Spiritual Principles behind the Traditions
He whistles the kind with no jolly trill for accompaniement, but only the heavy garble of displaced air. “I think I’m just gonna start out with simple meditation before I try and start communicating with angels.”
Seems like sound enough advice to me!
But then, my brother Dave always was the most careful of the three of us. He’s like walking proof for psychological sibling theory: a middle child, early knowing he could never compete for the coveted parent’s full attention, knowing full well (however unconsciously) that the first child or the “baby” would ever hold it hostage, the middle child sticks to himself, playing it conservatively, knowing somewhere in his less-loved soul that he must rely on himself.
And so he did, the most well-adjusted of us all, now employed as a well-payed financial consultant, a perfect, safe, fit for one so tritely, middle-child reliable.
“I mean, I’m not like Karissa,” Showing an Irish part of his mongrel blood, a bushy beard puffs from his face. He shakes his head in puzzled awe, “She can speak to arch-angels and angels already; but I’m just gonna stick with my beginner chakra stuff.”
Where to begin? “Uh…cool?” I manage to say. I’m open to things—a lot of concpetions and other ways of perception—but angels? And my brothers’ suspect-sane wife communing with them?
I clear my throat. “You say you got what for Christmas?” I’m floundering, and the question gives me more time to collect myself. Did he really just matter-of-factly bring up these subjects? Where was the reliable middle-child?
“Oh: just a couple books on opening up chakras and energy centers,” He blinks his eyes and shakes the question off. “But you know, Karissa goes to her angels-and-channeling meeting once a week, and she was starting to have doubts about the whole thing.”
Seems logical, I don’t say aloud.
“But the guy there—Tony—said to her, ‘Well I don’t know what more you want—you can commune with high-level angels. Seems pretty special to me.’” Dave, when talking about a subject of awe—even as a child, UFOs and lost-civilizations always fascinated—has a habit of his voice-cracking and his eyes faintly watering. They’re doing so now. “And so Karissa was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I guess you’re right.’”
I don’t know how to respond, absently thumbing the back cover of one of my Christmas gifts: Shamanic Journeying. I mean, when did my brother go off the spiritual deep-end? Trailing off as I’m apt to do during some of my brother’s stories, I scan the back cover of my new acquisition: With the instruction in this book and the accompanying audio CD, internationally respected teacher Sandra Ingerman illluminates:
—how to meet and work with your ‘power animals’ and other spirit teachers
—how to navigate the Lower World, Upper World, and Middle World—the three divisions of unseen reality
“So, I hope to get my Raiki treatment sometime tonight, as promised.” Dave’s voice re-enters my awareness. I slowly and sadly come back to it, wondering when my brother started believing so strangely. We were all so rational at one point.
So much has changed. Christmas and its accompanying New Year often forces one to take a stark look of all that’s past, the festive-time a ruler by which to measure all that which has caught us unawares. In the never-ending flux that is life, seasonal markings can be a useful guage to capture all the slow change that slips by in the day-to-day. This year, it forced me to acknowledge change on the scale as never before seen.
A perception, in part, provided by Skype. Somewhere along the way, my family decided to diperse, motivated primarily for economic opportunity. I’m speaking of my extended family, but the same has occurred in my nuclear: we’ve moved to distances great enough to not be breeched come Christmas time, Dave starting the momentum six years ago by transplanting to New Hampshire. I railed against change erstwhile in Utah for a few more before finding recovery and my own opportunities to get on with life.
But Christmas time forces me to acknowledge my lack of familial depth. It’s not that bad most of the year, until others’ joy imposes itself upon your lack. Day-by-day, inexorably, our distance both physical and in daily-involvement moves us further away from each other, impossible to bridge even via Skype.
What happened to my family?
I’m speaking now on a primarily spiritual level. I suppose the lingering feelings of nostalgia for a cohesive, familial unit lights the argument many have for fundamental religion: It’s hard to escape the fact that shared values and commitment create a bond that serves as strong glue for a family. It’s also part of the reason I think religion has little to offer much of modern society—Christianity, as presented and emphasized in most of its institutionlized structures, centers around strong family and strengthening family values. Which is great when you have a strong, loving family. But what if you don’t?
