The Wandering Hermit
Tools that Aid in Spiritual Quests
I already mentioned what I consider one tool to be used in a spiritual quest: religion. But religion ceases to be a tool when it becomes the end, rather than the means to the end. Remember Spock in Star Trek? In the original series he was totally devoted to logic. In the movies, after he has died and returned from death, he begins to accept his feelings and his human self. In the last movie Spock is in, he tells another character, "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end of wisdom."
Astrology is a powerful spiritual tool. An astrology student learns about rhythms and cycles. Astrology teaches us there are times for one thing and times for another. It also shows us that we are who we are. It may seem obvious, but that fact alone serves as a reminder that, although we can change, we are who we are for a reason, and others are who they are for reasons that are just as strong. It is a reminder to accept others, not to try to change them into someone we want them to become.
Tarot is more than a deck of cards. There are many different versions of the history of tarot, but the one I tend to accept as true is in Margaret Starbird's The Woman with the Alabaster Jar. It was with tarot that I first learned about the importance of cycles in our life. Tarot taught me that another name for ending is beginning - that if something is ending, we can accept it or make it more painful by fighting to keep it going. If we allow it to end, it will make room in our life for something much better. Unlike a written and textual scripture, tarot is pictorial. The pictures on 78 cards can be re-arranged and juxtaposed to make many statements, not just a set number. Studying and reading tarot cards means being presented with an endless variety of statements that can be used to explore one's self or the entire Universe.
Poetry: By now I suppose you've realized I'm starting with the tools that have helped me. I like poetry (writing and reading it) because of the rhythm and structure. Even more, though, I think poetry is magic. A poet uses structure and rhyme as a framework to express thoughts or ideas that may seem to wander all over creation.
I Ching, Runes, other Divination Methods: I tried runes and have read some on I Ching. My conclusion? They're all the same. Just like tarot, or astrology, they all have the same lessons about life and the Universe to teach us. The trick is to find the one or ones that work for you and to use them to explore.
Books: I love books, but I don't think they always help in a spiritual quest. I have yet to see a self help book that contained more than 50 pages of useful material. The rest is always re-stating the premise or embellishment. My concern about books as growth tools is our tendency to accept what is written without question. Any book is no more than the opinions of the person or persons who wrote it.
My Tools for Growth
These are often simple tools, but they are ones I have found to often be extremely powerful in helping me grow.
Know where darkness comes from
Both A Course in Miracles and Conversations with God talk about love and the opposite of love, which is fear. Remember what Yoda said to Annakin Skywalker? Fear leads to hatred and hatred leads to pain and suffering. The root of darkness is not evil, but fear. I saw many "sick" people while working in treatment. I learned from reading case files that nobody is evil. Child molesters and rapists? Read their case files, study their history. Their behavior grows out of a reaction to a time when they were a victim. Darkness comes from fear that there won't be enough, or we won't be loved, or we won't succeed, or we won't get what we think we deserve.
Knowledge of the Soul's Journey
We are each here on a journey. Our Higher Self (Soul, Spirit, whatever) has chosen this journey and this lifetime for us to learn lessons. We are here to learn how to grow and be a "better person." Each soul has picked what is best for it to learn. When others are in pain, that is part of their journey. Yes, we can reach out to them, but if we solve the problem for them, they have not learned how to solve it. Step back and let them learn. Do not enable them to continue through life without learning how to take care of their own Self. Also be aware of the pain in your own life. Is a lover leaving you? On this level, a physical level, that hurts, but allow yourself to see it on a more spiritual level. Perhaps they have taught you all they can and it is time to move on. Perhaps a loved one dies because they have completed their journey and are returning to the Other Side (Heaven, the Spirit World, whatever you prefer).
