Assert: I assert that I am responsible for my own spiritual path.
For years I rested in the religion of my birth, content with the doctrines and guidelines I had been taught. That religion worked for me, and I felt no compunction to step outside of the religious circle had formed around me. I thought that the circle was one of protection. Now I believe it was simply a circle of familiarity, comfort, and convenience. When questions arose they were answered in the framework of my belief system that claimed to have an answer for everything. I didn’t know that my circle would one day be broken, and all the safety I thought was mine would vanish.
I am grateful for the crisis in my life that punctured my circle and led me to search for answers from the world outside. Up until then, I had given over my spiritual path to religious leaders with a very limited world view. Only after the circle no longer protected me did I take responsibility for my own spiritual journey.
Those how did not have a background similar to my religious-circle experience might not understand my crisis of faith. They might have grown up in a more open-minded religious culture that encouraged their followers to question their path and make sure it was the one that worked best for them. For many of us, however, Stone One is a wakeup call to take responsibility for what we believe and why we believe it. “Because the religious organization said so” is not a good enough answer. After all, they could be wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with having a dream. In fact it can be healthy and lead to great accomplishments. The biggest concern is when we allow the dream to take over our lives, and we miss the joys of the present moment. One way to keep that from happening is to have many small dreams along the way to your “big” dream. We celebrate small achievements, and in the end, we discover that it was not the final accomplishment that matters the most, but it was the journey we took to get there. Let your journey be lived without regrets even if it means losing out on the final accomplishment.
The dreams of many individuals come to fruition long after they have died. For them, their happiness and fulfillment came in knowing they built something that outlived them and brought hope and love to thousands of people they would never get to know. Dream big, but live your life in such a way that even if you don’t accomplish what you set out to do, you will still be grateful for having been true to yourself and your goals. Risk the big dream.
What if we could see with Divine eyes? What would it be like to see things the way The Divine sees them? How do we suppose The Divine sees us? What would it take to see the way The Divine sees?
Our vision is skewed by our beliefs about the world. We see people and are quick to label them, and in so doing we are often quick to judge them. Does The Divine see the same way we do? Obviously The Divine sees things we are not capable of seeing — such as the inherent worth of every son and daughter. The Divine sees with Parent eyes, and in His sight love extends beyond the scope of human ability.
To see with Divine eyes means to love as The Divine loves. It also means that we are slow to judge — or we refuse to judge — and are quick to forgive and grant second and third and fourth chances. Seeing with Divine eyes also means we believe in our children and we respect them.
I recommend we close our eyes and ask The Divine to help us see with Divine sight. We may not be able to handle Divine vision for more than a short while, but with practice we’ll be able to know the difference between our sight, and Divine sight, and we will long to pull back the veil and see with Divine eyes.
The role of Religious Recovery is not to judge, condemn, blame, or accuse any religious organization or any religious leader. Our goal is spiritual healing, and for those who want more, to aid them on their spiritual path. It doesn’t matter to us if that path connects with a religion of their choosing. They may even return to a religion that — according to what they have told us — hurt them in some way. We’ve seen this happen successfully. How? We understand that all human organizations make mistakes, and we can choose to forgive those mistakes and move on.
The role of Religious Recovery can also be the same as our personal roles. As individuals we don’t have to judge, condemn, accuse, or blame another person or an organization. Our biggest response to any wrong, real or perceived, can be forgiveness and love. If we sense we can no longer follow a path because our beliefs would create too much strife, we can part ways without ill will — at least on our part. We can’t control their response, but we can leave with forgiveness and love in our hearts. Our highest aim in Religious Recovery and perhaps also in life is to respect one another, learn to get along, and to honor each other’s spiritual paths.
Because I grew up in a religious system that stressed perfection, I never felt as if I were good enough. I often consoled myself by thinking, Maybe I’m not good enough, but I’m certainly better than most. This thought played to my ego, but it didn’t help. I still felt inadequate and always harbored a certain amount of fear.
