How Can I Feel Spiritual?

headerphoto1If we are to experience spirituality we need to employ more than the usual empirical, conceptual, and analytical mind. We need to be in tune with our imagination, intuition, and contemplative mind. We need to focus on the spiritual, the transcendent.

Metaphors of parables or poetic thought are often more effective, because metaphors suggest rather than direct. Take for example this poem by Rumi (Barks 1995, 36)

Out beyond ideas…there is a field. I’ll meet you there. 

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.

Spirituality in its purest form is an inner, subjective experience. Pure, non-verbal experience of being is the spiritual field within.

Most religions contain language and practices intended to facilitate experiences of pure being and connection. Individuals often have their own unique interpretations of the tenets of their religion. Each uses the parts that speak to them.  Religion can be a sociocultural program for developing spiritually and for bringing spiritual realizations into everyday life.

Outside of religious preaching, prayer, testimonies, hymns, scripture and rituals some people find spirituality in service, relationships, touch, books, movies, music, meditation, dreams, gardening, promptings, insight, stillness, yoga, hiking, sunsets, birds, mountains, trees, unity, families, children, elderly, feasting, fasting, animals, light, water, flowers, challenges, trials, sacrifice, knowing, hard work, candles, chanting, dancing, singing, clean living, etc.

When these activities are done with a focus on spiritual experience and a shift in transcendent consciousness we can have a mystical experience.

Mystical experiences can occur during intentional practices or intentional living that can be designed to create conditions conducive to transcendent experiences.

Williams James wrote:

One may say truly, I think, that personal religious experience has its roots and center in mystical states of consciousness… Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness we call it, is but one type, while all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness… No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.  (James [1905] 2005, 313)

  • Spirituality and Aging by Atchley
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Have You Ever Felt Like You Were In A Dark and Dreary Wasteland?

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A Book of Mormon Parable

And it came to pass that while my father tarried in the wilderness he spake unto us, saying: Behold, I have dreamed a dream….
I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.
And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies…
And after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field…
And I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
I did go forth and partake of the fruit; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted….
And as I partook of the fruit it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also….
And as I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family, I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit.
And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and [there] I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go.
And I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit…
And they did come… and partook of the fruit also….
And I beheld a rod of iron, which extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.
I also beheld a path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.
And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain their path which leads unto the tree by which I stood.
And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.
And then there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that those who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost…
I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
But after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
And… [some at the tree] because of those that were scoffing at them; fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.
And now I, Nephi, do not speak all the words of my father.
But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.
And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths…; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.


And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God (to each heart), which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.

Book of Mormon 1 Nephi 8, 11

How Can I Find My Stillness Within?

0814meditation04The practice of mindfulness helps us “be where we are.”  Anchoring the attention in present moment reality, acknowledging whatever we are experiencing and letting it be, helps us to let go of reliving stressful memories from the past and imagining stressful situations that may or may not become a reality in the future.   Mindfulness is the skill of “being where you are.”

Sylvia Boorstein defines mindfulness as “the aware, balanced acceptance of present experience . . . opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it”.   The body with its sensory experience is an excellent anchor for present moment awareness because it cannot exist in the past or in the future.  Thus, whenever we come back to the body, we come back to the present in which there is probably no problem.

–Adapted from Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steven Hayes, PhD

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Create moments of stillness in the midst of activity. Stopped at a traffic light? Waiting in line? Riding the bus?

Value these times as an opportunity to close your eyes and go within or say a little prayer. “Wherever you go, in the midst of movement and activity, carry your stillness within you.”                                               — Deepak Chopra

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Expand the field of your awareness around your breathing, so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and facial expression.  Follow the breath now as if your whole body is breathing – holding it all in this slightly softer, more spacious awareness.  Let go of the need to do anything about what you are experiencing and just allow yourself to be.

from Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, Segal, Williams, and Teasdale [2002]  

How Can I See The Good When All I See Are Flaws?

