Chapter 11 – Connecting with Spirit

The word spirituality can mean very different things to different people, as it often gets lumped in with religion. A definition we have found useful comes from the Maori Program: Just Therapy

“Instead of the traditional European worldview that separates physical and spiritual values, we learned to respect the sacredness of all life. Spirituality for us is not centered on organized religion, but on the essential quality of relationship between people and their environment, people and other people, people and their heritage, and people and the numinous” (Waldegrave, 1990 p. 46)

It bears repeating. Spirituality as the essential quality of relationship between:

  • people and their environment
  • people and other people
  • people and their heritage
  • people and the numinous (sense of spirit, of divine, sense of awe)

Coming to believe in a benevolent spiritual source within and around us correlates with numerous positive mental and physical health outcomes (Wachholtz et al., 2017). We reclaim our spirituality when we focus more on the spirit within us than our physical characteristics, our material possessions, and the DOing boxes we check. This is no simple task. In dominant North American culture we are told at every turn that how we look, what we own, and what we DO are what matters most.

To operate from a state of BEing, we are letting our spirit, the heart of who we are, take the lead. By learning to trust the prompts of our spirit, we align our DOing with our BEing; the things we do flow from our spirit, from the signal of who we are. And as a result, we live a calling.

“Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry; an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologians call it the Soul, Jung calls it the Seat of the Unconscious, Hindu masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qalb, and Jesus calls it the Center of our Love”. (Nepo, 2006)

Imagine the shift in our mental health if we believed that:

  • We are Beings first.
  • Our successes and failures do not define us.
  • The DOings of the body flow effortlessly as inspired manifestations of our BEing.
  • At every moment we have access to peace and abundance.
  • There is no need to fear for the future.
  • Within every challenge is an opportunity — an opportunity to express our talents in the world.
  • We have the option to put down the weight of trauma we have been carrying.
  • We no longer need to judge or resist the “weather” around us.
  • We have access to meaning, purpose, connectedness, and beauty amidst our collective paths.
  • Suffering is a possibility; it is not inevitable.
  • We have a choice.

If our culture requires obligatory DOing to gain approval, the nervous system drives our behaviours in the world. We disconnect from our felt sense and DO what we believe we need to do to gain and keep approval from others and therefore, survive. Instead of trusting our intuition around our own needs, we override it by giving priority to the needs of others. In this defensive state, instead of the spirit-body informing the mind, it is perceived as a threat by the mind. As a result, we will often revert to one of two coping strategies: anxiously attaching to (moving towards) or avoiding (moving away) the resulting anxiety. We often use substances and/or behaviours to temporarily numb or distract us from this state of inner dis-ease. In this space, we can subconsciously project the pain and blame of past wounds onto each other.

Conversely, when we remember who we are, connected, empowered and inspired by spirit, we surrender to a power greater than our biological limitations. When triggered, we are able to reflect and re-orient ourselves. We can respond from a grounded place of self-awareness—of BEing and self-compassion. We can then hold healing space and compassion for others

Living in Calling

Living in calling refers to what it looks like when our actions on the surface (the content/tasks/identities of our visible lives) are a direct reflection of what we are feeling called to beneath the surface (the desires, values, and passions within us).

Many of us live in cultures that promote sameness (homogenization) as a necessary component of belonging. Because belonging is a basic human need, it feels scary to relish in and confidently express our unique passions and talents. These fears are well founded, as homogenizing cultures control their members by shaming those who go against the cultural grain. However, there are many cultures who operate from a different framework, celebrating the unique quality of their members. Sobonfu Some, an activist and spiritual teacher from Burkina Faso describes a different cultural experience:

I am from the Dagara tribe, and in my tradition, it is customary for pregnant women to go through a hearing ritual. The purpose of a hearing ritual is to listen to the incoming baby; to find out who it is; why it’s coming at this time; what its purpose is; what it likes or dislikes; and what the living can do to prepare space for this person. The child’s name is then given based on that information…. In the Dagara tradition, you own your name up until the age of five. After the age of five, your name owns you. Your name is an energy; your name has a life force. It creates an umbrella under which you live. That is why it is important to hear the child before giving him or her the name, because the name must match their purpose. My name, Sobonfu, means “keeper of rituals.” (Some, 2019)

Our calling is the force that pulls us out of bed in the morning. It is focused on the means of living, rather than end goals. It’s normal, particularly in more incongruent cultures, to lack a felt sense of this calling, but everyone has one. As you begin to feel what this might be, it’s important to hold it lightly. As you continue feeling into those essential parts of yourself, how you articulate your calling will likely change. Play in this process, and hold your assumptions lightly. The statement, or image, or name you arrive at should resonate with your BEing. If it doesn’t resonate, or feels just a tiny bit out of tune or incomplete, put it down and come back to it later. It’s helpful if you create a statement or image that is simple enough to memorize, making it easily accessible. Your calling is more of a felt sense than a written statement but exploring via writing provides greater insight and confidence in who we are, as opposed to what we are trying to be.

When we cannot connect to our calling, those things that provide us with a sense of meaning and purpose, life becomes mundane and effortful. DOing separate from our BEing is a grind, driven by a fear of not being good enough as we are. Following our heart’s desire is what it feels like to live a calling. As such, this way of life is full of joy and inspiration. When we lose sight of who we are, life becomes stressful, effortful, and insecure. We get out of tune with the signal of who we are, causing all sorts of discordant feelings. Rather than viewing these uncomfortable feelings as threats or enemies, we can receive them as important messengers calling us back, providing the guidance we need to tune back into abundance.

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives – Annie Dillard

Pause to Reflect: Remember Who You Are

When we get caught up in cultural ideals, we often lose sight of our real values, preferences, and passions. By tuning back into our essential self, the self that was born into the world before conditioning, we tap into the things in life that provide a sense of meaning and purpose (a quality of sense of coherence). Furthermore, for others to accept and positively regard our real selves, we must first show them who we really are.

What helps you remember who you are? What reminds you to feel into the depths of your roots?

Deepening Trust with Inner Healing Intelligence

adapted from Shannon Clare (Clare, 2018)

The term inner healing intelligence refers to the knowledge and power within ourselves to move us towards wellbeing. Some refer to this as spirit, inner healer, innate wisdom, or deep knowing.

A seed has within it the intelligence to grow into a vibrant and blossoming plant. Given a nourishing environment, rich soil, water, air, and light, a seed will naturally develop into a mature plant. Leaves develop to absorb energy from sunlight and carbon dioxide from the air, so the plant can transform these ingredients into food. So long as the environment continues to provide what it needs, the plant will grow to full capacity.

When the outside environment can’t provide what is necessary, a plant demonstrates signs of poor health: wilting leaves, pale color, blossom rot. When the outside environment doesn’t have what the plant needs, a greenhouse can offer shelter where the conditions inside are set specifically for the plant it intends to serve.

Like plants, our consciousness naturally flourishes when given a safe and supportive environment and encouragement. Accessing this inner knowing is a process of honoring and expressing strength from within, coming from a place beyond mental chatter and negative self-talk, from alignment and clarity. Even when our current experience may be confusing we can still learn to hear our own voice of wisdom. Cultivating the inner healer is part of cultivating a deep relationship with oneself.