I didn’t realize the feeling of being “not good enough” was common to other people. In fact, I discovered that it was a lot more common than I imagined. Where does this feeling come from? Our parents? Perhaps, to a degree. From our religious education? For many, that answer could also be yes, at least partially. From a lack of love? Yes, most definitely a lack of love has a large part to play in not feeling good enough.
All of these partial answers also relate back to fear. Perfect love trumps fear every time. When we love and accept ourselves — just as we are — then fear cannot remain, and we will come to accept that we are good enough. It’s not a matter of performance. Being good enough is a matter of love and worth, and we must be worthy or The Divine wouldn’t have created us. Step Thirteen says in part, “The witness of our lives is the only message we need to carry to others.” But, if we live in fear of not being good enough, how can that be a positive message for others. By accepting that we are as The Divine created us, we have a good start on a positive message to share with others, even if that message is more visual than verbal.
Religion is a means to an end. Our goal is not necessarily to be religious, but to reach our final destination. I think of that final destination as going Home. Meister Eckhart said, “God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.” Everyone is on a spiritual path whether they realize it or not, and that path leads us to whatever waits for us after this mortal life. Different religions claim to know what “Home” is like, and even have elaborate descriptions. But, honestly, we won’t know until we get there.
Part of the process of going Home is to discard any baggage that would impede our progress. We strip away material things by not clinging to them. We may use them but we always understand that we own nothing (no-thing), or else we are owned by those things. We discard negative emotions that create discord and pull us away from love. Our major pursuit is love. Everything that happens along the journey has the potential to help us return to the pure love of The Divine. Even strife, discord, and fights have the potential to lead us further down the spiritual path. It all depends on how we respond to the situations that would seem to impede us, and also on how well we learn the lessons that are inherent in each encounter.
I am grateful for every writing mentor that has helped me hone my craft. Some took me so far, but could not take me any farther. One mentor was especially skilled in non-fiction writing but not quite as talented when it came to fiction writing. Each mentor had different skills. Some were better at sentence structure. Some at storyline. Others excelled in word images. Each taught me something different.
I’ve also had spiritual mentors throughout my life, and I plan on having them for as long as possible. Many of those mentors I have never met, but their written words have guided my spiritual path. Others have been a part of my life in the form of ministers, official or unofficial. Most of those spiritual mentors have come and gone. I have become close enough friends with some of them to see their faults. Just as with the writing mentors who excelled in one area but were weak in others, these spiritual mentors have shown me they make mistakes from time to time.
Each mentor that comes into our lives serves a purpose, both for them and for us. As we teach, so we learn. And, in order to learn, we must teach. Do not be surprised to find your mentors make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to let a mentor go. You will know when the time is right, and when we are meant to have another mentor in your life, he or she will appear.
Step Thirteen of Religious Recovery states that “…when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” When I read that saying the first thing I feel is relief. I don’t have to go looking for recruits because when they are ready, they will find me — or the Religious Recovery program. Another interpretation I see in that sentiment is that the student will appear when the teacher is ready.
Sometimes we forget the nature of the relationship of student and teacher. They come together to learn from one another. One may be designated as the teacher and the other the pupil, but the roles are interchanged repeatedly throughout the course of their relationship. One may learn more from one than the other, but it is not possible for one to come away without learning something. And so it is that we teach in order that we may learn.
If we struggle with a new concept, one of the best ways to gain mastery over it is to attempt to teach it to another. At first, the student may not comprehend what we’re trying to say. So, we look for other ways to explain it. In doing this, we help clarify the concept in our own minds until we eventually feel as if we have “got it.” We must always remember that teaching also includes showing. We can’t teach someone about love without loving them.
We follow the principle that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The witness of our lives is the only message we need to carry to others.
