Applying Critical Thinking Skills to Spiritual Practice

While teaching a college level class a Philosophy course on Critical Thinking I am struck by how useful certain concepts of critical thinking can be if applied to one’s spiritual practice.  Among these are:

  1. Stop and think. Before making rash judgments about a person or situation:
    1. Step back and reflect on the “who, what and why” of a situation. Then use more complex thinking skills like comparison, evaluation and creativity to understand that situation and person more deeply.
    2. Check the facts and sources, especially on what most likely are rumors and misguided information.
  2. Be open to hearing the other person’s views and try to get in their shoes to see where they are coming from. This doesn’t mean you have to accept everything the person says.  It does mean you care enough about that person to respect them, their opinion and the right for everyone to express their views.
  3. Be aware that your own thinking processes keeping you from arriving at the truth. For some examples:
    1. In critical thinking the term “Self-serving Bias” refers our natural tendency to watch out for our own interests. While this is healthy to a certain degree, it can certainly go too far, not allowing us to see or understand the interests of other people in a situation.  It robs us of empathy.  We need to stop and be aware when that self-serving bias is kicking in too much.  We may see the self-serving bias at work in others but it is often very hard to spot in ourselves.
    2. Then there is “Ethical Fading,” a concept which means that when we are actively a member of a group, our personal values and morals may “fade” as we adopt the morals and values of the group to which we belong. This is fine if the group’s morals are more developed than our own, but it can be destructive if the opposite is true.  This means:
      1. We have to be aware of the values of the groups to which we belong. Are they lifting us up or are they bringing us down?
      2. We have to speak up when the group with a high standard starts to deviate from its moral compass.
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The Widow’s Mite: Turning a Good Practice into a Spiritual Practice

What makes a good practice a spiritual practice? Is there a difference? Is the practice of doing good things for a charitable, non-religious organization the same as doing a spiritual practice? Conversely, can the practice doing good work for a church always be called a spiritual practice?

The answer lies not necessarily in the work itself but in the intention and integrity of the individual involved—and in the deepening way that person is changed by the practice. For some people, volunteering for the Rotary Club can be a spiritual practice. For others, donating food to the poor in a church drive can be no more than business transaction: giving something to get something in return.

True spirituality has the characteristics of being driven by a conscious intention, a shining integrity that encompasses the whole person with an ever deepening quality of bringing that person closer to God, other people, and nature itself.  If a person’s good works includes these things; it is definitely a spiritual practice.

A Spiritual Practice Starts with Intention

Spirituality starts with clear-eyed intention that asks questions like, “What am I doing, why am I doing it and for whom am I doing it?”

If the answer involves, “Me, me and me,” a good practice may be nothing more than making myself look good before the world. The practice may be a way of telling the world how rich or powerful I am. It may be a way to smooth relations so that I can gain something in the future. Or it may simply be “good for business.”

However, if the answer involves something like, “I don’t necessarily want to do this but I feel called to do it,” or “This is something that needs to happen to make the world a better place,” probably the answer is spiritually driven.

A Spiritual Practice Shines with Integrity

A true spiritual practice involves the whole person. It is a practice that asks the person not only go to the strong and sure places inside but also to go to the dark and hidden places: to see what’s there, make peace with it, and use this greater understanding to help others. Nothing is hidden or covered up. All is valued as part of an integrated whole. This why a good spiritual practice is one that gently calls us out of our comfort zone—not one that keeps us there.  It asks us to peek at the ultimate truth of vulnerability and powerless; and not blink.

A Spiritual Practice Transforms Us

The practice of repeatedly moving out of our comfort zone enlarges our spirits to the point it literally transforms us and our relationships. We are no longer the fear-driven people we were before. Instead of hiding and withdrawing; we are opening and deepening our relationships with God and the world. If need be, we are willing to give everything to help the world, like the widow who gave all she had, to do something that is important. It is not our power at work; but a spiritual power that speaks volumes.

Dreams and Spirituality: The Usefulness of Dreamwork as a Spiritual Method

Recording dreams regularly will provide many insights not otherwise available to the waking mind.

Recording Dreams

Dreams have a lot to do with spirituality.  From ancient times, dreams were seen as the visual expression of the soul and the means through which divine beings communicated with humans.  Even today, Jungian psychologists note the great importance and help that dreams can provide in revealing the concerns of the soul.

Edgar Cayce, a great intuitive seer of the 2oth century and so-called Father of Holistic Medicine, considered dreams to be a true source of information above and beyond what our waking mind could comprehend.  He considered dreams to have different levels of meaning but all dreams had a spiritual meaning.  Therefore, it is important to see dreams as a spiritual expression of one’s deepest self.

