For a spiritual practice to be substantial it must be more than reading ‘holy books’ or even praying, chanting or meditating. These may be necessary but unless we take the underlying values and perspectives that come from such teachings and experiences into our everyday lives, they become like a fancy musical instrument locked up in a museum case; pretty to look at but nobody gets to play or hear the music.
Spiritual communities can help support one’s practices in moving these from study to relating with others. How do we treat our fellow congregants when irritation arises? How do we react to difficulties and apparent differences?
There have been wonderful moments attending Unity San Francisco (http://unitysf.com/), when in reaction to a situation or upset, people express themselves in ways that while remaining honest to their own viewpoints, do not condemn others. Witnessing such efforts reminds me that I, too, can choose to respond from love and faith rather than fear and rejection. Irritation, anger and fear do arise, but with consciousness I can choose not to be run by them and instead react in ways that are more aligned with my values.
But how about dealing with people who may not share my values? If someone is asking for a “spare dollar” on the street, calling with a sales pitch or asking for a donation my self-protective defenses automatically arise. The practice of being open hearted is not the same as becoming a doormat. Recognizing the Other does not necessarily mean giving them what they ask for. A street person in San Francisco helped me see this a couple of years ago.
In San Francisco there are plenty of people asking for money on the streets. On some blocks it can feel like I am running a gauntlet of ‘gimme,’ ‘gimme.’ Like many others, I learned not to make eye contact and keep on going. Then one day someone commented as I passed, “You can at least look at me. I’m a human being too.” That stopped me. I nodded and told him he was right. He got through to me. Now I usually acknowledge them with a nod, often saying ‘hello,’ before moving on. While most appreciate it, some still curse at me but I feel better about myself.
With close family and friends we find different “opportunities” to practice reacting from a higher place. These folks know us, have seen us before coffee, the make up, and when we may not be feeling particularly loving. While overtly we know they are on our side, because we trust them we can more easily get upset when we feel unheard or put upon.
Cheerios, our 3.5 year old dog, is barking even as I am attempting to write this. No doubt someone, perhaps with another dog, walked by. Her penetrating, sharp bark demands attention and I feel irritated. Can’t she just be quite for a few minutes while I am writing! With reflection, expecting a dog to understand the nuances of my need for quiet to write is ridiculous. Either I accept the barking, or close the doors so both she and I hear and react less.
But how do you react when your spouse or child triggers you? My spouse never yells or gets angry with me. (If you believe this, you have never been in a relationship!) I don’t know if it hurts more when he is right about what he says or when he is wrong. Sometimes I react in kind; sometimes I stuff my feelings. But neither is actually living my spiritual principals. Recognizing my feelings of resentment, and going to that inner, divine place, allows me to respond from a loving place rather than one that carries the hurt forward. Naturally this is something that continues to provide me with chances for growth 😉
The daily challenges that arise offer us immediate opportunities to practice our values. The more I can see them as gifts, the more I re-connect with God/ good/ or higher consciousness. Centered in Spirit my feelings are transformed, and I can respond from a place of clarity and love. And the more I am living my practice.