Many people today are facing difficult decisions or coping with major life changes. Are you coping with grief, loss, or other major transitions, personally or professionally? Have you lost a loved one, a job, or financial security? Does this change cause you confusion, frustration, and disorientation, uncertainty about the way forward? Are you feeling restless, as if something is missing, or that your life is no longer rewarding? Something needs to change, but what? Do you feel numb, as if you are living robotically, on autopilot, doing what you have always done, or caught in habits and behavior patterns that do not serve you or are harmful.
There may be a sense of loss of meaning and purpose. Confusion and questioning or a crisis of faith may arise from a spiritual encounter, personal crisis, transition, or near-death experience. Pastors and other clergy may notice a loss of faith, experience illness, or trauma, painful doubts, or life changes that call everything into question.
During such times, there may be a need for taking inventory, rethinking what your life is about, why you are doing what you are doing. There may be a sense of altered identity, “who am I?”. "Am I more or less or other than I previously thought? How do I know and decide what is real and true for me? What does this mean for me, going forward. Does my life, my relationships, my work, and free time align with who I am?"
Spiritual growth: I define spirituality as relationship in all of its dimensions. William James, in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, has a powerful definition,
“The attempt to be in harmony with an unseen order of things”.
Throughout history humans have sought ways to relate to the unseen, to the gods of the volcano, ocean, mountains, rivers, animals, crops, sun, moon, storms, seasons, etc. Each major world religion seeks to understand its relationship to a higher power, to the earth, to our neighbor, community, to our enemy.
All major religions have a version of the golden rule, “love/treat others as you want to be loved/treated”. In Christianity, the two great commandments are to “love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself”. Spirituality is about your relationships and the quality of your relatedness in each dimension.
A useful metaphor that is familiar to us from Chief Seattle, tells us that people, animals, trees, plants, sky, and water are all part of the web of life. “Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves”, our own physical and spiritual ecosystem.
Key questions may arise about your sense of relatedness to your own network of relationships. Whom and what do you love? What is sacred to you? How healthy is your relationship to your self, your body, emotions, personal history, to your own story? What is the “quality of relatedness” to your spouse, family, neighbor, community, the stranger, the earth, to all creation?
Discovering and/or reviewing your spirituality can allow you to notice how you relate (the quality of your connection) to each aspect of your own web. How do you treat your body? Do you care for it lovingly or do you ignore nutrition, rest, sleep, exercise, or abuse substances or activities? How well do you like or love yourself? What gets in the way? How do you treat strangers, the earth, etc?
Personal growth: I define personal growth as the process of becoming your Real Self in all of your wholeness and contradictions, including your shadow, spirit, soul, roles, and personality.
Carl Jung spoke of the goal of life as a path of individuation in which we become our whole selves and fulfill our life’s potential. We have all noticed times when we have an inner conflict (ie a part of me wants this …. and a part of me wants something else…).
As children, growing up, all of us cut off or repressed parts of ourselves that we were told were bad or unacceptable, by our parents, culture, and peers. These less desirable, rejected elements of our selves were denied and pushed into our unconscious mind/self. These show up in our dreams, unexpected moods, reactivity, and actions. We wonder, “What came over me?”
Carl Jung spoke of the shadow, a part of our unconscious self, which contains rejected and denied parts of our selves.
When these aspects of our selves remain unconscious and denied, they may control us in surprising ways. We may catch our selves, after a “slip of the tongue,” saying “that was not like me”, or “I wasn’t myself”. Many people attempt to ignore and deny these shadow aspects of themselves. They may reject, even hate these unacceptable parts of themselves. They may be troubled by self-loathing, which can lead to depression, loss of energy and depleted life force.
Part of our growth involves becoming aware of these less desirable parts, and forgiving and accepting that they too have a place in us. This is a humbling, yet liberating, and often renewing and energizing process. This is part of the process of becoming whole.
The ancient Greeks expressed timeless wisdom in their command to “know thyself”. As persons, our task is to become aware of as much of ourselves as possible, and choose to act in accordance with our values and priorities. Shakespeare’s famous line, “To thine own self be true” is a clear mandate to become who you are, whole, and real.
Transition: Coping with change. Change is constant. It requires continuous learning and adaptation, which by definition is stressful. Change is mentally, spiritually, and emotionally demanding. Our default response is to resist inevitable change, which causes increased suffering. Personal and spiritual growth always comes through transition. Our lives are filled with challenging transitions, in which some aspect of our inner or outer life changes. Almost always, such change involves grief and loss, a letting go of the old and the familiar. Perhaps a job loss or a major life alteration, a loss of a loved one, or loss of money, status, or identity can catapult us into a period of grief and confusion, a sense of not knowing what, how, or where to go and/or what to do.
This “liminal” (threshold) zone, also described as a time of “no longer…… but not yet”, is the space in-between, when the old is gone and the new has not yet appeared. It may be a time of great distress, fear, and uncertainty, of feeling lost and disoriented. However, it can be a period of surprising change and creativity, an incubation phase when the old has dissolved and something new is forming but still unknown. It is often very helpful and orienting to comprehend how your own life changes mirror the cycles of life in nature – birth, life, death, rebirth.