- Moving towards Wholeness
Life has meaning to the extent that we are moving toward wholeness, our true purpose and destiny. More and more in the self-help movement, we are realizing that a truly healthy person is someone who is virtuous too. For instance, to have self-esteem is a psychological accomplishment. But without humility, a virtue that results from spiritual practice, it is simply decorative and not authentically and deeply instilled. Psychological work does not motivate us toward loving-kindness, toward a refusal to retaliate, or even toward integrity in our business dealings. For those virtues we need a spiritual consciousness that complements our psychological work.
On the other hand, spiritual practice does not help us process, grieve, and heal our childhood issues. For example, we can sit in meditation regularly and practice mindfulness, but we may still resent our parents for neglect or abuse, or even worse, act out on others as our parents acted toward us. A spiritually aware person is one who has learned to acknowledge and work with his or her unresolved issues, dark side, and inflated ego. Meditation is not sufficient to deal with all of this. Psychological tools provide state-of-the- art—and necessary—help.
Indeed, such integration assists us so much in the fulfillment of our life purpose: the enlightened moment of letting light through so that everyone can experience love through us. An unconditional and mindful yes to what is arouses us to activate and expand our threefold potential: personal, spiritual, and transpersonal. Thus, a whole person is one who works on psychological issues, engages in spiritual practice, and is imbued with a sense of oneness with the universe.
To say yes to our personal psychological development is to engage in the work it takes to build a healthier ego, that is, a healthier way of functioning in the world.
If we have not succumbed to a life of hate, despair, or spite, we have survived the buffets of childhood and adulthood quite victoriously so far. Psychological health is a combination of thought and action in the world that keeps us evolving. It is, first of all, the key to a self-esteem that brings both serenity and happiness. Second, psychological health means effective relationships in which it becomes possible to love without fear. As part of your own personal work, use this as a checklist to track your progress toward psychological health:
• Assertiveness in our dealings with others so that we express our deepest needs, values, and wishes without inhibition and with respect for others
• Making peace with childhood issues so that they no longer strongly control our present life or direct our style of relating to others
• A program for dealing with fear, guilt, anger, and addiction so that we are not driven or stopped by any of them
• A recognition that our ego can become inflated or self-centered and a choice not to be ruled by those distortions
• A reliable inner program, to which we are committed for handling needs, conflicts, suffering, losses, challenges, and decision making
• A commitment to address, process, and resolve issues that arise in us and between us and others
• An awareness that people—and we—have a dark shadow side and a program to deal with it creatively, including making amends when we are at fault
• A recognition that our strong reactions to others, either of aversion or of attraction, may be projections based on our own shadow, our ego, or our early life issues
• An evolving sense of self-respect and respect for others with all their diverse virtues and vices
• An ability to maintain personal boundaries and yet be authentic in our relationships with others
• The ability to be intimate without being stopped by fear or pushed by compulsion
• An ever-evolving and trustworthy intuitive sense and a nondefensive attention to the feedback of others
• The twofold ability to engage animatedly with new people entering our lives and to let go serenely of those who are leaving
• A recognition that these qualities may require the aid of therapy, self-help books, classes and a willingness to go to those resources.
Psychological work and spiritual practice are not two separate tasks but one simultaneous project of human becoming. In psychological health, our purpose is to fulfill our life goals, find personal happiness, and enjoy effective relationships with those around us. In spiritual practice we expand our purpose so that our motivation includes the happiness and evolution of the whole world. This is not a totally different realm of human experience. It is, rather, a deepening of our sense of aliveness, which makes for a more loving presence in the world. Spiritual practices are the skillful means to this deepening. They may include meditation, loving-kindness, religious devotion, and virtuous living.
Evolution makes it clear that something is built into the nature of things that wants survival to take precedence over destruction and wants love to conquer hate. As Gandhi said: “Our experience is that human beings live on. From this I infer that it is the law of love that rules mankind. It gives me ineffable joy to go on trying to prove that.” When we affirm such a purpose and cooperate with it, love blooms and war and hostility cease to destroy our world. The project of becoming human turns out to be the same project as nature’s: continual transcendence. As the scholar of religion Mircea Eliade says: “Nature expresses something that transcends us.” What is transcended? Our self-centered ego driven by fear and greed.
What are our commitments as we become more spiritually evolved persons? (Use this list to explore the effects of your spiritual practices on your present lifestyle.)
