Beliefnet
Practical Spirituality



Approach the world of spiritual practice
with trust and an open heart. Don’t be afraid of spiritual experiences. Strange
sensations of energy, a feeling of deep love, vulnerability, connectedness, and
a loss of ego and control are all aspects of spiritual experience that test and
try people’s limits. Such profound and healing encounters can trigger fear and
resistance. People doubt what they don’t know, resist what they don’t
understand, and cling to what’s familiar. It’s a longing for safety that
sacrifices freedom and growth. Some even fear for their mental and physical
health when they begin to have pronounced spiritual experiences.

These concerns are not
hollow. We’ve all seen examples of people who seem very committed to a religion
or spiritual practice; and the outcome is only distraction, a new source of
control, or worse, a rational for the judgment of others. These, however, are
not examples of effective applications of spiritual practices nor are they
accurate expressions of what spiritual experience teaches.

A healthy spiritual
practice is both the mechanics and a certain mind-set about the practice. These
elements–combined with guidance, grace, and dedication–are necessary to
liberate the human spirit. Without an open mind and heart, without a sincere
desire to learn, grow, and discover, any spiritual practice can become a barrier
to growth.

Much of what scares
people about spirituality is its demand to move beyond absolute trust in
science and the five ordinary senses. The Spiritual World largely remains
beyond the scope of material science, but that isn’t a “problem”–it is simply
its nature. In his magnificent book The Little
Prince
, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote: “It is only with the
heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Joseph Campbell, the
great historian of mythology and religion, affirmed this by pointing out that
nearly every culture in the world holds foundational stories of sacred heroes
whose only salvation comes from facing their deepest fears and risking the life
that is familiar in favor of a willingness to explore the unknown. Often, we
must sever the ties to what we know and believe in order to be reborn and
revived.

It is this dimension
of the spiritual journey that remains the greatest barrier: fear. Anywhere that
fear lives, the Spirit withdraws–including in groups, in families, or in
ourselves. Where fear grows, love is diminished and the qualities of The Sacred
are forgotten. People become paralyzed by the fear of the unknown, of being
rejected, of not being in control, and of the discomfort they might face as
they surrender who they’ve come to believe they are.

A healthy spiritual practice will cause you to
become aware of your limits and your opportunities to heal and grow.
This ensures that it won’t always be easy, but it will always be worthwhile. My
own journey has also come with many difficult crossroads, including loneliness,
surprises, the recognition of old wounds, hard choices, and the need to make
many sacrifices. But it has also blessed me with the most rewarding gifts and
an abundant sense of personal power, happiness, and freedom.

Excerpt from Return to the Sacred


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