Guidance from Spirit – It’s Weird, Right?

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Image by msandersmusic from Pixabay

Complexity, by definition, is difficult to comprehend, so our minds often prefer to view life from a simper either/or or black/white perspective.  I’m right, you’re wrong.  This is good, that is bad.  Rarely is life so cut and dry; in most cases life happens on a spectrum from black to white, good to bad, with all shades of grey in between.

Religion and spirituality are the quintessential examples of complexity, with beliefs and practices landing all over the black/white spectrum.  Add in the diversity of beliefs even within those frameworks, and you now have complexity on steroids, maybe represented more appropriately as a rainbow, with all the shades of red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo and violet in between as well.

In the United States, we have an array of faiths represented, but with a majority of 70.6% of the population identifying as Christians, according to the Pew Research Center.  Second place is surprisingly “nothing in particular” at 15.8%.  Also well known, but in fewer numbers are other non-Christian faiths (5.9%) such as Judaism and Islam, with a sprinkling of a number of different faiths and beliefs (agnostic, atheist, liberal, and New Age) at 1.5%.   I now affiliate with a liberal faith called Unitarian Universalist.

Though as a country we’re becoming decreasingly affiliated with specific religions, as a whole we’re still a country that believes in God and the importance of religion in our lives.  According to Pew and a 2016 Gallup Survey, 71-79% still believe in angels, Heaven and/or God, though down about 10 points since 2001 when the Gallup survey was first started.

According to the Pew Center, 33% of people also state that they receive guidance from their faith.  In a previous blog I cite anecdotal evidence about how others receive guidance, which seems to vary tremendously.  In the vein of guidance-on-a-rainbow, undoubtedly some are on the vague-sensation side and others on a clear channel side, plus everything in between. I have to admit that my clear channel is likely on an end of the spectrum of this 33% that receive guidance.  I’m thankful for the gift and still trying to learn what it means for me and others.

Though a vanishingly small number of respondents to the Pew Survey identify as liberal or New Age, a growing interest in the Eastern perspective of spirituality seems to be reflected by the increasing popularity of yoga and meditation practices.  According to Pew, 40% of the population confesses to meditating at least weekly.  Gaia.com, a respected resource for yoga and Eastern spirituality, talks about the metaphysical and what is probably considered by many as a New Age philosophy about our relationship with the divine.  Gaia.com includes many resources on these topics, including  how to contact your spirit guides, suggesting an expanding interest in such perspectives and practices.

All this talk about guides, angels, and God still feels weird?

I think what is weird is that we don’t talk about it, especially given the preponderance of beliefs about angels, God, meditation, and even guides to a lesser degree.   Clearly we have a vast array of beliefs and practices. Misunderstandings are more likely to occur when\our beliefs remain shadowed in the dark of nondisclosure or when we require others to believe as we do.

It’s also overly simplistic to think that we should all be the same with regard to our believes and practices.  We can get into big trouble when we start to feel we’re better than or worse than others whose beliefs and/or practices differ from our own.  Unnecessary conflict tends to result when we “other-ize” people who differ from us.  After all, what would the rainbow be without all its colors?

Due to the potential for conflict and the highly personal nature of the subjects, we’ve just learned to keep our mouths shut.   No finger pointing, I’m guilty of this as well until now.  With this blog, I’m hoping to take some of the mystery out of it so we can talk about it.  Paradoxically, the mystery will remain, or even grow, given our conversation.

As when I originally started this blog, I started this phase as a way to deepen my learning and to hope that others share the journey with me.  Both times, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I’ve learned that we can never predict where the road takes us, and to define it narrowly risks us underestimating the beauty or impact of our destination.  And what I have learned over the years is that my struggles and challenges are not unique; I share them so that we can learn from each other and ease the burden of the journey by supporting each other, even if you may judge me to be unhinged or ill-informed.

I guarantee that I didn’t raise my hand for this particular gift or journey.  I certainly didn’t ask or wish for the losses that precipitated it.  My prayer was only that I be of service for the greatest possible good and in the most authentic way.

I guess you should be careful what you pray for.

What is Spirit? (According to Susanna)

Spirit is different from religion in the sense that religion tends to have a governing organization subdivided into smaller units such as churches, temples, or synagogues, a philosophical structure, and specific practices.   My knowledge about religion is pretty much zero though I’m a cultural Christian given I was born and raised in a country with Christian values.   Thus, my perspective is non-organizational and based almost completely on my personal experience, which I’ll explore in this phase of the Silver Lining blog.

Since what I’ve l learned about Spirit is almost completely experiential, and this blog reflects my perspective, as opposed to an academic paper based on research or observations on existing practices.   I may quote from some books or a small class I took, but I’ve done no systematic study of spirituality.   You may disagree with me, but there is no disagreement.  I have no certainty about my own understanding of spirituality, so I certainly won’t question yours. We simply have different perspectives and to me, that’s how spirituality works. It’s all mysterious and we who subscribe to this philosophy are simply trying to tap into the divine in a way that brings meaning and purpose to our lives.

