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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  106                                                 Days Blogged: 96

New Mileage: 12                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 797

As I ride the bike this morning I’m thinking about the pilgrimage site we are visiting today. It’s the St. Leo Abby and Holy Name Monastery in St. Leo Florida. The site includes a monastery, a convent and an adjacent College. The site is manned by Benedictine monks and nuns. It overlooks a lake and offers beautiful grounds, including a grotto and college campus to walk, contemplate, pray and meditate. Like many of the retreat centers at the monasteries and convents, they offer the opportunity to spend the night and if you so desire, you can join the monks and nuns in their daily prayer and religious routines.

Thinking about this site brings back an important memory for me.  After I finished by first year of college, I took a summer job with a book company based in Nashville. They trained me to sell Student Handbooks (dictionaries) door to door. After a week of training they dropped me and my roommate off at a small rural northern Alabama town and drove away. It was suggested that we speak with a local church to ask if any church member might be able to “house” us for several weeks before we moved on to the next location. I asked my roommate which church he attended to which he responded “I’m Catholic” and I said “Me too!” As we sat in a small greasy-spoon diner, I asked the waitress: “Where is the local Catholic church?” She all but laughed in our faces, shaking her head as she exclaimed “Ain’t No Catholics in Blount County.” I sudden felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she exclaimed “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

This sentiment was driven home even more profoundly when three weeks later, as I and a new roommate were told to move a couple of counties to the west and resume our sales. As we pulled into the new town I asked him which church do you belong to and of course he reported: “I’m Catholic.” I’m not one to give up on an idea without trying it a few times, so I checked the local phonebook. Much to my surprise, there was a Catholic monastery on the outskirts of the town. We drove there and spoke with the monk in charge. For the next two weeks we stayed in a simple, austere room with a marginally comfortable bed. We ate with the monks who were a pleasant and cheerful group. One humorous aspect of the experience was that no alcohol was allowed in the county. Yet the monks brewed their own beer in the basement of the monastery. On Saturday night each monk would use his personal mug to enjoy a few “cool ones,” mixed  with plenty of laughter.

I didn’t realize at the time, but this experience with the monks in this beautifully tranquil setting would plant a very important seed that would blossom into my future spirituality. In the years to come, as I travelled the world in the US Navy, I would come to experience and recognize the power of a contemplative approach toward spirituality. I would find solitude in nature and through meditation and I would come to recognize the deep well of creativity and wisdom residing at the core of my being. Only now do I realize that this chance meeting with a Monastery full of monks presented me with a glimpse of a tranquil solitary path to a deeper level of understanding. The priests and nuns who had populated my experiences at the church schools I attended, while well meaning, seemed more like task masters and overlords than models and guides. It would be in the Hindu and Buddhist temples of the East that this seed would take root and I would find my first spiritual teachers and ultimately, my inner guide.

St. Leo's Abby

As I have been conducting my search for pilgrimage sites and retreat centers I’ve come across many Catholic monasteries and convents. This makes sense given that the church has long recognized the importance of the inward focused, often solitary contemplative approach to spiritual journeys. During the dark ages in Europe it would be the monasteries and convents that were often the repository for knowledge where books were copied and housed. These facilities were often located in remote and isolated places to lessen the distractions of the world allowing for the residents’ endeavors to connect with the divine (mystically) or receive revelation through studies of the sacred scriptures.

Given these feelings, you can perhaps understand why I was “taken back” when my Google search of “contemplative spirituality” produced 10 references that all presented a negative view of the practice. It was described as wrong, evil, non-Christian and as a highly suspect movement towards mysticism. They specifically mention problems with the use of labyrinths, promoting pagan rituals, and of meditation, not involving the sacred scriptures.

