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by David Truman

How religious or spiritual authorities can
help or hinder strong character development
True spirituality
Spiritual rectitude
The challenge of spiritual sensitivity
Spiritual integrity vs. ego-integrity
Are you ready to proceed?
Is there spiritual life after religion?
Some people worry about that. But many people, frustrated by the lack of living spiritual experience in the realms of ritual and doctrine, wonder: Is there is spiritual life DURING religion?
There sometimes is, and there certainly COULD be MORE. All world religions spring from authentic spiritual roots. Religious practices often represent sincere attempts to preserve and extend the vibrant spiritual experiences of their founders. Obviously, organized religion cannot -- or at least DOES not -- duplicate the spiritually fertile conditions under which those momentous realizations occurred. And understandably, codified systems of religion often fail to produce living spiritual experience. Nonetheless, such fruits occasionally appear. When they do, they are an effect mostly of the spiritual orientation of the individual, and only secondarily of the religious process itself.
There will always be people who crave the filling and fulfilling spirit-food of authentic spiritual experience. We often hear from people who left their religious affiliations specifically because such experiences did not occur in the context of the recommended practices of their church -- for them or for others they knew in the congregation.
In a nutshell, the REASON religious practices rarely yield spiritual experience is because those processes are not INHERENTLY spiritual. Only the refined attunement of spirit will enhance the likelihood of true spiritual experience. Formal observances alone -- rituals, practices, prayers, and beliefs -- may provide a context for such attunement, but do not guarantee it. In droning ritual, the priest intones, "Let us lift our hearts in prayer." But whether or not there is any lifting is up to the individual (and, possibly, to the collectiveness of individuals present). The "opposite" circumstance -- making a joyful noise unto the Lord -- may produce a grand surge of spirit in some; but for others it may amount to little more than a hypnotic vital-emotional frenzy. Again, a certain attunement is the determining factor.
The search for higher spiritual realization
Generally, in mystic experience, consciousness rarely soars spontaneously. In order to enjoy mystic communion, a person must recognize which way is up, and must inwardly proceed that way. Essentially, consciousness is spiritually TUNED in a skillful, intentional manner. Here, then, is the only reliable "cause" of living spiritual experience:
Consciousness steered by dynamic discernment of spirit-tone variations -- with real-time adjustments as needed.
Spiritually uplifting practice, religious or spiritual, is always dynamically spirit-DIRECTED, and spirit-DIRECTING. In support of that, thoughts or intentions that are chilling must be disciplined, while expansive influences must be optimized.
By failing to recommend, teach, and support the kind inner discernment that effectively supports authentic spiritual experience, organized religion often frustrates those who seek spiritual upliftment as the most treasured fruit of their religious involvement.
How religious or spiritual authorities can help or hinder strong character development
Spiritual experience has many benefits, including the reassuring certainties of high-minded realizations; the incomparable peace and joy of Divine communion; and the first-hand confirmation of spirit realities. Yet more important even than spiritual experience is spirituality’s contribution to the development of strong character. Religion has a great role to play in the encouragement of character development, and often does so admirably. Sometimes, however, religion may actually undermine that process.
These are the ways that religious or spiritual authorities can help or hinder the development of strong character: [Click here for an explanation of the concepts illustrated in this picture.]
If you strongly feel held back by any of these influences within your religion, perhaps you have outgrown your old religious shoes. People who conclude that organized religion is hindering them more than it is helping them may need to break with their religious affiliations, and set out in search of greener pastures of spiritual realization. If that is the case for you, this article will help point your search in favorable directions.
True spirituality
The real backbone of TRUE spirituality -- within or outside of religious affiliation -- is not the pronouncements, truthful though they may be, of authoritarian sources (the Bible, the spiritual teacher, the wisdom of the ancients, and the like). Rather, it's the power of living resonance with one's own spirit -- one's own INNER sensitivity, real awareness, and true gnowingness (along with, of course, one's fidelity to that gnowingness). The REAL spiritual challenge is a simple one: to become integral with yourself, to develop true integrity, by doing what you yourself know is right. Without a doubt, true spirituality depends on a fidelity to inner gnowingness.
Note that this definition of spiritual integrity distinguishes true spirituality from nominal participation in formal religion: from blanket acceptance of dogmas and teachings, religious or otherwise; from card carrying membership in religious organizations; from fixed belief and blind faith; and from all external authorities, superstitious, scientific, psychological, or any other kind. But that's a good thing, because indeed, only a mature expression of spirituality can adequately challenge and satisfy a mature soul in the cosmic adventure of spiritual evolution.
Simple messages are comforting music to young ears, but those same messages, falling on mature ears, can seem over-simplistic, and therefore create a feeling of discomfort -- or even an impression of having one's intelligence insulted. Only truth that adequately and accurately reflects what the Self-same Self knows to be true earns and keeps the respect of a mature human being.
Spiritual rectitude
The fruitful search for LIVING spirituality depends upon a higher degree of responsibility than what most traditional churches require. For people who are unprepared for the more mature challenges of spiritual responsibility, the combination of religion's ready support and mild encouragement provide an ideal balance. But the spirit of casual laxity embodied by the archetypical "Sunday Christian" may sorely disappoint the bolder souls, who are eager for the steeper challenges upon which further evolutionary development depends.
True spirituality, as rigorous as desired, can be exercised inside or outside the church. The challenges of true spirituality are threefold:
1. To do what you know is right. True spiritual rectitude is a relationship of harmony with one's indwelling spark of living divine gnowingness. True spirituality must steadfastly offer a REAL spiritual challenge by inviting us to be true to ourselves. To sin is to deviate deliberately from the path of intuitively recognized rightness. We "sin" when we do something directly against our own inner sense of rightness.
