You may be asking: what is spiritual health? What is emotionally healthy spirituality? Are there spiritual awakening stages? As it turns out, spiritual health, the spiritual journey, can be considered to be the same as the journey from immaturity to maturity; the same as the journey from ignorance to wisdom. Emotionally healthy spirituality means coming to grips with some fundamental life lessons; facing and integrating five difficult to swallow fundamental life promises (truths).
We find ourselves in a culture of people who, as biology demands, are aging but are not, in any significant way, growing up. Many of us would agree that our leaders and elected officials are indeed older (much too often also white and male) and lack anything we would identify as wisdom or hard-won maturity save a few notable exceptions. In my work as a therapist with adolescents and young adults over the years, I have found an overwhelming consensus in the expression that they do not know what it means or how to even begin the process of growing up. What does mature adulthood look like and how do we begin to offer not just the promise of growing old but of truly growing up?
In our western civilization, we have confused, with tragic results, education for maturation, and information for transformation. Intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom and a life lived well cannot be reduced to a merely mechanistic or formulaic quid pro quo. Wisdom is “lived-truth,” and must be sought out experientially. It was the ancients and the native peoples who seemed to understand this reality and developed essential rites of passage for their young people to participate in as a way to learn and embody the wisdom that is found in nature, the earth, the cosmos, and that which is imperceptible to the five senses.
Across time and culture, five predominant themes of mature adulthood emerge as participants move through the phases of separation, liminality, and reintegration. This pattern can be seen in numerous initiation rites, the hero and heroines’ journey, the dark night of the soul, and so on. These themes or “promises” as spiritual director Richard Rohr calls them are as follows:
Promise 1. Your life will be hard.
Promise 2. You are not in control.
Promise 3. Your life is not about you.
Promise 4. You are not that important.
Promise 5. You are going to die.
Prior to any real transformative experience or genuine spiritual journey, these promises often sound like curses and the avoidance or willful resistance of these promises only seems to make sense. However; it is precisely the refusal to accept and even celebrate these promises that has led us into a cultural environment that makes no sense, that is nonsense. The fight against these promises is a major factor in the unprecedented escalation in cases of anxiety and depression in our society. Likewise, the perpetuation of injustice, exploitation, and violence requires that we first reject the truth of these promises. It is precisely our reactivity against these promises that expose how our unregulated emotions often become complicit with our chronic societal immaturity.
The unspoken rejection of these promises sounds something like this:
- “My life will not be hard and I don’t care what it costs, people or planet, to make me comfortable!”
- “I will be in control and will push, oppress, punish, or even kill anyone or anything that gets in my way!”
- “Life is all about me and I am the center of my universe, to hell with justice, to hell with the next generation, to hell with the planet!”
- “I am important and it all depends upon me; I am important and you shall treat me as such; I am important and if I can’t be famous then I will be infamous.”
- “I will not think about death, I will not consider my role in this world or ecosystem, I will not acknowledge the brevity or smallness of my bodily existence in comparison with the cosmos.”
It is the rejection of these promises that brings a curse upon our lives and society. It is the rejection of these promises which dulls our minds and makes our lives utterly incoherent. It is the rejection of these promises that is the rejection of reality, the rejection of truth, the rejection of wisdom. I invite you, over the next few months, to explore with me the truth, wisdom, and ultimate freedom that comes from an experiential exploration of these five promises of growing up, not just growing old.
We will explore together the spiritual awakening stages brought about by grappling with the five fundamental promises we have just discussed. We will explore together how these promises, once honestly accepted and integrated into the depths of our psyches, can move us from immaturity to emotionally healthy spirituality and maturity. Let’s look further into the stages of the spiritual journey into spiritual health.