The Principle of the Self
There seems to be some kind of "assumed" equation, like this: Spiritual = Selfless = Mother Theresa-type Person. I disagree with that fully. I am not saying Mother Theresa was not spiritual. I do believe that the most important person to deal with is your Self. We are each here on a journey. Our Higher Self (Soul, Spirit, whatever) has chosen this journey and this lifetime for us to learn lessons. We are here to learn our lessons, not someone else's. It is much easier to be concerned with fixing other people's problems than to fix our own. Denial is not a river in Africa. Someone who is more focused on fixing other people's problems than their own is denying their own pain and fears. They are fixing others so they can avoid dealing with what is inside themselves. Think what would happen if we each dealt with our own problems first. Then, once we've solved those, we reach out to others with love.
Just simply–who owns a problem? If your boss is a nasty person and hates what you have done and demands you stay late to fix something (on a Friday night when you've got your first date in months, naturally), who's problem is it? That's when it helps to separate problems. Your boss's problem is not liking what you've done. That is NOT your problem. Your problem is deciding how to act in the situation. You can stay late, as asked, or you can go on your date. The dilemma is your problem. You have a choice. The consequences arising from your choice are your problem. Your boss's anger and possible hatred of you is not your problem. Don't take ownership of it.
What a wonderful gift it is to have people who make us angry! I worked for an alcoholic who was completely in denial of his alcoholism and many other things. Often I would grow extremely angry at his rude and self-serving behavior. I had resumes out all over the city. At every interview things went wrong. Papers were lost. Appointment times were mis-communicated. I realized I was in a "life lesson." I hated my nasty boss. Then I realized I was angry at him because I was acting the same way! I did not want to see my rude behavior because I knew how ugly it was. I did, though, see his rude behavior, and when I realized how ugly it was, I did everything I could to deny I did the same thing. What I hated in him was a behavior I could not own up to in myself. Once I learned that and learned how to deal with the anger (and separate his problems from mine), a way opened and I got out of that job quickly. The wonderful thing about mirrors is that most of the time we are looking at fun-house mirrors that make our behavior look much worse than it actually is.
We don't truly get angry at others. We get angry at ourselves. Our anger appears to be at others because they are only reflecting a behavior of our own we don't want to see. When I am angry at someone, I ask myself what the behavior is that is making me angry. Then I look at myself to see what I do along the same line. They are a mirror of what I don't want to see. My anger is the signal that I'm looking at a mirror. If I am open to these signals, I have a tool right in front of me to help me grow. Anger alerts me to a mirror and in that mirror I can see a behavior in myself that tells me of my pain or fear or hunger to grow.
The only person to forgive is ourselves. Again, when people make us angry, we are seeing a mirror of ourselves. When we learn what it is that makes us angry and what our behavior is that we don't like, we know where we can grow. The next step is forgiveness. It works much better than criticizing ourselves and berating ourselves because we know better. Think of your entire personality. Quakers say there is "that of God within" you. The Bible says you are made in God's image. Isn't God perfect? Isn't His/Her image perfect? So there is a part of you that you see and don't like. It's part of your overall personality. If you try to purge or fix it, it'll just keep coming back (it's like trying to sit in a corner and not think of a white bear for five minutes). If, on the other hand, you forgive that part of your Self, and realize it is part of an integrated whole, it is easier to work with. This is just a part of you – it is part of what allows you to be, overall, the wonderful person you are. Sure you can beat your Self, but, in the end, does that really ever do any good?
I knew a therapist who said we are at our best when we have the potential to be at our worst. He was talking about relationships. Being in a relationship means having a continual mirror to face, every day, of everything you are not comfortable with in yourself. That is where the strongest potential to grow is
We can't fix everything. We can't be the "perfect person" who always knows exactly what to say and gets every assignment in on time. So give up. It's that simple. Learn a lesson from the twelve step programs. Handle one day at a time. Handle today's problems today, one a time. And remember that there are many problems you cannot sole. Give them to God. Surrender. The Universe is wiser than any one of us and offers free guidance all the time. The question is if we are willing to listen to it.