(Cartoon image by Paul MacLeod)
In my previous post I wrote of my own difficult experience in making my way in the world using spiritual principles. I am an educator, futurist, writer and speaker whose passion is for Deep Futures – futures where the technological and economic is more evenly balanced with the deeper spiritual aspects of human existence.
In that article I wrote of how, in the years after I begun my own spiritual journey, I had more than a decade of largely positive outcomes and experiences. But this was followed by several difficult years where I struggled, primarily at a professional level. During the “good” years I found work easily, almost effortlessly gained a PhD, successfully published books, academic papers and articles. Money flowed to me easily.
Then, during the difficult years I experienced a lot of professional rejection, mostly from mainstream educational institutions. I found that all my work and passion for Deep Futures had rendered me almost unemployable in mainstream institutions. To be honest, after years of things going well, I wasn’t psychologically prepared for the challenge of being effectively unemployed. I was not quite homeless and penniless, but was forced to rent a single room and my income stream withered away to barely a trickle.
I also separated from my wife during this time, and my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. So it was a great challenge to my sense of self and to my relationship with life and the universe. At times I became depressed and angry. It was difficult not to think that the future was bleak, and that all my years of hard work and creativity had come to nothing.
However there is no such thing as failure as long as you learn from it, or so the success gurus say. And I have certainly leaned a great deal from this period in my life. Most of all I learned of some of the unconscious errors that people who undertake a consciously spiritual life can make. And I am going to share them with you here. My hope is that you can be aware of these common pitfalls that spiritually-inclined professionals often make, and take positive action if you see any of these limitations appearing on your own journey.
The key distinction I have come to clearly acknowledge is this.
Just because you follow your bliss it does not guarantee you worldly success.
This is a bit of an affront to the Romantic notions of Thoreau and the new age movement, but I have concluded that it is true. Note that I did not say that success is not possible, nor even likely. I simply said that there is no guarantee.
Think about it. If worldly success inevitably follows passion, then almost every musician, artist and writer on the planet would be an international success, because the vast majority follow their heart’s calling.
A related point is that many spiritual seekers carry with them a barely-conscious delusion that “God” will reward them professionally and financially for doing “God’s work” (which they of course, define for themselves). They might even think God will grant them special dispensation for making personal sacrifices or experiencing suffering upon their journey. Sorry to break it to you, but it doesn’t work that way.
I know that in many churches and also in the movies suffering is given great value. But it has no intrinsic reward. “God” doesn’t care if you suffer! That ought to be obvious if you look at the enormous amount of suffering in the world. So if I were you I’d ditch this idea and start having a good old time of it.
Here is my second distinction.
Just because you develop psychologically and spiritually does not mean that financial and professional success will automatically follow.
For many naïve new agers and spiritual seekers there is an unconscious expectation that this will be so; and many of them get angry at God when personal success does not follow right after they became more mindful, peaceful, intuitive or whatever. Let me be clear on this. There is no guarantee one will follow now other! Spiritual maturity is not necessarily related to professional and business success. If this was the case the local Taoist monk would be a billionaire, and Donald Trump would be a homeless beggar.
Spiritual development and spiritual maturity should be valued for what they are intrinsically, not for what leverage they can grant you in the marketplace. The new age tends to conflate financial and spiritual intelligence, as do some Christian and esoteric traditions right across the world. This mindset tends to include a great deal of magical thinking – just believe it enough and it will happen.
The greatest value of spiritual development is that it awakens a new relationship with the mind, and with the world. It is a journey of love and compassion.
It is not a journey of cash. Well, not necessarily.
When naïve spiritual folks experience failure and rejection, they often take it very personally. (This is what I did, too – for a time.) They think that they didn’t believe in their dream enough to make it happen. They typically believe that they are being punished by God. They may even believe that they have become a spiritual failure. The self-talk goes something like this.
“I must have done something wrong.”
“I haven’t been spiritual enough.”
“I didn’t believe enough.”
“I didn’t clear my blocks.”
“I didn’t get rid of doubt and fear.”
In short the message they send to themselves is: “There’s something wrong with me!”
I have another take on things. Consider this another key distinction.
“God” doesn’t give a toss about your bank account or career standing.
Life rarely goes as planned. Nor does it always attune itself to our conscious expectations. As I have written elsewhere, I do believe that there is some general truth to the idea of the law of attraction. Life does generally reflect back to you your deepest beliefs and attitudes. But this is not the same thing as saying that you can always control what happens simply by focussing upon it.
We are all embedded within a greater cosmic story. We need to accept that there are many external influences upon our lives. These include social systems, cultural expectations, consciousness fields and perhaps even the very will of God itself. This is why it is important to allow yourself to mindfully acknowledge the eddies and currents of life, and to align with those currents without taking it personally. And if you go against those currents? If you judge and condemn and blame and complain? Well, by definition, there will be resistance. And when the mind resists, there will be suffering.
I am not saying that you should not challenge systems or embedded energy structures. Many of the great minds in history did just that. Sometimes it is actually necessary to do so. Steve Jobs, Einstein and Rupert Sheldrake are just three admirable figures who have challenged “the system”. Each was/is very successful; but each has had to endure some systemic persecution in order to achieve that success.
This brings me to my final distinction;
There is a price to pay for working outside the accepted worldview of dominant society. You have to be prepared for the possibility that worldly success and acceptance may not come your way. Almost certainly, such acceptance will be denied you many times and in many situations – even if you are personally and professionally successful in the long run.
So choose your battles wisely.
Listen to your intuition before embarking upon on a great conquest. Listen to your inner voice at all steps along the way, too, as it is easy to go astray. Correct your course where necessary.
Failure is often temporary, and it pays to keep in mind that the end of one story often opens up a new story. And it is often only when the new story emerges that we realise that the old story was no longer serving us. So when one story is ending, don’t hold onto it beyond its used-by-date. Don’t invest it with meaning beyond what it deserves. Judgments such as “I am a failure”, “That’s the end of everything for me!” and “I blew my chance” only lock you into the past and prevent a new story opening up.
Let it die.
Perhaps the most powerful thing I have learned so far upon my journey is how to be present to life. Presence grants the capacity to align your mind with the truth of life – not resist it. And the truth of life is whatever lies before you in the moment. If a person can ground themselves in the wonder and beauty of presence, then personal successes and failures do not have much power over him or her. The moment is where the grace of God is found, and the moment can never abandon us. It is only we who abandon the moment – through judgment. It is only we who abandon God.
Follow your excitement, but learn from your mistakes. Acknowledge your weaknesses and shortcomings. Be grateful to life for showing you these, even if the lessons are sometimes tough!
Most of all, be here now.
If you do this, your falls will be shorter in duration and less painful. Most of all you will grow in grace and wisdom.
Such an attitude is enriching. But even all this is not enough wisdom if you want to move out into the world and play games in society and in the market place. You need a little practical know-how. And that will be the subject of my third and final instalment in this little series about the price of spiritual engagement in the world.