connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakeningx
When you love someone, or at least have positive regard or respect for them, your attention is turned toward them. No? This is why What? What did you say? I didn’t hear you, and so on, are the remarks of inattention, of not loving. These kinds of remarks spring from the practice of unawareness. In a field of attention, awareness, and respect you listen, not merely with your ears, you listen with your whole heart, your whole body, and your whole being. If you are in a love relationship, take stock! Take a moment to bring awareness to that relationship. If you are experiencing difficulties then ask yourself, Am I really paying attention? Learn to pay attention through practice. Set out to attend to your loved one and receive their communications in the body, verbally, below the conscious level, in movement and action, in sigh and laughter. Then you will be in touch and confluent with them. Then your sense of separation, division, and distance will be broken down, and you will feel love through awareness in each moment.
Do not become bored when you believe that no communication is happening. This is never right! Communication is always present because you are always connected. You are always unified in true relationship. Boredom or lack of interest and waning attention may simply be the lack of your subtle discernment, of your ability to pick up the less turbulent, impassioned communications. To sit in peace together with your loved one is the greatest communication there is.
In The Way of Sacred Attention we advocate, describe, and have delivered a plethora of exercises, practices, and disciplines. Yet still seekers and aspirants say to me, But what should I do? in relationship to their present predicament. The question is justified when speaking to your spiritual teacher. But there is no cut-out, universal form for all human beings: do-that-and-it-will-lead-to-this-and-then-this-and-then-that, and so on for all. Generalizations are inherently flawed in the world of spiritual practice and discipline. The sadhanas of seeker-aspirants are necessarily individual, not off the peg but bespoke… so long as you have a teacher! Sadhana is Sanskrit for disciplined spiritual practice or service. These spiritual practices traditionally referred to meditation, yoga, chanting, or prayer. Elsewhere I have explained how in The Way of Sacred Attention we use the term sadhana to mean…
… perpetual practice, spiritual discipline, and endless devotion. It means both the means to spiritual realization and spiritual realization itself, which gives you some idea of what third-stage practice is all about. Used in major Asian and Middle Eastern traditions, it is ego-transcending, spiritual practice toward an inherent goal. It is the exchange of attachment for liberation through the skilful application of heart and mind. Our principal obstacle in understanding sadhana, in the sense in which we use it in third-stage awakening, is its perpetual aspect. It is spiritual discipline without a break. In waking, sleeping, dreaming life the Divine Person stands with you, before you in your Heart. The practice of sadhana is a relinquishing of all else but your discipline and your surrender to the Divine.
If you do not have a teacher then you must of necessity follow some formula or other, something that is for sale in the spiritual supermarket, something that through gross generalizations and universalization has been deemed appropriate and profound for your growth and development. But it is not so, neither is it effective, neither is it the universal healing balm it says it is on the packet!
This is confusing of course for seekers who presume the teaching or the teacher advertised is somehow the genuine article. Follow the saying, Better to spend ten years looking for the right teacher than to practice for ten years with the wrong teacher, instead. In The Way of Sacred Attention there are three levels of teaching and these three levels again are applied in three different modes. So listen carefully now.
The first level of teaching and by far the most important, precious, and significant is this one: your own heart. Note I don’t say mind, but heart. Your own heart is filled with the greatest possible resource of wisdom you will ever know. In fact it is not an overstatement to say that the whole of psycho-spiritual teaching practice and endeavor is to bring you finally in line with this greatest of all treasures—yourself! Whichever level of teaching you progress to from this one, make no mistake, the teaching of your own heart is paramount. External teachings of any kind should and must be referred back to your heart for corroboration and approval. Never do what your heart says not to do! Always do what your heart says to do!
The second level of teaching comes from the spiritual teacher and it is at one with the spiritual teaching you, or your heart, have chosen in order to bring you to the realization of your true self through the attainment of your innate potential, capacity, and destiny. This teaching, referred back constantly to your own heart, represents an expanded form of your own heart’s inner knowing or intuition of truth. At times you will resist or attempt to repel the mandates of the teaching, at other times you will acquiesce and celebrate the insights, breakthroughs, and elation of the teaching in your life. The spiritual teacher is not a person, a personality, or a character in your inner dream. The spiritual teacher is a living, breathing symbol of your spiritual self in the realized state, recognized in your earthly life as such and respected as yourself. He or she stands for your realization, he or she is a portal to the divine realms or the present state of realization, as it exists in space and time, shot through with the Eternal. The spiritual teacher reminds you that heaven is here on earth and that there is no other place than the present, real condition of consciousness.
The third level of teaching are those psycho-spiritual practices that you perform, that attract you, and may or may not be necessary for your growth and development. Dance and movement, meditation, relaxation, massage, inner devices, mindful exercise, devotional practices, gratitude discipline, and so on. There are more possibilities than you can shake a stick at and for this simple reason you must choose with care. Your orientation to this third level of teaching is orientated to the fullness of the spiritual way your heart has chosen for you. For example, if you have made a commitment to a particular teacher and teaching and you find yourself looking elsewhere, the question must be, Is my present spiritual path and heart-chosen teaching lacking in some respect or am I simply dallying elsewhere because I won’t deepen in my commitment to my teacher and teaching? If in response to the first enquiry—is the teaching lacking—your heart finds it so, then you must question whether or not it may be time to move on. If in response to the second enquiry—am I lacking commitment—your heart finds it so, then you must consider what you are doing and how you are responding very seriously and reconsider your position.
The Way of Sacred Attention is a fully comprehensive psycho-spiritual approach—psychology, philosophy, practice, and discipline. If you are in therapy or spiritual guidance with a Sacred Attention therapist-guide or teacher and you find yourself considering some ancillary practice or approach, please always discuss it with you therapist or teacher. He or she will refer you to your own heart and facilitate the enquiry detailed above so that you ask the right questions and make the appropriate decisions for you growth and development.
As I stated at the beginning of this article when you love someone or something you turn your attention toward it. Your therapist, your guide—both inner and outer—yourself, and your process of inner development and growth are a function of love and love is expressed in attention. You always pay attention to what you love so in your inner work always pay attention to your process and yourself.
To sit in love, stillness, and peace with your loved one is the greatest communication there is. When you are alone, try it.
In the next three parts of Practice in the Way of Sacred Attention, I will try to say a little about the background, modes, and expression of practice in the first, second and third stages of human awakening.