Step Thirteen is one of my favorite steps but also a step I struggle with. I like the idea Step Thirteen implies that we do not have to evangelize the world or even our neighborhoods. This thought alone brings freedom from the idea that if I don’t save my fellowman, he may not have a happy afterlife. This step removes guilt and places it squarely on the correct shoulders. We are not responsible for someone else’s spiritual journey. We might want to help others—a noble idea—but our help is our choice, and their response is theirs.
One reason I struggle with this step is because I want the Religious Recovery program to succeed, and so I feel personally responsible for its success or its failure. According to Step Thirteen, when the student is ready — and not before — the teacher will appear. The role of the teacher is simply to share his or her light and allow the student to make their own decisions.
Trying to create students in our own image is not the goal. Our goal is to help students find their own spiritual path, and to learn from them as they learn from us. We constantly change roles from student to teacher and back again. When we are ready to receive more Light our teacher will appear, and let’s not be surprised to learn that our teachers are often our own students.
Ben Cohen of “Ben & Jerry’s” created a candy using Brazil nuts. He discovered there was a lot of dust left over from the process of grinding the nuts. Instead of throwing the dust away as garbage, he wondered if he could use the dust as a flour to create cookies. His commitment to use everything possible helped him create a new cookie and a new product.
How often do we throw away lives because we see no hope? Specifically, how often are we tempted to throw away our lives because of our failures, addictions, and mistakes? In The Divine scheme of things, there is no such thing as garbage. Whether we realize it or not, our lives have meaning. Our mistakes have value even if only to show us how not to do a thing. But our lives are infinitely more valuable than we can ever imagine, and if we think we are worthless, then we are mistaken.
We may not understand the reasons for where we are, how we got here, and what we must do to get our lives together, but time has a way of bringing things together. No matter the depths of our despair, there are reasons and purposes that work like the flour that forms the foundation of the cookie. Trust that the Universe will waste nothing.
The things we focus on become the things we receive. If we focus on the negative we receive more negativity. When we are in a bad place, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually, we find it difficult to pull ourselves out of that place especially if we find ourselves dwelling on what caused it, how could I have avoided it, and past occasions of similar difficulty. We are focusing our attention on the darkness and forgetting the light. We attempt to diagnose, prescribe, and fix. What we fail to understand is the difficulty of finding our way out of darkness if we refuse to look for the light.
When our lives are filled with light, we don’t worry about darkness, because the light drives it away. Focus on the goodness and power of the Light within and without, and the darkness fades and eventually vanishes.
I don’t always attend religious ceremonies on a regular basis. I go through spells where they seem too repetitive and I take a break. Then, I may experience a season where I am tired, depressed, and feeling empty. Once, when I was feeling that way, I attended three different religious services in one day. Inadvertently, I was changing my focus. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had chosen to focus on the positive — and it worked. I came away feeling good about myself and my world. Whenever we are depressed and feeling despondent, we can look to the Light and focus our attention on the positive.
Light represents the Spirit of The Divine, or the Holy Spirit, or that within us which is like the Creator. To say “the light has come” reminds us that we are spirit and connected to Spirit. Each life has a measure of this Light, and the best way to live a happy, fulfilled life is to let that Light shine.
We do this individually by taking time daily to connect to The Divine through meditation and prayer, but we can also do this collectively by uniting with others who also carry the Light. Truth is, everyone carries a measure of the Light, no matter how dim it may seem to be.
One fascinating characteristic of candlelight is that when we share our light by lighting another candle, the flame glows brighter while the two candles are together, but when we separate them once more, the light from the first candle remains as bright as it did before passing it’s flame on to another. The second candle’s light is also equally as bright. By sharing our Light, we lose nothing, and we gain more Light.
As an author, I often struggle with the decision of knowing when to let go. When I work on a project, I try to make it as perfect as possible. What I’ve come to realize is that it will never be perfect, and I will always find ways to say something a little better or a little clearer. Authors struggle with clarity, because if the writing confuses the reader, then we have not communicated our message. Eventually we must decide to release our writing.