In my last posting I spoke about the levels of analysis one can use when examining examples of religious behavior. We can use a form/substance level of analysis or we can analyze it on the functional level. As I look at this criticism directed toward contemplative spirituality I see that all 10 of the references make use of the form/substance level of analysis. They do not believe the contemplative approach fits what they define as the “true religion.” It doesn’t quote the “correct” sacred scripture or make reference to a valid source of truth in their view. I take a functional approach toward this issue. When I see people walking a labyrinth, sitting in quiet prayer or meditation, writing a poem, creating an artwork, or walking quietly along a river, I recognize all of these as functioning as forms of prayer. All can represent forms of connectedness with parts of themselves, with the world about them, and with something greater than ourselves.

I point out to my students that the theory we use to make sense of the world can have significant consequences for ourselves and others around us. If you use a form and substance analysis you often label behaviors and rituals as true or false, or right and wrong. If you take a functional approach you often end up seeing many diverse behaviors and rituals as meeting the same function for different individuals or groups and that’s OK. Just as the world is made up of people with different tastes for food, different preferences for cars, and different ideas about politics so too the world is made up of people who experience the divine and connect with the divine in different ways and that’s OK! 

Sunset at the Abby lake!

If you would like to visit the Abby’s webpage please click on the Pilgrimage Site tab at the top of this posting.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  92                                      Days Blogged: 90 

New Mileage: 12                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 733

I am riding the bike tonight in a great deal of pain.  Last week I made a trip to the dentist.  It made for an interesting experience and was mentioned in my blog, but something is amiss!  So I will try and get in to see someone in the next couple days. Hopefully all it will take is an antibiotic and some pain killer to make things right.

Today I met with the two sections of my Psychology of Religion course for the first time.  Close to fifty young people will sit through my lectures and tests for the next fourteen weeks.  We will discuss the various personal and societal functions that religion meets within our individual lives and our culture.  We will explore fourteen different religious traditions that now have roots in the United States, everything from Jainism, Baha’i’, Zen, to Islam. 

Tolerance or Acceptance?

We talked today about the difference between diversity, a recognition of the wide variety of different faith traditions, and pluralism, which is an acceptance of the validity of these beliefs for each tradition.  For society to function properly we must have at least a tolerance of the diversity within our society.  For our society to flourish and prosper I would argue we need to not just tolerate others but celebrate our differences by embracing a pluralistic attitude.

I tell my students that it is not my intention to challenge or undermine their belief systems. I do not want them to “lose their religion.”  However, I expect that they will explore their beliefs on various topics that are important in the discussion of religious traditions.  Such as:” What is the source of mankind’s suffering? What is the nature of the divine (Deity or Godhead)?  What happens after we die?  Each of the various belief systems has an answer to these questions.  Our exploration and discussion is not undertaken to establish which of the belief systems has “the truth,” but to explore how each express and experience “their truth.”

All hold their truth!

I challenge the students to recognize the importance of culture and time period (e.g. how were Buddha’s beliefs tied to Hinduism, India and the time period of 400 BCE) to understand what shaped the nature of a tradition’s beliefs.  I challenge them to recognize the various sources of knowledge and how different religions make use of these sources. For example, the primary monotheisms are called “people of the book” for their reliance on the revealed wisdom of the Old Testament; whereas Zen Buddhists will tell you to burn all of your sacred books because true knowledge and understanding comes from revelations of moment-to-moment experiences.

We will study the differences between cults, sects and churches and the importance of mystical experiences in some of the wisdom traditions.  We will discuss the characteristics of belief systems that head down a “slippery slope” to what some people would call an “evil religion.”  One of these characteristics is holding to the belief that “the ends justify the means.”  I remember hearing someone after the 9/11 terrorist attacks make the statement: “kill all of the Muslims and let God sort them out.”  In their eyes the goal of safety with respect to a perceived threat trumped the death of innocents and the ill will that such actions would generate.

