Monday, June 04, 2012

Awakening, Part One

A spiritual friend sent out an interesting list that came to him from a group called Sojourners, people who describe themselves as Christian activists for social justice. It describes 12 symptoms of Spiritual Awakening. As I read down the list, I realized that I have cultivated these symptoms deliberately over the last 20 years, and that they really define my approach to existence, in this universe, anyway. I'm altering the list of "symptoms," since I find that word to be misleading, with spiritual awakening likened to a disease. It can be a humorous way to treat a serious topic, but I prefer to present the list as a series of recommendations that promote personal growth, with advice about how to scaffold and encourage that growth in each of these twelve areas.

1. Let things happen sometimes, rather than orchestrating and insisting and controlling. It is a pleasant feeling to roll down a river without a paddle, if you know you are in no danger. "Go with the flow," is the expression that came to us from Marcus Arelius' writings. This is a synonymous expression, although it doesn't have exactly the same meaning as this first piece of advice. Controlling and orchestrating and insisting takes psychic energy, and sometimes you would be better off reserving that energy for other undertakings, picking your battles, perhaps. Life has plenty of situations where your planning and organizational skills are essential. Allow yourself to have some measure of time that is not planned and organized.

2. Smiling is really an important strategy for life. Cultivating an easy smile is not listed as a management technique, and yet it accomplishes so much in the larger social realm. Besides that, it is a great way to be remembered. Think, right now, about people you know and love and respect - how many of them have a great smile, one that lights up a room, or at least lights up the heart of the person they are listening to at the moment? That smile signals attention, positivity, encouragement, love - all conducive to social and professional situations.

3. Spend time outdoors. Walk outside every day near grass, bushes, trees, and water. If you can't bring yourself to hug a tree, at least sit under or near trees, especially trees that contain life in the form of squirrels and birds. If you are confined to the indoors, sit where you can look out a window at trees, sky, clouds, far hills, or some other form of nature. Grow a small plant on a windowsill. Allow yourself to really look at the plant, clouds, trees, that are in that frame you have set up. Listen to the water you are near; watch it move. Connect with this place that you are from, that is part of you.

3b. Connect with people near you every day. Use that smile (see number 2) to make connections with the strangers who cross your path, and use your heart to make connections with loved ones. If you live far away, use e-mail or social networks to keep in touch. If you must spend some long hours working apart from people, take breaks that bring you near people again. Remind yourself of this human network you are part of; don't forget it for too many hours at a time. Such isolation brings errant thoughts and inhumane behavior.

4. Take some time each day (many of us favor early morning or right before sleeping) to appreciate, or in other words, show gratitude for some small number of aspects of life that day or the previous one. Let this habit build, through practice, until the day comes when you are overwhelmed with positive appreciation at an odd time, that is, at a time when nothing in particular has occurred, yet all seems to be well and good. This is called joy. It leads to recurrent episodes of joy, and sometimes they can bring tears to the eyes, they are so sharp and sudden. These episodes can also lead to prolonged periods of feeling on top of the world. The positive energy generates more and more positive energy. This is a good thing.

5. This one is related to number 1 above. Allow yourself to act spontaneously from time to time, to choose to do something that appears on your event horizon unbidden, that is unplanned, that has come to you seemingly from nowhere, and practice the art of NOT LETTING FEAR (based on past experiences) control your actions. We humans, in our superior evolutionary position, use past experience to guide us, but sometimes we let that happen too much. Sometimes it paralyzes us, freezing us in a rut or pattern of activity/inactivity that threatens to bury us. Scientists are studying, right now, how change and growth is essential to the elderly in order for them to live a bit longer with some quality of life. Let's not wait for the final results -- do something new every other day, or every week or so. Do something that someone suggests and do it without weighing and thinking too hard. Be safe, but don't turn down what could be the key to your next phase of existence.

6. Ancient wisdom tells us to enjoy each moment. We who plan and organize or let televisions or internet plan and organize our time sometimes lose sight of the present moment in our anticipation of future moments. It is such an easy trap to slip into. As teens we are chomping at the bit for the future. Wait until I get out of here. Wait until I live on my own. Wait until I get a good job instead of this crappy summer job. Wait until I'm the manager. Wait until I find my one and only. I can't wait until this, that, or the other thing. Throughout our twenties, we say phrases like these often until we build up a pattern. As parents, we live through difficult phases of our childrens' growth by reminding ourselves that they won't be inarticulate infants forever, that they won't be toddlers forever, that they will someday learn to wash their ears and brush their teeth on their own. Then our children are grown in the blink of an eye, and we wonder where those moments went. Stop yourself, if you find yourself in the middle of one of these thoughts. These moments are our life. Don't wish them away. Breathe - it can make a difficult moment not quite so difficult. Find ways of thinking about the difficult moments, as you are in them, that allow you to live the moment rather than wish it away. You will not want to awaken from a life that is wished away to say, "where did it go?"

There are twelve items on the list - I'll deal with the other six in my next post.

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