Category Archives: comparison

Competitive Spirituality

I recently had a conversation with someone who seemed to be trying to show me that their spiritual study was more advanced than mine by telling me something they knew and thought I didn’t know…in a somewhat condescending preachy way.

At the time, I was taken aback by the tone in their language as they tried to point out this deep understanding that they thought was theirs alone when I shared that I had gained a similar understanding. It felt like a virtual pat on my head accompanied by a “there, there,” as if they couldn’t quite believe that I had also grappled with this question and information myself.

Frankly, I was a bit shocked by the whole interaction, and it took me a few days to understand why. Because, here’s the thing:

Spirituality is not a competition.

It’s not a race. There is no great “finish line” in the sky or hierarchical set of milestones on the spiritual journey. We each have our own paths and our own measurements along the way. Heck, we even have our own timers and starting points.

We, ourselves, get to design, follow, and seek out the spiritual curriculum of our lives.

For some that follows a more pre-designed path, and for others it can feel like a wild goose chase. There are even paths that are laid out by following crumbs, not to mention the countless other ways people pursue faith and spirituality. All of which are equally valid.

The similarity between our paths is simply that all the “finish lines” are defined as the same place: connection with Source. (or God, or the Divine, or Allah, or the Universe, or Nature, etc.) The name we use is most important to us, individually. Collectively, the most important word is “connection.”

Our journeys are varied, and no one journey is more important or more advanced than another. They’re simply different. The teacher often becomes the student, and vice versa, because we are all sharing the knowledge of what we have individually understood in order to foster connection. Connection with each other, and connection with Source.

When we see a “guru,” “teacher,” or “minister” espousing truths, we automatically assume that they are more “enlightened” than we are. But why? The fact of the matter is that they may have acquired different knowledge and understanding than we possess due to study, which they are then able to share in an accessible and digestible way. Their sharing allows others to remember and re-connect faster. The guru does not hold a secret key to the Universe; they are being the connector that they signed up to be. They are fulfilling their role: to study and share in a meaningful way, thereby helping others. It is a profession in the same way a doctor or web developer is also a profession. Their knowledge is not “better” – it is different, and it’s their job to share it. (It’s our job not to put them on a pedestal and make them un-relatable.)

It’s somewhat easier to understand Competitive Spirituality when talking about “gurus” or “teachers,” because there is an identifiable role. But what happens when it’s a friend or family member? An acquaintance or a classmate? Why do some people feel the need to one-up their neighbor in spiritual pursuits?

I can admit that I have been guilty of this in the past, partially out of genuine excitement for something I recently learned and understood, and partially out of a misguided desire to help others by trying to get them to bypass their own path. (And yes, if I’m honest, partly out of ego and insecurity.) 

I know that I have previously engaged in this practice that is now so out of integrity to me, which is why I truly needed to ask the question: “Why do we make spirituality a competition?”

It would be easy to say it’s ego, but I think it’s more than that. I think ego combines with our natural desire and inclination to reconnect and “know” who we are and where we came from, in order to make sense of it all. It’s an existential question that has intangible answers, which leaves us in unknowing and therefore trying to set up some sort of system or measurement, resulting in competition.

Unknowing is uncomfortable, and yet spirituality is a process of

unknowing – remembering – knowing – understanding – questioning – and unknowing, once more.

It’s this process that develops our faith muscle, which is the source of spirituality. When faith becomes a knowing there can be no measurement, no competition, only the desire to remember more, for remembering’s sake. And then, ultimately, to help others who cross our path and continue on their journey as we continue on ours.

Perhaps what matters most, therefore, is understanding the simple truth that spirituality is not a competition and then choosing to live our lives from that perspective. We accept that our knowledge and experience is not better than anyone else’s, it’s different. As it should be.

Because, at the end of the day, if we all consciously knew everything at the same time, how could we help each other or undergo experiences to learn and grow within ourselves, and collectively as a society or community? If all paths were the same, traveled at the same time and pace, how would we experience feelings of joy or sadness? Triumph or failure?

We wouldn’t.

We would lose what it would mean to be human, which means we would also lose our inclination to reconnect with each other and Source. Our nature would be lost; we would be lost.

So, for me, even though I was vexed by the interaction, I had to see it for what it was and then choose a different way. It became an opportunity for me to validate and remember my own path. What a gift!

It was a strange gift, of course, but a gift nonetheless. A gift which resulted in understanding the simplest of truths, which will now be emblazoned on my virtual wall of reminders:

Spirituality is never a competition.

And… if we make it into one, we are lost.

spirituality

Are you Intense?

Are you Intense?

This is a question I’ve asked myself, mainly because I already know the answer: I can be.

It all began after a series of different meetings I had with my doc over a couple of months. During one of the earlier sessions he had said to me, “You’re intense, and you need to be with someone who not only understands, but appreciates that in you.” I listened.

Am I intense? I can be.

Fast forward a few months and at another session he said in passing, “I couldn’t live with you.”

Ouch.

It wasn’t meant to hurt, or to be a barb, but it did. (And don’t worry, there’s no discussion of anything remotely unethical going on.) It hurt, because I found myself not measuring up to some random externalized standard that had absolutely nothing to do with me.

Of course, that’s the truth of what happened, but in the moment I didn’t have access to that absolute truth, I just knew that it stung a little. Subsequently, I found myself asking, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Am I not livable?” Which ultimately evolved to “Am I not lovable?” And finally, the mac daddy of them all: “Am I destined to be alone?”

