HOW TERRIBLY STRANGE TO BE 70

“The fates lead him who will; him who won’t they drag.” 

~ Joseph Campbell

The famous line from the Simon & Garfunkel song “Old Friends” has finally come upon me (LINK). I was 18 or 19 the first time I heard it, on the “Bookends” album on 8-Track cassette as a student at the University of Maryland. Seems like yesterday, or earlier this morning, to me now.

We are funny about aging in our culture. We deny it, ignore it, fear it, loathe it, and sometimes, we long for it. When it comes, as it inevitably does, we are surprised by it, as I was at the number of old men who attended my 50th high school reunion two years ago. I was even more surprised by the twenty percent of the graduating class of 1969 who were on the in memorium board. I looked it up and the statistics were about right.

We are funny about a lot of things in our culture, as Lillian Schneider points out below. While we have our individual quirks, preferences, and tendencies, we tend to be more a part of the collective than we may want to admit.

“Single people want relationships, settled people wonder if they’re missing out on something, traveling types miss stability, stable ones are restless, old friends want new friends, new friends miss old friends, and basically almost everyone my age has some dangling worry trailing around after them everywhere that they’re somehow not doing everything, that what they’re doing is not altogether the right thing, that they are missing out. … Do not be ashamed. The doubt is natural, and everyone you know – yes, even that person – carries it sometimes too. Allow yourself to be peaceful. Allow yourself satisfaction in what you have. If you really don’t like it, allow yourself permission to make changes.”

~ Lillian Schneider

If I have any wisdom to impart due to my longevity, it would be to pay attention to what Joseph Campbell said in that opening quote. The fates he speaks of are our own inner fates – who we came here to be as Dr. Gary Simmons puts it so uniquely and so well. When we fail to be who we came here to be, either because we never really discover who that is, or because we do discover it and resist embodying and expressing it for some reason, it makes for an unhappy life. Campbell speaks of living joyfully in the sorrows of the world, and he is right about that, too. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can learn to live in joy – not by ignoring the suffering, but by realizing our own worth and making ourselves able to do something about it. That’s a tall order, but an increasingly essential one.

The main influences on me, aside from relatives and friends, have been Joseph Campbell, Ernest Holmes, and Carl Jung. I would include the branches which have emerged from each of them, so others as well. They helped me to realize my own power and my own limitations and gave me ways to heal what needed healing within me (still a work in progress). For me, the greatest healings have come via teaching and writing, ostensibly for others, but for myself most of all. We do teach what we need to learn if we are wise enough to realize that path. An elder once told me that the purpose of the Science of Mind teaching was to learn how to die. He said that the teaching did that by teaching us how to live fully by realizing our divine nature and that we have everything we need within us.

“The great secret is to embody something essential in our lives. Then, undefeated by age, we can proceed with dignity and meaning, and, as the end approaches, be ready ‘to die with life’. For the goal of old age is not senility, but wisdom.”

~ Anthony Stevens

Now, at 70, I am very healthy for my age, on no medications so far, fortunately. I am noticing general aches and pains on a more regular basis, my memory is becoming a bit less dependable than it was earlier in life, it’s time to get new glasses, I wear hearing aids, and I have never been happier. Well, I was pretty happy as a young boy, blessed with imperfect parents who were perfect about letting me know they loved me. But I know that my memories of those times are selective.

Ernest Holmes wrote that there is no such thing as a mistake, an often-misunderstood idea. What he meant, I believe, is that every choice we make has consequences and that we are always at choice to move in a different direction. This idea was reinforced in the book “The Power of Decision” by Raymond Charles Barker. We are always in the flow of life and each decision is a choice as to how to move forward. Also, to know that indecision is a decision to stay in place (which is actually impossible). We are best served by combining being decisive with the deep inner work necessary to support making wise and compassionate decisions more of the time.

I have come to believe that if there is a secret to a fulfilling life, it is to find ways to live authentically, in joy, AND to be a force for good in the world. To live joyfully in the sorrows of the world is to find your inner, authentic sense of self and to develop meaningful ways to contribute to the greater good. When we sacrifice ourselves to too great a degree or when we live selfish, detached lives, we are out of balance.

Another bit of wisdom from Joseph Campbell which has also been misunderstood, is to follow your bliss. Joseph defines bliss as that inner authenticity, the divine nature at the depth of our being. When we bring that forward and live from it, our lives have meaning and purpose. It takes lots of inner work to find and follow your bliss.

“You will evolve past certain people. Let yourself.”

~ Mindy Hale

I hope that you continue to evolve – to grow in your capacities for wisdom and compassion. That is the goal, if there is a goal in this life: to be fully expressed as an authentic version of yourself, living from a being state of connection and a healthy self-concept. That has been my path, imperfectly trodden to be sure, but my north star has been what Holmes, Campbell, Jung, and others have described. You will know when you are on the path and you will know when you have strayed or gotten stuck. Pay attention to those signals, which come from your soma (body) and your emotions.

“One great thing about growing old is that nothing is going to lead to anything. Everything is of the moment.”

~ Joseph Campbell

How terribly strange to be 70. How terribly wonderful to come to terms with the aging process; to learn how to die by learning how to live fully. To release the striving for money, fame, respect, attention, or anything else. To be in what Carl Jung called the second adulthood – a place of being, not a place of striving.

As always, your comments are welcomed. Please share this post with others who may be interested.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

SHOULD I GET VACCINATED? SPIRITUAL FREEDOM AND COMPASSION

“We all wish to be free, but at the same time we should realize that liberty is not license. To say that we are free with the freedom of God does not mean that we are free to do that which contradicts the Divine nature. We are free only in that freedom which God is – the freedom to be alive, to enjoy living, to enter into the activities of everyday living with enthusiasm and interest.”

~ Ernest Holmes, Richer Living (1953), p. 64.1

We are in a time of great challenge. Each of us is being challenged to face increasing uncertainty, too often in a complex environment where it is difficult to know who or what to trust. Between the global climate crisis, the ongoing COVID Pandemic, and the increased politicization of both, there is a lot of taking sides vs. sincere investigation. There is also a lot of vitriol and animosity vs. compassion and consideration. And I include our New Thought members in this statement.

I have seen people use quotes or describe New Thought principles to justify any number of positions about the issues of the day and how we should be responding. While this is nothing new, we New Thoughters tend to value independence of thought, the levels of animosity and condemnation have grown. I have seen more people “unfriend” of disconnect from others on social media. I imagine as our centers and churches reopen for in-person activities this problem may surface there as well.

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

~ David Foster Wallace, This is Water

I have seen people use the concept of “freedom” or “absolute choice” to support positions for and against vaccinations, for example. I have seen people post that each of us is 100% responsible for what happens to us, which usually features a statement such as “all you have to do is know the truth.”

