Many of us are not born spiritually conscious, we wake up to a spiritual way of life after a crisis. We make a conscious decision to follow a spiritual path, and then we become spiritual people. We often begin our journey with remorse, for it is only when we become fully aware of our shortcomings that we are ready to change.
To ease our remorse, we confess our sins and then they are washed away by God. This begins a kind of baptism or rite of passage. In Alcoholics Anonymous this is called the fifth step.
Some of us then find a deity and stand in front of all our friends and commit to a union with God and a spiritual way of life. It can be the most glorious moment in all our lives. My son said after my declaration in front of my family and friends: “Mom, you never looked so beautiful.” I never felt so beautiful either.
So what happens when the declaration and ceremony are over? We feel clean, but what happens next? Well, in the simplest of terms, we must now CHANGE. We must do things differently. We must think differently, communicate differently, love differently. In doing so we become spiritual beings.
Changing is a slow process. As they like to say in 12-Step programs, it is “spiritual progress, rather than spiritual perfection.” Our best friend on the journey of change is our spiritual intuition because she whispers in our ear at just the right moment . She tells us through feelings and insight what to say, what to do, or how to feel---even if we don’t want to say, do or feel the way she wants us to. In listening to this inner voice, we find the courage and strength to change.
I could list all of the changes you might make, but figuring them all out is part of your journey. I learned what had to change about me from my fourth step inventory in AA. Also, if you read and listen to the right people you will learn what has to be changed. I much prefer to give you some advice about the process of changing—the steps you must take and the obstacles you must overcome.
Willingness: All change begins with willingness which is the gift of spirituality. At least it was for me.
Stay focused on yourself: You are the one that needs to change, not other people.
Stumbling blocks: Watch out for denial, defense mechanisms, perfectionism, rigidity, fear, bonding to old habits, love of familiarity, stubbornness, and depression. All of these thing inhibit change.
Be ready to suffer: Some changes are painful. I was in therapy once trying to change my codependency. I announced to my therapist one day that I needed to change. “What does that feel like?” he asked. I told him I felt nauseous and light headed. After a moment, I added, “I feel like I am at the edge of a cliff about to jump off. I am terribly frightened.” (Fortunately, when I jumped God was there to catch me.)
Positive thinking: I truly believe that if you change your mind, you change your life. So always strive to turn negative thinking into positive thoughts. This is an effort for many of us, but not impossible. Embrace the clichés. There is a silver lining to every cloud. There is a “bright side” to everything. We just have to look for it.
Gratitude: Gratitude is not a feeling, it is a way of looking at things that leads to a feeling of appreciation. We cannot change unless we are grateful. It is the antidote to resentment and self-pity. When something goes wrong, make a gratitude list. Write down (and ruminate on) all the things you are grateful for—no matter how small.
Moral inventory: Make a list of the most important changes that you have to make. You can stick the list on the refrigerator or hide it in the drawer. God does not care. Just remember to look at it once in awhile and check off a change or two before you get much older.
Face your shortcomings: Be honest with yourself about your weaknesses. Then get honest with another person. Tell someone what needs to be changed about yourself. Confession is good for the soul, but it is also the beginning of change.
Healing the wounds of your past: Some people have been wounded by the past. They will not be able to change without the guidance of a counselor. Don’t be afraid of this. God created the science of psychology just as he created the great surgeons who heal our bodies.
Building self-esteem: If you lack self-esteem change will be hard. Open yourself up to loving yourself. You are like a withered plant if you lack self-confidence. Let spirituality shine upon you and then grow toward that light.
Treating depression: Many people suffer a chemical imbalance that needs treatment. When the pain of clinical depression is eased, then change will come more easily. Do this in concert with qualified professionals, and always get a second opinion.
Forgiving others: Anger and resentment arrest maturation. You must forgive others and yourself if you are to change. Forgiveness is not optional, but it is all right to take your time. We are human, and if we have been terribly wounded, the wound must heal. Just never let the goal of forgiveness get out of sight. Always work toward that release. It pleases God if you keep trying no matter how long it takes. Forgiveness is simply letting go of resentment.
Helping others: Helping others changes us. Altruism builds self-esteem. Charity brings us closer to others. We all live by grace and what has been done for us we should do for others. In other words, to keep it, we must give it away.
Progress: The Bible may ask us to be perfect, but I interpret that to mean that it is a process, one which (in my opinion) takes a lifetime. For goal-oriented people this may be discouraging. They want to arrive, to be finished, to take a break. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this cannot happen on our journey toward perfection. No matter how much we move forward, there is always more work to do. Therefore, in this life, we must settle for progress or what I call living in the shadow of perfection. Let this be enough. Make peace with it if you are a perfectionist. After all, as long as we are imperfect we need God on our side, and he/she is wonderful company.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge that change is hard work. But we can do it. I hope your journey is both successful and worth all the effort. I know mine has been. I am not the person I was. I am not the person I am going to be. I am growing and changing everyday and nothing makes me happier because I know this is what God wants me to do. I may not have been spiritual all my life, but I have become a spiritual being.
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