Friday, November 16, 2007

Not Good Enough

Guilt and shame, awful secrets, destroy the soul from the inside out, toxic and corrosive, eating away at self-respect and self-worth. But there is something equally soul-destroying: undervaluing yourself. Settling for what you think you can get, instead of what you truly want, erodes you self-esteem as badly.

Whatever you've convinced yourself is "not good enough" about you, is the weakness that then defines your decisions. If you don't value yourself professionally, maybe you settle for a job you hate, doesn't pay enough, doesn't honor your talents. If you don't value yourself personally, maybe you settle for relationships that are painful, dishonest, empty.

And when weakness is stronger than any other feeling, when your own bad feelings about yourself are stronger than everything else you know about who you are, you accept people and circumstances into your life that are a practical reflection of that negativity. They are then a constant reminder of your weaknesses made real.

Their presence is painful on their own because of what they are, but even more so because of what they say about you. The awful feeling that you think you aren't good/smart/ special/thin/talented/interesting...enough to live the life you really want, to be the person you really want, to have the relationships you really want.

But acknowledging who you know yourself to be at your best, and admitting that you want a life that reflects that, is an act of courage that is step one toward creating/restoring the life of your dreams. However scary it is to put yourself out there honestly, being clear and simple and straightforward, where others can see and judge you, is actually the freedom you've longed for.

And all the stuff that falls away when you stop hiding yourself is stuff you never wanted anyway.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Spiritual Expert

So many people are looking for the answer. They ask for answers of certitude from spiritual experts, hoping that someone else's experience will point the way for them, a guiding star to lead them toward enlightenment, understanding, transcendent truth. It's natural to see someone with what you want, and want to know how to get it for yourself ~ like peace of mind or an ability to be easy when circumstances are difficult.

The endless marketing in books, magazine, tv shows and the internet features experts on every possible topic. And we are encouraged to become our own experts by consuming the advice and experience of these folks in every field, from real estate to cancer treatment to perfect marriages to diets. It's a tempting notion - to think that since we have access to information that we can/should know the 'right' answer to every question. Of course, you want an expert guiding you if, say, you need tax advice or are having heart surgery.

But when it comes to spiritual matters, what does it mean to be expert? Does it mean that you've read so much scripture that you can literally cite chapter and verse? Does it mean that you've immersed yourself deeply in your spiritual practice? Does it mean someone who teaches others well? Does it mean someone who is articulate and convincing in winning converts to their beliefs? Does it mean someone who puts their principles into practice?

There is only one thing that a spiritual expert can actually be expert about, and that is themselves. A real spiritual expert is someone who has made the choice to live each minute with the careful intention of improving their character, circumstances and relationships using spiritual knowledge, practice and principles. It's as easy to do in India as in Indiana, and it's also as hard.

And when you focus so intently on yourself, you begin to understand how you think, what generates your feelings, how habitual you are, and what it takes to enable you to transform, to become more the person you want to be, and less the person you have ended-up. Your study will be about what you need to know, what is helpful for you, what is true and real in your life.

And if you're successful at making the changes you want in your life, folks will start asking you questions, hoping your experience and expertise can give them the insight and inspiration needed to make similar changes in their own lives. But what you will have really become is an expert on your own transformation. It may or may not work for anyone else.

Even the great prophets learned most what they needed to learn. They become experts on their own journey into perfection. Buddha's journey didn't satisfy Christ, whose journey didn't satisfy Muhammad, whose journey didn't satisfy Joesph Smith, whose journey didn't satisfy.... And on and on it goes.

Certainly, if your prophet, guru, teacher, guide, leader, is the embodiment of spiritual attainment, it is natural to want to follow in their footsteps. It's so much easier than forging the pathway anew, having no idea where to go on your own. And that is the admonition for all followers - to follow well.

But even if you put your foot step-by-step into the footsteps taken before you, there's a good chance that your footstep is a different size, that you stride is a different length, that your gait has a different rhythm. And so all your following will inevitably pull you out of yourself.

Now, that's what so many people are looking for: The One to follow and pull you out of yourself, since heading in your own direction is what got you in trouble to begin with. I have to think though, that each expert, each spiritual leader, each 'steps-worth-following' prophet, wants you to become your own expert as well.