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There’s an old story about a group of monks living with their master in a Tibetan monastery. Their lives were disciplined and dedicated, and the atmosphere in which they lived harmonious and peaceful. People from villages far and wide flocked to the monastery to bask in the warmth of such a loving spiritual environment.
Then one day the master departed his earthly form. At first the monks continued on as they had in the past, but after a time, the discipline and devotion that had been hallmarks of their daily routine slackened. The number of villagers coming through the doors each day began to drop, and little by little, the monastery fell into a state of disrepair.

Soon the monks were bickering among themselves, some pointing fingers of blame, others filled with guilt. The energy within the monastery walls crackled with animosity.
Finally, the senior monk could take it no longer. Hearing that a spiritual master lived as a hermit two days walk away, the monk wasted no time in seeking him out. Finding the master in his forest hermitage, the monk told him of the sad state the monastery had fallen into and asked his advice.

The master smiled. “There is one living among you who is the incarnation of God. Because God is being disrespected by those around the Incarnated One, God will not show Godself, and the monastery will remain in disrepair.” With those words spoken, the master fell silent and would say no more.

All the way back to the monastery, the monk wondered which of his brothers might be the Incarnated One.

“Perhaps it is Brother Jaspar who does our cooking,” the monk said aloud. But then a second later thought, “No, it can’t be him. He is sloppy and ill tempered and the food he prepares is tasteless.”

“Perhaps our gardener, Brother Timor, is the one,” he then thought. This consideration, too, was quickly followed by denial. “Of course not” he said aloud. “God is not lazy and would never let weeds take over a lettuce patch the way Brother Timor has.”

Finally, after dismissing each and every one of his brothers for this fault or that, the senior monk realized there were none left. Knowing it had to be one of the monks because the master had said it was, he worried over it a bit before a new thought dawned. “Could it be that the Holy One has chosen to display a fault in order to disguise Godself?” he wondered. “Of course it could! That must be it!”

Reaching the monastery, he immediately told his brothers what the master had said and all were just as astonished as he had been to learn the Divine was living among them.
Since each knew it was not himself who was God Incarnate, each began to study his brothers carefully, all trying to determine who among them was the Holy One. But all any of them could see were the faults and failings of the others. If God was in their midst, the Holy One was doing a fine job of hiding Godself. Finding the Incarnated One among such rubble would be difficult, indeed.

 If God insisted on remaining hidden, then they had no recourse but to treat each monk as if he were the Holy One.

Each so concentrated on seeing God in the other that soon their hearts filled with such love for one another the chains of negativity that held them bound fell away. As time passed, they began seeing God not just in each other, but in everyone and everything. Days were spent in joyful reverence, rejoicing in the Presence of the Holy One. The monastery radiated this joy like a beacon and soon the villagers returned, streaming through the doors as they had before, seeking to be touched by the love and devotion present there.

It was some time later that the senior monk decided to pay the master another visit to thank him for the secret he had revealed.

“Did you discover the identity of the Incarnated One?” the master asked.

“We did,” the senior monk replied. “We found God residing in all of us.”

The master smiled.

What Can We Learn From The Stoics?

stoicismStoicism is a philosophical school that arose in Greece and was influential in Rome. It shares the insight that  the most important aspect of our nature is the part that we share with the rational divine, which is a union with nature/the universe/the cosmos.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca was born about the time of Jesus, was educated in Rome and became a Roman senator. He wrote about the importance of using reason to control our negative emotions and gain control over our internal lives in response to a world that is largely out of our control. He suggested we should be internally skeptical about the causes of our anger, to be reflective and to rise above it.

Another Stoic philosopher, Epictetus who was a slave, reasoned that we should accept whatever happens to us, good or bad with good cheer, control our emotions and act in the most rational way forward. He said that because life is short and will end, we shouldn’t waste it on being unhappy and upset.

He said that we should find meaning in our social relationships and roles and responsibilities in our families and community. Getting along, and not letting negative emotions get in our way, is our most important task. First calm down and then approach any problems rationally.