As I understand it…..

Spirit and religion share the belief that there is a higher power.  What we call that higher power depends on our faith.  It seems that most faith systems subscribe to the notion that there are multiple spiritual entities in addition to God, such as angels, though we may disagree on the name or identity of who we pray to. We may also differ on whether we turn to ancient sources of wisdom like the Bible, Koran, or Torah, or a more modern book on spirituality for guidance.

My definition of spirituality is the belief in a higher power or consciousness without a religious organization’s framework.   Since there’s no specific book or prophet, we refer to the divine collectively as Spirit.   Spirit includes God/Allah and all the angels, Guides, and other types of spirits in the spirit world (I don’t know the half of them, I’m sure).  Many of us who consider ourselves spiritual meditate rather than pray, but both are ways we can connect to God/Spirit.

It appears to me that we all have a unique interface with Spirit, and so our experiences will also vary.  Perhaps through this blog we can share the nature of our interface with Spirit, how we experience Spirit in our lives, and what it means to be spiritual in terms of our practices and influence on our lives, for I have so much to learn from you!

We each are born with a team including a Guardian Angel, a Spirit Guide, and a soul, or Higher Self.  Our soul, Guides, and Angels are all in constant communication to help us navigate our lives, whether we know it or not.

Our Guardian Angels are assigned to us when we are born, and they are with us our entire life.  Their purpose, besides protection, is to eventually guide us to the spirit world when we pass away.  My Guardian Angel is named Lidia and she is a playful, humorous, clever, and spritely spirit who always makes me smile.  I think she has an additional purpose, which is to instill song worms into my head which play repeatedly until I get the message(s) she is trying to send me (Thunder Road played in my head for a month).

We each have a main Spirit Guide that is assigned to us when we are born.  We may have more than one, or even several, Guides at a given time since they come and go as our needs change.  Usually they’ll communicate collectively to us through our main Guide.  Our Guides provide advice and guidance, whenever it is requested.  My main Guide is named Troy, who is a bit of a clown but can also be very serious.  He has provided guidance and insight that has changed my life in big and small ways.

Our Higher Self is our soul, and that is the eternal spirit that resides within each of us.  My first serious communication was with my Higher Self, who provided a prayer for me, instructing me on the type of guidance and help I could use most.   Our Higher Self also conveys to us, sometimes on an unconscious level, our higher purpose for being on Earth.  We can always consult with our Higher Self to help us find our path to self actualization.

Our Higher Self is also the consciousness that lies beneath the chatter in our heads.  That chatter comes from our minds, and our minds – though brilliant – can also be very fear-driven and negative.  I like to think of our minds as ideally being a tool that is taken out occasionally by our Higher Self for the purpose of getting something done (I try to keep mine now in the proverbial gun closet), but that we should spend most of our time being guided by our heart and our soul so that we can live our authentic purpose with love.I have been coaching others to identify their higher purpose for a number of years.  I find that when I, and others, engage with our divine or authentic purpose (aka calling), we strive towards self-transcendence because we’re connecting with something greater than ourselves.

My spiritual team is in collaboration with your spiritual team, and everyone else’s too.  The spirit world combined with the energy of all things is what we know as God, Spirit, or the collective unconscious.  Some people use the phrase The Universe, though according to my Guides, this is not the same thing.  But I could be wrong.

Why does this matter?

The details of these roles and distinctions may not be of practical importance.  Actually, I believe I’ve been following guidance for the better part of my life without realizing it and without ever knowing about Guides or Angels.

But to me, it’s like trying to do a job without any instruction or guidance from the boss.  You can intuit what you’re supposed to do and how,  and maybe even do reasonably well in that manner (many of us are probably doing just that at work).  Now imagine how much more effective you can be if you could get the guidance and support you need when you need it, where the boss is omniscient, omnipotent, kind, and available 24/7.

I believe that when I go it on my own, I tend to limit my aspirations with fear and self-doubt.  Pursuing purpose guided by Spirit allows me to tap into aspirations, strength, wisdom, and resources I never dreamed possible.

If you’re doubtful, I understand your skepticism.  I spent 50+ years feeling that way.  Those of you who are just getting to know me may not know that I was trained in a laboratory-based experimental science, an academic for decades, and an atheist until recently.

You don’t have to form a relationship with Spirit/God, if you do not wish to.  As always, I’m not here to tell you what to do.

But what do you have to lose by considering there may be more out there than you can sense now?

You can try it, and decide for yourself.  It’s possible you might change your mind.

 

Next blog:  Connecting to Spirit

Super Bowl and Well-Being

The clan.  Photo credit:  Tonyconigliophoto.com

The clan. Photo credit: Tonyconigliophoto.com

I’m a big fan of technology but one of the potential downsides, as we all know, is the risk of isolating ourselves instead of engaging in ‘real’ relationships.  We most often think of those relationship casualties as those of an intimate nature, but what about the group and community bonding we’re giving up? As society has become more individualistic over time, our communities just don’t seem to have the coherence they once had.