It forces me to reflect on what precisely went wrong with ours. I think its just from external circumstance that we’ve lost our cohesion, our Southern Baptist upbringing hard to cultivate in the heavily Mormon suburbs of Fruit Heights and Kaysville, Utah. I’m sure my mother must long for the bonds she must also notice in her neighbors. But I wasn’t interested in becoming Mormon. My brother Dave either. So I write now from Germany and communicate via Skype to Dave’s living room in New Hampshire. My oldest brother, I might add, has succesfully assimilated into Utah society, and enjoys a well-adjusted life as a Mormon in Kaysville.
So, on Christmas day, my European time reading well-past midnight, I was able to see the juxtaposition of my own family’s spiritual development. After hanging up with Dave, the Christmas miracle continued: Dan, rarely seen on the active Skype list, had suddenly logged on! And, instead of going to bed, I was able to see an entire different vibe and emotional landscape emananting from his screen. The stale colors and relative order of a predictable, anywhere-in-Utah two story house spoke of blandness but joy, of a focus on family and functionality.
Suddenly, there it was: I had talked to my Mother, the hard-line, Southern Baptist Christian, before visiting my chakra and meditating brother preparing for his Raiki treatment from his ex-atheist turned angel-channeling wife, now ending the string of conversations with my turned-Mormon brother. Then there was me: the ex-junkie turned meditator, reading the latest book about Shamanic Journeying. Just what the hell happened to my family’s spiritual, cohesive bond?
What’s not lost on me now is the larger connection: what’s occurred in my family, I can’t help but feel, is occuring in my larger, global one: the vast changes that flex in the changing, economic-emergent new world have radically altered the glue (religion) that fastens much of those societies which constitute it. So, what are we left with? Communing with angels and channeling healing energy on tables in some sort of a paradigmatic free-for-all of what feels-good-must-be-good?
Freedom is good. It must be so: I’m an American, after all. The freedom the 12 step gives for a personal interpretation of one’s connection to God, the Universe, All-That-Is, or the Highest Truth, is a reason I keep coming back to them as a reference point for my truth and a way out of any block I may have obstructing my Life’s purpose and natural flow. And what I love about the steps is how they center around spiritual principles–abundant in every major world religion, whose application gives so much credence to said religions—and filter them, as it were, from the other belief structures that sometimes go along with a spiritual path. For example, “turning it over”, or “letting go and letting God”: the principle is what the steps focus on, and not necessarily the correct conception of what that God is or looks like or what that Conception wants your external life to look like; the focus is on the action of letting go, not on what you’re exactly letting it go to. It’s more important, from a “steps” point of view, that you “let go”–be that Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Buddha, or even Bilbo—that you release all of the burden to something, even if that thing isn’t the dominant deity in your given culture (i.e. Jesus Christ).
I was talking to an old sponsee—a brilliant, 18 year old whose intellect is mature far beyond his age—who is kind of wrestling with these “slippery-slope” issues. As is the tendency for a critically-thinking mind, his was interpreting all the information forced to assimilate when doing the college thing. He was raised Jewish, and originally struggled with trying to apply the fundamentalism of his religion to his life. He admits finding fundamentalism lacking to support his life from slipping into addiction, but is not (yet) willing to think his answer can apply widespread for the rest of society.
“Well, we’ve been learning in Sociology class—You know Emiel Durkheim?” He doesn’t wait for my answer. “Of course you do, you used to teach Sociologly.”
“Yeah, of course–”
“Well, he kind of points out three functions that religion serves in society. Let’s see, one: it acts as a social cohesion, unifying society through shared values. I mean, I don’t think it’s right for the rest of society to think like I do, to have to go through all the drugs and rehab I did to get where I am.”
Knowing already where he’s at, I don’t need to ask if he means a kind of openness to all forms of spiritual paths, with no one way holding supremecy over another. “I agree with Durkheim that religion serves as a cohesion of shared values,” I begin, and sticking to my Platonic method of instruction, I end, “But what about a new cohesion of global values based on spiritual principles?”
“What would those be?”