It will be an interesting semester with so many religious topics in the news to act as fodder for our class discussions.  Of course as the semester progresses the unfolding “signs of spring” will make it harder for the students and their teacher to focus on course materials. Maybe rather than lecturing on Taoism I will just send the class out to commune with nature and “know Tao” as an in-the- moment experience!

Each brings their offering to the community table.

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle with the effects of today’s earth quake.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  89                                      Days Blogged: 89 

New Mileage: 10                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 721

I am an optimist!  I believe that with a focused effort people can regain control over their individual lives and that we as a culture and society can solve the dilemmas and threats we face. However, I am also a realist!  I know there are many opposing forces at play in our lives and that of our culture and society.  Some forces bring us together while others push us apart. Finding the middle ground, the point of balance between these forces is a daunting task for an individual and a society. This is part of the reason why people seek out therapists, spiritual leaders, and the wisdom of the ages.

Yesterday I paused at the entrance to a colleague’s office, an historian, to inquire about his holiday break.  I know his beliefs on a lot of topics and they bear little resemblance to my own.  An initial discussion of his lingering head cold soon turned to politics and religion. I had not intended to steer the discussion in this direction but it went there at his insistence.  He wanted to talk about “them Muslims and terrorists” and how they are all the enemy. Several times I caught myself becoming defensive and pulled back from confronting his views.  Instead I argued for the need to learn more about the Muslims viewpoint so that we might connect with the more moderate element of their faith. He eventually agreed with my statement that an “us versus them” or an “I’m right and your wrong” approach to such matters leaves no one a winner.  Then with barely a pause he noted how the Muslims needed to change first as it was their fault that these are increasingly dangerous times.

Dichotomous Thinking and it's Solution.

This represents an example of dichotomous thinking and can be defined as: thinking that is also sometimes called “black or white thinking.”  This is when someone is only able to see the extremes of a situation, and is unable to see the “gray areas” or complexities of the situation.”  Such thinking sits up a vicious “us versus them” trap. If truth and righteousness are on our side then why is there any need to understand, accept or compromise with anyone we see as an opponent.  If we hold up a pre-conceived idea of what it means to “meet us half way” then are we not simply demanding that they endorse our position?  Is it at all surprising that presented with these demands, those on the other side will become defensive and see their only option to be resistance in various forms, including perhaps suicide bombings?   I’m reminded of reading the following quote by Pat Buchanan to a Christian Coalition meeting: “Our culture is superior. Our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free.”  With this attitude why do we need to sit down and have a discussion with anyone of another religion, culture, sexual orientation, or political party?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I am reminded of Abraham Maslow’s well known “Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid”.  He notes that the lower level “Deficiency Needs” of safety and belonging seem stronger in pull than the higher level “Being Needs” such as justice, beauty, compassion and love. One needs to be reflective and attuned to recognize and hear the “voices” of these higher needs. One needs to be aware of the “humanness” of those people who seem opposed to us and of the similarity of our own emotions and needs.

Label them a beast and they will act as one!

I left this disturbing interaction with my colleague and immediately took a walk. I savored the sting of the winter breeze on my face, filled my lungs with deep breaths of the cold air and listened to the rhythmic sounds of my footsteps.  I let the calming influence of nature bring me back to the moment. 

A tranquil retreat and pilgrimage!

 Why do some people create altars in their living space, place a bench under a cherished tree, walk a favorite path, or go on a spiritual pilgrimage journey?  I believe it is because during these times and in these places we experience moments of balance in our lives which help us to see the possibility of similar balance in the larger world.  If only more of the dichotomous thinkers could or would avail themselves to these peaceful places.  Perhaps then we would all be closer to finding true peace.

Disasterous retreat from a no win situation.

Thanks to The Curious Animator at www.tomjech.com/blog/category/images for the dichotomous thinking cartoon. If you enjoyed this posting please consider signing up for the stationarypilgrim’s e-mail list by clicking on the subscribe button at the top right of this page… thank you for visiting!