Three Benefits of Dreamwork for Spiritual Growth

For these reasons, a personal program of spiritual development can greatly be enhanced by the ongoing practice of dreamwork, where a person makes an intention to remember, record, and reflect on their dreams in a conscientious manner in order to learn from them.  Among the many benefits that dreamwork can bring to spiritual growth are:

  1. You are giving your soul a voice—an often ignored cry in those who ignore their dreams. Since dreams convey the concerns of the soul, listening to and taking dreams seriously is the equivalent of taking the soul seriously!  Give that Inner Voice a platform for expression!
  2. Getting to know your soul’s voice and its special language and symbols as expressed in dreams is really an act of getting to know yourself better. By listening to the Inner Voice through dreams, the dreamer gets more deeply in touch with themselves.  True spirituality is all about deepening relationships, especially the one with yourself!
  3. Dreams are also vehicles for one’s higher power to speak. They are a great way to receive contact from a spiritual guide.  The Bible is full of stories of how God spoke to humans.  It can happen to you, too!  Ask for a dream from your spiritual guide to help in a time of crisis.  What a way to boost your spiritual development when you receive wisdom beyond the waking mind’s ability to comprehend.

Some Indicators of Genuine Spirituality

These days, there is a lot of talk in the media about lies, falsehoods, sham investigations, fake news and phony Christianity. It’s almost as if the nation is undergoing a national dialogue to determine what is true and not true—what is integral to being an American. Organized religion itself is being challenged because of hypocrisy or a failure in moral leadership. More and more people are seeing a lack of spirituality in Christianity, often referring to an adage that religion is about authority and spirituality is about integrity. Perhaps in organized religion people see a lot of emphasis put on following rules or scripture but a lot less on practices that lead to a life of integrity. Again, there seems to a cry for something genuine, something true; not just in the faith and teachings but also in the living out of those faiths and beliefs. There is a call for genuine spirituality that begs the question, “What is genuine spirituality?” Spirituality, like good food, certainly has its indicators. If spirituality is about integrity, let’s look at the word integrity. The word integrity is etymologically related to the word integration and refers to the quality of wholeness. (See https://www.quora.com/Are-the-words-integral-and-integrity-related.) The key to understanding integrity and its role in spirituality is the idea of integration. Indeed, one of the indicators of genuine spirituality is the ability to integrate the profound negatives of life such as suffering, evil and ignorance with the deepest positives of life such as joy, love and enlightenment. This ability comes from intimately knowing through personal experience the highs and lows of life. Hence, another old adage: “Religion is for those who believe in heaven and hell; spirituality is for those that have been there.” Another indicator of genuine spirituality is the ability to tell one’s whole story; the good and the bad–and own it without glossing over the bad or bragging about the good. The telling of the story frees the storyteller from the grips of the negative of that story and challenges that person to put suffering into some sort of meaningful context. In other words, telling one’s story integrates the whole of his or her experience, making the storyteller whole. In spirituality, this integration literally takes in the whole of the person: body, mind and spirit. A spiritual person is deeply tuned into the messages of his or her body, emotions and soul. Likewise, the spiritual person is empathetic and tuned into these kinds of messages from other people, nature and the spiritual world. If you want to be spiritual, be integrated, be integral and you will not lack integrity.

Sacred Moments in Dreams

Dreams can bring sacred moments that help us through difficult times.

What are some of your sacred moments that have sustained you?

We all need sustaining visions that will get us through the worst times and give us clues to the good things that are to come.  Ironically, it is often when we begin to go through difficult times, the veil is lifted from our eyes and we are given the grace, a “sacred moment” that gives us the strength to undergo any ordeal we must face.  I remember a woman telling me that she was very nervous before a surgery to remove a cancer.  As she prayed in the hospital bed, waiting to be taken to the operating room, she had a vision of light that came into the room and surrounded her.  It gave her great comfort, so she was able to undergo the surgery with great peace.

One way we can experience profound sacred moments is in dreams.  Almost everyone I’ve met has had some dream that is profoundly spiritual and sacred to the person who has had the dream.  They may dream of flying effortlessly or they may dream of Jesus coming to visit them.  They may dream they are healed of some shame or regret they once had.

My experience has been that the very special dreams we have are meant to prepare us either for a special mission, an ordeal like a surgery or a difficult transformation.  For example, a dying person may dream of someone special, a loved one who has already died, coming for them and possibly leading them somewhere.  The dream has a sacred quality about it and tends to literally help the dying person die.  The dream then is a sacred moment which is preparing the person for transitioning from the worldly plane to the spiritual plane.

All of us have had “sacred moments” in our lives, either in dreams or in lived experiences.  Some people have had visions and some have experienced a deep connection with God, nature or another person.  What are some of your sacred moments?  How have these moments helped you feel that life is worthwhile, even in the midst of the most difficult times?  If you are in a low spot in your life you might consider asking for a dream that will present you with a “sacred moment” to get you through the hard times.

Help Me Grow A Spiritual Life Program at St. Mary of Mo’ili’ili

Spiritual Life Program at St. Mary's, Honolulu

Grow Spiritual Seeds

If you like the blogs I have posted giving concrete and practical information on how dreams and intuition can be used to improve health and grow spiritually, please help me grow a Spiritual Life Program at St. Mary of Mo’ili’ili in Honolulu, Hawaii.  We are just now launching a fundraising campaign to support classes on spirituality, dreamwork, meditation and mindful exercise as well as to offer a guest speaker program and other activities-all of which serve to honor the body, mind and spirit, holistically.  Under the supervision of St. Mary’s rector, the Rev. Greg Johnson, I will manage the program and teach many of the classes as money becomes available. Perhaps there will be something of interest to you. Certainly your financial help will help us grow seeds planted by the late Rev. Nancy Conley at St. Mary’s.