Indeed. A good question. What would those global, spiritual principles look like?
Perhaps its best first to define what they wouldn’t be. As open as I am to a pluralistic, post-modern perspective, I still find it necessary to distinguish between what’s spiritual and what’s a fruitless imitation. We’ve all heard by now the decleration of being “spiritual but not religious”, but I’d venture a lot of those self-declared in such a way are “spiritual” without being spiritual. I suppose the simplest distinction between what I consider authentic and false is: What practical benefit does it have for your life?
See, if you can talk to angels and divine spirits who’ve crossed over, that’s all really great and sounds interesting, but it doesn’t qualify as anything more than bullshit to me if it hasn’t affected your destructive habits in some manner. The same goes true for religious people.
Externally speaking, she had it all together: a graduate student, weekly attender and dedicated member of her church, married. Everyone, from a surface level, found her really nice. Yet she manipulated and controlled, not any worse than the rest of us, but just as much as the drug-addict; only in less-destructive measures. Again, she looked pristine from a quick, superficial glance. She would walk by a gate on the way to grad-school (living in a neighborhood close to the University), and lash out at the not-completely closed, inanimate object. Why, she found the gate so abrasive as to be an occasion to curse about: something she would never do if worried about her appearance.
I don’t want anything that she has, or any fake measure of “spiritualness” her religion gives her. If resentments swirl inside, and petty anger is channeled through gate-posts, I’m not willing to qualify this as spiritual either.
It’s a real simple test: how does your relationship with the sacred change you’re walk through life? If you’re still angry and manipulative, controlling through petty maneuverings while communing with angels—I don’t care how high ranking your position in the church or ability to chat with angels is, I’m not all that impressed.
But I’ve always said my root is the 12 steps—its the standard by which I measure. It’s so easy, too: hard to deny, when seeing an addict lose nearly everything turn around, after everything else and attempt didn’t work, and quit using the drug of choice for any length of time. But it doesn’t just end there: the person is changed, he’s happy, honest, and straight-forward, able to look you in the eye. And then he tell’s you his secret: He’s living by spiritual principles. Ahh! He’s applied spiritual principles to his life, and practical, positive changes transform his life.
That said, I know these spiritual principles exist in religion, it just took their filtering out of the other (dare I say “unnecessary”?) belief structures of the religion for me to understand their latent power to transform. I don’t think I’m alone in this: if religion was working on a relevent, spiritual level today, then why would a 12-step program have to develop to deal with problems of addiction? Why couldn’t
religion alone just fix it?
It’s like psychology is too secular, too rational to nod its “credible” head towards something so mystical as the “soul”. Religion, on the other hand, is too out of touch with the rest of our 9-5 lives to offer any applicable solution in a life that hasn’t already surrended all critical-thinking to its dictates. And the addict suffers, caught between a rationality which denies the very source of his problem, and a religion that demands do clean an external surface to connect with. But the addict has had, since the 1930s, the 12 steps to walk him through a “spiritual awakening”. But what of the others with quiet desperation and depression in their lives, functional enough to be miserable but not at “rock bottom”? What’s their solution?
I believe it’s the same as the addicts’: a spiritual one. Which, for modern society, is lying more and more outside the boundaries of traditional religion. My old sponsee appears still uncomfortable with the change, but I don’t think its healthy individually, or for that matter on a societal level, to try and go back to something that used to work when the conditions no longer allow it. Society is changing, as it ever was, and in some ways it appears that people crave more power back from the institutions they once handed it to. Look no further than the Occupy Wall Street movement. I think people, in a large scale, are taking it back from dominant, institutional religious structures.
I don’t think we can necessarily pull back from globalism, either, as more and more of a global consciousness emerges which is forced to try and assimilate a “cohesion” from all the different perspectives and cultural starting-points that constitute it. Yes, I can’t deny Durkheim’s observations that religion serves as a unifying, powerful, and ultimately necessary force for a society. I can’t help but think that “cohesion” is essential for society, and I can’t help but observe that a new, global society is emerging that can develop new values in which to orient itself. But it might require a letting go of fundamentalism, which is the other response to societal change.
But just what are these global, spiritual values?