 

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  84                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 85 

 Today’s Mileage: 8                                             Total Trip Mileage: 695

 As I ride the bike this morning I think about how quickly the celebrations of the New Year have come to an end.  How quickly we find ourselves back on the path, back to the grind and the demands of life. We strike off again with a hand full of new resolutions, refreshed motivation and knowledge that spring will soon follow the cold biting winds of winter.

Life is a Dance!

Yesterday I shared with you a number of quotes and images to ponder as you faced the New Year. One of my regular blog followers made that comment: “Funny how some authors lend themselves to quotes, and others, also favorites, will hardly have a quotable sentence in a whole book.” Almost two weeks ago I produced a blog entitled: Inspirational Sayings: Gifts With Out Instructions.  I noted that inspirational messages, while important, may be meaningless if the person receiving them is without the skill, abilities or resources to meet the goal they are working towards.  My viewer’s comment got me to wondering about Wisdom.  Is it always useful and meaningful? How is it that some people can present it in a sentence or two, while others need a whole lecture, book or lifetime to express it?

I googled the phase “Words of Wisdom” and found over 18 million references. The search broke them down into general categories which included: Funny Words of Wisdom, Inspirational Quotes, Words of Encouragement, Short Words of Wisdom, and Words of Wisdom and More Good Advice.

How do I make sense of the sources and forms of Wisdom?   To begin, I must speak in a general way to what I see as the primary motivation of our journey through life. I believe that life is a process. Like a dance, it is a balance between two partners.  One partner is represented by our desire to find meaning in life, to understand it, and to make it at best, predictable.  This partner tends to explore the past for patterns and the future for possibilities.  The second partner is represented by our desire to experience life. This partner lives in the moment of the sensations of the dance, the rhythm and beat of the music, the spinning and twirling and the movement of the dance.  One partner reviews the past and points to the future as the other spins and twirls in the moment.  Together they can achieve a balance that advances both causes and fills both desires.

Something is not in balance!

I believe that finding this balance is a major goal for most individuals and that it is the healthiest goal we can undertake!  Some people fall short of this goal, as they fail to see life as a dance. They may deny one partner to the advantage of the other.  They act as if life is a solitary dance and as a result turn all of life into an intellectual puzzle, or a hedonistic free for all.  Others recognize the dance and the presence of the two partners, but then give dominance to one, allowing them to be the sole leader and director of the dance.

I have observed that if one has not found this balanced dance, that person often feels as if something is “missing.” They feel as if they are missing a partner or are unable to “get onto the same page of music.”  The dance becomes a struggle. When you achieve the balance, comfort and joy are found and the dance becomes effortless!

Back to the question of Wisdom!  I believe that wisdom comes about when we recognize patterns in the dance and can make predictions about choices and paths we might follow.  This experience can be put into words and represents the Wisdom of Meaning.  Wisdom can also arise in the experiential realm of the dance.  This is “known” but not spoken and shows up in the ease of the master athlete when a racket or bat becomes but an extension of their arm.  The person with this wisdom imagines a movement or a dance step and it just happens.  To some it may look like magic or the product of the supernatural, while others will recognize it as the Wisdom of Experience (knowledge of the dance movement).

 I believe that each type of Wisdom has two forms! Personal Wisdom is unique to our story and circumstances but may have little application to others.  There is only one eldest son of Lee and Rose Ann, born in Iowa, raised in the Dakotas, veteran of the US Navy, artist, poet, therapist, college professor and now a stationary pilgrim! My personal wisdom has created many an interesting story, as my students regularly attest, but only bits and pieces of it reverberate with my listeners. The other form is Universal Wisdom. It is achieved when the dancer sees common patterns in their dance and the dance of others.  This wisdom is realized in the shared aspects of the dance.

Balanced Dance!

