Why would we want to increase our spiritual strength? Albert Einstein explains, “When you examine the lives of the most influential people who have ever walked among us, you discover one thread that winds through them all. They have been aligned first with their spiritual nature and only then with their physical selves.”
After all, our spiritual self represents our higher self, our best self. It is the point at which we transcend our petty cravings and embrace life. The spiritual individual is not bogged down in what they HAVE, but take delight in what they ARE. They are not focused on the material, but the immaterial (truth, love, beauty, wonder, goodness). As we shift our thoughts, desires and actions from the world of things to the world of values, we shed ourselves of greed, jealousy, envy, resentment, frustration, anger, and other forms of negativity. At that point we experience serenity, joy, and happiness.
The reward of a spiritual life is the thrilling discovery of what we really are. And what is that? I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I will leave it to you to find out for yourself. You see, “They understand but a little who understand only what can be explained.” (Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach) Even though I cannot lead you by the hand, I can offer this article and the following resources to point our way. Let’s begin by considering four sources of spiritual strength: simplicity, silence or stillness, solitude, and surrender.
Why would anyone want to carry around needless burdens? That’s what possessions can be. They can drain one’s energy, slow one’s progress, and eat away at our limited time and space. Left unabated, they spread all over one’s life becoming emotional, mental, and physical clutter.
Joel is an example of someone plagued by emotional clutter. He is always whining about how he was physically and mentally abused by his ex-friend, Eric. “After all I have done for him, how could he have treated me like that? Why did this have to happen to me?”
Emotionally, Joel is drowning in a sea of resentment, anger, and rage. All his time is occupied with self-pity and depressing thoughts. How can he move on with life and focus on his goals when his heart and mind are cluttered with negative emotions and thoughts? No wonder Eric Butterworth wrote, “More important than learning how to recall things is finding ways to forget things that are cluttering the mind.”
I tried to explain to Joel the reason Eric has done so many nasty things is because he is unstable and immature. In a word, he is SICK. Once we grasp the full weight of the meaning that Eric is a sick man, it becomes easier to forgive him. To forgive him is to let go of all those bad feelings. Once we release all the negativity we were harboring, we will be FREE to focus on our goals and get back on track.
Yes, after being terribly abused by another, we CAN forgive them. In fact, we MUST do so to regain our sanity. Our abuser can be a dangerous person, so I’m not suggesting that we call them up or sit down with them and tell them, “I forgive you.” No, we forgive them in our heart, not in person. Once we sever a relationship with an unstable and unsavory individual, we need to stay away and not give them the opportunity to entangle themselves in our lives again.
Clutter is usually thought of as things we acquire or accumulate. However, the things we don’t do, but should do, clutter our mind with apprehension and stress. Unwritten letters, unpaid bills, unanswered phone calls, and unattended tasks and obligations take their toll on our lives. They create a slow energy drain and are as distracting as an endless humming in our head. We can free ourselves from such needless headaches by taking the time to do whatever needs to be done. We can’t do everything, but we should do the essentials.
If your office, home, or room is cluttered, let the piles of papers or belongings serve as a wakeup call. They are trying to tell you that it’s time to get your life in order. Don’t smother your life with clutter, but decide to regain the space, order, and satisfaction you have lost. To do so, here are some points to consider:
1. As we grow and mature, we throw away our toys and the other things we have outgrown. We need to continue this process to weed out the junk in our lives. So, take an inventory and evaluate your possessions. Which ones are no longer necessary? Separate the unnecessary items into piles of garbage, donations, gifts, and garage sale items. And dispose of them accordingly.
2. Do not try to do too much weeding at one time. If you set your goal too high, you may feel overwhelmed by the task and give up or procrastinate. Just do a little at a time and you will be surprised how soon you will regain control over your life.
3. If you remain focused on your goals, or what is important to you, clutter should fall aside without any effort on your part. Here’s some sound advice offered by Donald Rumsfeld: “Amidst all the clutter, beyond all the obstacles, aside from all the static, are the goals set. Put your head down, do the best job possible, let the flak pass, and work towards those goals.”
4. However, remain sharply focused on your goals. Clarity of mind is essential. If you goals are too vague, you will tend to spread them out in all directions creating clutter and muddled thinking.
5. Most North Americans eat too much. They are obese. Similarly, most accumulate too many possessions. Both actions, overeating and overconsumption, stem from emotional problems or a misdirected search for happiness. For example, someone with low self-esteem may drive a fancy car with the hope it will make them appear important. Instead of appearing important, why not BECOME worthwhile and valuable by doing good?
Others confuse pleasure with happiness. Pleasure is transitory; true happiness is a permanent state of mind. Although possessions can give pleasure, they also bring frustration because the appetite for possessions is insatiable. Pleasure comes from having; happiness comes from BEING. So, perhaps it is not about reducing clutter as much as it is about reducing desire.