• To act virtuously in all our dealings with others, with no motivation to take advantage or gain adulation
• To show compassion and love not only to those we care about but to all beings
• To befriend and transform the shadow in ourselves and others so that it yields spiritual riches
• To care that others find the spiritual gifts we have discovered and to do all we can to share them, especially by example
• To let our life become the story not only of our own advancement but also of our cooperation with the evolution of our planet: a sense of universal purpose and service
• To be free of the constraints of ego, that is, no longer to be driven or stopped by fear, attachment, control, or arrogant entitlement
• To give up all forms, however subtle, of retaliation or violence so that we replace anger with activism and our paranoia with purpose
• To honor the freedom of others and to work for justice in the world through nonviolence
• To form a coherent foundation or framework of values and standards from which our life choices are made
• To trust more and more that the world and all that happens in it have a larger meaning and purpose than that of gratifying our ego
• To trust an abiding sense that something, we know not what, we know not how, is always at work to bring us and all beings to our highest capacity for love
• To be thankful when some of our steps become shifts into higher consciousness
• To act with humility and virtuous standards
• To remain aware that, ultimately, we do not achieve spiritual wisdom but receive it as a grace—and it is always and everywhere available.
• To trust more and more that the world and all that happens in it has a larger meaning and purpose than that of gratifying our ego. Yes makes this happen, as Dag Hammarskjöld said: “At some moment I did answer Yes to Someone—or Something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
Consciousness is how we connect to the world around us. Mystical experience is pure content-free consciousness. Mystical here does not mean occult or esoteric or parapsychological. It refers to the possibility of equating our own consciousness with universal consciousness: The personal leads to the transpersonal. Jan van Ruysbroeck, a protégé of Meister Eckhart’s, wrote: “The mystic goes both up and down the ladder of contemplation. His contact with the divine must evoke the complementary impulse of charity to all the world.”
A mystic finds and walks a spiritual path without the need for mediators—even without the need for a path. A mystic has gone beyond forms and divisions into pure unity. She or he has an intuitive discernment that transcends and defies rational thought. Religion and spiritual practices offer a context for awakening, but mysticism is the fulfillment of awakening.
When we grasp ourselves with mystical vision, our human nature, like nature itself, is radiating everywhere in the universe. This means there is no division between inside and outside, inner and outer, surface and depth, body and soul. These are all provisional distinctions we employ to distinguish—for convenience—the individual thinking ego mind from a boundless single energy animating all the universe. In each tradition the words may differ, but the experience is the same. Buddha nature approximates what is called Christ consciousness in Christianity, the breath of God in Judaism, and higher consciousness or the life force in humanism. The archetypal Self described by Jung is related to these concepts as well. Mystics have discovered a larger life that is at once our origin and our goal, “the center of which is everywhere and the circumference nowhere,” as the German theologian Nicholas of Cusa described God. God as transcendent may be a way of affirming that our highest value is in the transcendent rather than the limited.
• A recognition that individual consciousness and ego are only provisional designations and repeated suggestions of separate identity and that actually we are interconnected with all that is
• An awareness that everything is permanent because of its cycles of change and renewal and impermanent in its individually enduring identity
• An end to being driven or stopped by fear so that we can be released from the ego’s war-strafed world
• An engaged and active compassion for those who are still caught in ego—without feeling that we are superior to them
• A release of unconditional love, intuitive wisdom, and healing power in all we say and do
• A vision of the world as an ever-renewing celebration in which is played out the mystical marriage of apparent opposites
• A vision of nature as the container, preserver, and developer of consciousness
• A contribution to the liberation of the collective human shadow through personal moral integrity and commitment to the welfare of others, as in the bodhisattva vows
• A recognition that all is grace and synchronicity, so that, no matter how chaotic or puzzling life becomes, our destiny is being beautifully fulfilled
• A sense of a transcendent life behind all finite appearances, a pervasive nonduality underlying all that is
• An awareness that the divine is the deepest reality of the human and the natural and not a separate state or a separate being, except in personification and metaphor
• An abiding and unshakable loving-kindness toward ourselves and others
• An awareness that everything on this list is inadequate and imprecise, since words cannot contain—or even successfully approximate—the mystery of the infinite. As Emily Dickinson says, “Too bright for our infirm Delight / The Truth’s superb surprise.”
~ David Richo, Ph.D.
This article is excerpted from The Five Things We Cannot Change and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them (Shambhala, 2005).
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