For all my uniqueness, I share many experiences with others; of being an eldest child, a veteran, a therapist, a teacher, a parent, an artist.  I believe that what makes me a good teacher and therapist is my ability to weave and highlight this more universal wisdom into the details of my stories.  Sometimes I try to distill it out into a quote or a sentence or two (i.e. Be certain, but humble!).  At other times I highlight it like a bright thread running throughout the story.  I hope the listener might recognize similar threads in their own histories and follow them to find the universal wisdom in their lives. I believe it is this universal wisdom that makes up the bulk of the “inspirational and motivational quotes and advice” people view as gems of wisdom.  Personal wisdom on the other hand might be intriguing and interesting, but does not reverberate with many other people.

Back to the question of why some authors and teachers are so quotable and others are not? Some individuals hold primarily personal wisdom even though they may harbor a great deal of knowledge about topics of interest (e.g. hold a PhD in an area).  But look as hard as you can and you will not find the universal gems. Other individuals have achieved not only a level of universal wisdom, but the ability to distill it down into a handful of words or a poignant and relevant example. These gems are often embraced by others as a gift and/or a significant discovery.  This is in part because it seems that the giver has done all of the work of mining them from a life lived, a life dance embraced!  I caution you to recognize these as gifts but not answers.  They are insights into patterns, universal yes, but patterns that you must work to uncover in your own dance.   The universal wisdom is only valuable if we make it personal in our own life.  It must be transformed into personal wisdom, and used to bring balance to our dance. Otherwise it is just a showy piece of costume jewelry and not a special treasure.

Dance like no one is watching!

A quick note on today’s blog title; I have been planning a drop in gathering for my eldest son as he leaves for the Army in three days.  He informed his mother today that he will not make it to the event.  I have a suspicion that he is looking for an excuse to not let family and friends say their goodbyes.  This saddens me but is not surprising.  He has made a practice out of making his choices, while ignoring the needs and desires of others.  That is his choice!  All I can do is try to glean some wisdom from the whole experience, which is why I also remind myself: “The best laid plans are just that… plans!”

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  73                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 74

Today’s Mileage: 5                                            Total Trip Mileage: 636

I’m dictating today’s posting in front of a blazing fire.  It’s a frosty clear morning as I continue my efforts at clearing away dead trees and branches on our property.  I’m sure fire has always had a lot of symbolic meaning. We appear to have both a fascination towards its flickering mysteries, and a need for its illumination and heat.  I believe it also speaks to our need to let go and release that which is old and rotten to make way for the new.

Look within to find the light!

I had not intended to talk about flame and fire today.  I want to address today’s blog to a particular individual.  I have never met him, but I have seen his words and his photo in the daily paper on numerous occasions.  I am speaking to Charles Krauthammer, or should I say Dr. Krauthammer.  He is a Washington Post political commentator, who in today’s paper noted that he was going to do something he rarely did, be self-reflective!  He wrote: “I’m not much given to self-reflection – why do you think I quit psychiatry? – but I figure once every quarter-century is not excessive.”

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.

 Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens —Jung

Venus looking in the mirror.

 That’s a long time to go without holding up the mirror of self-reflection, to explore how one finds meaning in life, and the consequences of our choices. When my partner, who read me the column aloud, noted his training in psychiatry I responded: “That explains a lot!” Let me clarify what I meant.

Over the course of my 25 years as a Clinical Psychologist and therapist, I have often explained to people the difference between psychology and psychiatry.  Psychiatrists are first and foremost trained as medical practitioners.  They are taught a biological view on the causes of problematic behaviors and given prescription pads. Pathology and problems are traced back to some biological imbalance. Then they find the right drug and voila! They have found the solution. Talking psychotherapy is no longer a main component of psychiatry.  In fact, I have been told that some psychiatry programs no longer require it as part of their training. I have a friend and former student who is currently struggling with a serious psychiatric illness in her family. Much of her frustration centers on the fact that many of the psychiatrists her family member has contact with are foreign born and barely speak English!  Psychotherapy is pretty much out of the question and drugs are the only prescription.

