Did you know that every day we experience approximately 20,000 moments (according to Nobel-winning scientist Daniel Kahneman)? A moment is defined as a few seconds in which our brain records an experience. So, as Dr. Kahneman discovered, the quality of our days is determined by how our brains recognize and categorize our moments — either as positive, negative or just neutral (although rarely do we remember neutral moments).
The Tiger and the Fox An old Sufi story* tells about a man walking through the forest who saw a fox that had lost its legs and the man wondered how it lived. Then he saw a tiger come up with game in its mouth. The tiger ate its fill and left the rest of the meat for the fox.
The next day God fed the fox by means of the same tiger. The man began to wonder at God's greatness and said to himself, "I too shall rest in a corner with full trust in the Lord and he will provide me with all that I need."
He did this for many days but nothing happened. He was almost at death's door from starvation when he heard a voice say, "O you who are in the path of error, open your eyes to the truth! Stop imitating the disabled fox and follow the example of the tiger."
Three Nonnegotiables for Healthy Spiritual Living
This ancient story reveals several secrets to effective spiritual living and why we need people to become truly self actualized.
One, spirituality is deeply relational.
The fabric of our being is communal and relational. We thrive the most when we learn how to live effectively within the context of our relationships.
There's no such thing as a Lone Ranger spirituality.
There's this myth about spirituality in contrast to religion that says that spirituality is personal and private, while religion is communal. Not true!
Effective, transformational spirituality is not about living up on the mountaintop in direct communication with the Universe, like the stereotypical picture of the monk or guru who sits up on the peak alone receiving and dispensing the wisdom of life to intrepid and interested mountain climbers or spiritual seekers.
Effective spirituality is like the tiger in our story---taking what feeds us and sharing it with hungry people. And the truth is, everyone in our circles of relationships are hungry in various ways.
Spirituality is essentially relational because our growth as people is directly impacted by our ability to relate to people. It's in our relationships where the rubs of life so often take place. So unless we learn how to navigate those "rubs" - our journey toward becoming more actualized humans on this planet of people by living life well among people - we isolate our spirituality and it eventually withers into ineffectiveness.
Two, relational spirituality reframes faith and trust.
The man in our story was rebuked by God for trying to imitate the passiveness of the fox rather than the active sharing of the tiger.
Many people have the view of spirituality as mostly sitting and waiting on God. "It's just you and me, God," they say. "God will provide. I just need to have enough faith in order to experience God's intervention." It's the "monk in the cave" or "guru on the mountaintop" approach.
The problem with this kind of spiritual paradigm is that it leads to isolationism. If God only acted directly, why would you need others? If you could become completely self-actualized in a vacuum, why would you need others? God could simply put each of us in a sealed off vacuum chamber until we finalized achieved perfection, and then let us free.
Trust in God or the Universe is not just sitting in a corner trying to convince yourself that you will be provided for if you simply have enough faith.
I've discovered in my life that most often the way God has provided for me is through other people who have shared their love, generosity, and support with me. God has used "the tigers" in my life to bless me time and time again.
My willingness to open myself up to other people, to be willing to receive from them, is an act of radical trust in God and the humanity that God chooses to work through. My willingness to stop trying to be "superman," mister omnicompetent superhero in life who can go it alone very well, thank you, and instead realize my need for other people to help me grow into the man I'm meant to be, is an act of radical trust in God and the people God chooses to use in my life.
Three, spirituality demands a relational environment because at the heart of spirituality is forgiveness and love.
All spiritual traditions describe the fundamental nature of God with the word love. God is love.
Here's the way the Christian scriptures state this reality:
"Since God loved us that much [Jesus giving his life to forgive us], we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and God's love has been brought to full expression through us...God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them." 1 John 4:11-12
In the one of the most concise descriptions of the divine nature, we are reminded that God is love. And notice that central to the attribute of divine love is forgiveness. And the natural progression of that spiritual experience is that we are then people who love and therefore who forgive others.
Our spiritual development, the process of becoming more and more self actualized as human beings, is to learn how to love more deeply and more completely. We learn to love ourselves. And we learn to love others. Spiritual growth is about growing in the process of loving well.
