Spirituality & Religious Expression

Quite often we confuse spirituality with religious expression.

Spirituality

Spirituality is descriptive of an individual’s ability to connect with her own center of Stillness, while recognizing that same Source in Other and while, ideally, being able to maintain an understanding about her unique role in affirming the sacred Whole.  Spirituality is esoteric in nature.

Religious expression is the manner in which an individual may elect to express her spirituality, through the observation and establishment of given rituals and rites, in the context of community-at-large.  Religious expression is generally exoteric and usually observed through one of society’s many established faith traditions.

Spiritual Marriage, First Marriage

Typically, we look upon marriage as a social institution in which two people are committed to supporting one another long term.  Yet, in reality, our first marriage is internal.  Our first marriage, and most profoundly spiritual relationship, is a between our every-day, social self and our, perhaps more elusive, higher Self or highest Light.  Ideally, we would devote as much–if not more–time, energy and tender care to this internal marriage as we do to our existing external marriage and/or our most intimate, long-term friendships.

Spirituality

Tending to an internal, first marriage requires us to listen to the voice of the heart, because the heart is where the Self resides. The Self views the world in terms of care, respect, integrity, the web of life and thoughtful dignity; whereas, the social self is concerned with issues of status, race, age, gender and possibly creed.  When the higher Self is grounded in the heart, we ask questions like, “How may I best honor my Light today? Or, how may I best honor the Light in someone else?”

Listening for and discerning the heart’s Truth takes patience and practice, as well as the sometimes needed assistance of our most trustworthy friends.

In Quaker tradition (The Religious Society of Friends), a member of meeting may call a Clearness Committee, from among the membership, to assist him/her with a quandry and the discernment of the true leadings of the heart.  The Committee meets, without judgment, to listen to the question or questions at hand.  Then, each member of the Committee brings forth further, pointed questions meant to lead the convening individual toward his/her own heart-centered Truth. The Clearness Committee neither advises, nor do members offer opinions, though sometimes members of the Committee may repeat the quandry-holder’s own words back to him/her.

Sometimes the only way for us to hear ourselves is through the repetition of our own will words coming from someone else’s mouth.

When conducted with respect, diplomacy and confidentiality, a Clearness Committee is capable of removing the debris of confusion from even the most confused of hearts.  Consider this means of approaching your own serious questions.  I offer this practice as one method for opening the door on your own clarity, highest Light and the sacred, first marriage, which is awaiting your attentive care.

Spirituality & Good Christian Behavior

Spirituality

1.  “Shraddha” is a Sanskrit word which is often translated as “faith;” yet, according to Eknath Easwaran’s work, shraddha encompasses the matrix of beliefs held deep within our hearts, which help form our individual world views and impact our behavior.

2.  Years ago, I spent a semester overseas in an intensive foreign-language study program.  I went into my experience with only minimal foreign-language skills.  In contrast, my new roommate, a teacher by profession, was proficient in the language we were studying and was only in attendance in order to polish a few residual issues she had with phonetics, intonation and the sticky wicket of idioms.

In addition to becoming haltingly competent in a new language, one of the primary things I learned that semester was that even the most solitary and independent of souls cannot fathom the isolation that a lack of a common language can produce.  Nor can a person fathom how much most of us rely on simple social transactions–like the short exchanges with a grocery-store clerk, a barista at a coffee house or with fellow patrons while standing in line at the library–until the common language is absent.

3.  Walking into my room for the first time, I am greeted by a recording of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” humming through the room’s airwaves, proving again that music remains the most reliable Universal language.  My new roommate, Leila, holds a position as a junior faculty member at a university in Turkey.  As a pedagogue, Leila proves to be an invaluable source of information, infinitely patient and full of gentle, teacherly and timely corrections.  But, more important than Leila’s linguistic skills or teaching gifts is the kind and attentive manner in which she draws me into the spontaneous tea parties she hosts, which include other Turkish professionals, who are also attending classes at the Language Institute.

4.  These experiences teach me that, when the mask of a common language is removed from the foreground of daily human behavior, a keen observer may note–with heightened awareness–the raw nature of a person’s character or the apparent motivations behind an individual’s actions.

And, over the course of what I perceive to be five very long and arduous months, I observe–among my new Turkish friends–more of what I have learned to call “good Christian behavior” than I have witnessed since my childhood, while growing up in a service-based Christian church.

5.  Thus, over the course of five months, I embrace a paradigm shift–a reworking of my shraddha–with regard to what I had learned to call “good Christian behavior.”  Good Christian behavior is something that appears in many cultures and many faith traditions as active compassion, kindness, patience, mercy, generosity, authentic hospitality, charity and care.  Good Christian behavior is, universally, good human behavior which stems from an authetic and open heart.

Spirituality & Religious Affiliation

Spirituality

One of my greatest joys is the Pranic Work I do.  In individualized sessions, I assist clients with the process of coming into alignment with their inherent goodness or highest Light.  This work often leads clients into a deeper exploration of or desire for a more formalized form of religious expression.

Over the years, I have served Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic, Christian and non-theistic clients.  Yet, theology has never been an issue or subject in the wordless space of these sessions.  As a practitioner, what I have learned is that an individual’s personal and social expression of their Light, through external, religious form and affiliation, is a very private matter.

Religious affiliation is a sacred affair, serving as an opportunity to accept, reject, deepen, explore or otherwise work through our stories and experiences in relationship to the narratives and forms of worship, provided by the specific faith traditions in which we were raised or the traditions we have elected to embrace as adults.

What remains important, with regard to my clients’ individual journeys, is the desire to ensure that my clients grow bright, as they navigate the life choices they make, the circumstances they create and visit, as well as helping them maintain the ability to thrive within the spiritual families into which they were born or elect to participate.