Missing pieces!

Psychologists on the other hand, have no prescription pads.  They must rely on their abilities to listen, to clarify, to uncover and to explore with the client.  This therapeutic process explores the client’s past and current perceptions, beliefs and circumstances to uncover the often multidimensional nature of their problem.  Therapists do not carry “road maps” for what the client should do or who they should become.  They advocate a “process” that helps the client explore and find their own road map. We are less a prescriber and more a mentor.

 Prescribers can afford to see the world through their own lens or perspective, and may find little need to check their lens (cleaning or changing them).  They only need to be certain about what they prescribe. Mentors on the other hand need to constantly hold up a mirror to make sure they are following the same self-reflective process of growth and discovery that they challenge their client to engage in.  They need to see the world through the patient’s lens/perspective; they need to be humble that it is not the same as theirs.

I now understand why I seldom make it past the first couple paragraphs of Dr. Krauthammer’s columns. It’s not just that I am liberal and he is conservative, it’s not that I am closed minded, it’s because he has a process and perspective much like a prescription pad.  No need to listen to the other side, no need to be empathetic or open to other views, just pull out your prescription pad, scribble out your note, proclaim it loudly, ignore any dissent and move on to the next patient.

It’s easy for me to see how Dr. Krauthammer moved from writing prescriptions to climbing on his commentator soap box and shouting out his rhetoric.  He is “the Doctor”, and our society is “the patient.”  He will write columns/prescriptions whether they work or whether we listen.  But that is his right, just as it is our right to reject any prescription regardless of what letters follow the person’s name!

Please note it is not my intention to paint all of psychiatry in a negative way.  I have met and worked with many caring, compassionate and dedicated psychiatrists, both foreign and native born. Drug prescriptions have their place in the treatment regiment, but they are not the only or necessarily the best solution to a patient’s problems.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  71                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 72

Today’s Mileage: 10                                            Total Trip Mileage: 627

 As I ride the bike today I think about an observation that I made last night at a well known national bookstore.  I was gift shopping for my partner; she had been kind enough to provide me with a list of titles so that I would not present her with the wrong selection. I was glancing around the tables that displayed a wide array of colorful journals and diaries.  Many of them were adorned with beautiful drawing and photos or  inspirational messages:

Dance as though no one is watching you.

Love as though you have never been hurt before.

Sing as though no one can hear you.

Live as though heaven is on earth.

                                                                   Souza

Recipes: A cooking Journal.

Write it down!

Memories are all that’s left.

Live, Love, laugh!

                               Barbara Morina

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!

Life is the life you imagine.

                                                           Thoreau

 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change:

 the courage to change the things I can;

and the wisdom to know the difference.

                                                                          Reinhold Niebuhr

I hear and I forget.

I see and I remember.

I do and I understand.

                   Confucius

 

Some of the authors and their messages I recognized and had heard before as they are  quotations that frequent “daily wisdom” books and websites.  Many of the journal covers bore no words but were adorned with pleasant scenes, often oriental Zen paintings of nature.  As I looked over the selection I heard the voices of innumerable past clients, students and friends chanting: “I’m ready, but now what?”

Knute Rockne with the four horseman

 The problem with inspirational messages by themselves is that they assume all the person needs to accomplish what ever task they have chosen is a pep talk. Like a coach who “fires up the boys” before sending them into a game.  If they have not practiced and do not have a game plan all the pep in the world will not help win the game.

 Therapists often see people who arrive at an insight, like “I have a problem,” who then believe that somehow their problem is almost solved. In reality, their journey towards health has just begun. The same rule fits for spiritual endeavors, recognizing that you have lost your connection with the divine or that you desire some change in your life is the first step in the journey. One of my favorite sayings as a marital therapist is “Marriages may be made in heaven, but you got to do your own maintenance!”