Releasing a book or an article and allowing it to be read by the public is a daunting prospect. Even though we want to be published, and we want others to read our words, we still struggle with acceptance. What if people don’t like my book? What if they disagree with what I said? These kinds of questions can keep an author from publishing their work. They can keep us withdrawn and afraid. But, if we want to make a difference, at some point we have to let go. Knowing when that moment is right can be tricky.
We don’t want to send out work that is loaded with mistakes. So, we go over the manuscript or article until we are sick of our own words and worry that no one will want to read our drivel. If we stay in this rut, our work will never touch another’s life. At some point, after we feel we’ve done the best we can, we simply abandon the project and send it out. The Divine will take it from there.
These words might sound as if they are intended for authors, but “knowing when” is important in many areas of life. When do I make a commitment to someone I like? When do I release my child into the care of the Universe and stop trying to micro-manage? When do I share my secrets and perhaps even my shame with someone so that I can further the healing process? We might miss the perfect opportunity if we are too cautious, and we might regret moving forward if we are not cautious enough. Balance is crucial, listening to our instincts is important, but at some point we must decide to take a chance if we ever hope to improve our lives and also the lives of those around us.
If our lives are not what we want them to be, the simple answer is to change them. One stumbling block in the road to change is called an autopilot. I worked at the same job for years, and after I retired I found myself driving to my old job. Sometimes I even came close to making the final turn onto the street where the building stood.
Habits are extremely helpful in our lives. It allows us to do repeated tasks without much thought or effort. But when those repeated things prove unwanted it can be difficult to break the old habits and form new ones. The Dalai Lama wrote, “Each of you should feel that you have great potential and that, with self-confidence and a little more effort, change really is possible if you want it.”
When it comes to breaking habits, the answer is simply to do it. Make the effort one decision at a time, one day at a time, and one moment at a time. We can replace old negative ways of thinking and replace them with a positive approach to life. Start with the positive, and in time, it will drive out the negative.
 Dalai Lama (2012-05-31). The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom (p. 67). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Braving the darkness is more difficult than walking in the light, or so it would seem. If walking in the light is so easy, why do so many people choose to stay in the dark? Why do they shun the light of spiritual illumination? And, why do they close their eyes to views that would bring new light into their world?
I suppose it’s not that we want to walk in the darkness; it’s simply a matter of being comfortable there. Our spiritual vision adjusts to what we see and interprets things in the limited spiritual vision we possess. If another comes our way shining their light onto our path, we may hide or walk away from that light because it’s too intense or because it’s not “our light.”
The light can come from a multitude of sources: sunlight, moonlight, a candle, a match, a gas lantern, and among other sources are the light bulbs that brighten our homes. Whether the spiritual light comes from Eastern religions, Western religions, or from a different religious source doesn’t change the fact that it is light. We do not need to shun it or hide from it.
After finding a deeper spiritual understanding, we are often prone to share our new path. The path may not actually be new, only new to us. There are those who, after giving up an addiction such as smoking, become the loudest advocates for quitting. So much so, that their behavior offends those they would help. Avoid lecturing and “should-ing.” Present your story simply as "This is what I experienced..." and leave it at that. Opening to new forms of spirituality intimidates many. Allow them space to discover what resonates with them in their own time.
Also remember that like attracts like. When you grow spiritually you will shine brighter, and you will naturally attract others to your light. You may not run with the same crowd, but you will gather those around you who love and respect the new person you’ve become. Give people the freedom to grow and heal at their own pace, not yours.
Being pushy, especially with our religious beliefs, usually results in more harm than good. We don’t want to alienate the people we want to help, so respect the wishes of those who don’t want to hear your message. If and when the time is right, you will be able to share.
Having recognized the difference between religion and spirituality, we strive to be true to the Spirit within all of Divine Creation and to be a Light to point the way.
What does it mean to be true to the Spirit within all of Divine Creation? It means to be true to the Spirit within us because we are a part of Divine Creation. It means to be true to the Spirit within our brothers and sisters and to recognize that they are also a part of Divine Creation. It also means to be true to the Spirit within plants and animals, and within all of the Earth because it is also a part of Divine Creation.