While I can attest to the truths of such statements, they represent oversimplified understanding of some of our basic spiritual principles. The quote from Dr. Ernest Holmes above speaks to this – that freedom is not license. Our choices have consequences. And none of us is ever completely independent of the collective consciousness of our family, community, society, nation, etc., not to mention our own subconscious conditioning. If our choice is lacking in compassion, it is off the mark.

“The whole purpose of Buddhist psychology, …is the discovery that freedom and joy are possible in the face of the sufferings of human life. By neither grasping nor resisting life, we can find wakefulness and freedom in the midst of our joys and sorrows.”

~ Jack Kornfield

This Buddhist perspective is echoed in my favorite principle of Joseph Campbell – to live joyfully in the sorrows of the world. This is another principle not to be taken simplistically. It means that we must accept that the world is full of sorrows, impermanence, and loss, but as we come to accept that, we can live in joy. When we grasp (insisting that our life work all the time with no problems) or resist (practicing avoidance of legitimate pain, living in denial, or dwelling in magical thinking), we rob ourselves of the possibility of joy. True joy can only come from seeing oneself as part of the larger society and by growing in compassion for the well-being of others and contributing to the greater good.

Many have decided to contribute to the greater good by being vaccinated against COVID. Many of us did this despite some degree of fear. Some did it strictly for self-preservation, others out of a sense of oneness with the larger community. Some have refused or resisted because of fears, or because their political pundits have told them to, or because of a lack of trust in any institutions. To me, being vaccinated is in the spirit of Dr. Holmes’ opening quote and it is a compassionate choice and a courageous one for many. I understand that there is a choice not to be vaccinated, but I do not see how that choice can be considered compassionate. Perhaps, if that is the choice you have made, you can enlighten me in the comments section.

“The principal of compassion is that which converts disillusionment into a participatory companionship. This is the basic love, the charity, that turns a critic into a human being who has something to give to – as well as to demand of – the world.”

~ Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

“I no longer have any intention of sacrificing my life, time, my freedom, and the adolescence of my daughters, as well as their right to study properly, for those who refuse to be vaccinated. This time you stay at home, not us.”

~ French President Emmanuel Macron on initiating a Pass Sanitaire*

‎”Having compassion does not mean indiscriminately accepting or going along with others’ actions regardless of the consequences to ourselves or the world. It is about being able to say ‘no’ where we need to without putting the other out of our hearts, without making the other less of a fellow human being. There is a difference between discerning and sometimes even opposing harmful behaviour and making the other wrong – less than we are, less a part of that presence that is greater than ourselves – in our own minds and hearts.”

~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer

What is so often lacking in our discourse today, perhaps due in part to the nature of social media, is generosity of spirit. To be able to disagree without condemnation of the other, but with meaningful boundaries is a critical skill to develop. President Macron, using strong language, is being a compassionate leader by taking a strong stand for the well-being of everyone in France, as the reality is that COVID is spreading most virulently and creating new variants almost entirely via the unvaccinated. The fact that some disagree with him does not mean he is not compassionate. Compassion does not require unanimity nor even agreement; it requires a very developed form of love.

None of us know what the future holds, and the even horizon grows ever closer. If we do not face that uncertainty with courage, love, and compassion, we may make it through, but there will be little, if any joy in the process.

“If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do
Don’t you?
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
I would probably know just how to deal
With all of you”

~ Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, “Déjà vu”

As always, your comments are welcomed in the comments section.

*Pass Sanitaire: requires people to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test to enter any venue in France with a capacity of 50 persons or more.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? BREAKDOWN, BURNOUT, AND SELF-CARE

“What a load of responsibility we assume that we were never meant to carry.”

~ Ernest Holmes, Creative Mind

“My New Thought heritage carries a tradition of ‘seeing no evil’ and only ‘holding the High Watch.’ My professional status requires me to offer hope and consolation to those who suffer. My personal self is exhausted.”

~ Rev. John M. McLean, Unity of Nashville

In our determination to stay positive and to be a healing force for good in the world no matter what, we may just be burning ourselves out. This past year saw no letup in things to be concerned about; in fact, there was an increase. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the pressure on just about everyone, especially those who have lost family members or friends and those on the “front lines,” the essential workers who have been maxed out by increasing requirements and decreasing opportunities for relief. Where there is pressure, there is often stress as a response. The US is seeing a sharp increase in violence, with data showing that many have used their relief checks to purchase guns due to increased fear in many areas. Reports show that depression and other mental and emotional health issues, already on the rise before COVID, are rising even faster.

During all of this, spiritual leaders have been trying to adapt to an online environment while maintaining some sense of connection with their members so that they could know where spiritual support was needed. The regular in-person meetings and conferences which help to sustain both spiritual leaders and members were either cancelled or put online, with the loss of the person-to-person contact and yes, the hugs, that are so necessary to our well-being. Indeed, as noted in the next quote, everyone in caring and healing professions has been stretched, sometimes to the breaking point, by the demands of our time.

“The way in which many of us in the healing professions carry this vast, impossible assignment of ‘fixing’ what is wrong in others is replicated through what Jung called the archetype of ‘the wounded healer.’ It is disgraceful that so many of our training procedures neglect this intrapsychic pathologizing feature, which lies deep within the soul of most therapists and drives many to anxiety, stress, substance abuse, and burnout. This unaddressed configuration alone, this engine of vocational identification, represents one of the prime Shadows of our profession(s).”

~ James Hollis, Ph.D., Jungian analyst, Prisms

The kind of person who is attracted to New Thought teachings is often someone who seeks personal growth and wants to be in community with other spiritual seekers. The teachings are positive and sometimes lead to students being driven by their own sense of insecurity to strive beyond what is optimal for them. This may include denial of illness or emotional issues. It is critical to learn how to find a balance between engaging with the world and self-care.

We overextend ourselves, pushing to grow and succeed. Then, when we are isolated and deprived of personal in-person connection, we suffer. In doing the wise thing and following scientific and medical guidelines and government rules, we placed ourselves at risk in some ways while protecting ourselves and others in other ways.

As Dr. Holmes wrote, we all too often take on too much responsibility. If this is our pathway, then we are doubly burdened when circumstances add to the responsibilities we are already carrying. Finding a balance so that we stay motivated AND healthy is important. None of us can answer every call to get involved. Much of my inner work these days is focused on finding what is truly mine to do, versus what is best left to others.