  Another favorite sayings goes: “The devils in the details.”  How to navigate around obstacles and move forward is the real challenge and often represents the place in which we need guidance not just inspiration. This is where therapists step forward with  theories and techniques and spiritual guides step forward with “tried and true” wisdom and teachings.

If you find yourself considering an inspirational gift for a loved one, you might want to ask yourself if their inability to “pull it together and move forward” requires more than just a pep talk… perhaps you need to inquire about the location of the self-help, therapy and world religions sections!

 Looking at the journals I noticed there were a number of messages that were either humorous or somewhat troubling, such as the: “It’s all about me Diary!”… Narcissism anyone?  Or a humorous cartoon cat speaking to a cat with kittens: “Can I borrow these kittens for an hour? I want to freak out the people who had me spayed.”

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 62                                Consecutive Days Blogging: 63

Today’s Mileage: 10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 545

The red line traces our progress.

A Spiritual Buffet?

Before I climbed on the bike this morning I reviewed an article on the front page of yesterday’s USA Today. The lead story was entitled: Mixing Their Religion: Many choose their faith from a spiritual buffet. The article was based on a recent survey of Americans about their religious beliefs. Over the past several years I have seen similar survey results pointing to a growing diversity in our nation’s religious and spiritual beliefs.  In particular several of them point to the fact that while many people may go to church, their beliefs often do not fit with that church’s dogma and teachings. These findings have fueled many a discussion on talk radio, chat rooms or newspaper letters to the editor.  It is clear there is a growing “blending” of diverse spiritual threads within people’s personal belief systems.  The question that fuels for many of these discussions is “what does this mean?”

Some individuals’ and groups’ answer to this question would lead us to believe that this blending is problematic and perhaps a sign of decay within our existing institutions.  Other individuals and groups see this blending as a positive sign, as an embracing of diversity and a sign of growth. Personally, I think it maybe both, a warning sign and a promising change! 

A Spiritual Entree?

Within psychology we have long recognized that our developing belief system follows a set process.  From the moment we are born, we are an information processing system.  We input data, we analyze data, we make assumptions and simple decisions based on this data, and we act on our assumptions and receive feedback from our environment (i.e. success or failure, reinforcement or punishment). This whole process operates with the goal of making sense of our world so we can act to get what we want and need. 

Initially this belief system (explanations and expectations) are given to us by parents, teachers, and ministers.   It represents a readymade road map with canned explanations of life’s demands.  But as any parent knows, fairly early in some cases, the challenges and questions concerning these beliefs will eventually follow!  Beliefs are constantly tested, we make predictions and then we wait to see if we are right.  Positive outcomes strengthen our beliefs; negative outcomes may lead us to search for better explanations, perhaps even new beliefs.  As we grow and mature, our beliefs are more and more of our own choosing.  We retool what we were taught with new information, new teachings and new experiences. 

My point is that exploring, sampling, testing and choosing are all part of our human nature.  Our religious and spiritual beliefs are no different than our political or economic beliefs. Many psychologists would argue that the sign of “maturity” is not in the content of your belief system (that it be different from your youth) but that you believe in the content for a different reason. Maturity is judged by how “well tested” your current beliefs are and whether they have they been challenged (internally, externally or both) and “forged” by life experiences.  You do not have to believe they are true, you know they are true for you!

Some of all or just one?

But how can this smorgasbord approach to spirituality be both positive and negative?  I believe  the distinction resides with the answers to two questions. First, does this blended belief system really fit for you, does it provide you with sound advice?  For some people this blended system simple represents a “quick and easy” or momentary convenient fit, perhaps just a “fad.”  Secondly, does this belief system promote a true state of transcendence and growth in the individual’s actions, thoughts and feelings?  For others this smorgasbord of a meal may simply provide temporary relief and a return to the “status quo.” 

For some a visit to the buffet provides nourishing advice and leads to growth. For others, sticking with a single satisfying entrée leads to a fulfilling meal and growth.

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