This dilemma presents itself almost as soon as we set foot on the spiritual path. As we begin to become aware of, and to exam our behaviour and belief systems, it soon becomes apparent that not everybody shares our new found excitement or passion for truth, integrity, and compassion.
Whenever change occurs, there will be those around us that react angrily to the perceived threat of change. This can happen for many reasons, but the principle one seems to be that other people are put in the position of having to look at their own issues if we begin to take responsibility for our own.
At the beginning of the journey, we may be looking to those that love us for support and encouragement, and yet the reality can often be the opposite - ridicule, anger, and covert attempts to make us revert to type.
Human beings on the whole do not welcome change. We currently live in societies that are themselves undergoing enormous changes, and this fact alone can mean that a variety of people will steadfastly cling onto what they know because it gives them a sense of security.
In the face of this fear of change, if a loved one suddenly begins to wax lyrical about forgiveness, compassion, and eternal bliss, the ensuing reaction may well be one which staunchly defends the blaming, gossiping, victim behaviour, and the control and power games that used to be the language we understood.
We have been raised in a world where to in order to be someone, you need to be rich, famous, good-looking, and superior to others in every way. We worship these people regardless of their talent, good character, or moral integrity. In an attempt to be like them, or just to be somebody, we are told to work hard, and millions of people work for long hours, with no time for family or friends.
In pursuit of the dream, we chase ideals, eat on the run, and are enormously stressed out. We thereby endanger our health and live in a constant state of fear that we are not good enough, have not achieved enough, or will be happy when......(fill in the blank).
When we begin the long journey from a human doing to a human being, it seems as though there is a paradox. Being spiritual in a material world in the beginning seems to be a challenge because the two states appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.
One aspect of spiritual growth that seems to contradict the world of materialism is learning to be more tolerant of others’ points of view, religious persuasions, political ideologies and cultural beliefs. In the materialistic world, one of the ways that you know that you have “made it” is that you are able to look down upon those that are worse off than you are. Superiority and condescension belong to the world of competition and materialism.
In direct contrast, the spiritual approach is one of inclusiveness - underneath all the masks that we wear, we are all the same, regardless of creed, or colour, and despite all the external symbols of success, wealth, fame or lack of it.
Another facet of spiritual growth that seems to directly contrast materialism is that of learning how to be of service to others.
The mantra of the materialist is “Me, More, Now”. The mantra of those on a spiritual path becomes “How can I be of service?” We can never truly know how our actions impact others, which is why we decide upon honesty, integrity, kindness and doing no harm wherever possible. The ripple effect of your actions - be they kind or selfish- goes all the way to the edge of the pond, so on the path to peace, we learn to choose kindness.
As we grow, we learn that one of the most important aspects of spiritual growth is becoming aware of and taking responsibility for our actions, thoughts, words and deeds.
A good example of this is learning that lying is second nature to us, even when we think we are being honest. As children, we learn to lie in many instances. We learn to say sorry when we do not mean it. We kiss people we do not want to kiss because we are told to. We learn to be quiet when we want to make noise. We learn to take on the characteristics of a boy or a girl regardless of whether or not they sit comfortably with us. These learned behaviours follow us through teenage years and into adulthood.
Learning to tell the truth can be very challenging as often we are unaware of all the ways that we do not tell the truth. How do you respond when someone enquires how you are? Do you use the stock response of “I am fine”? Ask yourself what does that actually mean, and how often you really would prefer to say that you are sad, or weak, or vulnerable, angry, bored, or whichever one of a vast array of emotions you are feeling at the time?
Part of the journey is very much related to simplifying your life, and searching for peace within. As we study the great writings and philosophers from ancient and modern times, we repeatedly hear how important it is to stop looking outside ourselves for the answers in relationships, possessions, knowledge, and so forth. We are guided to go within and learn to listen to our own innate wisdom, to hear our own truth.
We are spiritual beings in a human body, and it seems that whether or not we choose to wake up this lifetime, we are having a spiritual experience.
There are many different approaches to and aspects of a spiritual journey, and we have touched on a few here. At the beginning, there seems to be a paradox between living spiritually and living in a material world. As the journey proceeds, however, we begin to see that living a spiritual life within the materialistic world is what is called for.
By taking responsibility for yourself and your actions, you are giving permission to those around you to do the same for themselves. If you can live by a code of ethics that is honest and based on integrity, service and love, you will impact those around you, encouraging them to act in a similar manner.
If you can learn to be truthful and act with integrity, again you will find that those around you will follow suit, or leave. (Not everybody is ready to do the work on themselves that is required, and that is ok). Similarly, if you can stop being judgemental, and critical, you will both become someone that others will want to spend more time with, and also be leading by example in a world where judgement is the order of the day.
Taking responsibility for your thoughts and words can often begin with very small steps, because many of us have cruel, critical voices inside our heads, telling us that we are not good enough, that we will fail, that are not worthy and so on. Imagine that you are speaking to a small child and repeat the statements that your head tells you are true. Are they kind, loving and supportive, or do they shame, criticise and blame?
Changing belief systems that you have been taught can be a long, arduous journey as in the beginning, you need to find out what you do believe. Once you know what you belief, it is time to find out if they are still true for you today? If yes, move onto the next one. If no, change it for one that helps you and encourages you to be a better person.
Eventually you will come to understand that being spiritual in a material world involves being truthful, acting with integrity, and being authentic regardless of what is going on around you. As Ghandi said “ Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. Lead from the front because you live your truth, regardless of the perception that you have of what is going on around you.
Peace amidst the chaos. Kindness amongst the violence. And most of all, love always.
Written by Caroline Nettle
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