Why are we spiritual? What’s the point? Could it be that the need to connect with something greater than our self and the need to be authentic – to ourselves and each other, is a key driver for humanity? It used to be that one followed a spiritual path to ‘get away from the world.’ In fact, really working on your spiritual development takes time – lots of time, so trying to work, raise a family and also do spiritual practices is really a bit much. Perhaps that is why we moved to religion; practicing a religion keeps the spiritual door open, so to speak, without overloading the system.
Over time the general trend to practice religion as a set of rules worked to separate the emotional/experiencial aspect of spirituality from the emotional/ritual aspect of religion. This means that we have learned to act – if it feels good – without the balance gained from paying attention to the impacts of our actions. So it has become easy to kill others who don’t believe as we do and dismiss the horrible experience of war as just the price we pay. Ruining the environment so ‘people’ have a job seems to make some sort of logical sense, but not much moral sense.
When there were few people and when humanity didn’t have the power it does today that separation didn’t have the consequences it has at this time in our history. With great power comes great responsibility, but we have come to see responsibility as obedience to something outside of ourselves, instead of honoring our own internal experience. I think so much of what we see as PTSD is just that. The consequences of trying to manage the dissonance between what a soldier is being required to do to be a ‘good’ soldier and therefore a ‘good’ person, and what that soldier’s soul is crying out for. Killing women and children is bad – except when they are…(Syrians, Muslims, Kurds, black, Jewish, etc.) the mind understands, but the soul does not.
We have begun to institutionalize this separation, here in the West through our ‘it’s just business’ business practices. Our mind understands profit and loss, but our soul keeps different kinds of accounts. We know that sacrificing others for personal or corporate gain is NOT correct, but our mind and our culture encourage and even reward us for doing just that. We know that water is more important than oil or uranium, our minds know that, but our minds find it easy to rationalize the immediate desire for money, prestige, and social acceptance, over the long-term benefits of health – but our souls know the difference. We are starting to see the consequences of this separation as every system we have put into place is beginning to unravel. The massive upheaval we are experiencing may be giving us pause as we look around and see the world collapsing around us. Maybe.
Our first reaction is usually a band-aid. The education system, for instance is busy using testing to force teachers to teach and students to learn. It’s a bit like yelling at the baby to get it to stop crying. We really, really want things to change, but yelling and forcing, while immediately gratifying, only make matters worse. Rearranging the chairs on the Titanic is not the way to save the ship. Yet what are we to do? We try and force folks to follow the rules, we write new rules and we increase the punishments for not following the rules, but the problems remain. Albert Einstein said it first, “ We cannot solve today’s problems at the same level of consciousness that created them.” In short, we need to think differently about our situation in order to find new and different solutions.
Thinking differently – nice to say and hard to do. I’ve spent my whole life trying to understand how to do that. Spiritual practices are one way, systems thinking is another. I have come to see that value systems are a third. There are ways of learning to see the world with new eyes – eyes so new that our understanding shifts and what seemed difficult becomes easy, what seemed confusing becomes clear. Learning to think differently is not a quick fix. Dr. Deming of Total Quality fame, created user groups so that people could discuss their experiences and learn together how to mange the challenges that came with thinking differently when everyone else was practicing the same old, same old.
When the rules of religion support our ability to listen to that ‘little bird’ inside then they help us create a healthy and sustainable world. When those rules justify actions that make our souls cry out in pain, then they speed us toward social and environmental collapse. The alignment of our values with our actions, noticing the congruence between intent and impact are skills that foster health and create vibrant life-seeking experiences. This is a path that allows us to be authentic and spiritual in today’s world; that is being effective – by any standard.
I’m working on an online course – “We Are Not in Kansas Any More” as an introduction to four strategies that help us think differently. I want to awaken our latent spiritual sensibilities and offer suggestions for methods that might, just might, make a difference in how we see and understand some of the issues we are facing. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, please shoot me an email and I’ll let you know when the course is ready.
The map really isn’t the territory, so when we insist on following the map – even when presented with a mountain that ‘isn’t on the map’, then we are in deep, deep doo doo!
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Kathryn Alexander, MA: futurist, speaker, author CIQ coach, her systems thinking approach to values and ethics enables deep change by impactful leaders.