Since the baby boom generation, we value mobility and independence over community, where neighborhood is now just a place to sleep at night.  I have literally lived next door for years to neighbors that I have never met.  It always struck me as odd that a sense of neighborhood unity and coherence was only present at times of distress and disruption:  after a hurricane or big snow storm or a national tragedy like 9/11.  But that on-again, off-again sense of community has always been my reality.  Even places that might provide a sense of community bonding, such as school or work, have largely failed to coalesce for me into feeling like an integral part of the whole.  I have spent most of my life feeling like a lone wolf that periodically joins the pack.

But it’s not always that way.  My leadership development programs and my current master’s program have had a very different and distinct sense of community and team spirit.  Getting together has felt like one huge warm bosom of camaraderie and good will.  We’re in it together, and any egos or agendas are left at the door.  Though the master’s program is large enough such that I am not intimate with every classmate, I nevertheless feel we are all one big family.  In for a penny, in for a pound.

What do we give up by losing this sense of community in our daily lives?  Ultimately, humans are pack creatures.  We have huddled together around fires for millennia, and to be isolated in front of the computer or TV in our work or homes is counter to our instinct and basic human nature.  Our species has used collaboration to enable the community to survive and thrive.  Individual self-sacrifice is even necessary occasionally for the species to survive and flourish.  That sacrifice is still evident among those in the armed forces and first responders who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect and advance our communities and nation.

This transition from feeling alone to an integral part of the group is a distinct phenomenon called the hive switch by Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind.   The switch from individual interest to group interest makes the individual feel like a part of a whole, provides energy to the group, and elevates the group from the ordinary to the sacred.   We are rewarded physiologically for this switch via a release of oxytocin, the hormone that enables the feeling of connection.

Organized sports and religion continue to provide access to this feeling of community.  The rituals of sports and religion activate the hive switch (imagine the spectators at the Super Bowl), though modern religion is losing the ability to provide the feeling of community in this increasingly individualistic society.   So, regardless of how you may feel about organized sports or religion, they do provide a useful service in the provision of the essential human need to belong. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when my master’s program ends and I’m left with a void that was my community and family-away-from-home.  I’m not a big fan of organized religion or sports, so I’m unlikely to find a surrogate in those arenas.  Perhaps I can use technology to my advantage here and find people of like interests in my area to meet with, either by joining a pre-existing group or organizing my own. What do you do?  Do you have your community or are you like me, a lone wolf who occasionally circles with the pack?

A View from Across Time and Space

 

The main thing I love about traveling is getting a different view of my life.

This week we’re traveling in Turkey.  What an amazing country, in so many ways!  Full of beauty, natural resources, a long and glorious history, great food, warm and welcoming people, clean and modern, English-speaking and a secular, democratic Muslim country, we’re having a great time.  (Another Groupon deal!)

I can’t help reflecting on the contrasts between the US and our wonderful host country.  Did you know that Turkey is about the size of Texas, sits on both Europe and Asia (and is actually THE Western Asia country – I could never figure out what constitutes Western Asia), and is bordered by Syria, Iraq, Iran, Greece, and Bulgaria?  So like the US with it’s emphasis on modernity, education and a strong economy, but such fundamental differences.

First, the secular Muslim part.  We are a secular Christian country, but the cultures are simultaneously so alike (modern with traditional values) but different (nuances between Muslim and Christian cultures).  Interestingly, the pull between conservatives and progressives is as prevalent here as at home, and the issues again are strikingly similar.  In the end however, everyone just wants to go to work and take care of their families in their own way.

Second, the tiny country with so many neighbors, some of whom are, or have been, in war.  Given our beautiful country with two fairly stable neighbors, we must have a sense of security that’s unimaginable here.  I know I take it for granted.  Though we have had many immigrants from Mexico, we do not have thousands of refugees pouring across our borders looking for safety and humanitarian aid.   Nor do we have spats with our neighbors that span the millenia.

Third, the history of Turkey stretches back thousands of years, and is evident in the ruins that still reach to the sky.  As during the Egypt trip last year, I was inspired by the perseverance, tenacity, the ingenuity, of the ancient people. The ancients here had running water, flushing toilets, central heat, attention to hygiene, libraries and brothels, large amphitheaters, and wide boulevards.  The city at Ephasus was estimated at 300-500,000 at its peak.  I can’t help but feel great pride for the human spirit for both creating such wonders but also that the architectural monuments have persevered across the millennia.

But I have also been struck simultaneously by how little progress we’ve made. Our current houses will not stand in 200 years, much less 2500 years, and we’re still warring with each other and looking for peace and enlightenment as we were back then.

All in all, what I’ve concluded is that we’re all still essentially the same, regardless of the continent, prevailing religion or millennium.   Somehow I also can’t help feeling that our failure to really find peace and enlightenment is our own doing.  The human race has the capacity to realize it, yet we still are grappling with the same old problems of fear, greed, and power.  The ancient ruins and engraved messages from the past assure me – we will figure it out.