As we work to become more authentic, that is, as we move closer to our own soul’s agenda, we learn to let go of what is not ours to do and embrace what is. This means that we say no to some requests or opportunities, the ones which do not deeply resonate for us. We release the need to be a savior or to be seen as always willing to sacrifice for others. This gives necessary space for reflection, for relaxation, and for re-creation, the important aspects of self-care. When we are doing self-care properly, we have energy for what is truly ours to do. We must learn the value of the Sabbath.

“If we only stop when we are finished with all our work, we will never stop, because our work is never completely done… Sabbath … liberates us from the need to be finished.”

~ Wayne Muller

Discerning what is “mine to do” is a great challenge for many of us. It requires deep work over time to grow in clarity about who I am and what I am about. It means learning to hold my own counsel and not leap to get the approval of others while remaining teachable. As I go through this process of growth and realization, I must come to terms with the reality of the choices I have.

“Remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of these three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences. No excuses. No negativity. No psychic pollution. Keep your inner space clear.”

~ Eckhart Tolle

I suggest a self-audit. Sit alone and notice what is going on within and without – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Write down what comes up for you during this process. It has been over a year of not-normal living and it must have had its effects on you, many of which you may have understandably ignored or repressed. You may be hurting, depressed, sad, or less physically healthy than before. Rather than being self-critical, try a more self-nurturing approach of self-care. Find someone who will support you in a “recovery” program – just someone to talk and pray with on the telephone or over coffee as that becomes safe again.

My own process during the pandemic has been to stay close to home (no choice there), but to enjoy my surroundings with daily walks for self-enrichment and to stay in shape. My wife, Dorianne, and I have also enjoyed cooking together, trying new recipes, and we have tried to stay in touch with friends and family with regular video calls. I have continued my teaching online and she has her online teaching and consulting as well. I have also been transitioning more and more into retirement, as so many of my friends and colleagues are either engaging or contemplating. This adds another layer to what is going on in this unique time, but it is an important one, as are all significant life transitions.

“When I retired, I knew that I had to create a new life. I changed my manner of thinking about my life, moving out of the sphere of achievement, into the sphere of enjoyment and appreciation, relaxing into the wonder of it all.”

~ Joseph Campbell

So, continue to be positive, but remember self-care, remember to let others take on what isn’t yours to do, and give yourself the time for Sabbath – rest and care of the soul.

As always, your comments are appreciated! Please share this post with others who may be interested.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

A MATURE SPIRITUALITY REQUIRES A MATURE PERSON, PART 4

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”

~ Anaïs Nin

In Part 1 (LINK), Part 2 (LINK), and Part 3 (LINK) of this series, we have looked at what spiritual and psychological maturity is and why it is important, both for our individual development and mastery and for us to be able to contribute more effectively to the greater good. In this final post, we explore how we develop that maturity.

As practitioners of New Thought teachings, we learn that we think into the Absolute and, when we come to trust that process, we manifest consistently at the level of our trust. What I am describing as spiritual maturity is just that – coming into alignment with our deepest truth through spiritual/psychological practices. By alignment, I mean an integral connection and realization based on the development of trust (faith) over time.

Ironically and paradoxically, such maturity cannot come via a path based on the certainty of fundamentalism, or certainty. Our psychological and spiritual development depend on an enlargement of our consciousness which can embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. As a religious scientist, the only thing I can feel certain about is that the Law of Mind works perfectly. Everything else is subject to change, growth, misinterpretation, or the fact that I can’t possibly know everything about anything.

“To live authentically, we often have to leave behind the reasonable, sensible option, and learn to live with the pervasive uncertainty and, sometimes, the seeming madness of the unique path and calling presented to us.”

~ Keiron Le Grice

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.”

~ Voltaire

Doubt is not pleasant, but it is essential. Our ability to question everything without losing our center must grow if we are to mature spiritually. We must let go of our fear of pushing the boundaries of what we believe to be true or of what we have been told by others.

So, what do I have to know and do to develop spiritual maturity? Here are a few things:

  1. I have to know that I don’t know, and will never know, everything, or, really, much of anything. But that I can know enough to live my life more fully by tapping into the inner wisdom which lies deep within me and seeks expression through me. I can know that Spirit/God is already fully present within, through, and as me.
  2. I have to know and come to terms with the reality that suffering cannot be avoided. The journey to maturity will take me through some difficult experiences and realizations. I have a lot of repressed stuff or shadow to reveal and heal and that is both very rewarding, and very unpleasant.
  3. I have to know that my spiritual growth is an individual journey, but that I require others – as teachers, mentors, disruptors, foils, supporters, etc. to help point me to what I need to know and experience. This will come in forms both clear and helpful and also confusing and hurtful. I must learn to discern the difference.
  4. I have to know that I am a being with existence in both physical reality and spiritual reality and that spiritual reality is not bound by the boundaries of my skin nor by time or space. I need to hold a space in consciousness for the mystery and magic of Spirit, and to trust that my spiritual aspect contains everything I need to live fully in my physical aspect.
  5. I need to know that if I am to develop spiritual maturity that there are many pitfalls along the path:
    • As I develop, I may be seen as a threat or a disappointment to people important to me.
    • As I develop, my values will change, sometimes radically, shifting what is important to me.
    • Many if not most other people around me will not take the journey to become spiritually mature.
    • No single spiritual teaching or pathway is likely to meet all of my needs as I grow and develop.
    • My ego is sneaky as long as I have a lot of shadow; it will try to trick me into behavior which is out of alignment with my Soul’s agenda.
    • Conversely, until I have invited my intuitive knowing into my experience and accepted it, my Soul’s agenda will seem contrary to what I currently believe, or as too much for me to accept.
  6. I must do regular spiritual practices, deepening them over time.
  7. I must do shadow work, ideally with a Jungian or depth psychologist (LINK).
  8. I must develop a sense of self-compassion, never letting myself “off the hook,” but doing my work from an increasing sense of self-love.
  9. I must take a disciplined approach to this work, recognizing that it takes great courage, and commit to my own well-being as I work to bring my unconscious and conscious minds into alignment with my Soul’s agenda.
  10. I will find that as I progress in my development of spiritual and psychological maturity, I am less likely to feel the need to defend my opinions or to “correct” the opinions of others. I will come to take such things lightly, recognizing that the need to correct others is usually a way of not looking at my own limitations. Not feeling the need to correct is a sign that my ego is shifting to a more mature consciousness; it does not mean I do not care, it means I am growing up.

In closing this series, I trust that I am inspiring you to open and deepen your own personal inquiry into self-exploration at depth. We are talking about deep work, so it will not be for everyone (this series of posts has so far had a low number of readers compared to others I have done). You will know if it is for you. If you are unsure, give this approach a try and see how it resonates with you. If you feel increasingly uncomfortable, but know there is a purpose to the work, then it is for you.

“Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.” 

~ Ramakrishna

“God is closer to us, the mystics say, than our breath. Closer than we are to ourselves. St. John of the Cross says, ‘We are in God like a stone is in the earth . . . already in the Center.’ There is no way to get any closer to God than we already are. The spiritual life, then, is not about actually coming closer to God but rather the realization of the communion and union that already exists, and always has, and always will, forever.”

~ Gerald May

As always, your comments are appreciated. Please feel free to share this post with others who may be interested.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

A MATURE SPIRITUALITY REQUIRES A MATURE PERSON, PART 3

“Crying out to Life, beseeching It to be good, has no effect whatsoever upon It; It already is good. Asking It to give you life produces no good results; It has already incarnated Itself in you, as you. But inward awareness unifies the intellect with Life and binds the personal man back to the Universal Presence. This is what is meant by spiritual understanding and realization.”

~ Ernest Holmes, “The Art of Life”

The alignment which Holmes refers to is essential to our development as spiritually and psychologically mature human beings. (Note that I will refer to this maturity as spiritual, but that includes psychological maturity as well.) As we noted in Part 1 (LINK) and Part 2 (LINK) of this series, a major aspect of spiritual maturity is bringing the individualized consciousness, from the depths of the Soul through the surface conscious mind, into alignment. To achieve this, we must come to accept paradox and uncertainty as elemental aspect of reality and of our lived experience.

Our spiritual and psychological development come via our encounters with aspects of life which are larger than the ego’s concepts, and the suffering which results from those encounters. This means that we often have to move toward greater discomfort in order to transcend a particular limitation we have accepted. We move toward enlargement, which is the design of the Soul, at the expense of contraction or statis, which are of the ego and fear. At the Soul level, the deepest level of our being, we are intermixed with the Universal Creative Mind (Spirit). Our Soul desires nothing short of us living our lives as an expression of our fullness with regard to love, wisdom, power, and joy. This Divine Urge never rests and is never completely fulfilled in any human incarnation – we are urged to express fully throughout our lives. This means taking the more difficult path more often than our ego would like.

“Soul-making is constantly confronting the paradox that an eternal being is dwelling in a temporal body. That’s why it suffers and learns by love.”

~ Marion Woodman

“To transfer our energy from opposition to paradox is a very large leap in evolution. To engage in opposition is to be ground to bits by the insolubility of life’s problems and events. Most people spend their life energy supporting this warfare within themselves.”

~ Robert A. Johnson

One paradox is that a spiritually mature person is likely to make other people uncomfortable. This is because the ego responds negatively when confronted with others who are more spiritually mature. We do not like being reminded of what we lack or of our limitations. So spiritually mature people are often shunned, diminished, even killed because of the threat to the status quo as accepted by the egos of individuals and groups. How then does one deal with their developing spiritual maturity?

There is an old Hindu tale which I heard via Joseph Campbell, who heard it via Heinrich Zimmer.

A fable tells of a tigress, pregnant and starving, who comes upon a little flock of goats and pounces on them with such energy that she brings about the birth of her little one and her own death. The goats scatter, and when they come back to their grazing place, they find this just-born tiger and its dead mother. Having strong parental instincts, they adopt the tiger, and it grows up thinking it’s a goat. It learns to bleat. It learns to eat grass. And since grass doesn’t nourish it very well, it grows up to become a pretty miserable specimen of its species.

When the young tiger reaches adolescence, a large male tiger pounces on the flock, and the goats scatter. But this little fellow is a tiger, so he stands there. The big one looks at him in amazement and says, “Are you living here with these goats?” “Maaaaaaa” says the little tiger. Well, the old tiger is mortified. He swats him back and forth a couple of times, and the little thing just responds with these silly bleats and begins nibbling grass in embarrassment. So the big tiger brings him to a still pond.

   So this little fellow looks into the pond and sees his own face for the first time. The big tiger puts his face over and says, “You see, you’ve got a face like mine. You’re not a goat. You’re a tiger like me. Be like me.” Now, that’s guru stuff: I’ll give you my picture to wear, be like me. It’s the opposite to the individual way.

So the little one is getting that message; he’s picked up and taken to the tiger’s den, where there are the remains of a recently slaughtered gazelle. Taking a chunk of this bloody stuff, the big tiger says, “Open you face.” The little one backs away, “I’m a vegetarian.” “None of that nonsense,” says the big fellow, and he shoves a piece of meat down the little one’s throat. He gags on it. The text says, “As all do on true doctrine.” But gagging on the true doctrine, he’s nevertheless getting it into his blood, into his nerves; it’s his proper food. It touches his proper nature. Spontaneously, he gives a tiger stretch, the first one.

   A little tiger roar comes out—Tiger Roar 101…. The big one says, “There. Now you’ve got it. Now we go into the forest and eat tiger food.” . . . life lives on lives. Now, of course, the moral is that we are all tigers living here as goats. The right hand path, the sociological department, is interested in cultivating our goat-nature. Mythology, properly understood as metaphor, will guide you to the recognition of your tiger face. But then how are you going to live with these goats?

~ From “Reflections on the Art of Living, A Joseph Campbell Companion” (LINK)

The question facing those who awaken is always, how am I going to live among these goats? If we expand the perspective a bit, we can also say that every one of those goats has a tiger within; and we can remember that we were among the goats, and still are in some ways. Certainly, it is the case that every human being has within them the full range of human potential for growth. So, we are all goats with tiger consciousness potential latent within us. When that potential awakens or actualizes, we have to decide how to live in the world from this new perspective. I suggest that the way is to live with compassion for yourself and everyone else.

There is no shame in being a goat, by the way. It is part of our developmental journey. But it is not where we were meant to remain throughout our lives. Our Soul seeks the fullest expression of our potential, which can only happen when we develop our being state to higher stages of realization.

Our experience unfolds from our current being state, without exception. A purpose of our spiritual practices is to deepen our relationship with the divine potential via our Soul and to expand our ability to actualize that potential. Our soul wants us to be our own version of the tiger, and the move through the goat-stage to something greater.

“My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole.”

~ C.G. Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”

In Part 4 we will explore how to attain and live in a consciousness of mastery. Your comments are always welcomed and please share this post with others who may be interested.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

A MATURE SPIRITUALITY REQUIRES A MATURE PERSON, PART 2

“The sicknesses of the soul are mirrored in the disorders of a culture and vice versa. In turn, tracing symptoms is a path to the soul. The symptoms are the soul’s means of attempting to be heard. But all too often, whether it be the obtuse ego of an individual or the obtuse, egoistical guardians of the status quo will refuse to acknowledge the symptoms. The reigning power structure will attempt to deny, marginalize, and demonize the soul’s message…its plea for attention, its attempt to gain entry into the protected sanctums of power. Its entreaties are dismissed as merely the complains of misfits — or overreacted to as dangerously radical.”

