“Some never awaken.”
~ Anaïs Nin
“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.”
~ Paul Valery
”Wake up! Your word is all powerful. Your consciousness is one with Omnipotence. Your thought is infinite. Your destiny is eternal and your home is everlasting heaven.”
~ Ernest Holmes
I had a very interesting conversation with a young woman in Lyon today. She is an American expat who is married to a Frenchman and teaches English here. She has been in France for nine years. She read a few of my blog posts and wanted to talk a bit about spirituality, so we met for coffee at a café near my apartment.
The conversation I had with her is not the point; the realizations I had while engaged in that conversation inspired this post. You see, she knew nothing about New Thought or metaphysics or Centers for Spiritual Living or Ernest Holmes or any of it. And she was curious, so I was describing it to her – the principles and something about the movement and the organizations and the spiritual communities. And I realized something during the conversation – she was fascinated by the principles as I described them; really curious, leaning in, asking questions. But the part about the organization, the churches, etc., was pretty boring to her. She is of a generation that is largely unchurched (she was raised Protestant but does not currently attend church), and she absolutely got that overall worship attendance is decreasing. Of course, we are in France, were about 1% of people regularly attend worship services.
But that’s not what this is about either – what this is about is how do those of us in some form of spiritual leadership or spiritual “teachership” find ways to expand the teachings to more people, people who lean in, are curious, and ask questions? We are at a turning point and transformation is on our agenda; unless we awaken to what we are being called to bring forth, we will likely follow our brothers and sisters in Christian Science into irrelevance.
How do we break out of the comfortable but calcified forms of “church” where smaller, older groups gather, as much out of habit as out of curiosity? How do we open to new ways of expressing the principles of New Thought which meet people where they are? And how do we find ways to guide our students through the often-painful process of personal growth and transformation unless we also help them to experience that pain in such a way that they have a chance to benefit from it?
“So, what is enlightenment? How about coming down from that mountain and putting your unity consciousness to the test amidst mortgage payments and credit card debt, divorce lawyers and aging parents, nasty bosses and health problems, wars and poverty? Such conditions, as the alchemist knows, burn away the dross to reveal who we are not. Yes, in the midst of the madness we awaken, grow comfortable with our dualistic nature and develop mystical stamina so that we can handle our sobriety. Illusions are like drugs and enlightenment is like rehab.”
~ Natasha Dern
Because of cultural evolution (as described by the Spiral Dynamics™ Model – LINK), people have changed, and continue to change, in the way they relate to spiritual community and how they absorb spiritual teachings. The days of a “captive audience” bound by loyalty to a philosophy, a teacher, or a community are ending. The age profile of most spiritual communities is testimony to this dynamic.
Too much of New Thought has become calcified, sclerotic, rigid, and stuck in the traditional forms of “doing church.” Cultural evolution has taken us from the Modernist (Orange) styles of the Founders and their immediate successors to a more Postmodern (Green) style, which is less rigid about teaching the teaching, and also less demanding of students, but, oddly, is also attached to the old forms of spiritual community and the Christian trappings that go with those forms.
I can recall being at a conference at Asilomar (LINK) in the mind 1990s and hearing some ministers of the larger churches talking to each other. The conversations were often about staying in principle and not teaching things which distracted students from studying the Science of Mind™. They held each other accountable in this regard; they rarely deviated from the established curriculum, and they talked to one another often about these things. I can remember the late Dr. Stuart Grayson giving a senior minister, who I won’t name here, a lecture about offering “New Age” crystals and books in the bookstore of their church, as an example. These are examples of the expression of Traditionalist-Blue values within a Modernist-Orange system. Healthy expressions of Orange and Green systems include strong Blue ethical values.
I am fully aware that those times are largely gone; ministers today are different in many ways due to cultural evolution and other factors. Correcting other ministers in that manner has gone away, similar to the way of other parents in my childhood neighborhood “parenting” me when I misbehaved. Some of this is for the better, and some isn’t in terms of our effectiveness in teaching the teaching. It is worth noting that the generation of ministers I referred to above presided over the last stage of growth in overall attendance of our movement. The New Thought movement has been barely holding at level or decreasing in overall attendance ever since.
