Do you remember when you suggested that I practice “gratitude’ more often? Well it’s been a year and I feel like I’m failing the gratitude class. I don’t remember to thank every tree I see, or feel grateful for all that surrounds me every second of the day. The practice of gratitude has turned into a vicious task master that stands over my shoulder scolding me every time I forget to feel grateful.– Joan H.
My client had managed to take a beautiful spiritual teaching and “mangle” it! She had twisted and tangled it to the point where it was no longer a spiritual teaching. Over time she put it through a series of personal emotional and mental filters that clouded the original teaching.
Spirituality and the Western Mind
When the spiritual teachers of India first started visiting Europe and America in the late nineteenth century they were invited to share their spiritual heritage with the western world. Their travels to the West were inspired by a planetary movement that would ultimately seed planetary unity and the recognition of the Oneness of all religions. They intended to build bridges between the Eastern and Western religious traditions which required sharing their teachings and understanding ours.
But these teachers met something mysterious and so far beyond their reference point that they couldn’t find a word for it in their native language or in their personal experience. When introduced to the materialistic mind of the west they were also introduced to “self-loathing”. This was and is a particular version of self-loathing that challenged the traditional methods of spiritual teachings to the limit. These illuminated teachers had to find ways to bring the deep teachings of their traditions to an emotionally immature and materialistic culture. It was a rare western student that could appreciate the pure spiritual teaching that was offered. For most it was about how it could serve their materialistic and personal gain.
The Western spiritual traditions had already been devalued and adapted to serve the desires and needs of greed and power. The pure universal teachings could be seen in the holy texts but the contemplative nature; the silent inner searching was most often missing. When “meditation” and yoga was introduced to the western mind it seemed like a new idea!
Eventually it was clear that helping the Western mind become free from the programmed materialism included teaching mindfulness, compassion and embodied spirituality geared to everyday life. Spiritual teachings had to be both practical and deeply touching to reach us where we were at. In this process many of the spiritual teachings became “mangled”. In other words they were first subsumed to materialistic gain and creature comforts. If a spiritual teaching didn’t make your life better or heal you completely it was tossed out and replaced by another. This illustrates the impatience and lack of understanding that permeates our “immediate gratification” culture. Spiritual teachings take time and contemplation to unfold and discern the precious jewels that are waiting to be revealed.
Back to Joan
Joan had mangled the teachings. She had taken in the teaching of “gratitude” through her lens of self-loathing and used it as another reason to hate herself; to feel failure. She had turned the teaching of gratitude into a rigid rule filled with “shoulds” and forgotten the true meaning of the practice.
I asked her to remember back to the moment when I suggested the practice. What was the feeling when I spoke to her about it? She was able to remember the love that surrounded the words, the softness and the light that permeated the conversation. But her self-loathing filter was so strong that once the session was over she forgot that the practice of gratitude meant sinking into a state of deep love and compassion. It was not just a mental exercise to be filtered through the lens of competition and judgment. It was not about counting, keeping track of and racking up “gratitude” points.
This is what it means to “mangle the teachings”. Spiritual teachings exist within a context of love and compassion that is usually beyond our own personal and cultural reference point. They are inspired and filled with “illuminated magical seeds” that will grow into self-realization if they are cultivated and cared for within the quiet space of our hearts. No matter where we come from, East or West, we have the universal capacity to enter into deep contemplation to foster clarity and insight. This will help clear the filters that cloud our perception and open us to self-loving instead of self- loathing.
So please don’t mangle the beautiful spiritual teachings that are our greatest hope for a better world. Give them space beyond the filters of a limited mind and allow them to lift and expand your consciousness to a peak of great transformation that will inspire your life and our world.