6. The endless chase after possessions may also be propelled by the fear there isn’t enough stuff to go around. Some seem to think that if we do not act quickly and relentlessly, we may not get our fair share. The truth is, we already have everything we need to be happy. Possessions can be stolen. But no one can steal a kind word, a positive attitude, or a generous heart (all of which create happiness).
7. Clutter gets between spirituality and us. It blocks the path and hinders our growth. In her book “Simple Abundance,” Sarah Ban Breathnach explains why this is so: “I searched for the common thread in the lives of the world’s great spiritual teachers and traditions: Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, the Hebrew prophets, the Muslim Sufis, the Catholic Saints, the Hindu rishis, the Shakers, the Quakers, the Amish. That’s because all embraced simplicity. Spirituality, simplicity, and serenity seem to be a sacred trinity; three divine qualities of the orderly soul.”
8. We can also clutter our lives by wasting time on trivial matters. But Og Mandino explains why we shouldn’t: “Never again clutter your days or nights with so many menial and unimportant things that you have no time to accept a real challenge when it comes along. This applies to play as well as work. A day merely survived is no cause for celebration. You are not here to fritter away your precious hours when you have the ability to accomplish so much by making a slight change in your routine. No more busy work. No more hiding from success. Leave time, leave space, to grow. Now. Now! Not tomorrow!”
SILENCE or STILLNESS
Dag Hammerskjöld said, “We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence.” Yet, for some, silence and stillness are elusive. Caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, they find it difficult to drown out the clamor swirling about them. Even if they can retreat to a quiet spot, there is still the endless chatter in their minds to deal with. This incessant self-talk is like ripples on the surface of a pool, obscuring the stillness and serenity that lies deep within.
Stress can be a friend, for when it arrives, it gently tells us, “You need a break. You need to find solace in solitude. Dive deeply into the silence within. For it is in silence that we rejuvenate.” Once we develop the habit of regularly visiting our inner oasis of silence, we will discover that there isn’t any noise at all, just the sounds of life.
Some find their inner stillness through the path of meditation. Yet, it isn’t necessary to sit quietly with eyes closed to experience the tranquility of silence. It is just as accessible when enjoying nature or taking a walk. In his book, “Echoes of Silence,” Robert Rabbin paints a wonderful illustration:
“We walk along a beach in that beautiful time of twilight and dusk. As we walk, our thoughts and concerns leave us one by one. We walk further and we become still without even noticing it, until we step out of time. We are no longer walking on the beach. We are no longer looking at the sky or sinking sun. We are no longer watching the birds or running away from the surf. In our walking, something has happened: we have walked out of ourselves into everything. We have become everything. We don’t know if the birds are circling and diving out there, or in here. We are the birds. We are the waves, the sand, the cool air, the fading light, the setting sun. We are the animating presence within everything. We are all of this, without so much as a single thought or word to confirm it. There is no center, no boundary, no self-consciousness. There is no effort, no concern, no problem, no intention, no ambition-and yet everything is happening: walking, breathing, flying. Something is aware. Someone is aware. What? Who? No one can say. There is too much Silence for thoughts and words.”
Lao-Tzu sums up the paragraph of Robert Rabbin in a single line, “Just remain in the center, watching. And then forget that you are there.” In other words, we first become absorbed BY what we see, then become absorbed IN what we see. For example, we may see a dewdrop resting on a flower petal. At first we see its sparkling beauty, and are later overcome by the power of its silence. Finally, it and its surroundings absorb us until nothing remains but silence.
So, meditation, helpful as it is, isn’t necessary to discover the sanctuary of silence. A simple walk will do. In fact, even that is unnecessary, for as Franz Kafka explains, “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” To discover silence is like an orphan discovering their parents, for silence — nothingness — is the womb from which all that is has come. Therefore, when you search for nothing(ness), you find everything.
Lao-Tzu uncovered a great paradox when he taught, “Silence is the great revelation.” We may turn to books for revelation, but the authors of the books found the interlude of silence to be a source of inspiration and an opportunity to fashion their thoughts. So, by entering our own inner silence, we can bypass authors and go direct to the source. Here’s how Aldous Huxley describes what awaits us when we do so, “Silence is as full of potential wisdom and wit as the unshorn marble of great sculpture.”
There are some that busy themselves in all manner of rituals and religious practices to prepare themselves for another life. But as they chase after a future paradise, they kick up clouds of dust that conceal the grandeur of this life. Instead of placing our hopes in a future life, why not make the most of what we already have? Stepping into the pool of silence helps us to experience joy now.
Perhaps you have seen a ray of sunshine pierce a black sky and give birth to a rainbow. When faced with staggering beauty, what do you say? Usually nothing. We are rendered speechless. To gasp in amazement at the incomprehensibility of the universe is to taste the waters of silence. Awe, wonder, and joy are silent. They beckon you, but their call is silent. To be aware of their presence we have to be still and listen.