He also discussed the cycle of life and that we shouldn’t feel any more anxiety about death than we do watching leaves fall from the trees. It is a natural process that should be accepted like all of the other processes we encounter in nature, but at the same time cherish the moments we have here on earth.

Marcus Aurelius was a serious student of both Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. He wrote about taking the long view of life and realizing that everything passes. Most things that we obsess over are really very brief and inconsequential in the long scheme of life, and so are not worthy of the attention we give.

The Stoics find meaning in reflective thought, a cherished finite life, and rational action in the face of an irrational world.

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Why Do The Righteous Suffer?

Job-camel-copyRighteous living does tend to bring its own rewards, but it doesn’t protect people from suffering or hardship.

The story of Job is a fantastical poem of God making a bet with Satan, but it was written in the Bible to teach a real-life lesson.

Job is a rich man living with his large family and extensive flocks.

Job is “blameless” and “upright,” always careful to avoid doing evil.

Yet, Job receives news that his livestock, servants, and ten children have all died due to marauding invaders or natural catastrophes. He goes on to lose his health, looks, and friends.

Job is miserable, but can now better empathize with other people’s pain.

Despite accusations of sin, Job begins to understand that bad things happen to good people. That being “good” doesn’t protect you from tragedy. He learns that horrible things happen to innocent people all the time. He sees it in his own story and in the world. He realizes that it is an illusion to believe that if you do good you will always be “blessed” with good fortune.

He realizes that justice in this world does not exist in terms of suffering and ease. The world is filled with injustice. It is erroneous to believe that people always bring upon themselves their own suffering, or that their suffering is equal to the exactness of what they deserve.

Job’s friends suggest he must be a sinner and his children must have brought their deaths upon themselves through their own erroneous actions, but Job knows it isn’t true.

This teaches us that our sufferings or ease in life are not the point and we shouldn’t get too attached and reliant upon our current conditions.  We also shouldn’t judge others, assuming they have brought their own hardships or misery upon themselves through bad decisions because we don’t know their whole story.

We learn from Job that meaning needs to come from something other than how well we are prospering.

“Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return,” states Job.

Job continues to praise God because that is all that really matters in the end- our relationship with God and His love.

Job learns that we can’t fully understand or comprehend God, but Job decides to persist in pursuing wisdom by staying loyal to God and avoiding evil. Besides some confusion and lamenting, he decides to fully accept whatever circumstances he finds himself in.

In the story- Job is materially rewarded in the end by God, perhaps to symbolize an eternal reward, but this may or may not be someone else’s story. Whether or not we prosper or suffer, God’s love, comfort, and sustenance are always there if we tune into His presence and work to show that love to others.

  • The Story of Job/Old Testament

 

How Can I Recognize The Spirit?

rainbow2Miracles heal because they deny body-identification and affirm spirit-identification.

The children of God are holy and perfect spirits.

By recognizing your spirit, your perception and perspective is corrected.

Spirit is at the center of life.

Miracles are God’s intercession through the Holy Spirit to your spirit or Christ within.

The Holy Spirit is the mechanism of miracles. It separates the light from the darkness.

Miracles honor you because you are lovable. They dispel illusions about yourself and perceive the light in you. By releasing your mind from the imprisonment of your illusions, they restore your sanity.

Miracles are natural signs of forgiveness. Through miracles you accept God’s forgiveness by extending it to others. Miracles are expressions of love.

A miracle is a correction introduced into false thinking.

The forgiven are the means of the Atonement. Being filled with spirit, they forgive in return. Those who are released must join in releasing their brothers, for this is the plan of the Atonement.

Miracles are the way in which minds that serve the Holy Spirit unite with Christ for the salvation or release of all of God’s creations.

Spirit is in a state of grace forever.

Your reality is only spirit.

Therefore you are in a state of grace forever. 

You respond to what you perceive, and as you perceive, so shall you behave.

You should look out from the perception of your own holiness to the holiness of others.

The Atonement itself is one, uniting all creation with their Creator.

A Course in Miracles