Free Therapy #102: Spiritual Maturity

“When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
Mary Oliver


I gave a talk the other day on the topic of change. The morning of the talk, I woke up at 5 a.m. with some clear ideas of what I would be sharing in a few hours. A thought insisted I get up and write them down and I argued with it. “I’ll remember,” I mumbled and begged it to let me sleep. It was insistent, however and impatient with my reluctance. “You won’t remember!,” it yelled in my head like my mother might have, were she still alive. “You know you won’t recall these thoughts and then you’ll be mad at yourself later.”

It was hard to argue with that one. It (or she) was right. That’s happened a lot. How many insights have I had that were never recorded? Too many, I imagine. So I got up and stumbled into the kitchen in search of pen and paper. I had the first three items in my mind and once they were written, the rest came along like children in a diving line before a pool of water. One by one they dove from my mind into my obedient hand and onto the paper. As I finished, I dropped the pen and said, “Ok there you go, now let me sleep.” What follows are the first five of what I was given, along with my commentary. I will post the final five in my next column.

  1. There is no such thing as failure, so be willing to fail.Most of us want to win in life. We don’t want to lose. We want pleasure, not pain. Success not failure. Of course, we know this can’t always work out. We don’t always get what we want. We will try to achieve something and fail. That’s life.

The smart move at that point is to allow reality to be what it is at that moment. Accept it. Learn from it. Be willing to have it. Why is this important? Because, if we are unwilling to fail, this will lead to avoidance and unworkable control strategies. And the more we avoid life, the more we fail to live. Instead of pursuing what we value, we design our lives around risk and threat evasion.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, The Process and Practice of Mindful Change, Steven Hayes writes, “Individuals who live this way experience a compression of life space that inevitably produces a variety of clinically significant symptoms such as depression, anxiety, addiction, and the like.” We become rigid, restricted and resistant instead of flexible, expansive and open. Our unwillingness to fail is our ultimate failure. Learning to embrace a life that includes disappointment, loss and failure is one of our greatest successes. We win when we are willing to lose.

  1. None of this is real. It will all pass away. See what is real within the illusion.Ok this is a tough one for some to grasp. What I’m referring to is the fact that all physical matter is in a constant state of transition. Whether we are talking about mayflies that live for a day or a Greenland shark that can live 400 years, a sandcastle on the beach that dissolves with the first wave or the Giza pyramids that have lasted 5,000 years, it is all fleeting. All is temporary. Scientists tell us that there was “a time” when the universe, including the Earth, did not exist and our Sun will “only” live 10 billion years. All physical matter is temporally limited. If we identify ourselves with our bodies, we are nothing but mayflies in the wide arc of eternity. We can look at a picture from our childhood and then look in the mirror. The older we get, the more we grasp the rapidity and reality of change and aging. Nothing lasts. It all passes away. But something doesn’t change. Something is real. Something is true. Something is eternal. What is that?
  2. Love is the answer. All is love. You are love.This again may be hard for some to accept. In my clinical work, I have found that this thing called love seems to be the most powerful force in the universe. Life without it is meaningless. It is the central motivation of our existence. It is intrinsic to our sense of self, which is not “thing-like.” It is who we are at our most fundamental level. It is not material. It is not physical. Can you see your essence or show it to someone? It is therefore immaterial or spiritual. It does not exist in the same way that physical matter exists.Hayes writes, “We are speaking of an aspect of self that metaphorically cannot be looked at but must be looked from.” Who are you? What are you? There are no words that will ever completely answer this question. You may think you know who you are, but do you really? Can you show me you? The real you that animates your body and mind? Essentially we are that which sees, notices or experiences. Can you see that which sees? And once we see the seer, what can we say about it? Hayes writes, “It is not possible to contact fully the limits of consciousness consciously.”

Theoretically, we can become conscious or aware of the limits of everything in the physical world but not of our own conscious awareness. As we deeply consider our essential nature as this pure, limitless awareness, we might come to understand that this is true for all people. It is what each of us is, what all of us are. We can contact that right now if we choose. Can you sense that you are not just that which loves but you are love itself?

In Spontaneous Evolution, Bruce Lipton writes, “Writer and lecturer Gregg Braden, author of The Divine Matrix, traveled to Tibet in search of a way to connect quantum physics and ancient wisdom. Through a translator, he asked the head of a Buddhist monastery, ‘What connects us with one another, our world, and our universe? What is the stuff that travels beyond our bodies and holds the world together?’

“The geshe, or teacher, answered in only six words: ‘Compassion is what connects all things.’”

  1. We are here to learn. We learn best from our mistakes, our failures, our pain and our suffering.If there is a purpose to existence, it seems to be to change for the better. To improve. To grow. From the birth of the universe, to the birth of the Earth, to the birth of the human species, life evolves. It moves in a discernible direction. It learns. It adapts. Anyone can observe that process within themselves or in the growth and maturity of others. We are on a journey. All of us.And we learn best when things are difficult or seem to go wrong. When we graduated from second grade to third grade we were given new challenges to meet and overcome. This happened when we learned to walk, learned to ride a bike and learned to cope with the death of a loved one, a pet or a relationship. All of life is learning. It isn’t good or bad. Life’s purpose is to teach us and our purpose is to learn.
  2. Promote faith over fear. Notice the fear. Allow the fear and then move toward what you value.Fear is an understandable response to life. Scary stuff, being a human being. We have descended from fearful people who had to literally fight for their survival. Fear and anxiety is hard-wired into our biological predispositions, our biochemistry and our neurological functioning.There is a difference between noticing the presence of fear within oneself and identifying with it. We can acknowledge, “Fear is present.” And then ask, “What else is present? What isn’t afraid?” It is then we might notice confidence, compassion, faith or love. Willingness, flexibility. Can we find a deep stability within? Can we embrace the worst case scenario and not flinch or run away?

    We might see ourselves from the perspective of someone who loves, values and believes in us. We might focus on what is truly and deeply important to us. What do we have to give up in order to give into our fear? Is it worth the price? We notice what is present without resisting it. We notice the fear, how we think about it, and how we see ourselves in relation it. We allow it all to be as we connect with what we most deeply love, value and honor. We let it on the bus with us but we don’t let it drive.

Douglas Craig
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.
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