~ Phil Rockstroh

I resonate with the quote above with one exception – the Soul is not sick; it is never sick – what is being described is the condition of being out of alignment with the Soul and its agenda. The Soul will not relent when we are out of alignment, it will continue to give rise to discomfort and symptoms. That is the essence of this series of posts – intentionally coming into alignment.

Spiritual maturity is an essential aspect of becoming fully human, of becoming the fulfillment of our potentials. It includes psychological maturity, as I wrote in Part 1 (LINK) of this series. As noted in the quote above, to become spiritually mature, we must counter many influences in our families, our institutions, and our cultures. The same dynamics (as within, so without) which express in individuals also express as families, communities, cultures, and societies. The expressions of racism, sexism, and self-loathing which permeate the unconscious of so many Americans are expressing as violence, harassment, political dysfunction, and the hoarding of guns (and many other things) in US society. The society will heal only when its members heal.

As individuals, we must allow our failings and our pain to guide us toward the emergence of the wisdom of the Soul. In this post, we deepen our focus on the ego and the Soul, the two poles of our consciousness, and how we must learn to listen to our Soul’s agenda and to train our ego to support empowerment over fear.

“Often our antagonistic attitude toward others rises from a need within our own minds to be relieved of our unconscious sense of self-condemnation, as though we have such a burden of guilt within our minds that we can hardly bear it. And so, we project it to others just for the relief it gives ourselves.”

~ Ernest Holmes

The statement as within, so without holds true in the ways that we express in our lives. If our being state is one of fear, our lives will take that form of expression. All the while, our Soul is trying to get through to us, refusing to let us feel contentment in an inferior way of expressing. When our consciousness is one of fear and limitation, our ego fights the emergence of our inner wisdom and seeks to rationalize our limitations. This often leads to the antagonistic attitude mentioned by Dr. Holmes, arising from a being state of self-condemnation, even self-loathing. If we are to realize our spiritual destiny, we must do the work of healing – bringing our being state into alignment with the agenda of our Soul. We must create a space of invitation to our Soul’s messaging, which is intuition, via our spiritual practices and setting of intentions.

“The test of a psychologically mature person, and therefore spiritually mature, will be found in his or her capacity to handle what one might call the Triple A’s: anxiety, ambiguity and ambivalence.”

~ James Hollis

A spiritually mature person accepts the uncertainties of life and rather than being thrown into fearful responses by them, she approaches them with curiosity and a sense of wonder. With spiritual maturity comes the capacity to accept the mysteries of life and not be overwhelmed by them. One learns to accept that loss, betrayal, illnesses, and fear are all parts of every life. One leaves criticism to others and naturally expresses compassion in all relationships – but that compassion never strays from what is true, never avoids confrontations when necessary for healing.

Anxiety is often the expression of an inner sense of insecurity and inadequacy. That inner sense comes from the ego’s view that our power as external to us. As we open to the Soul’s agenda for an authentic way of being, insecurity and inadequacy are no longer internalized as our truth. We recognize that our locus of power is within, realizing our own power and expressing from a sense of security. We are free to be curious about life and it’s many profound and challenging questions, because we come to know our own resiliency.

“A mature spirituality is critical for the second half of life because if we do not address these questions directly, chances are we will be living in subjugation to received values which delude, divert, or diminish us.”

~ James Hollis,

“Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life” (LINK)

It is usually at midlife that we often find ourselves ready to move beyond the seeking and striving of the first half of life. The questions of who we are and what is ours to do must be answered if the second half is to unfold as designed. Our interests begin to shift and we tend to grow less competitive and more open to explore the unfamiliar. Our ego will likely fight these shifts, and in too many cases it wins that battle, keeping us in a prison of fear and limitation. This can result in our clinging to the illusion of youth, physical beauty, and competitive success, or detaching from society, both of which guarantee a disappointing old age of bitterness and regret. Unless we find the right teacher and teaching and we begin to explore new possibilities by mid-life, that is all too likely to be our future. By opening to the Soul’s agenda, we relax into a new, empowering being state which is less insistent on activity and success as defined by others.

My own teachers on this journey have been many. Ernest Holmes, Joseph Campbell, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Carl Jung, James Hollis, Robert A. Johnson, Robert Bly and others – none of whom I ever met (except Robert Bly, briefly), but who have nonetheless been major influences.

And I have had mentors along the way, relatives, teachers, friends, coaches, supervisors, ministers, wives, and children, who have helped me to look within and find more of what I am. Without these wayshowers, positive and negative, I would never have matured spiritually or psychologically as I have.

“We all under-estimate what we must give up in order to attain something. We all under-estimate what we will gain in attaining something of real value to our soul. We all over-value the safety and value of the status quo. These are habits of mind that we are all biased toward.”

~ John Campbell

Spiritual maturity means an inner transformation to a healthy psychological self-concept which brings the ego into alignment with the agenda of the Soul. Few attain this alignment because it requires dedication, discipline, self-love, love for others, resiliency, and courage. It is a lonely journey, because few others are willing take on the challenges necessary to travel the pathway to spiritual maturity, but mostly because it is something that you ultimately must do yourself. This is the meaning of references like “Many are called but few are chosen” (actually few are self-choosing), and “Do not cast your pearls before swine” in the Holy Bible. While spiritual maturity is already given to all as a divine potential, few will take on the task of bringing it from the realm of potential into actualization. Few will follow the double-helix pathway of psychology, or “Working with the Law,” and mysticism, or “Courting the Beloved” which leads to the alignment of the Universal with our individualized Soul, our Mind, our ego, and our expression of life.

As we do our work of self-discovery and self-revelation, we hold to the truth that Love is our guiding energy and we will always have all that we need.

“Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution.”

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In Part 3, we will explore ways to approach the pathway of spiritual maturity. As always, your comments are welcomed.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

A MATURE SPIRITUALITY REQUIRES A MATURE PERSON, PART 1

“A mind that is still childish thinks of the gods as metaphysical entities in their own right, or else regards them as playful or superstitious inventions.”

~ C.G. Jung, ‘Wotan’, in “Civilization in Transition”

“To be spiritually mature is to acknowledge your own limitations, your own inadequacies, your own very limited perspectives that can still provide insight so that that existential humility ought to go hand-in-hand with a spiritual tenacity of knowing how to fight, but acknowledging that, lo and behold, you still got much to learn.”