But you and I cannot truly love either ourselves or others without learning how to forgive. The point is, it is only within the context of relationships---where we experience the bumps and bruises of life---that we learn how to love and forgive. That's where healthy spirituality is developed.
Loving and Forgiving Without Judgment
One of the obstacles we often face with loving and forgiving is our tendency to judge people. Notice in our story, the tiger gives food to the disabled fox without condemning or judging the fox. The tiger refuses to interrogate the fox about how it lost its legs. Was it being irresponsible? Who's fault was it? Did the fox make bad or unwise choices that led to this tragic loss?
No, the tiger saw the need and without judgment gave of its own abundance.
Divine love and forgiveness are always without conditions. They are simply given, no strings attached. That's why those actions and predispositions with God are called grace.
The truth is, you and I as human beings simply cannot grow spiritually to our most actualized selves outside the context of our relationships. Why? Because it is in our relationships where we are forced to rub up against others and they with us in a way that prompts and teaches us what it means to really love and forgive in every context of our lives.
So which do you find yourself modeling or identifying more with in your spiritual life? The man who tried to be like the fox, or the tiger?
* Adapted from Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird, p. 79.
I'm offering a cycle of 3 spiritual retreats, starting in October, anchored in the seasons of Fall, Winter, and Spring. These retreats are designed to provide you the time, space, and resources to shape your spirituality in deeper and more meaningful ways that honor who you are and where you are along your journey of life. This will be a transformational experience for you to reflect and explore a more relational, and more self actualized spiritual journey. Click this link for more information: Spiritual Retreats.
Twentieth century Afrikaner author and political advisor Laurens Van der Post tells the story of two brothers who lived in South Africa. The older brother was strong, tall, handsome, intelligent, an excellent athlete. His parents sent him away to an exclusive private school where he soon became an admired leader of the student body. His younger brother, six years younger, was neither good looking nor capable, and was also a hunchback. But he had one great gift. He had a magnificent singing voice.
Eventually the younger brother joined the older at the same boarding school. They were so different from each other no one knew they were related. One day in a cruel outbreak of mob psychology, a group of students ganged up on the younger brother, started making fun of him, tore off his shirt to reveal his hunchback, and then taunted, jeered and laughed at him.
The older brother, as it turns out, was in the chemistry lab trying to complete an assignment when he heard the commotion outside and went to the window to see what was happening. He saw the ugly scene with his brother in the middle of the gang being humiliated by those sadistic students. He made a painful decision – afraid of losing his popularity with the student body, he chose to not go out and face the crowd and acknowledge that the strange hunchback was his brother to put an end to the whole sorry mess. Staying in the lab and going back to his assignment, he left his brother to the mob and out of fear betrayed him by what he failed to do.
The younger brother was never the same again. He returned home to his parents’ farm where he kept to himself and refused to sing, his humiliation and embarrassment locking the song in his soul . After graduating, the older brother became a soldier in WWII, stationed in Palestine where every night his painful betrayal ate away at his heart.
One night, lying outdoors in the middle of Palestine in the midst of the war, and gazing up into the starlit sky, the older brother thought about his younger brother, how defeated and pained he had been when he went back home, and how he had refused to sing again – his heart and soul had been betrayed. The older brother lay there night after night imagining the pain and suffering of his brother that he had caused. He began to feel that hurt keenly. And his heart told him that he would never have peace until he went home and asked his brother’s forgiveness. And so he made the incredibly difficult, dangerous wartime journey from Palestine to South Africa.
The brothers talked long into the night, the older one confessing his guilt and remorse. They cried together, embraced, and the breach between them began to heal.
Late that night, after the older brother had fallen asleep, he was startled awake by a sound. He went to the window, and there out on the open lawn was his brother, face lifted toward the stars, singing again, the beautiful song soaring into the night sky. An act of compassion had set the song in his younger brother’s soul free again and had unlocked his own soul, too.
Spirituality is the journey of being set free - free to sing the God-given, unique and personalized song that is often trapped in our souls, free to learn how to truly sing that song again unabashedly, shamelessly, courageously, truthfully, authentically.
