dreams are violent. I don’t recall ever having violent dreams like these – along the line of the stuff that permeates our nation’s television and movie screens – and i t makes me wonder if something within me is reacting to the violence in the world.  When we open ourselves to the spiritual world, we may sometimes find that we react more strongly to the negative forces around us, both personally and globally.

I remember feeling the same dynamic some thirty years ago when I was drawn in a quantum leap into a deepening of my spirituality.  A series of events, a mentor, a sense of calling and a deep need to live out that calling, and the next thing I knew I was spending hours reading and meditating on the words of great spiritual teachers and heading to seminary. While my heart and soul were going in one direction, my mind and body were still very much alert and living in the everyday world and culture.

I was a senior in college,  although little older than most at twenty-five, and it was a Friday night. My roommate and I decided to go see a movie that had just come out.  Going to the movies back then was a very different experience than it is today.  We didn’t have a choice of fifteen movies. There was only one, and it generally stayed around for a very long time. A new movie was a much bigger deal and more of an event.  “Death Wish”, with Charles Bronson, was getting some buzz, though I can’t say I read anything about it before going, so we set out to take it in.

I only made it half way through the opening scene. I was so horrified and repulsed by what I witnessed on the screen that I got up and left. My roommate came running after me wondering what the heck had happened. We’d been friends for several years, and she knew I was not particularly naive, or underexposed to the darker side of life. I was a New Yorker, for crying out loud. I spent many a weekend wandering the streets of Manhattan with friends, from Times Square to 42nd Street. We saw it all. This time, it was not what I saw, but how I saw it, that was different. I was not separated from it. It was happening to me and I was repulsed by it as if I had been actually present at or participating in the crime.

I didn’t understand what was happening to me then, or how to handle it, any more than I understood how to handle a similar experience when I was fourteen.  A week at summer church camp had drawn me deep into the center of my spirituality. It was profound, life altering even, and yet, when I returned home, I didn’t have a clue how to share what I had experienced with the people in my life or how to keep the change alive by incorporating it into my every day life. I blamed myself, but really, in spite of being a church goer in a church going family, I didn’t have the tools, or the support to actually guide me in living out of what I only sensed to be something very real and very powerful. I did not have a guide of any sort, within or without of the church, to teach me to manage something so undefinable yet all-encompassing. I was trying to bring a symbolic understanding of life into a very linear, literal world. I find it astounding that as a society we’ve chosen to spend so much time, effort and money educating the minds of our children, but have done nothing to guide and nurture their spirits.  Even organized religion has fallen down on the job choosing to mandate more often than moderate.

As I stood in the lobby of the movie theater that night, I sensed that a new perspective had a hold of me. Again, I did not know how to speak it into the world — the real, every day world and I’m pretty sure Jena was as perplexed by my behavior as I was. I told her I was sorry and that I’d be happy to wait for her if she wanted to go back in and watch the rest of the movie.  I didn’t want to ruin the evening for her, but I just couldn’t watch it. She said she wasn’t all that into it anyway and we went for ice cream instead.

I’ve never gone back and watched that particular movie, but I’m pretty sure it’s tame by comparison to what is on our many screens today.  What I have come to understand about my experience is something that warrants attention, both on an individual level and a cultural one.

I believe that human beings are spiritual creatures by nature. A creative, loving force lives within each of us. Some call it God, some call it our soul or Soul, others Source without source, or the divine.  We are creatures who think symbolically and we understand intuitively, that there is power in a name. It is not surprising that we seek a name that feels right to us, one that is congruent with our beliefs. Whatever one calls it, it is the essence of what it means to be a human being, it is what I call our spiritual nature, that thing or force that fires our passions, erupts in love, and drives our richest, most meaningful creativity.

Our freewill, however, allows us to choose where we focus our passion, the creative force we hold within us. Therefore, we can just as easily choose to direct it toward something finite or evil, as toward something infinite or benevolent. A third option, that I believe to be most prevalent today, is the choice which is actually the denial of choice. We don’t know what to do with our spiritual nature so we do nothing.  We don’t know how to handle it, or what it looks like, or what to do about it, and so we push it aside. We neglect it. We ignore it. We bury it in day-to-day detritus.

The longer we neglect it the duller our awareness of its importance and power becomes. Our spiritual nature will always exist, but our sense of spirituality is deadened and dulled in much the same way that a neglected child loses interest in life and becomes despondent and unresponsive. We fire ourselves up by focusing on superficial concerns and we live with our ego as our guide. This choice is ultimately our own, but in a world devoid of spiritual guidance, such as that once offered in abundance by organized religion, we are easily stymied and at a loss as to how to help ourselves.  Managing the spiritual world, particularly when we live in a cultural that is so potent with its antithesis, is no mean feat.

Organized religion has become irrelevant to the masses, and nothing, as yet, has replaced it.  We have spiritual gurus popping up like daisies, each with their own brand of theology,  each gathering their own band of followers. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but having a viable spiritual guide or community in ones own neighborhood is rare. We don’t know who, or what, to turn to or to trust.

There’s a great divide between the spiritual and the cultural. Is it any different from the past? I really don’t know. What I do know, is that in the here and now, there is a great dearth of spiritual guidance for the individual, and spiritual leadership with integrity is in short supply. It’s no wonder we find ourselves adrift. It’s no wonder as a culture we become increasingly secular. We know we have outgrown the guidance offered in the past, but our mistake is that we think we need none now.

This is not an issue that is resolved easily for anyone and so I will offer no answers here. Just food for thought in what in my mind is a very pressing question. I welcome your thoughts and reactions.