“Keep awake, alive, new. Perform the paradox of being hard and yet soft. Survive without calcification of the tender membranes. Be a poet. Be alive.”
~ Tennessee Williams
Our “tender membranes” are the basic principles and practices of our teachings in New Thought. These are the essential elements and are basically unchanging. What needs to change are the forms of the ways we are in community, how we teach the teaching, and how we connect with and relate to those who would be curious about what we have to teach.
Our ministerial education continues to teach future spiritual leaders a model that is clearly in decline, paying little or no attention to the skill sets needed in a rapidly changing world if we are to develop new forms of spiritual community. We need to teach skills relating to innovation, community building, non-traditional forms of communication, mastery of evolving technologies, social engagement, and more. The days of a fixed curriculum are over, we need to be nimble if we are to ride the crest of the wave of cultural change and not fall further behind.
“People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete – the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.”
~ Peter F. Drucker
The young woman I spoke with today leaned in when I described our teaching’s basic tenants. I gave her a copy of my book, SACRED THINKING (LINK), and she asked for a reading list of other titles. That is a common experience – I did the same thing when I first heard them in 1989. The interest is there – so why are more people learning about New Thought principles?
We are adrift in rapidly changing times where many old forms have lost their relevance and will not regain relevance just because we like them. Our cultural evolutionary path has us mostly in a Postmodern-Green (LINK) stage of putting feelings over outcome – of trying to avoid upsetting or offending anyone as a first priority. This is a positive desire, but it should not take precedence over a main focus of ensuring that students of our teachings actually learn and practice our teachings. That is the primary mission of our ministries, isn’t it?
Practicing avoidance, in this case by trying to keep from upsetting anyone, is not an effective spiritual pathway. Better to practice moving toward something desirable and recognizing that in any teaching process, especially a transformational one, there will be some upsets and hurt feelings along the way. This can be a significant challenge for those at the Postmodern-Green stage of development, but learning is change and change involves some pain, some disillusionment, and much revising of values and beliefs. Avoiding these experiences is equivalent to avoiding learning; students learn the terminology but fail to lead transformed lives. We have a similar phenomenon in New Thought to what we see in general education – grade inflation – almost everyone gets an A and few are really challenged. So A’s lose much of their integrity.
Much of this is about compassion. True compassion is not about being nice; nor is it about always being kind, unless you define kindness as loving someone enough to be truthful with them, even when that may hurt. True compassion is based in the truth, which may be uncomfortable to hear and to experience. But if we avoid the truth, we stay in falsehood, in limitation. If we fail to hold ourselves and our students accountable for our respective roles in the learning process, which will mean holding feet to the fire sometimes, we will not be worthy stewards of our New Thought teachings and principles. True compassion is a like a bird with two wings – wisdom and love – both are needed if we are to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. We must learn to integrate these aspects through self-development and spiritual practices.
“When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us. The trick to doing this is to stay with emotional distress without tightening into aversion, to let fear soften us rather than harden into resistance.”
~ Pema Chödrön
We are facing challenges to humanity which are more complex and dangerous than at any time in history. This is the first time that if we respond to what is unfolding by doing nothing, we will become extinct. Among the many challenges for spiritual leadership is to be the presencing of a deeply held sense of empathy, wisdom, and clarity, all of which merge into a deep compassion for self and others. This enables the guiding of students along the always rocky pathways toward true transformation.
Today, action, spiritually motivated compassionate action, is essential. We came into this incarnation (whether it is our only one or not) to BE THE PERSON WE ARE CAPABLE OF BEING. Our process of awakening is a life-long journey of learning and experience. It is both a challenge and the greatest thing that we can be doing. Let us not step back from fully engaging in this great experience for ourselves and our students; let us bring a compassionate, awakened dedication to the process of teaching, learning, and living.
”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 & sometimes even opposing harmful behavior & 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
As always, your comments are welcomed! And feel free to share this post with others who may be interested.
Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard