Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spirituality and focus

so... what IS it worth to me?

I spent a couple of weeks doing some pretty intensive spiritual development work, got a call to ministry that I cannot deny or ignore, and stopped my efforts.

Part of me is afraid of what other things might present themselves to me in similarly undeniable fashion if I am to continue this search. Another part of me wants to relax because hey, divinity school will teach me the rest, right? Um. Hmm. Somehow that doesn't seem entirely right.

So here I am, in a kind of spiritual limbo. I did some work, got a revelation, and haven't done much since then. Granted, I have been distracted by work and travel and a recreational weekend adventure, but still. Is my spiritual development important enough to me to take a place sort of higher up the priority list than it has been of late? Hmm.

To what lengths am I willing to go to grow spiritually?

I have been known to go to what some would call pretty radical lengths to achieve other things - projects, pleasure, campaigns. Am I willing to put that same kind of effort into my spiritual development? I don't know. It seems like I should be willing to do that. But then I know that the word "should" carries with it a lot of blame and shame. It indicates a failure to live up to a goal or standard.

I have pierced ears and tattoos. I don't happen to think such body modification is that extreme, but I understand the cultural perception that it might be. So pain for adornment or for some lasting purpose is not a huge step for me.

But am I willing to sign up for the equivalent kind of pain to achieve a heightened spiritual experience? And what might that look like? What kind of temporary (even fleeting) pain am I willing to endure in order to improve, or accentuate my future spiritual experiences?

Some faith traditions call for painful rituals in a variety of forms. Some require self-flagellation with floggers, some even use scourges, to heighten the spiritual experience. Public displays of self-abuse are sometimes a symbol of the person's devotion to their faith. That's not what I am looking for. I don't need to show others how devoted I am to my spiritual journey. I want to be as devoted to my spiritual growth and the quality of the experience I have as I am to my pursuit of the more secular achievements I seek.

Practitioners in the secretive -- and some would say extreme -- branch of Catholicism called Opus Dei use a variety of methods of self-torture to heighten the spiritual experience. Adherents will wear a spiked belt around their upper thigh for a portion of each day, and some flog themselves. These things are done in private, not to show others how devoted the practitioner is, but to remind the faithful of the suffering of Jesus and their perpetual unworthiness of his sacrifice on their behalf.

So, I think I would like something that focuses my spiritual attention in a way that compares to what the Opus Dei folks use, but without the guilt/shame/original sin baggage that comes with it.

What is it that a Unitarian Universalist can use to do that? We don't do voluntary suffering terribly well. In fact, we tend to work very hard to relieve suffering. I guess maybe suffering is the wrong word for what I want. I want something that will focus my spiritual awareness. Like a piercing focuses a person's sexual awareness. I would not even mind having such a thing bring with it a requirement for some initial discomfort or pain. I understand that. All growth involves some discomfort, and some involves real pain. But the benefits are undeniable. So what is it that i can do to focus my growth? My search? My exploration?

What is it that I can use or achieve or acquire that will do this? I don't know. I wish I did.

Perhaps the search is what it is. Perhaps there is no such thing that can focus me the way I want to be focused. I don't know.

The 11th step work that I want to do is pretty clear: "sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out."

I am seeking. That much I know. Perhaps prayer and meditation are the tools I need to focus me as I want. I don't know.

I seem to be saying "I don't know" a lot. I suppose that's good. It means I have a grasp on where the deficits are, that I know what it is that I need to learn.

Enough for today. Stay tuned.


dolphyngyrl said...

I fall into this trap with working out: I'm going to start "x" on *some future date*, so I don't really have to push right now, I can just coast.

Do not buy into the trap!

It seems to me that seminary would be more about learning how to help others with their spiritual journey than, necessarily, helping you with yours. Yes, that is probably part and parcel of the whole deal, but does that mean you should slack off now?

Why would you?

What might you miss if you don't keep up the pursuit?

judyhill39 said...

I am not a big advocate of suffering for growth, and certainly not torture. It seems that there is enough pain, suffering, torture in the world for any empathic human being to empathize with, and it would be much more useful to meditate on alleviating pain then inflicting it on self. It is my belief that to alleviate pain one needs to focus on the development of a center of peace, calm and self understanding. Just finding that place is difficult and sometimes painful enough.