The dust-covered traveler finally made it up to the guru. He asked the master, “How can I find God?”
But the guru said nothing.
“Why don’t you answer?” said the traveler.
“It is not because I could not answer that I was quiet,” replied the guru, “but because silence was the answer to your question. You see, silence is not the absence of noise, but the presence of the Divine.”
If you wish to experience life, rather than be swept away by it, be sure to set aside some time each day, no matter how brief, to wade in the pool of silence. For there you will be able to recharge your batteries, tap into your inner wisdom, experience the gifts of wonder and awe, and join hands with all that is.
You are considerate enough to spend time with your friends and relatives, but when was the last time you spent time with yourself? I don’t mean watching TV or reading a book alone, for that is not time with yourself,but time with the TV or a book. How can one love someone they don’t know and don’t spend time with? What is true for others also applies to yourself. How can you love yourself, if you don’t spend time alone to get to know yourself. Being alone is not be the same as being lonely. For being alone is an opportunity for reflection, self-discovery, and growth. You will never be lonely if you like the person you are with. And no matter where you go, you will always be accompanied by yourself, so get to know and like that person.
The strongest trees are those that grow alone. The greatest dreams are those conceived alone. Your inner wisdom can speak to you only when you are alone. Your purpose and life’s meaning will be revealed to you only when you are alone. Yes, solitude is not the hovel of a recluse, but the mansion of a master. It is a place of joy. Yet, don’t retreat to it to such an extent that you neglect others and deny yourself the blessings of friendship and companionship.
Paradoxically, it is in solitude that you are least alone, for it is solitude that you discover your inner strengths and resources, and it is the place in a chaotic world where you can pull yourself together. Small wonder that Helen Hayes said, “We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart... and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together.... I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude.”Similarly, Evelyn Underhill wrote, “It is those who have a deep and real inner life who are best able to deal with the irritating details of outer life.”
Surrender sounds like a dirty word. It conjures up an image of someone standing with arms held high, perhaps with a white flag, giving up to the enemy. In spiritual terms, however, surrender means to stand with arms outstretched, embracing the world. It is unconditional acceptance of what is. It is not mere toleration of unpleasant circumstances or events we may face, but it is the joyful welcome we give to what cannot be changed. We do this because we are secure in the knowledge that our present circumstances, however difficult they may be, are what are best for us now.
Here’s how Henry Miller expressed the idea of surrender, “Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.”
For the last 2,500 years, Chinese have practiced surrendering to fate by following the Way (Tao). They learn to flow with the tide of events, to bend in the wind like bamboo, and to avoid resisting, struggling, or recoiling from what is meant to be. Isn’t it better to be led willingly than to be dragged along? Or, as Seneca wrote in the first century, “It’s the great soul that surrenders itself to fate, but a puny degenerate thing that struggles.”
I’m not suggesting that we accept everything, only that which cannot be changed. If a loved one dies, for example, there is nothing we can do to reverse the situation. So rather than curse the darkness, we can use the tragedy to strengthen ourselves, and by learning how to overcome our own grief, we’ll know how to console others in their hour of need. When you are dealt a severe blow, you may think the world is far from ideal, but remember, if the world were perfect, it wouldn’t need you!
Sometimes we can, and need to, change the situation. For instance, while working in one of my first jobs, I discovered my employer was dishonest and cheating our customers. As I didn’t want to support or engage in such conduct, I quit my job. But many years later, when I lost my job because of downsizing, instead of resisting and fighting the unavoidable, I took advantage of my freedom to learn about The Internet and start writing as a freelancer. What we need to do, then, is have the wisdom to distinguish between what can and cannot be changed. Whenever something can be changed, we should changeitfor the better, and whenever something cannot be changed, we should use it to make us better.
We mustn’t follow the example of the fish who complained about living in water and jumped out, only to die on land. It would be folly to try and jump out of the situation we have been placed into. By surrendering to the inevitable we learn new lessons. Don’t see the world as you are, but as it is, for “Acceptance of what has happened,” according to William James, “is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” In other words, acceptance brings inner peace and tranquillity, instead of anger and resentment.
Are you ready to begin (or continue for those who have already started) an exciting spiritual journey? If so, keep in mind these words of Buddha, “You cannot travel on the path until you become the path itself.” How do we become the path? By practicing simplicity, silence, solitude, and surrender. And on your journey, “Impart as much as you can of your spiritual being to those who are on the road with you, and accept as something precious what comes back to you from them.” (Albert Schweitzer)
SIMPLICITY: Essays by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
YOU CAN BUY HAPPINESS (AND IT’S CHEAP): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too by Tammy Strobel