This series speaks to the issue of spiritual maturity and deep spiritual work. The contents are not meant to offend or intimidate anyone. My intention is to speak to a deeper level of spiritual realization. In most of the world’s spiritual traditions, some teachings were kept secret from anyone not ready to receive them in a healthy way. In our modern tradition, we put warning labels on things.
“You cannot hope to grow spiritually unless you are prepared to change. Those changes may come in small ways to begin with, but as you move further and further into the new, they will become more drastic and vital. Sometimes it needs a complete upheaval to bring about a new way of life. But it is amazing how soon you can get used to change as long as you have the courage and conviction that the changes which are in place are all for the very best. Let perfection always be your aim. Keep stretching. Keep reaching up to the seemingly impossible. Keep growing in wisdom and understanding and never at any time be content to remain static. There is always something new and wonderful to discover in this life, so expand your consciousness and your imagination to make room for it. Keep open and receptive so you miss nothing.”
~ Eileen Caddy
How many of us are willing to be open and receptive to such transformational change? How many are willing to go beyond mere lip-service and to do the deep spiritual and psychological work of radical self-discovery in order to experience radical self-acceptance? If you were told how much deep inner work, emotional development, psychic pain, and time would be required to achieve spiritual realization and master the important aspects of your life the first time you visited a New Thought spiritual community, would you come back a second time?
The Easter/Passover season is a good time to reflect on this question, as the deeper meaning of this time is transformation, or massive change. See my previous post on Holy Week (LINK) for more detail on this.
While learning how to think affirmatively is an essential step in your spiritual growth, it is but one of many steps. Each of us carries shadow aspects (LINK) which we have been accumulating since our infancy, and these aspects have been repressed into our subconscious. We are not directly aware of them, but they are active in our lives – they affect our emotions, our worldviews, and our decision-making. We project these aspects onto others automatically and unconsciously. Ultimately, they form a barrier to further spiritual growth, as we develop much of our personalities in such a way as to avoid conscious awareness of our repressed selves.
“Any serious spiritual work brings up the shadow, the rejected parts of your own psyche, which have to be faced and accepted. It’s the process of inner purification. Other spiritual paths may focus on purification through diet or yoga or good living or correcting bad habits. Our particular Sufi path has a very strong psychological element, and the purification is analogous to Jung’s ‘shadow work’ in which the rejected parts of one’s psyche come to the surface to be confronted, loved and accepted. This begins the process of transformation. As Jung said, ‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.’ Then he humorously added, ‘The latter process, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.’”
~ Llewellyn Vaughan Lee
A typical scenario can look like this: someone enters a New Thought spiritual community and learns how to think affirmatively, to visualize, to mediate. They practice these techniques and notice that the circumstances of their life improve. They continue for some time at this, taking classes, reading and so forth; and there is the benefit of being in spiritual community as well. After a year to 18 months, however, they notice that they have hit a wall in their growth – negativity seems unmoved by their efforts and spiritual growth appears to stop. What has happened is that they have used their newfound practices to attend to the aspects of their lives which were not bound by shadow aspects. But the shadow self remains untouched. Now the real work can begin.
Unfortunately, this is the point where many give up, deciding that the teaching does not work. Some will leave, seeking guidance elsewhere; some will stay, but not pursue any deeper level of growth. Every spiritual community has long-term members who have not grown spiritually or psychologically since their first year or two of participation. Even more unfortunately, many New Thought spiritual leaders fail to guide their students through this inevitable stage of development. You don’t hear about this at Sunday services.
“You seem to harbor a deep negativity towards negativity, as something not to face but something to ignore.”
~ John Hogue
We get nowhere by ignoring the negativity in our lives. Likewise, we get nowhere by dwelling on the negativity in our lives. We only get somewhere when we begin the long journey toward replacing the negativity in our consciousness with something more positive. Some of this work is done at the surface level – by thinking more positively; but much of it is done by digging down deep into the psyche to root out the unconscious patterns we have developed, patterns which are largely immune to the occasional positive thought, or even to steady positive thinking that does not address them. Our teacher(s) can help guide us to this realization, but they cannot do the work for us.
“Nobody will save you but you. You alone have to engage your own contemplative development. . . . If you do not engage this development, and on your death bed you confess and scream out for help to God, nothing is going to happen. Spiritual development is not a matter of mere belief. It is a matter of actual, prolonged, difficult growth, and merely professing belief is meaningless and without impact. It’s like smoking for twenty years, then saying, ‘Sorry, I quit.’ That will not impress cancer. Reality is not interested in your beliefs; it’s interested in your actions, what you actually do, your actual karma.”
~ Ken Wilber
Each of us must do our own inner work – once we learn how. And as we move forward in our spiritual growth, we may learn additional truths and tools to use. The wise teacher is one who assists the student in learning and using the appropriate level of spiritual teachings and spiritual tools. Our developmental growth must go in a certain order. We may be able to absorb a great deal of information intellectually very quickly, but our practice must follow a more deliberate path. The psyche is not the intellect; it has different rules, demands different approaches. Where intellectual learning is the absorption of information and the occasional “AHA moment,” the psyche is moved forward by emotional growth and deep practice – in a nonlinear manner.
“I have always believed myself to be possessed of two souls, one that lives on the surface of life, pleasing and pleased; the other as deep and as unfathomable as the ocean; a mystery to me and all who know me.”
~ Adah Isaacs Menken, 1862
The purpose of all these efforts toward spiritual growth is to open ourselves to our divine heritage – love, compassion, and meaning. This divine heritage lies just beyond the obstacles we have placed in our psyches during our lives – most unconsciously and unwittingly; but there they are. When we realize more of this heritage, we are ready to do the serious work of engaged spirituality to create The Beloved Community.
In part 2 of this series, we will further explore the way forward if we are to be healed at depth. And, while all in good fun, that warning label will still apply.
Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard
Here is where you can get my book
CREATING THE BELOVED COMMUNITY:
A Handbook for Spiritual Leadership,
in paperback or Kindle editions –