Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Benefits and Challenges of Spiritual Sampling


As many of us evaluate whether or not the spiritual traditions we grew up in are meeting all of our needs and coincide with our changing spiritual beliefs, we may find ourselves sampling from other spiritual practices.

We are seeking with a hope that there is something to be discovered within other practices that will fulfill some of our unmet needs. We hunger for an understanding about what makes other people tick—wondering what gives them their serenity, joy, or inner peace. Sampling is how we learn more about others and deepen our understanding of ourselves, and our emerging and ever-changing personal beliefs.

I did a fair amount of sampling when I took a hiatus from my church of origin—the Catholic Church. I visited Jewish synagogue, Muslim temple, Native American sweat lodge, Episcopalian services, Pagan ceremony, Buddhist temple, Hindu satsang and spiritually based events for drumming, chanting and dancing, along with numerous New Age events and ceremonies. I listened to the wisdom of shamans from Peru, medicine people from North America, rabbis, monks, ministers, priestesses, and wise women and men living quiet everyday lives.

What I discovered in this process is that the Divine is bigger than any single tradition or religion. It is we humans that create the boundaries of our various practices. We give our traditions shape and form based upon our experiences. Those forms become pathways that lead us to our spiritual freedom and fulfillment. Each path serves a unique purpose, as does every set of beliefs, and ultimately, they can all lead to deep and profound relationships with the Divine.

Where we get ourselves into trouble is when we make our path the only path at the expense of all others. When we do this we are going beyond the benefits of creating a defined pathway to the Divine. We are limiting the nature of the Divine and attempting to shape this great Mystery of life into a tiny form we think we can grasp. In my travels and experiences I have discovered that the expressions of the Divine are as countless as the creations of life itself. Regardless of the practice, where there is love, the Divine is there.

There is wisdom to be found visiting territories unknown to us. When we open to other places and ideas where the Divine Mystery exists, we discover the hidden parts of ourselves that have been waiting to emerge. Because I was willing to explore other traditions, the priestess in me finally found a place to exist through the Native American, and self-created rituals I offer today. Here I can fulfill my destiny as a ceremonialist who helps people uncover and express the sacred within them.

While exploration can be a spiritual practice, sometimes without even realizing it, exploration can also become a place to hide. We can be so busy looking for the next spiritual high within yet another tradition that we don’t settle into any one practice long enough to really work through and ultimately transcend our limiting beliefs.

I’m not talking about choosing a new religion, though that might be the right choice. I’m talking about the willingness to engage in a consistent practice of personal development, public ritual or both, that allow you to really see yourself when you are bored, impatient, unworthy, judgmental, unable, selfish, greedy, sad, angry, jealous, etc. When we engage in regular practice we are bound to bump up against our limiting beliefs—the ones that trip us up in our lives, and keep us from knowing the fullness of Divine love.

If we are afraid of learning how to witness and find compassion for all of our nature—including our limits—we may keep ourselves in a constant state of exploration so that we never have to experience the discomfort that often comes with true transcendence of ourselves. But through regular practice, we create consistent opportunities to break through our thresholds to greater freedom, and ultimately to greater recognition and ability to fulfill our destinies. Many gifts come through sampling, but mastery is not one of them.

Spiritual exploration can be good for you, and if you think you might be hiding from yourself by not committing to regular, meaningful practice, consider these questions. Are you limiting your opportunities for the Divine to express more freely through you by waiting for the next unique event? Have you ever met a master who did not choose a pathway and master it? What would you be willing to commit to so that you too could become a master of yourself and a more fulfilled Divine being?