When you learn chemistry or Spanish, you start with the basics and then add more information (knowledge) as you progress. This is the Western/scientific way of acquiring knowledge, and although this approach is fine for many things, it doesn’t work for spirituality.
Spiritual understanding starts like other subjects – you learn basic values from your parents, church, school, books, friends, etc. The Universal Truths you learn are great, and once you make these your own, things will be fine. But until you do, you end up parroting your parents or wherever else you picked these beliefs up from. Children are great mimics and will hold other’s views unless challenged to find their own.
So very often we see people trying to fit themselves into careers that would please their parents, chose partners that are parental stand-ins or blindly following peer group ideas about race, ethnicity, political correctness or morality.
The really big slammer comes when you accept beliefs or values that are based in someone else’s fear, bias or prejudice. Most of it will come from your parents and your peer group but we must also not forget the powerful role social influences like religion, political dogma, cultural values and the media can have on a child’s impressionable mind.
Its fairly easy to discern bias and prejudice held by parents, but issues rooted in their fears can be a little tough to parse. Most people are reluctant to address their fears and anxieties and raising children is an emotionally challenging task. It pushes every insecurity a parent has (it’s supposed to, by the way). Fears about being vulnerable keep parents from loving unconditionally, and rather than deal with their issues, parents tend to push their stuff onto their children so that otherwise perfectly normal kids grow up feeling insecure and unworthy.
The point is that no matter how you got there, you will have created an emotional house for yourself largely composed of what you have learned and what you have come to believe (especially about yourself). Some of it will be good, some not so. When trouble comes, you generally try to sweep your problems under the rug so you can keep going without having to disturb the beliefs and behaviors you have so carefully constructed. And like most people, you try and ignore your difficulties, rationalize your problems and blame others for what is wrong.
Fortunately this doesn’t work very well. About the time you get the furniture all rearranged, something else comes along and turns everything asunder. Like it or not, The Universe is telling you that something is amiss and that you are refusing to acknowledge or address it.
If you follow the Western model, you would learn more about the irritants, work harder to eliminate them and then push through your discomfort. Unfortunately, this leaves you feeling badly about yourself. Doing this will (sort of) maintain your old values, but at a more fundamental level, your whole emotional house will have been built on sand. And that my friends, is the definition of a living hell.
Spirituality asks something completely different from us, and here’s where it diverges from the Western tradition. Spirituality asks us to use the conflict with our parental and societally based beliefs to learn from and grow beyond. It asks us to discard the shell of our parent’s values and strike out to find a greater truth. This is the hero or heroine’s journey of classical mythology – and it is also where most people get stuck.
It is cold and scary out on that limb, and we have already been conditioned to believe that we aren’t good enough. (That by the way, should give you a clue as to why all this is happening.) Besides, most people have trouble holding their daily lives together as it is. But what they rarely realize is that their problems are created because of their self-limiting beliefs.
In giving up your old beliefs, you are not just asked to discard your old fear-based prejudices about Blacks, gays, Republicans or people of other faiths, you are also asked to transcend your old ways of thinking. You are asked to leave to realm of ego-driven thoughts to that of soul based thinking – where the concept of difference, for example, is irrelevant. Where there isn’t joy or sorrow, life just is. In a sense, you are asked to create a new mind through which to process life. It means not only leaving your parent’s, your religion’s or your culture’s values behind, it means leaving the idea of having any values other than the Universal ones behind, ESPECIALLY THE THINGS YOU HAVE COME TO BELIEVE ABOUT YOURSELF! And that’s hard to do, and darned scary!
Not only is doing this completely alien, but like it or not, you have had your insecurity and feelings of unworthiness to hide behind as long as you have existed. And now you are being asked to stand alone and naked in a truth you have never known and that you do not really trust. You can’t learn to do it in a book, there is nothing tangible assuring you that you will succeed and as opposed to all your other learning, it does not come out of your previous experience – in fact, it runs counter to it. You are like Columbus, about to sail off the edge of the flat world into the abyss of the unknown. And that’s how it feels! And it is also why real faith is so important to the process. In spite of all the accepted “evidence” to the contrary, Columbus had the faith of his belief to sustain him and you must find God’s love to sustain you.
So it is no wonder that people cling to the trees on the shore, afraid to venture into the water. Or, if they do go out, it is just for a short way, never leaving the sight of land. It’s not a great existence, but people find ways to get by.
So what eventually happens? After pushing on you through the creation of a series of problems and getting no meaningful response, a tsunami comes along and deprives you of the protection of your old ways of being – the end of a marriage, the death of a partner, perhaps cancer or heart disease – something that will take away your old defenses (break your life, break your heart) and force you up against the wall of your false self-limiting beliefs. It’s purpose is to bring you the crossroads of “change or die.”
When people enter into shamanic training, somewhere in the process they will be confronted with either a series of, or a serious single crisis that forces them to shift from their old beliefs to a more enlightened perspective. This is a make-or-break moment in an apprentice’s training. If they can work through their inner conflict and move to a deeper understanding, they have the chance to become a great shaman. If not, there will be an emotional explosion and then they will withdraw. The crisis is presented, I believe, to prepare these future shaman to better help others. After all, you cannot take someone to an emotional depth you haven’t experienced yourself. This is one of the things that fatally limits, in my belief, conventional psychotherapy.
A life crisis is not God being cruel. It is simply The Universe’s way of getting you to shed the skin of your old beliefs in order to open you to accept another way of being – a “new mind” as it were. Failure is not a sin but a learning experience. It is the base metal from which your new self will be created.
What To Do?
Look to your fears. Look to your problems. They hold the answer you seek because that is where you are holding back. What are you hanging on to? What do you believe – especially about yourself – that is simply not true? This is extremely hard to do, but so worthwhile!
Don’t be held back by self-limiting thoughts. They’re not true anyway. If you push on them they will disappear. Self-expression is essential to who you are.
Find your light. Find that unique specialness that is you and broadcast it to the stars.
Scared? You’d be stupid not to be. But do it anyway. It’s worth it!
“How would you feel if you had no fear?
Feel like that.
How would you behave toward other people if you realized their powerlessness to hurt you?
Behave like that.
How would your react to so-called misfortune if you saw its inability to bother you?
React like that.
How would you think toward yourself if you knew you were really all right?
Think like that.”
“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing,
love is knowing I am everything,
and between the two my life moves.”
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016