Practices From the Inside Out: Our Context of Spiritual Life

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Our Context of Spiritual Life

Spiritual life is larger than we are. We find it intimidating, even overwhelming, that we cannot see all of spiritual life at once. It is more than what our senses, even our common sense, can grasp.

Spiritual life is beyond our understanding and our control.

We are often more attracted to what we are able to organize and categorize. It is easier for us to trust what our senses tell us, what we experience.

Life has taught many of us to leave spiritual life alone. We may have been raised in ways which made spiritual life unappealing to us. Spiritual life might have become a source of embarrassment, or fear, or shame, or guilt. None of those feelings encourage us to want to experience more.

We may approach spiritual life as an academic exercise. It is as if spiritual life is a challenging puzzle or mathematical equation for us to solve. We work away and the equation seems to develop more complexity as we try to solve it.

For some of us, spiritual life has become a complicated set of rules for us to follow. We stand aside, rolling out eyes, as other people argue about which rules are most important.

Our exposure to spiritual life in the past does not engage our deepest selves. It can be a challenge for us to figure out why anyone cares about spiritual life.

We struggle to find the life in the spiritual life we experience. Spiritual life, as we see it, does not connect with us at a particularly deep level.

The way we experience spiritual life is often limited by our own perspective. The context in which we view spiritual life obscures its depth for us.

Speaking Out of Context

Each of us experiences spiritual life within our own context. Our experiences, opinions, thoughts, and ideas provide a framework for our perspectives.

Spiritual life does not spring up for us brand new without context. Each contact we have had with spiritual life throughout our lives shapes the way we understand it. The challenge for us is to recognize and appreciate our own context.

The way we respond to spiritual life may be at odds with how someone else responds to it. An aspect of spiritual life they find comforting may cause distress for us. Something they find troublesome may be one of our most deeply held and valued beliefs.

It is not spiritual life which is inconsistent when our contexts come into conflict with each other. We understand the same things in our own unique ways.

People often overlook the context through which they view spiritual life.

How do we describe our own context, for spiritual life or anything else? We need to take a look at the framework through which we see.

Because our context is based in our experiences, we begin by telling our stories. When I work with people they generally give me a version of their spiritual autobiography. I listen and ask questions as they describe their experiences.

Our context is the framework we use to explain how things work. Telling our stories describes how we built our own personal context. We may have set out intentionally to design and construct particular aspects of how we see things. Some parts may be based in unplanned experiences we had hoped to avoid.

By listening to people tell their stories and asking questions, we spark their reflection. Reflecting allows us to see how the parts of our context fit together.

Putting Spiritual Life Into Context

The powerful flow of spiritual life is all around us and within us. It is easy for us to miss spiritual life because it is larger than our expectations.

We look out the small window of our context for what we think spiritual life is like. When we see something other than what we expect, we assume spiritual life is not there.

We miss the presence of spiritual life because it does not fit within our context.

It is only as we adapt and expand our context that spiritual life fits within it. We question the meanings we have given our experiences and our context grows to recognize spiritual life.

Some of us close our eyes and become skeptical because we do not find spiritual life in context. When spiritual life does not fit into our context we conclude it does not exist.

There have been times when I was convinced I had a handle on spiritual life. My experiences and opinions taught me spiritual life acted in certain ways. When I was not able to predict how spiritual life would work I got frustrated.

We get embarrassed or afraid when we do not understand as much as we thought we did. Our context tells us life should work in certain ways and we depend on our context.

For me, it is almost as if spiritual life is intentionally showing me how unpredictable it is. There are times when I need to ask whether I trust spiritual life or my own context.

Expanding the Shape of Our Context

It is important for our context of spiritual life to support us and not get in our way. Reflecting allows us to restructure and expand the shape of our context of spiritual life.

We can get stuck in how we expect to experience spiritual life. It is one thing to remember how spiritual life has felt for us in the past. Our past experience does not necessarily predict our future possibilities.

Fortunately, we can change the way we experience spiritual life. Our expectations based on previous experience cannot control how spiritual life works in us.

As we reflect on our experience and expectations we learn lessons which change how we live.

We can decide to trust spiritual life more than we trust our context of spiritual life.

What are your expectations of how spiritual life behaves?

How would we describe our context of spiritual life today?

[Image by seier+seier]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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