Consider this.  Everyone possesses a Divine spark and the potential to speak and act from the seat of their inherent goodness.  Being respectful of people and their faith traditions and remembering that we are all here to learn from one another and, ideally, share narratives will help us grow–both as individuals and as a whole.

Spiritual Mobility

Spirituality

“I have a new couch,” one of my coworkers reports, as I walk through the fitness-center doorway.  “It was a gift from a client.  It is in excellent condition.”

“Congratulations?” I offer tentatively  because both her facial expression and vocal tone relay something other than joy about her recent acquisition.

“I don’t think I like it—already,” she says.  “I have had it less than a week, and I feel completely tied down.  A couch is too much commitment.”

“Too much commitment?” I ask in confusion, “To receive a free couch?”  Although we work together, we usually only exchange information during our individual comings and goings.  She works as a personal trainer, while I teach classes.

“Yes, too much commitment.  Everything I need to help my clients is in the seven boxes of books I have.  For myself, I only need two large duffle bags for clothing and linens, along with a small box of my favorite kitchen utensils.

“Where ever I go, I find a semi-furnished room to rent that includes kitchen privileges, and I am good to go,” she continues explaining.

“A couch does not fit into my hatchback, nor is it something I can load on my own.  I need to be free to move about.  Yes,” she states more emphatically, having come into a state of internal alignment.  “It goes.  A couch definitely does not fit my lifestyle.”

Spiritual Gifts

Standing next to me, at a self-serve kiosk in a post-office lobby, is a man holding a manila envelope bound for a consulate office in Chicago.  I am busy working at the adjacent table, affixing newly purchased stamps to my own prepared mailing, when I notice this man confusedly clicking through the kiosk’s various self-serve screens.  Finally, turning toward me, he gingerly asks for assistance with the self-serve process.

Stopping to turn my attention to his concern, I pull back my head scarf.  My scarf was marking the boundary between the wind-chapped portions of my face and those pieces of me that gratefully received protection from the fierce wind of the outside weather.  With my ears unwrapped, I am better able to hear what he might have to say.

Politely taking the manila envelope from him, I set the mailer on the scale, enter the appropriate zip code and otherwise walk him through the self-serve process, showing him how to utilize the kiosk.  As we interact, I notice that his English is stilted and his accent pronounced.  When we finally arrive at the payment screen, it turns out that the kiosk will not accept card transactions under a few dollars.  Thus, we learn, he will be a dollar short on postage.

Spirituality

Having accompanied my new friend this far on his postal journey, I offer him two of my own newly purchased stamps, so that he may mail his package.  He is clearly embarrassed by this offer of  “charity.”  Then, quickly taking out and opening his wallet, he shows me several large bills.  I, in turn, explain that I do not carry cash of any kind on my person and explain further that he may simply have two stamps without owing me anything.

I watch his demeanor shift as he overcomes a few more internal, cultural hurdles about receiving such a gift.  Finally, he graciously accepts my offer, bowing deeply and respectfully before he affixes the stamps.  Then, I watch as he walks briskly out of the post office.

Stopping to bundle myself up for my walk home, I contemplate the commonality of weather conditions here and in the Windy City, where my new friend’s mail is bound.  I recall something that Emerson once wrote about the Ocean being the Ocean no matter where it is or how we choose to name it.  Connections.  Commonality.  The way I see things, we share so much—earth, air, water—why not share a couple of stamps with a stranger?

As I walk out of the last set of lobby doors, I stop momentarily amid the gusting and howling wind to breathe in the fresh air which greets me.  Setting a brisk pace to match the wind’s own furious rate of movement, I tuck my chin toward my chest.  Then, about half-way across the parking lot, a vehicle pulls up beside me.  It is the man whom I just assisted.  He makes a polite and sincere inquiry as to whether or not I need a ride somewhere.

“No…but, thank you for the offer,” I reply, thinking to myself that the unexpected present of our brief post-office tango was gift enough.

Spirituality & Life Phases

During the calendar quarter when my dog, Sophie, stopped enjoying our longest seven-mile walks, she would come home completely fatigued and slightly wobbly in the legs. Each day, before heading out the door, I considered leaving Sophie at home; yet,each day there she was–ready in Spirit and game in appearance–to go for another four-, five- or seven-mile “hike” with me.

What surprised me the most, during this time of her life and mine, were the personal, internal emotional reactions that I was experiencing toward Sophie’s change in life phase. Frustration and low levels of anger were arising on occasion, as I contemplated the loss of my walking partner.  My emotions aside, the one thing that was completely obvious was that a shift in Sophie’s physical needs had occurred.

Spirituality

Sophie was a newly anointed senior dog; and, as such, we needed to make some adjustments to our daily physical routines and schedule. Looking back, I realized that Sophie’s once, twice-daily ball catching extravaganzas had fallen away quite naturally.  Why was I having so much trouble letting go of our walking routine? What was I missing?

That is when I had to face the fact that my frustration and mild anger were about my loss of Sophie as my personal walking partner, more than being about Sophie’s changing physical needs. Apparently, I could accept Sophie’s aging, but her having to “abandon” her role as my personal walking companion, during our joint walks, was difficult.

A personal, psychological shift was in order for me–internally. I decided to rechristen Sophie my exclusive, writing partner. She was and is an expert in her “new” role. She naps as required, lifting her head for a timely pat whenever I lose my train of thought, need a break or require some much needed emotional support and encouragement.

It is uncanny how the reframing of a relationship or situation can cause the heart to reopen in understanding, respect and Love. And, isn’t that ultimately what our best relationships are all about?