And what tragic consequences, as the story reminds us, when we live in fear or judgment of others. The song we have always been meant to sing to the world becomes trapped inside.
It continues to amaze me how much influence you and I have over each other in our journeys, for good or for ill, for freedom or for bondage, for expression or for suppression. I'm in awe of the power of compassion, forgiveness, acceptance to free our songs. It impresses me how people in my life have related to me in a way that has empowered me to sing my song in a way that's truly me and in a way that no one else on earth can sing just like me. It hasn't been their criticism and judgment of me that has set my song free. It has been their tender compassion, acceptance, and encouragement that have made the difference. It has been their nonanxious presence to hold space for me in a spirit of unconditional support. It has been their undying belief in me as a worthy human being and their confidence in my calling and purpose in the world. These gifts have set my song free again and again. And I've been empowered to sing with joy, courage, and more and more abandon. And when I sing my song authentically, others are empowered and emboldened to sing their song, too. The cycle of life.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
So are there any spiritual vaccinations to bring protection and healing to the spiritual diseases we can fall victim to described in my last blog (10 Spiritually Transmitted Diseases)? Let me suggest several. David R. Hawkins (MD, PhD) for the last several decades has been on the leading edge of the science of behavioral kinesiology which is the study of the relationship between thoughts-feelings and muscle strength. Research repeatedly shows that our consciousness has a powerful impact on our bodies - some thoughts and feelings make our bodies go strong, others make us go weak.
If you haven't already, you can experiment with yourself and a partner. You stand erect, your right arm relaxed at your side, your left arm held out parallel to the floor with the elbow straight and both hands open. Your tester faces you and places his left hand on your right shoulder to steady you. He then puts his right hand on your extended arm just above the wrist. Now, he tells you that he is going to try to push your arm down as you resists. He quickly and firmly pushes down on the arm, just hard enough to test the spring and bounce in the arm, but not so hard that the muscle becomes fatigued. This is simply to test your basic resistance level with a neutral stimulus.
The testing continues with you holding a negative thought about yourself in your mind - what is a limited belief about yourself that you tell yourself from time to time? Think about it and the negative feelings associated with it, hold it in your mind as your partner tests your muscle strength. Repeat the testing with a positive statement about yourself that you hold in your mind. Compare the results.
The point is, our thoughts and feelings do make a powerful difference with the way our bodies respond.
Dr. Hawkins, from his extensive research, has developed what he calls a "map of consciousness" - it charts the progression of the states of thoughts/feelings from the weakest to the strongest, along with accompanying worldviews, picture of God, primary emotions, and life processes for each state.. The results are quite profound. If you click on the following Map (c), you'll see a bigger, clearer image of it.
Notice that the weakest state of thinking and feeling is shame (3rd row from the left, bottom), followed closely by guilt, apathy, grief, and on up the chart. Courage is the tipping point toward everything strong. Everything below Courage tests weak. Courage and everything above test strong.
So what does all this mean? Contemporary science is confirming what ancient science has been saying all along. Notice these ancient observations:
"Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life." (Proverbs 4:23)
"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." (Proverbs 23:7)
All of this science is suggesting a hugely significant spiritual reality - what we think impacts our life experience. And Dr. Hawkins has mapped out the strongest kind of thoughts and feelings - courage, trust, willingness, acceptance/forgiveness, reason/understanding, love, joy, peace, enlightenment. This list, describing the attributes of a strong life, are mirrored in another piece of ancient wisdom which describes the attributes of the divine life. Notice the parallels:
"So what does living the divine life look like? God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others (love), exuberance about life (joy), serenity (peace). We develop a willingness to stick with things (patience), a sense of compassion in the heart (kindness), and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people (goodness). We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments (faithfulness), not needing to force our way in life (gentleness), able to marshal and direct our energies wisely (self-control)." (Galatians 5:22-23)
According to both contemporary and ancient science, the process of life transformation involves choosing to reflect upon, contemplate, think about these powerful, divine-like traits and qualities. The very act of spending time thinking about them brings about spiritual growth and change. This is one of the primary vaccinations against the spiritually transmitted diseases I talked about in my last post.
