A close friend is going through a period. Many of us have been there: that place where old habits catch up with us and lead us down new paths – if we want to survive, and most certainly if we want to thrive. These crossroads experiences are painful, but they are also what transformations are made of; they are the ones who make us wise. In hindsight, most of us wouldn’t trade them even if they involved humiliating mistakes, costly failures, wear and tear on our bodies, archaeological layers of loss. Those who are too afraid to embrace humiliation and failure flee these crossroads and often live diminished and shrunken lives.
When I think of the pattern of my own life, I am transported to the early 2000s and the years that have passed since then. I had found myself in a marriage and a life that had no resistance. Still, it was a marriage to a wonderful man. In a few confusing years, I have taken in the upheaval that is looming on the horizon with a mixture of reflection and recklessness. As I moved desperately to build a life that felt livable to me, I tore a lot of things apart. Demolition before reconstruction. Death before rebirth. A life confrontation with shame, dishonesty, perfectionism, illusion, ambition and mistrust that made me a bit dangerous for myself and those around me. I tell the story in my memoirs.
Today, as I walk with the aforementioned friend as a spiritual companion, I am transported back to those years; and the over-the-shoulder perspective I have gives me compassion, even if this friend’s mistakes have cost me personally – excruciatingly, to be honest. It’s just impossible for me not to see my own mistakes reflected back on me, or to see some inevitability in the arc of descent and rebirth that this friend is going through. While talking with him about the spiritual life (which I would contrast with the life of the ego, longing and scarcity), I came across a mnemonic device that was useful to me. Living under the direction of the spirit involves: Listening. Follow. Trust or LiFT. If you like mnemonic devices, this might come in handy. The mnemonic does not mean that the spiritual life is a formula. It’s anything but. It’s more like a dance, with certain steps repeating over and over again, becoming more and more familiar, emboldening, passionately accented as we learn the steps. (Forgive the mixed metaphors!)
First, listen. I remember when I started to learn mindfulness and stop running away from the little voice inside me that was guiding me through decisions, exposing my personal bullshit, affirmation and love. When I started learning mindfulness, I started to hear the almost constant barrage of feedback going through my head that I hadn’t noticed before. Most often, these were self-justified comments or argumentative comments. Anyway, mindfulness helped me tune into another reverb. I maintain that God is the essence of who we are, that we are each a unique piece of the Divine passing through this world. Yet we “have this treasure in clay jars”. Often all we see or hear is the clay pot part, yet we have the potential to be connected to Spirit in our brightest and most vital moments. When we find our center in our divine essence, we have a source of guidance and wisdom available to us. He speaks to us from this inner voice. Sometimes we call it “intuition” or “intuition” or “Holy Spirit”. Call it what works. But it’s talking, I’m sure. The Divine flows within us not because an outside God is constantly having a conversation with us, but because that voice of God is the essence of who we are. So, in the first step of the dance, we learn to listen. We learn to withdraw into ourselves and listen.
Then, listening is useless if we continually explain the advice out of fear and a thought of scarcity. In response to listening comes the next step: Following.
Following is something we contemporaries often don’t like. Obedience, conformity and limitation are associated with following. But I would say that we always follow something, we conform to something. And more often than not, we conform to the wrong thing: our ego drives and cultural assumptions that we pick up like viruses. It takes practice to listen to the inner voice and follow it out of our fearful and unsightly hiding places.
As we practice, we begin to accumulate experience, times when we have chosen to follow the inner voice instead of backtracking into self-justification. We begin to reflect on our lives and see how times when we followed our inner guidance resulted in shocking, grand, and beautiful moves. These examples of looking back encourage us to keep following. With practice, courage is the key. Often we have to follow against the advice of people who are still living in their hiding places. Often our inner guidance contrasts with what our friends and families tell us we should do. Following our divine essence is not about being weak or sheepish. And to keep up with these difficult and unexpected movements, you need: Trust.
After listening and following, we must trust that the outcome will be best for ourselves and others, that we will be provided, and that the ultimate flow of the dance is redemptive. We have to give in to the dance, trust that something exquisite will come out of it, instead of trying to step in and lead it some other way. Often we don’t know how things will turn out; we face more uncertainty than certainty. Sometimes painful things happen on the way to recovery. Yet we still trust. At first, our confident movements are hesitant and awkward, and we keep stopping halfway. But over time, we can become elegant, dynamic and serene in our dance.
At any moment we can lose heart and stumble, revert to rote movements, fear and self-security. Sometimes we will fall. Sometimes we’ll leave the dance floor completely. But the grace of this dance of spiritual life is that it never ends, and we can start it again and again, whenever we are ready to take it up again. Listen. Follow. Trust: LiFT.
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Wren, Winner of a 2022 Independent Publishers Award Bronze Medal