~ Cornel West, Harvard Divinity School Address 2019

Spiritual and psychological maturity go hand-in-hand. Our psychology includes the human aspect we call mind. It consists of unconscious and conscious aspects, but also emotions and somatic (physical) components. When we say that our thoughts build our beliefs and our beliefs become the law of our lives, we are talking about psychological functions in a holistic sense. To be psychologically mature means to be able to think clearly, to make wise decisions and choices, to be ethically strong and consistent, to be emotionally intelligent, and to be aware of the ways that our bodies speak to us and we speak to our bodies. It is to be intuitive, have character, to have positive relationships with healthy boundaries, to be capable of true compassion and to express it.

You might say that to be spiritually and psychologically mature is to integrate and align with our deepest selves and our conscious selves to be truly authentic to who and what we are. It means to have compassion for our own woundedness and to do the work necessary to heal while having compassion for others without making demands on them. It means to be our own authority from a healthy standpoint, not driven by a fear-based ego to be angry at the world.

Our world is filled with people who have not reached stages of spiritual and psychological maturity. The violence, corruption, greed, and dysfunction which is present everywhere are outward expressions of an inner immaturity. Wherever you feel the need to protect yourself from threats and to lock up your valuables, you are in a spiritually immature culture. Societies which fail to recognize the value of psychological (including emotional) and spiritual maturity and, therefore, do not teach it and incorporate it into their ways of being suffer the consequences. Spiritually immature people wound themselves and other people, creating a perpetual cycle of suffering which can only be broken when individuals awaken to and realize their authentic nature.

“The Waste Land is that territory of wounded people—that is, of people living inauthentic lives, broken lives, who have never found the basic energy for living, and they live, therefore, in this blighted landscape.”

~ Joseph Campbell, “Thou Art That”

“To live authentically, we often have to leave behind the reasonable, sensible option, and learn to live with the pervasive uncertainty and, sometimes, the seeming madness of the unique path and calling presented to us.”

~ Keiron Le Grice

The major focus of my Metaphysical Psychology Course which I teach each year, is to show the students a path to spiritual maturity – to a realization of wholeness. This is essential work, which cannot be done quickly, and which is not without pain. It is a process of remembering who we are, healing (or at least accepting) the accumulated wounds, fears, and limitations; embracing the deeper well of love and wisdom which resides within each of us.

In life, whatever we are doing arises from who we are being, which is why spiritual practices are best focused on our being state. Spiritual maturity can be developed in any spiritual or religious teaching, and every spiritual community will have some members who are more spiritually mature – more developed or realized – than others. To me, nothing is more important in determining the direction of our lives than the spiritual maturity of our being state. It is from this being state – our inner set of beliefs, or consciousness – that all of our conscious thoughts and actions arise.

“We can never escape being psychological. Everything we say, do or believe comes from this primal factory.”

~ James Hollis

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

~ Anne Rice on Kafka

Spiritual maturity means many things – primarily, it means that one has a deep and abiding connection with the Soul and its agenda. I see the Soul as the deepest aspect of a human being, containing the individualized sense of self and intentions, but connected to the Universal Mind and Heart (Spirit). My Soul is constantly trying to give me what I need to fully express who and what I am. My ego, due to its conditioning, its woundedness, its fears, is usually trying to block this information coming from my Soul – my intuitive knowing – using fear to get me to live my life while ignoring my deepest potentials. One who has cultivated that intuitive voice and learned to incorporate it into the ego’s functioning is spiritually mature. That maturity is never fully realized, but the developmental pathway continues ever forward.

“No matter what the historic wounding, we must now and forever assume responsibility for our choices.”

~ James Hollis

“The ego wants containment and control. It is only the soul that wants meaning and mystery. In fact, that is how I can know whether it is my ego that is leading me or the ‘brightness and the Holy Spirit.’ If I have not found a way to hear and allow that deeper level of soul, I will use all my roles, my relationships, and even my religion to fortify my ego and my private agenda.”

~ Richard Rohr, “Dancing Standing Still”

The ego will support whatever consciousness we develop. If it is a consciousness of fear, which is true for most people, the ego will support living in fear. If our consciousness is one of love, due to our deep work to develop our connection with the Soul and its agenda, the ego will support living as love. To get to that being state of love, most of us have to do a lot of work – spiritual practices and deep healing work to resolve our woundedness and claim the true inheritance of our Soul. That inheritance is Love, Wisdom, Power, Beauty, Joy, and Freedom.

The goal, if there is one, of becoming psychologically and spiritually mature, is nothing less than the transformation of what it means to be human. This means that our deeper realization of our true potentials is the next step on the evolutionary ladder of development – the next stage for humanity. As more and more humans develop this maturity, our societies will be transformed and the wounding which cannot be healed at the levels where it was created will be healed. This will then open us to a new level of challenges and demands – the spiral is ever upward.

“The spiral of life is upward. Evolution carries us forward, not backward. Eternal and progressive expansion is its law and there are no breaks in its continuity. It seems to me that our evolution is the result of an unfolding consciousness of that which already is, and needs but to be realized to become a fact of everyday life.”

~ Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind

In Part 2, we will delve a bit deeper into the relationship between Soul and ego. As always, your comments are welcomed. Feel free to share this post with others who may be interested.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

THE GUN DEBATE SHOWS US THE DEPTHS OF OUR ADDICTIONS

“An object seen in isolation from the whole is not the real thing.”

~ Masanobu Fukuoka, Japanese farmer

A mass shooting occurs. We are shocked. The arguments begin. They are the same arguments as before. After a few weeks, they settle down for the most part. Little, if anything changes.

A mass shooting occurs. We are shocked. The arguments begin. They are the same arguments as before. After a few weeks, they settle down for the most part. Little, if anything changes.

A mass shooting occurs. We are shocked. The arguments begin. They are the same arguments as before. After a few weeks, they settle down for the most part. Little, if anything changes.

The pattern above repeats, not just in terms of guns, but with immigration, with healthcare, with policing, with taxes, and so on. Anyone in relationships with addictive codependent aspects will feel familiar with such patterns – incident, argument, violence (or silence), apology and promise to change, repeat.

Addictive patters emerge as signs that healing is needed in the system and in the individuals within the system. In a relationship, these patterns are a sign of an ongoing largely unconscious repetitive process of ignoring shadow issues and their related fears. This unconscious process actually allows us to be surprised when the pattern erupts again and to expect it to be resolved each time it is repeated. Reasoned arguments are ignored or pushed aside in the name of abstract values such as “freedom.” But the emotional self is having a different struggle with its own sense of fear and struggling to find a way to control the behaviors of others so that the sense of self is protected.

“An addiction is anything we do to avoid hearing the messages that body and soul are trying to send us.”