Here's the way another piece of ancient wisdom describes this spiritual vaccination:
"Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on the divine life. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize this divine reality, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you." (Romans 12:2)
Vaccination one is to make the choice to fix our attention on the strongest qualities and attributes and thoughts and feelings in life possible. Look at that list often. Repeat it to yourself often. The very process of doing that, says Dr. Hawkins and scripture, begins to transform our thinking and feeling which in turn makes our bodies strong.
One of the ways I've done this lately is to repeat these attributes of the divine life in my prayers, going over and over each quality in my mind and heart, asking for the divine spirit to grow that "fruit" in my life. It's kind of a targeted prayer and meditation that helps to keep me focused, to fix my attention on the strength and power of the divine life. You and I can exercise our ability to choose, our willingness to experience transformation by how we direct our thoughts and feelings.
Dr. Hawkins describes the dilemma of the human struggle as well as the antidote to it in this statement: “The world of the ego is like a house of mirrors through which the ego wanders, lost and confused, as it chases the images in one mirror after another. Human life is characterized by endless trials and errors to escape the maze. At times, for many people, and possibly for most, the world of mirrors becomes a house of horrors that gets worse and worse. The only way out of the circuitous wanderings is through the pursuit of spiritual truth … At first, spiritual purification seems difficult, but eventually, it becomes natural. To consistently choose love, peace, or forgiveness leads one out of the house of mirrors. The joy of God is so exquisite that any sacrifice is worth the effort and seeming pain."
And this process leads to vaccination two. Here again contemporary and ancient science provide us with a profound and powerful transformation process.
In 1665 a Dutch Physicist and Scientist named Christian Huygens discovered what is now known in physics as the principle of entrainment. It was during his research with pendulum clocks that Huygens noted the new physics concept. He found that when he placed two of them on a wall near each other and swung the pendulums at different rates, they would eventually end up swinging at the exact same rate. They fell into rhythm with one another. He realized that this concept applied to not just pendulum clocks, but as a basic law of physics: the tendency for two oscillating bodies to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony. It's easier and takes less energy for systems to work in cooperation than in opposition. So the powerful rhythmic vibrations from one source will cause less powerful vibrations of another source to lock into the vibration of the first, stronger source.
Entrainment happens all around us, all the time. It's like Newton's Law of Gravity. It just is. It occurs biologically, such as when women who spend a lot of time together find their moon cycles synchronizing. It occurs sociologically such as when people in the same cliques or communities or social groups dress and think similarly. It happens mechanically, like all of the grandfather clock pendulums in a clock shop swinging together in unison after a few days, even if they started off unsynchronized. It can be found on emotional levels too, such as what happens when you walk into a room full of people who are laughing and light-hearted and your mood magically lifts to match theirs. Even our brain waves follow this physics principle. It happens when people are subjected to certain stimulus and their brain frequencies shift to calmer states.
Here's the power of this principle when it comes to our spiritual lives. An ancient scripture describes it this way:
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all contemplate the attributes of the divine life, are being transformed into that likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)
When we deliberately and intentionally place ourselves in the presence of the divine life, as well as in the presence of those qualities being lived out in others, when we acknowledge our connection to God and reflect on the divine life and spend time in environments that reflect those qualities, we the weaker of the two energy sources are drawn into greater and greater synch with the stronger Energy which is God. The result is increasing transformation into a likeness of the divine life. The principle of physics results in profound spiritual growth. The Spirit increases our freedom to become more and more of who are designed to be.
So how's your vaccination history? Time for some more healthy antidotes?
It's so easy for me to allow my thinking to get lazy and distracted - to make an almost automatic choice to allow negative and unhealthy thoughts take over - to let my limiting beliefs about myself and others be my default mode. But the good news is that life is like standing on the train station - our thoughts are the various trains set to leave the station to their destination. When a negative trigger happens in our lives, and our automatic response tends to be to get on that negative train thought, you and I have the choice whether or not to get on the train. We can actually let that train pull away from the platform without us. We can instead choose to get on another more healthy train. And when we make that significant choice, the ride ahead is much more enjoyable - for ourselves and for the others in our lives.
So here's to getting vaccinated! And here's to getting on a good train for a good ride into the divine life!
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