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"Everyone is a unique individual, and it is necessary to work from each person's present circumstances towards the expansion of consciousness. Some souls will come to spiritual direction to focus on a pressing problem that they're facing. Others will come to deal with mechanical questions about meditation or about some of the subjects that may have been discussed in the weekly group meetings. Some will come for assistance in considering a decision they have to make. Others will come to report on what they're experimenting with and learning in their inner work. Each has quite different needs"

 

 

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Home » Features » An Interview with Robert Tolz

Reflections on the Journey of Life
by Carolyn Cooper and Patricia Colleran

Switching gears, what is spiritual direction all about?

In spiritual direction, a soul comes to her spiritual director to consult privately about the status of her inner work. The topics for consideration can be very wide-ranging, such as questions about the mechanics of meditation, discussions about difficulties in relationship at work or home, sharing of some insight, intuition or revelation, and so forth.

The soul who comes for spiritual direction and the spiritual director try to explore these questions and observations with an underlying intention and orientation towards an expansion of consciousness.

When you give spiritual direction, what is it that you do?

Most of all, I listen.

Everyone is a unique individual, and it is necessary to work from each person's present circumstances towards the expansion of consciousness. Some souls will come to spiritual direction to focus on a pressing problem that they're facing. Others will come to deal with mechanical questions about meditation or about some of the subjects that may have been discussed in the weekly group meetings. Some will come for assistance in considering a decision they have to make. Others will come to report on what they're experimenting with and learning in their inner work. Each has quite different needs.

After listening and discerning the soul's circumstances, I will provide whatever comments or assistance which seems to be called for. My responses stem from my appreciation of the soul's needs and the storehouse of information and experience that the members of Cafh have developed.

Without breaching any confidences, can you give us a quick example of how a private conference for spiritual direction might proceed?

Sure. Recently, I was talking regularly with a woman who was considering entering Cafh. These discussions took on the character of spiritual direction. During one of our meetings, she shared with me how she was in a state of euphoria about a new understanding she had about her life. I told her how happy that made me feel. I also told her to watch out when the emotional high diminished, as it most certainly would, and to rest assured that when the thrill of the revelation disappears, that doesn't mean that the knowledge disappears with it.

The next week, she came back and with a broad smile asked me, "How did you know?"

Well, how did you know?

This is not a matter of being clairvoyant. It's merely a matter of having personal experience on the spiritual path and being the beneficiary of the knowledge of my fellow travelers. It flabbergasts me just how much a spiritual director learns from those who come to seek spiritual direction. I also learn from those who precede me on the path.

In the particular case of the woman with the disappearing euphoria, it was exceedingly easy to identify that I needed to tell her not only that the emotional high might disappear but also that she shouldn't confuse the sensitive gratification with the expansion of consciousness she was simultaneously experiencing. She was enjoying her euphoria so much that I didn't want her to be unnecessarily disappointed or disillusioned when the predictable event of emotional normalcy returned. This sequence of events is predictable because it has happened many times over with so many people who choose to embark on a spiritual path.

Is the interrelationship of emotions with spiritual experiences a sticky matter?

The phenomenon of the misidentification of the emotional high as being the spiritual event itself is, in my opinion, one of the primary causes of people giving up on a spiritual path. Almost all spiritual realizations are accompanied by emotional content, usually a very pleasing emotional content that, as a side effect, reinforces the seeker's behavior. I have never met anyone who can be continuously high emotionally. Of necessity, the emotional high that accompanied the spiritual realization disappears.

What happens when the emotional high disappears? If the seeker believes that the true and lasting experience is the knowledge gained and the expansion of consciousness which has occurred, then the disappearance of the emotions may be greeted with some disappointment but also with acceptance.

On the other hand, the person who believes that the emotion was the most important part of the experience may be frightened when it begins to ebb away, thinking that the expansion of consciousness was only temporary or illusory. Another person might be more sanguine about the disappearance of the emotion, but, in the absence of additional and repeated emotional experiences, may not feel sufficient support to continue.

The spiritual path is, in large part, about inner liberation. If our happiness has to depend on our gratifications, we are not free. It's almost as if we're caged laboratory rats whose actions are dictated by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The pursuit of spiritual gratifications is particularly insidious, because, under the guise of seeking something apparently lofty and high-minded we become exceedingly eager, possessive and materialistic. The term which has been coined to describe this condition is "Spiritual Materialism."

By the way, spiritual materialism can be a difficulty not only for those who are new to the path but also for many who have practiced spiritual life for many years.

The process of spiritual unfolding has been compared to being "married to life." Do you think this is a good comparison?

I sure do.

Let me start by describing what I think is the prevalent relationship that we can have to life. We dream about how our lives are going to be, or could be. In our minds, we write scripts about where we're going to be in a month, a year, ten years. The only problem is that nobody else reads our scripts and things happen that prevent our expectations from materializing exactly as planned.

As a result, it's easy to be disappointed and complain that we haven't received what we're entitled to. And we can effortlessly slip into a series of daydreams about an alternate reality that's more pleasing than we have to face in real life. The result is that we wind up rejecting life as it is and hope to have a life that isn't our own. We are no longer completely present in our own lives, and we miss it as it passes in front of our eyes. I'll quote John Lennon again: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

To me, an essential component of spiritual life is to accept what we have received by the roll of the dice with the smallest amount of complaint, for better or for worse. That doesn't mean I can't work to change my circumstances when appropriate, but I have to live my own life, not one that exists only in my imagination. I can't divorce myself from my life and pick up another. Either I'm going to live the one I have, or it's just going to pass me by.

You have been in Cafh a long time, and I'm sure your ideas about spiritual life have changed since you began. Looking back, would you say that spiritual life has dealt you some surprises? If so, would you like to share some with us.

I'd have to say that one of the most surprising things about spiritual life was that being on a spiritual path is not a "linear" experience.

What I mean is that at first I imagined spiritual unfolding to be a process of personal perfection where I would pass through particular stages or conquer certain unwanted behaviors in a particular sequence. I would go from point "A" to point "B" to point "C", and so forth, as if I were traveling a route on a road map. Once having traveled past point "A", I'd never have to see it again.

I was quite wrong about that. First of all, I think that thinking of this work as a process of personal perfection results in having an objective that gets in the way of something I now set my sights on, which is to clean up whatever there might be about me that gets in the way of me simply being a point of expression of Divine love. If I'm concentrating on perfecting myself, then subconsciously I'm looking for myself to shine, but if I'm concentrating on sort of getting out of the way, I'm truly looking to bring more of a sense of heaven down to earth.

Also, if I'm working on some attitudes, feelings, thoughts or behaviors that are inconsistent with how I want to be, I've now recognized that it's hardly ever the case that something is vanquished, never to be heard from again. I see in myself and in others that if a soul has a particular tendency that needs to be dealt with, it's likely that this tendency will be something that must be dealt with time and again. Instead of a process of becoming perfect and never seeing point "A" again after having passed it, we're engaged in a process of keeping some weeds in check, and we have to revisit our garden again and again to re-weed so that the flowers we love can grow well.

Let me illustrate with an anecdote I was told. A man was driven over some distance by a person newly introduced to him. At the end of the journey, the passenger complimented the driver. "You put me at ease because you are one of the most careful drivers I've ever had." The driver responded, "I drive as carefully as I can, because I have a tendency to be careless."


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