2. To be case-sensitive in the discernment of rightness. In determining what is right, we must look around -- and FEEL -- to discern what is appropriately relevant to those around us.
3. To be the person God created. In this world, sincere seekers often approach a spiritual or religious organization bracing themselves, trying to consider exactly how far they're going to be bent out of shape -- out of their true SPIRITUAL shape, that is -- by the new religious possibility at hand. They've come to expect religion itself to be antithetical to Self. So they approach any spiritual group hoping for the best, perhaps, but also looking for something invalid. Whatever invalid parts are found generally become the basis for the rejecting the whole -- eventually.
In all the othering of religious and of spiritual organizations, what people don't understand is that REAL religion -- in other words, TRUE spirituality -- is ultimately a replication of our own gnowingness. True spirituality steadfastly presents the real spiritual challenge -- inviting us to be coherent with ourselves. It does NOT bend us out of our real shape; it only challenges us to get into our own real shape -- to become who we REALLY are: the person God made us to be. The primary spiritual default is deviation from our own spirit, our own divine nature.
True spirituality represents an overarching commitment to the manifestation of what is most deeply known and felt to be true and right. Therefore, it cannot possibly be RULE-driven -- it can only be INTEGRITY-driven.
In fact, the rite of passage to higher spirituality is to be able to stay on track with our transition into the unknown, despite probable discouragement from our fellow associates in the realm of the known.
When judged by the yardstick of inner integrity, an act that conforms perfectly to superficial rules of conduct may actually be SINFUL. Thus, in the light of living spiritual discernment, conventional "right" sometimes becomes spiritual "wrong" -- and vice versa.
Example: A man has learned that he should NEVER approach a woman who is a stranger to him, and pick her up. Nonetheless, if a woman happens to be drowning, it would be a sin NOT to help her -- and he will be inwardly aware of this.
Those who are familiar with New Testament stories will recognize that most of Christ's troubles resulted from his insistence on following the requirements of spirit -- rather than betraying the spirit to fulfill the conventional requirements of the day (religious or cultural). He very consciously sought to demonstrate this lesson: To choose for the spirit in the instance of such a conflict represents true rightness. To do the opposite, knowingly, is to sin -- meaning, to miss the mark.
The challenge of spiritual sensitivity
Here we can clearly see the difference in spiritual validity between an orthodox, rule-driven approach to spirituality, and the integrity-driven approach: True rightness is more than static correctness of pragmatic, philosophic, or cosmic conceptions -- true rightness depends, in large part, on the dynamic discernment of relevance. And this depends on living spiritual SENSITIVITY.
For one individual, or in one situation, a certain observance or action may be right; for another individual, or in a different situation, the same observance or action may be wrong. What is right may depend on many inner factors: spiritual maturity level, present knowingness, present aptitudes, present degree of discernment, and last but not least, the tone or intention of the acting party. There may also be numerous contextual or outer factors that weigh upon the rightness of an action. This consideration shows the extent to which true discernment of rightness requires us to be highly sensitive -- both inwardly and outwardly.
Not everyone will take to this more exacting approach, because not everyone is ready for it. Indeed, there are many more people who KNOW the truth of what we are saying than who will adapt to it anytime soon. In evolutionary development, actual adjustment and adaptation often happen LONG after knowingness is firmly in place. Even if we full well KNOW something is right, that doesn't necessarily mean we are ready or willing to DO it. Remember the fellow who whines, "Aw, heck -- I know I should jog, but I don't want to"? Clearly, real willingness -- not JUST knowingness -- is required for change.
Therefore, many people will continue to demand an approach to spiritual life that is really farther from who they essentially are, because they are not quite willing to be that coherent, that integral -- not YET.
Spiritual integrity vs. ego-integrity
Carefully note that when we say "integrity-guided," we do NOT mean "ego-guided." Some people think, "If I feel like it, then it expresses integrity." Or, "If it feels right, it is right." Nope -- life is not that simple. For now, suffice it to say, integrity-driven and ego-driven are practically opposites. People of TRUE integrity will be quick to acknowledge that. [For more information on the self-directed path of spiritual life, click here.]
Are you ready to proceed?
The road that leads to higher realizations of spirituality IS a path of deep self-honesty and true spiritual integrity. By holding before the individual the exact challenges of his own evolutionary necessity, true spirituality intimidates the weak while igniting and delighting the strong. Needless to say, those challenges are difficult to face. On recognizing higher challenges, many people will turn right around, and run back in the direction from whence they came -- whimpering, with their tail between their legs. Another tale of WHOA! Timid souls such as these appreciate the certainty expressed in salvation-by-faith doctrines. Those beliefs provide the reassurance such people need to confidently live up to their potential.
The challenge of living a more responsible spiritual life, inside or outside of organized religion, is one of finding dynamic adaptations, daily, of living spiritual principles. Many if not all of these principles are tenets of organized religion, but within the confines of religious prescription can often be interpreted in limiting or misleading ways. Later articles in this series will point out some of those key principles, acknowledge the pitfalls of their dogmatic interpretation, and offer guidance on how to employ them with genuine spiritual integrity.
Each and every one of us is possessed of a deep inner sensitivity which, if only we heed it faithfully, will lead to the high realizations of spirit. To follow that path is a mature and conscious choice. But deeper spirituality begins where timidity and irresponsibility leaves off. If you are ready and willing to follow the path of your spirit where it leads, this article has given you a sound understanding of the principles of living spirituality, and some sensible, practical guidance towards the higher personal realizations of spirit (the kind of spiritual fulfillment that religion cannot -- in and of itself -- guarantee). Whether you break from organized religion or not, it will help you put a broad and strong spiritual foundation under your spiritual search.

by David Truman

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