Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Seven Virtues of Spiritual Life - Humility

There are, I believe, seven core virtues that we see in those who live a truly spiritual life: Patience, Lovingkindness, Forgiveness, Humility, Commitment, Trust, and Wisdom.

Humility is not about being passive, a wus.  It is not about being a doormat.  It is not the false modesty that speaks loudly of taking no credit, all the while silently taking full credit in one’s heart.  It is not about giving in the expectation of subsequently receiving, making payments attached to a string marked “IOU.”  It is not about doing acts of goodness with the intention that goodness will therefore come back to us.

For the Spiritual Person, humility is saying and doing simply for the sake of saying and doing only what needs to be said or done.  There is nothing more attached to the words or the actions beyond what they inherently are.  The Spiritual Person gives advice only because advice is requested; opinions are given without regard or concern whether the advice is ultimately followed or not.  Nor does the Spiritual Person presume that her thoughts are any better than any others’; they are simply perspectives at this moment in time from one’s cumulative experience.  The Spiritual Person knows that her experiences, and therefore her perspective, will continually change, so one’s truth is open to change and is not necessarily better than others.  If perspective is not asked for, the Spiritual Person is comfortable in her silence.

The Spiritual Person acts when action is called for, but he knows that not all situations call for engagement.  Some things are best left to others; the Spiritual Person does not need to be in the center of the attention.  When he is truly secure within himself, he does not have to be in the spotlight.  He is content in the back of the room, going about the business to be done, accomplishing by encouraging the work of others.

Yet when the occasion demands, the Spiritual Person willingly steps to the forefront.  Humility does not preclude action, but only ensures that our actions are honest to their intentions, not to our glory.  When action brings great achievement or public notice, the Spiritual Person accepts her role in these results.  Yet she knows that she was only a part of the cause, that the light of fame is a very short-lived candle.  So her values and directions are unswayed by such acclaim, nor are they an intoxicant for more such applause.

The Spiritual Person always remembers that he is an interconnected being who accomplishes nothing on his own.  Even when one is the hub of movement, the wheel does not turn without the axle, spokes and rim turning together.  One gets to the front of the line only by the help of all those standing in that line.  There are many along life’s way who give us assistance, inspiration, teachings, working partnerships, and other contributions to the mutual product created.

Humility is simply remembering all those who made possible what we are, while never forgetting who we truly are.  A unique being, yes, but one who finds accomplishment due to circumstances, the gifts of others, a little luck, and divine grace.

As the Taoist says, “This is the way of heaven: do your work, then quietly step back.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seven Virtues of Spiritual Life - Forgiveness

There are, I believe, seven core virtues that we see in those who live a truly spiritual life: Patience, Lovingkindness, Forgiveness, Humility, Commitment, Trust, and Wisdom.

Forgiveness is a tough challenge for most everyone.  An unarguable ideal, yet a difficult step.  Life can be cruel at times, filled with assaults – intended, accidental or coincidental – on our sense of self and who we are.  Those assaults create deeply felt hurts that can stay with us for decades; the deepest hurts come from parent(s) to child, the next perhaps between spouse or siblings – those whom we look to trust the most.  Depending on our own fragility of self, ignoring or being unaffected by those hurts can range from easy to seemingly near-impossible.  If we are able to get past reacting to the hurt itself, we are then still left with managing our feelings about the “perpetrator” of that hurt, whether they be a person, animal, or the nature.  All very complicated and demanding.

Yet the spiritual person manages to achieve a state of forgiveness regarding these hurts and their perpetrators.  First by depersonalizing the hurt.  That which we take so very personally is often very impersonal to the perpetrator.  The spiritual person realizes that that person’s action is that person’s; we are just a supporting actor to someone else’s life drama.  The drama could just as easily have been directed to any number of other players.  We are just the handy and available object as much by happenstance as any other reason.  That which seems so very much about us is often not really about us at all, it is about them.  So the spiritual person removes him/herself – physically, mentally, emotionally as necessary – from being a captive audience to this drama.

The spiritual person also sees his/her own culpability in life’s hurts.  We find it hard to acknowledge that often our own carelessness, actions, or bad decisions helped to put us into precarious situations, perhaps unwittingly inviting our calamities.  Perhaps we blindly made the choice of an inappropriate spouse, went to work for a bad boss, chose to build a home in a flood plain, or opted not to do the scheduled car maintenance.  The spiritual person understands and identifies those ways in which s/he often unknowingly contributed to that which befalls us.

The spiritual person looks at life’s negatives from the long view and sees the long-term result of today’s hurt.  There is always some form of a positive outcome from every seemingly negative activity in our life.  It is only when we see that long-term positive outcome and move into its opportunity that the pain can begin to diminish.  As long as we remain fixated on the hurt or keep ourselves mired in a hurtful environment, we remain stymied.  The spiritual person focuses on the positive redirection in life that has potentially occurred, and is thereby able to move to a new place.  The spiritual person is able to actually say “thank you” to that perpetrator for actually causing or helping to move to the new place one needed to be.

Hence forgiveness occurs.  The spiritual person knows that to be unforgiving is to continually reinjure and mire one’s self far more badly than the perpetrator originally did; that perpetrator has likely long since moved on, while we have held on.  In truth, forgiveness is not about ignoring the reality of the perpetrator’s act; it does not say that the action was inconsequential, painless, or permissible to have done.  Forgiveness simply says that one understands how this action could have come about from understanding realities of the perpetrator’s own life.  Forgiveness is to see our hardships as simply life lessons waiting to be learned, a forceful call to move from where we are to where we need to be.  To forgive may or may prove useful to the perpetrator, but it is vitally important to the spiritual person, who forgives freely for his/her own benefit.  We forgive ourselves for letting that perpetrator negatively affect us and for allowing an emotional bondage to be created between us.  The spiritual person simply breaks that bondage, and thereby moves effortlessly into his/her new unencumbered future.  And thereby leaves the past in the past.