I suspect it took only about 5 seconds to go from his statement to the fear of being alone. It’s a well-worn path that is very easily navigated. Almost effortlessly, in fact. But here’s the beautiful thing: because I have done my work, because I have spent years forging through the dark tunnel and excavating the debris that was forming obstacles to my life, and because I have raised my awareness to the habit of negative self-talk, it took about another 5 seconds for me to access the truth behind his statement.

Just because HE couldn’t live with me does not mean that NOBODY can.

And there it was. Truth. Absolute truth. And it allowed me to go even further, which was like flipping through the most wonderful album of memories and joy you’ve ever created. Once I acknowledged that his external measurement had nothing to do with my self-worth, I was able to explore why he might feel that way, and that’s when it occurred to me: He only knows 30% of me. Perhaps more, maybe less, but 30% feels like a good number.

The fact is that he only knows that which I present to him, and since he’s my doc, I present my problems. He’s my “expert” for helping me sort through that which I cannot do alone. Therefore, it stands to reason that he couldn’t live with me (and finds me intense), because he only knows that side of me. He knows the percentage that is seeking assistance or a safe place to vent. While I suspect he might have inklings of the other 70%, it has been a rare occasion when I have presented it to him.

This got me thinking: What IS the other 70%? Here’s where that lovely virtual photo album of memories came into play. I suddenly found myself immersed in the joy of being me. It was decadent, blissful, and loving. It looked a bit like this:

  • He doesn’t see me dancing in the rain, or laughing so hard that I fall off the bed.
  • He doesn’t see me when I’m the image of bliss immersed up to my neck in a hot bubble bath, or how I get teary eyed during a commercial for animal rescue.
  • He doesn’t see the me that giggles at sexual innuendos like a school girl, secretly hiding my wry smile because I actually know what’s being talked about and the sheer pleasure it can bring.
  • He doesn’t see me singing like a dork while I dance in my car to my favorite song.
  • He doesn’t see me baking something for a friend that’s hurt, or taking pictures of butterflies on my daily walk.
  • He doesn’t see me when I’m so immersed in writing that hours can go by without my noticing it, and the smile on my face becomes semi-permanent.
  • He doesn’t see me talk to strangers and offer them a smile, or as I hug my dog during one of his seizures late at night.
  • He doesn’t see… me.

He doesn’t see the me that I know. Which means: he doesn’t know me. Well, not all of me.

He doesn’t know all this, because he’s not meant to. This is the breadth and depth of me, and it’s still only a glimpse. He knows the me that needs his expertise and his help. The me that comes to him feeling broken or worn down by life, in search of a tincture of assistance and support. And that’s the me he should be seeing, because it’s the me that he knows in relation to himself.

I was then reminded of an old saying that I often share about how we go through life comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. It will never match up. And this is true for almost everybody we come across in life. There are very few (if any) people that we share 100% of ourselves with. Every interaction falls somewhere on the spectrum from 1-99%, and I’d argue that most daily interactions fall somewhere between 1-35%.

People show us, and share with us, what they’re comfortable with, and we receive and share in return what we’re comfortable with. I would suspect that we are sharing about 30% of ourselves with the outside world at any given moment. And how we receive that is directly affected by our relationship to that person. That means that if I am your sibling, I will be receiving what you are showing very differently than if I were your boss, or your employee. We see and know people in relation to who we are to each other, and people only know what we choose to show them.

Which brings me back to the idea of being intense. I can be.

Actually, I think we all can be. And just as I can be intense, I can be light-hearted and soft. It’s part of the full spectrum of who I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Then, just a few days ago, I read this piece by Kate Rose on Elephant Journal, and it summed up my notion of intensity so perfectly I wanted to share. Intensity is not something to be ashamed of or dialed down – it’s something to be celebrated. And when it’s admired and supported it can fuel almost anything, including (and especially) Love.

Painting Within the Lines

This past weekend, my 6-year old niece was in town visiting for the holiday. We had a great time together, from blowing hundreds of bubbles in the backyard to taking a long walk and teaching her about all the flowers along the way. We even got to spend some time in the local park/playground where she got to try out her first tire swing. (She LOVED it, by the way. And truly, what’s not to love?)

Anyhow, we also did some arts and crafts together. On one such occasion, we painted side-by-side. It was a Disney item that provided its own paints, brush, and 2 pictures to lovingly adorn with color as you watched them come to life.

We laughed while we painted, sharing paint pots and even the brush. It was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend. The two of us sat in the garage at the small table, with the small chairs (my knees are still mad at me), and spent an hour or so chatting and painting princesses. Again, what’s not to love, right?

When we were done, my little niece looked at both paintings, turned to me very seriously and somewhat dejected, and said, “Yours is more beautiful than mine.”

Meanwhile, I was looking at the paintings and thinking ‘Wow, hers is so much brighter and more colorful.’

princess paintingOf course, my response to her was “Neither is more beautiful than the other, they’re just different…and that’s awesome!”

And what’s important about that simple statement is the fact that it’s true. Beauty will always be subjective. I preferred her colors, she preferred my tidiness. We were both admiring each others work, feeling like ours could have been better.

The truth is, as I’ve said so many times before: Nobody wins in the comparison game.

Had the acknowledgment stopped at admiration, it could have been a spark for inspiration, creativity, and imagination. But when we take it beyond that point, into comparison, it becomes the birthplace of judgment, shame, and lack.

Both paintings were, indeed, beautiful. Both a wonderful expression of who we each are, as well as where we are in the chronology of our lives. Both paintings are happy, creative, expressive, and joyful.

Finally, it’s worth stating that what truly matters most out of the entire experience was the experience. The time spent together. The chatting, the laughing, the sharing. I’m sure the paintings will end up in the bin, but the memory of spending time together will stay with both of us for the rest of our lives. And that is the most beautiful thing I know.