Being true to the Spirit means that we do not judge anyone or anything as worthless or useless. We assert the inherent worthiness of all individuals, and that there is meaning in the circumstances of life and a purpose for every living creature.
With this recognition comes responsibility. But the responsibility is simple. We are to be a light to point the way. Once we are true to the Spirit within all of Divine Creation, we are lights, and lights simply shine and guide our paths. We do not have to do anything. We simply have to be what we were created to be and to allow our innate magnificence to shine.
A song by Garth Brooks titled “Unanswered Prayers” reminds us that sometimes we pray for things and the answer appears to be “No.” As time goes by and we see the way things could have been had our prayers been answered, we can smile and say with Garth, “I thank God for unanswered prayers.”
Truth is, The Divine answers prayers, and sometimes we are grateful when The Divine says “No,” or “Not now,” or one of my personal favorites, “I’ve got a better idea.” If The Divine created us, then no one knows us better. Not only are our compulsive wants and desires known to The Divine, but also our deepest wants, needs, and highest ambitions.
One request we need to include in our prayers is this, “Divine Spirit, show me what I want — what I truly want — and grant that request.” We can be assured that this is a safe prayer, because at the heart of all of God’s children — and for some it is buried way down deep — is the desire to love and be loved, to extend love to everyone we meet, and to be accepted for who and what we are without judgment. Divine Spirit, answer the deepest desires of our hearts — to be like You.
At times, we can’t — as the saying goes — see the forest for the trees. When we are in the midst of a crisis, it is often difficult to step back and allow time and space to give us a chance to reevaluate the situation. Problem solving is often obstructed when we are too close to a situation to be objective to what is going on.
Instead of pushing for a resolution sooner rather than later, it might be wise for us to remove our presence and see if the problem can resolve itself. The fact that we step back also encourages others, especially those who may not be as close to the problem, to step forward and offer advice or guidance we didn’t see because we were unable to let go.
This “stepping back” is at times done physically. But, it can also be simply a mental release and surrender. Some find that prayer helps. Some find that meditation helps. Some find help in contemplation, but all three of these practices can backfire if we are using them to solve the problem and not to let go of it. We see this frequently in family situations. Our children fight and we want to solve the problem, but often we are just too close to be unbiased. By stepping back and giving the situation time and distance, many times children will work something out together.
Part of the fun of piecing together picture puzzles was working together with other family members. A lot of my experience happened on vacation while visiting my grandmother in Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s. Except for radios, black and white televisions were the only electronic entertainment devices available, and the selection of programs was limited to three stations. We found ways to entertain ourselves, and picture puzzles were part of our heritage. We could solve the same puzzle over and over.
We sat around a table, talked about life, and tried out one piece after another until connections were made, on and off the table. I learned the importance of family, of working together, and of watching over one another. My great-grandmother was still alive and she often joined us. She would study, pick up a piece, try it in a location, and then ask, “Does that fit there?” Most of the time it didn’t, but occasionally she made the right choice.
In our spiritual walk, we don’t have to solve the puzzle alone. It helps to have helping hands and hearts that help us make connections and build the pictures of our lives. Occasionally, someone comes along who seems to distract our attention by trying to make connections that don’t work. With grace, we kindly say, “No, that doesn’t go there. But, you were close. Keep trying.” We can work the puzzle alone, but we don’t have to, and why would we want to?
There are times in the picture-puzzle solving process when we seem to be stumped. We have all the colors of a section and only a few are remaining to fit into place, but no matter how hard we try, we can’t get those last few pieces to fit. Sometimes the explanation is that we’ve forced a puzzle piece to make a wrong connection. We have it in a spot where it doesn’t belong. We have to undo — disconnect — the mistaken piece and start again, careful to set it out of the way until we find the correct piece.