~ Marion Woodman

So it is with the gun issue – it isn’t really a debate, because there is no intention on any side to truly listen. There is an unwillingness to deeply explore the inner issues of the population, the deep and expanding shadow side of American culture. Instead, this theater of the absurd repeats with the effect that little or nothing is done to heal. Each side seeks the high ground to force the other into compliance with its wishes, with neither being fully successful. Sound familiar?

An addiction to me is a distorted religion.”

~ Marion Woodman

The addictions which emerge as the argument about guns reflect deeply held addictions to being right and to control. As long as those addictive patterns have more strength than the capacity for reason and listening, nothing will change. Until there is an acceptance of the need for healing and a willingness to do the uncomfortable work associated with that process, nothing will change.

“Step far enough into the world’s injustices, cruelty and stark brutality, and they will hammer away at your idealism. They will even shatter your dreams of being an effective agent of change. However, if your vision is rooted in your heart, when the heartbreak comes you will feel pain, loss and deep deprivation, but it will not be the end of the story. It will be the beginning of a sacred transformation.”

~ James O’Dea

The courage needed to accept our accountability and to follow that acceptance with deep inner work to transform our consciousness from fear to compassion is what is required of each of us. Confronting our own inner stuckness is never easy, and few do it willingly. The current patterns of behavior of humanity are not sustainable and must be transformed. To meet that challenge will require nothing less than cultural and spiritual transformation.

If you want to be a part of that transformation, you must begin with yourself, because you and I are essential parts of the whole of creation. So, while you do that work, you must cease standing in judgment of others who do not live life as you want them to. When you transform yourself from within, your relationship to and with them will transform as well. Compassion is the only way forward.

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”

~ Lao Tzu

As always, your comments are welcomed in the comments section.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

MYTH, TRAUMA, AND RITUAL: THE WORK OF THE SOUL, PART 1

The work right now is to become immense. We have to get our arms around immense things. Violence and hatred and bigotry and racism. And also, around love and compassion and devotion and a certain fidelity to protect what is alive. We have to become immense. This is not a time to become small.”

~ Francis Weller

Francis Weller (LINK) is, to my mind, a successor to Joseph Campbell who brings mythology alive and shows how it is relevant to us today. And like any good successor, he goes beyond the work of Campbell (a mentor to Weller), adding a deeper dive into the dimension of SOUL. Weller, like Campbell, was deeply influenced by Carl Jung’s work in myth, dreams, and psychology. This post is based on some of Weller’s work, particularly an article from Kosmos Journal which you can find online here (LINK).

Our work toward greater spiritual realization must go through ourselves, the unconscious depths to which we have direct access to, but no direct awareness of. I believe that spiritual realization is dependent upon alignment with our Soul’s Agenda, our deepest personal intentionality. The agenda of the soul is an expression of a Divine Urge to live fully the life we came here to live. Our lived experience often obscures this agenda, leading us to become externally oriented in an unbalanced way due to our conditioning. We find ourselves losing our connection with the intuitive nature of our being, our connection with our soul. The soul never ceases to urge us forward, however, we may build up an inner resistance to these urges in various ways.

This is why spiritual practices must go deeper than our conscious awareness, going beyond mere manifesting. Until we have created a deep consciousness of our own sacred nature and that of our universe, we will seek to manifest what we do not really need, including things which are harmful to our environment and our sense of sacred humanity. We find ourselves disconnected from soul and seeking validation from other people, status, or wealth. Our ability to lead a truly fulfilling life is diminished, as is our capacity to be of compassionate service to our communities.

The challenges we are collectively facing will not be met with superficial spirituality. We are called to change at depth – to become immense in the face of the challenges we are co-creating on planet Earth. The pathway to our collective healing takes us through the inner darkness – aspects of ourselves and our culture which most have refused to face up until now. Weller calls this process the long dark.

“We are entering the long dark. I use that term not negatively at all. I use it alchemically, that certain things can only happen in darkness. We are in a time of decay, a time of collapse, a time of endings, a time of sheddings. These are necessary. 

We are seeing this last gasp effort to try to uphold the old structures. Keep capitalism going. Keep the stock market inflated. They’re all going to collapse. They have to because the system . . . is unsustainable. Not only in terms of world resources, but just in terms of human capacity to endure that kind of emptiness.

The collapse is happening. I think what we have to do right now is ask ourselves and each other how do we become skillful in navigating our walk in the dark? How do we cultivate imagination? How do we cultivate collaboration? How do we cultivate fields of reciprocity with the Earth, within human and more-than-human communities, so that we’re not extracting more than what can be replenished? How do we cultivate the spiritual values of restraint and mutuality?”

~ Francis Weller

We are called to grow in our capacity for complexity as we grow in our connection with the soul’s agenda. This may seem paradoxical; however, it is the kind of balance on which all spiritual realization depends. The soul’s agenda contains both the intentionality of who we have come in this incarnation to be as well as the wisdom needed to fully be that expression. The capacity for complexity allows us to understand and integrate with the human world around us – one which grows more complex by the moment. It is the synergy of the simplicity of inner wisdom and the complexity of cognitive and emotional intelligence which allows us to live in mastery – to become immense.

“Along the way, I began to see the soul is here for the community. It’s not so much an interior project. There’s a saying that ‘the greater part of the soul lies outside the body’. If that’s true, then I’m actually ensouled when I’m participating. When I’m with the atmosphere, when I’m with the colors, when I’m with the trees, when I’m with my other fellow beings, that’s when I’m, in a sense, most ensouled.”

~ Francis Weller

“If we could unlearn this artificial encapsulation and the empty self and come back into that robust embrace of the soul, what I call our composite identity, then we would remember our wild entanglement with everything. Then I wouldn’t feel like I’m just in self-preservation, but I would be helping to preserve the living fabric of all things. That would be a holy obligation.”

~ Francis Weller

We need to rebuild our composite identity, this deep connection with soul as we cultivate an integral connection with the world around us. At the same time, Weller mentions trauma and ritual as essential elements of our coming into awareness. Trauma is a critical element in our lived experience and it must be handled with love and wisdom. Ritual is a tried-and-true healing element which has been practiced by every human culture to deal with collective and individual trauma.

“For hundreds of thousands of years, human beings worked through trauma communally through ritual practices. Ritual was the re-regulating practice after trauma or a death. What happens when we abandon those forms? Again, another thread of what the soul yearns for is dropped.”

~ Francis Weller

My concern is that, too often, our New Thought communities and organizations fail to teach the critical balance required for spiritual realization. We fail to challenge our students to confront their suffering, instead suggesting that suffering can be denied, or even avoided. Which begs the question: has any human life been devoid of suffering?