To go to our GoFundMe page and find out more, please click on the link below:

https://www.gofundme.com/StMary-SpiritualLife

You may also fund the conventional way by making out a check to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, for Spiritual Life Program/Ministries on the memo line.  Checks can be mailed to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 2062 South King St., Honolulu, HI  96826.

My new blog on a call for Spirituality: Three Women at the Tomb

Justifying one's own behavior

Image via Pinterest

Recent political events have made me question how a so many voters in a so-called Christian country could vote for a candidate who is more unprepared, unqualified, unsuited and uniformed than any presidential candidate in our nation’s history.  I can understand the need for change, a need for a new way of doing things.  But why didn’t they select a candidate who represented the highest of their hopes and spiritual ideas, and not the worst of their prejudices and fears?  I was stunned that so many people were willing to compromise principle in this election.  That is very similar to the rise of Adolph Hitler.  Does the end justify the means?  Apparently so, just as it did in the worst of the fascist and communist purges.

One has to ask why so many so-called Christians voted this way in the US and in pre-war Germany.  Was it the way they were trained in the Christian faith to be faithful servants to an organization and not to Jesus himself?  Jesus was a radical who was opposed to violence and treated everyone equally.  He was against the accumulation of wealth. It is no wonder the pope sent such an urgent reminder to President Trump.

When Christian Americans were voting, where was the spiritual depth to see that HOW WE DO THINGS IS AS IMPORTANT AS GETTING ORGANIZED AND GETTING THINGS DONE? The soul is in the how, not in the doing.  I have started a new blog that issues a call to get spirituality as found in the true model of Jesus out of the shadows and bring it front and center to shine real light on Christian action.  Please visit my blog https://3womenatthetomb.wordpress.com/.

The Bible, Dreams and Spirituality

Bible.malmesbury.arp
In Dreams: A Way to Listen to God Morton Kelsey says, “…the Church has developed no theory that can bring the spiritual world closer to human beings.” This is a powerful statement. One would think that it would be a primary function of Christian religions to do this. Instead, the mainline Christian churches have traditionally offered biblical and theological studies which provide intellectual and cultural understandings of Christianity, but have moved away from experiential forms of spirituality which might let us personally “taste and see” the glory of God. I think this is one reason so many people have left mainstream Christianity to explore yoga, meditation and other experiential approaches to connecting to something greater.  Yet, as Kelsey points out in his book, dreams have always been part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and he heartily recommends using them as a spiritual methodology to bring the spiritual world closer to us.

It’s not like the spiritual world isn’t trying to contact us. It does so nightly in our dreams! But how few people make an attempt to remember their dreams, and of those who do, how few make it a practice to honor, record, reflect and learn from their dreams?

One only has to pick up a Bible and see the frequent references to dreams and the important role they played in shaping people’s lives. People who could interpret dreams, like Joseph and Daniel, were held in high esteem because it was thought that God spoke through dreams. In the Bible, the information received in dreams is shown to be very important such as in predicting times of flood or famine or helping a person in need. Joseph, the husband of Mary, was one of many who received an important message in a dream. He was told to not worry in taking Mary as his wife since the child she had conceived came in a most unusual way. All these characters in the Bible worked with and let dreams shape their lives—even when their lives depended upon it.

Perhaps, if we let God into our lives through our dreams, our lives would take on a much greater meaning and significance compared to the trivial and myopic views we hold in an uninformed waking life that is often driven by the demands of others as well as egoistic and material needs.

Class: Education for Ministry (EfM) in Honolulu

Class: Education for Ministry

Education for Ministry (EfM)

Want to Get an In-depth Understanding of Your Christian Faith and Tradition?

Education for Ministry (EfM) is a training program of the Episcopal Church which helps people, especially lay leaders and ministers, to

  • deepen their spirituality through an effective theological reflection process and to
  • bridge the gap between understanding the Bible and dealing with the issues of everyday life.

Each session includes prayer, discussion, and reflection according to a Theological Reflection (TR) process, and may also allow time for refreshments and socializing before or after the class. Reading assignments prepare participants for each session.

Beginning in early September, 2014, St. Mary’s and St. Elizabeth’s will join to offer a year-long class of this four year program for members of their congregations. Participants must be willing to commit to an academic year of training (36 sessions of about 2.5 to 3 hours each). A free session can be given ahead of time for prospective members to see if this is “your cup of tea.” To the degree possible, dates and times of sessions as well as class location will be scheduled after the class is organized to meet the needs of the participants.

Online information is available at http://theology.sewanee.edu/academics/education-for-ministry/.

If interested, and to get more information, please contact Fran Kramer at 457-9753 or fran_kramer@healingdreamgarden.com. Registration needs to be done by late July to place orders for books and to finalize the class preparations.

NOTE:  This course is being announced on this website but does not imply there is a connection to the study of dreams or intuition in the course.  Course content will be determined by Sewanee.