In our lives there are times when we have forced things to fall into place the way we think they should, only to find ourselves stuck in our spiritual progression. Through meditation, contemplation, and discernment, we can discover our mistake, undo or disconnect it, and then rework the problem area. Only this time, we are more cautious about making the correct connection. Once that is accomplished, we move forward again.
People once thought the world was flat. People once believed the Sun revolved around the earth. People once believed that man couldn’t fly. Some people accepted and followed Hitler’s beliefs — and millions of people died. People once believed in the gods of Zeus, Thor, and a whole list of other deities from Greek mythology. Some still do.
Over time our beliefs have changed. If what we believed in years past is considered false today, then how do we know what we’ve been taught about That-Which-Is-Greater-Than-Self will be true in the future?
We look back over the years and wonder how people could have held such silly beliefs, but time has twenty-twenty vision, and who is to say that centuries from now people will marvel at the erroneous beliefs our religions held. Truth is elusive. Stone Four encourages us to discern — not so much what is right and wrong, but to discern what resonates with us. If we are connected with Divine Thought, then we will instinctively know right and wrong. It might not be the same thing today as it was yesterday. Trying to offer a set of rules that must be kept no matter the circumstances often breaks the individual who adamantly refuses to see any gray areas.
I enjoy working picture puzzles. Seeing the picture on the box and putting the pieces together one at a time until the puzzle is complete makes for hours of fun. Our individual lives are like giant picture puzzles, with each one working to piece together the dark and light areas, the trees and the streams, and the other fascinating areas that build it into one beautiful scene.
I always follow the same basic method for piecing together a puzzle. Dump the pieces onto a table, make sure all are turned right-side up, work the frame first, and then start with the areas of color with the fewest number of pieces. I put off the areas of color that have lots of pieces to sort through, but eventually I have to work with these areas, even if it’s the last section of the puzzle. My method might be the method that most people follow, but it certainly isn’t the only method.
Sometimes, as we work the puzzle of our lives, we are forced to work on the dark areas of our lives sooner than we had hoped. When we find ourselves in that situation, it might help to remember that these areas of darkness add to the overall picture of our lives, and that the puzzle isn’t complete without them.
I read an illustration once that said a diamond cutter might strike a stone a thousand times or more before he makes the first cut. The cutter knows that the work is slow, deliberate, and intense. The cutter also knows the time he spends preparing and striking are not wasted. In the course of time the desired results will be achieved.
In the spiritual world I wonder if some people haven’t considered the enormity of the task they undertake. They look for a shortcut to spiritual growth, hoping to avoid the thousand “blows” of the master stone cutter. Before undertaking a task, be certain the rewards are worth the effort. Also be certain that you have the proper tools. In spirituality those tools include prayer, contemplation, and mediation. But, the most important tools are forgiveness and love.
We settle upon our task, we make sure it is worthy of our efforts, and we remember that we are in it for the long haul. Perhaps blow one thousand and one will bring about the face of the diamond.
Seek through prayer, meditation, and contemplation to improve our relationship with the Divine, praying for clarity of mind, an open heart, and further ways to heal ourselves and our world from the abuses of religion.
Sometimes religious abuse serves a purpose that we might not have achieved without it. When we are born into a religious belief system, their set of beliefs, rules and guidelines become the only path we know to reach The Divine, and we can become dogmatic with our beliefs thinking that our path is the only right path.
When we leave our birth religion either by choice or by force, we are free to open our lives to other ways of connecting with The Divine. This is not a responsibility to take lightly but with sincere effort, a lot of soul searching, and open-minded examination.
The place to begin is with spiritual healing. But spiritual healing might not come until after a time of abandonment in which we throw out the good with the bad. The spiritual pendulum of our lives swings to the other side and we rebel against religious structures and often social laws.
In time, the pendulum swings back toward spirituality, and if we are lucky, during our time of carefree living we have given thought to the larger issues of life so that when we return to the spiritual we are better able to separate true religion from false. This is accomplished by separating the spiritual from the religious and only accepting religious beliefs and practices that align with our new light.
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Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.