Rather that viewing trauma as an essential element in the pathway to spiritual growth, too often we ignore or minimize it, leaving people to feel shame when they do not easily overcome their woundedness. And as for ritual, something often minimized by Ernest Holmes, we have at best a mixed approach, too often doing ritual for ritual’s sake, failing to align it with what the individual or community is facing. Or, in some cases, avoiding ritual altogether, making the teaching purely cerebral and dry as dust.

We often ask why New Thought hasn’t grown consistently in the past half-century. Perhaps it is because it has become such a mixed bag of experiences, teachings, approaches, and atmospheres that is has no visible unifying presence – the felt sense of overall community at the organizational level and among the organizations is very tenuous at best. Have we become a modern version of the Tower of Babel?

The Tower of Babel by Peter Bruegel

What does the New Thought community need to do differently to foster the kind of spiritual growth and awakening needed to help our members discover and align with their soul’s agenda? How do we re-imagine, regenerate, and re-sacralize our approach to fostering spiritual realization as a healing vehicle for humanity? And how do we see creating #AWorldThatWorksForEveryone if we do not do these things?

“My faith is that we’re not trying to reinvent something. We’re trying to remember something, and when you’re in states that we’re in like right now, that’s what we can call upon. People are coming more and more and more to that recognition that the secondary satisfactions of wealth and power and prestige are bankrupt. As one of my mentors (Joseph Campbell) said, ‘Yeah, you climbed the ladder of success and you only find that it’s leaning against the wrong building.’ There’s nothing up there. It’s an empty promise.”

~ Francis Weller

Your thoughts are welcomed in the comments section and will form the basis of a later post.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE TO SPIRITUAL GROWTH

EXTORTION

I like to whimper, cry, complain,
and advertise that I’m in pain.
Extorting care and sympathy
is what I do quite skillfully.
When I am gloomy and morose
it’s ’cause I seek an ample dose
of pity and due compensation
for my pathetic, sad condition.
If with my wish you won’t comply
you’ll force me to pretend to die.

~ Tom Greening

The common answer in New Thought circles to the question “what is the biggest obstacle to spiritual growth?” is “myself.” While that is true, it is also the answer to the question “what is my biggest asset in seeking spiritual growth?” The self is the vehicle for all development or the lack thereof, so we need to be a bit more specific in answering the question.

I usually respond to the question about the biggest obstacle with “comfort.” It is our desire to be comfortable that often keeps us in place – even if we are not happy in our current state of being. Comfort is a sense of being minimally challenged. When we face the discomfort of changing, we too often sink into resistance, even though we may realize that growth lies at the other side of the period of discomfort.

Just as many join a gym to get more fit and healthy and then resist going, we may set goals for spiritual growth, commit to practices, and then resist doing the work. This may take the form of procrastination, evasion, denial, or by doing destructive things such as overeating or drinking too much as our ego asserts its power to keep us from changing. This resistance comes from a desire for comfort, or a state where we are not challenged or disturbed. When combined with ignorance and fear (usually the fear that we are inadequate), seeking comfort alone is especially dangerous to our development. We grow when we are uncomfortable, or in a state of Divine Discontent.

“Staying with the discomfort is difficult. The mind keeps darting off to avoid the feelings in the body, primarily by trying to analyze why you feel the way you do. But you keep returning to the breath in the center of the chest and the physical experience in the body.”

~ Ezra Bayda

Our body-mind-spirit collective is very skilled at knowing what is best for us and at sending us messages when it is time for a change. We, on the other hand, tend to be very skilled at ignoring or rationalizing these messages and staying stuck in some less-than-optimal ways of being. Our ego structure supports us in this, leading us to resist inner urges to change, even for the better. But do we really want to stay as we are?

“What if I told you 10 years from now your life would be exactly the same. Doubt you’d be happy. So why are you afraid of change?”

~ Karen Salmansohn 

We may be afraid of change – but more likely, we are afraid of discomfort. We are afraid of stepping into the unknown, of forming different habit patterns, of losing something that we currently possess, or we are in a state of mind which refuses to move beyond lethargy. When we ignore or resist the inner urge to move forward in our development, our physical and emotional selves react – we may develop an illness or deep fatigue, or we may become depressed or distracted. These are defense mechanisms used by the ego to keep us from changing. From stepping too far out of our comfort zone.

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

~ Carl Jung

By facing our own soul, Jung means accepting the divine urge to grow, to progress, to deepen our realization of who we are and what is ours to do. This deepening means dealing with greater uncertainties, with loss, grief, and transition. When we are confronted by deep inner urges, our resistance (which is automatic, driven by our current belief system’s take on who we are and what we can expect from ourselves), activates emotional responses in us, in this case, negative responses. The chemicals associated with negative emotions are destructive to our physical systems and trigger negative thinking.

To engage in a positive direction means working past the limitations of our current belief system and not listening to the ego’s mental, emotional, and physical urges to stay in place. In such situations we are called to extend ourselves with intention, courage, and commitment to a new way of being. We are called to take a leap IN faith to something greater.

“Every positive change – every jump to a higher level of energy and awareness – involves a rite of passage. Each time to ascend to a higher rung on the ladder of personal evolution, we must go through a period of discomfort, of initiation. I have never found an exception.”

~ Dan Millman

This discomfort and initiation may be intensely challenging and painful – but it is by accepting the challenge and enduring the pain that we move out of our stuckness and into a greater level of freedom. Courage and strength are required qualities; affirmative thinking, prayer-treatment, meditation, and positive acts are required actions.

We must accept and deal with the uncertainty of spiritual development if we are to grow. We never really know our interior spaces and can only guess at the future. Intention and spiritual practice help guide us toward what is best for us, but it is like a moving target in a fog. Spiritual mastery is about accepting uncertainty as the nature of things, while accepting the certainty that Spirit exists and is within us always.

“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel (human beings) to unfold (their) powers.”

~ Erich Fromm

“There is nothing of which we are more ashamed than of not being ourselves. And there is nothing which brings us greater joy and happiness than to think, feel, and say what is ours.”

~ Erich Fromm

Whatever your current circumstances, you have within you a Power to change, to heal, to recover, to express, to engage at greater levels. All significant growth, or deepening, will be accompanied by discomfort, even pain. Our human psychological structure simply does not allow great change without inner resistance. Accepting that is a key to the ability to change and grow in amazing ways. As the poet wrote:

1. You must let the pain visit.

2. You must allow it to teach you

3. You must not allow it overstay.”

~ Ijeoma Umebinyuo, three routes to healing

As always, your comments are welcomed. Please share this post with others who may be interested.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard