Spirituality: Setting the Tone II

Found in teaching circles, the concept of setting the tone describes a phenomenon in which a group of people take on the primary emotions, attitudes, opinions or sometimes even an ethical stance displayed by a leader.  And, although this concept is usually used to discuss leadership-group dynamics, it also applies to us as individuals internally as we explore the workings of our singular personalities, whenever we are faced with dilemmas or decisions.

In situations where we are facing dilemmas or difficult decisions, we have the luxury of being able to step back and watch the various components of personality take positions on how best to proceed.  During this process, we may feel inwardly fractured or confused.  But, there is a unifying force which can guide us through the dilemma-solving process and toward resolution.


In Vedanta, students are encouraged to develop a dialogue with the internal Observer.  The internal Observer is that component of a person’s personality which is universal and timeless.  The Observer is more concerned about “us” than it is concerned about “me”.  In most cases the Observer, when it is given its due position, will choose what the majority of spiritual traditions would consider an optimal choice in any given dilemma or decision, barring considerations regarding cultural differences.

Acess to the Observer is best cultivated through voluntary phases of silence, where we learn to watch the activities of the mind and its decision making processes.  The Observer is also available to us through breath awareness and wih a reduction in social distractions.  When we begin to experience a single-pointed focus in conjunction with a consistent experience of Stillness, then we will know we have found the Observer.  And, the internal Observer is the component of personality that should set the tone for our days and our lives, rather than any other external or, potentially, unreliable personality or force.

Spirituality: Setting the Tone I

“One day,” my manager said to me, “I noticed the staff would take on whatever mood I was in.  If I came into the store happy, pretty soon we were all having fun, and the store was running like a well-oiled machine.  If I came in angry or frustrated, because of something that had happened earlier outside of work, the staff would become agitated and grumpy.  Then, not only was I having a bad day and in a bad mood, but everyone around me was too.

“So, at some point, I decided I had better adjust my attitude before walking through that door.”

The concept being described, where a group of people take on the emotional tone displayed by a person in a leadership role, is referred to in teaching circles as setting the tone.


Teachers are encouraged to become emotionally self-aware and make adjustments to their attitudes and presentation before entering a classroom and impacting an entire group of impressionable students and minds.  Observably, the concept of setting the tone does not end with the adopting of another person’s emotional attitudes.  In fact, any person in a leadership role may also have a strong impact upon another individual’s or a group’s social attitudes, behaviors and, even sometimes, ethical conduct.

Years ago, as point of fact, I was speaking with a relatively progressive clergy-person, who was functioning within the context of a more conservative Christian denomination, when he reported, “I have learned that a congregation will usually come to take on my point of view.”

These are the questions to ask:  Who is setting the tone for my day?  Who is making determinations about how I behave or conduct myself?  If I am not  in a leadership role, is the leadership I am aware of displaying attitudes, behaviors or conduct I want to impact me?  And, if I am in a leadership role, am I leading in such a way that my attitudes and behaviors are worthy of emulation?  Take this new awareness into your next group encounter.

Spiritual Marriage

More often than not, when we think of marriage, we are describing a formal commitment between two people who enter into a promise to celebrate and support one another through life’s many passages.  This is one of the external, social forms that marriage may take. There is another form of marriage, more ancient, arguably more difficult to maintain and guard the sanctity of, and which is sometimes considered or recognized in but a few of the world’s dominant cultures.  This marriage is the internal, sacred and spiritual marriage we enter into at birth—between the body and the Self.


With birth into the body and into the physical realm, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that we are our highest Light, pure Spirit, holy Consciousness.  And, with physical birth, there is a prearranged pairing—or marriage, created between the physical frame and the Light.  Our Light is that which drives the body.  Yet, how many of us forget, through the course of our social engagements, that we have a Supreme driver, to call upon daily, as we maneuver life’s rural expanses, twisting back alleyways or busy city streets?

Calling upon the Self.  Interestingly and paradoxically, the most efficient path, perhaps, to a balanced and healthy internal, spiritual marriage is effected by respectfully tending to the physical frame.  Spirit is a delicate, resilient creature, benefiting from the upkeep of a solidly working and cherished home.  And, it is when we are actively addressing the issues of the body through regular self-care, that we are able to continue to forge, recommit and strengthen the internal marriage between body and Spirit.  Thus, anytime we are engaged in any respectful, life-affirming activity, we are able to request, of the Self, clear and accurate guidance about how best to proceed with integrity and in relationship with the wide variety and aspects of Grace we are privileged to encounter and live among.

Spiritual Salvation & Idolatry

It was in reading an especially esoteric book about Sufism that I encountered the most convincing definition of idolatry I have ever considered.  According to this text, the idol worship we must be most concerned about is the pandering we do to our own egos.  In this paradigm, the ego is the graven image and false, isolating figure we all carry inside.


Externally, this idolatry shows itself to be present when we exhibit vanity and an excessive preoccupation  with appearances and status.  Internally, this idolatry makes itself known through an attitude of smug self-importance, poisoning our potentially sacred relationships within the social and environmental worlds we occupy.

The ego, a raucous and demanding poser of sometimes epic proportions, causes us to forget that we are part of a whole and that we have a place in the grand scheme of things, in community, amid nature and through time.  Thus, with this definition of idolatry, spiritual “salvation” is available to us whenever we forget our pettiness and willingly reconnect to the Essential Self–that Divine spark, yearning to be tended, still burning and buried in everyone and everything that was, is and ever will be.