One of the many wise things that Yogi Shanti Desai, my teacher and mentor for over twenty years, said to me is this: “It is easy to accept or reject. Thinking on your own is hard.”
Accept or Reject
Think about it. That’s what most of us do. We either accept or reject. I like this. I don’t like that. I agree with this person. I disagree with the other person. I accept my way of living. I reject your way of living. There is very little thinking involved. All we have to do is decide whether to like or dislike, then act accordingly.
Effort and Extra Effort
It takes more effort to say something like this: “I agree with much of what you are saying, and I disagree with some things, but here are other things to consider.”
Teasing apart what you agree with and what you disagree with takes effort. Coming up with something else to consider takes extra effort.
As I wrote recently, most thinking is nuanced, even though we believe it isn’t. But to really understand the nuances, we have to slow down and listen to ourselves and others.
How Does This Affect Your Spiritual Journey?
The tendency to accept or reject without investigation directly influences your spiritual journey. By staying in ‘fast thinking’ mode—as Daniel Kahneman has named it—knee-jerk reactions will control your approach.
For instance, if you dislike something about Christianity, the tendency is to reject it altogether instead of teasing apart the things you like and dislike.
In a separate example, interspiritual seekers often think that if they adopt one part of another tradition, they must accept the whole thing, as in, “If I practice Buddhist meditation, I must be a Buddhist.”
Interspirituality Demands Investigation
Kahneman’s ‘slow thinking’ is needed for an interspiritual approach. We cannot simply accept or reject without thinking. Deliberations are needed.
The slow thinking approach goes deeper than teasing apart beliefs and practices and then adopting some while leaving others. For instance, I’ve found that thinking about original intent is vital to the interspiritual journey. It is not enough to choose a practice or belief. Investigating—or at least imagining—what the original intent was will get the practitioner closer to deciding whether or not to include it.
Updating and Adding
Taking the investigation a step further, a true transrational interspiritual seeker will attempt to update some ideas and practices, conforming them to modern standards. That takes both creativity and thinking.
I, for one, believe in building on practices that have come before us while also looking to the future. I have come to this conclusion after years of contemplation, thinking slowly and independently about the topic.
Since I evoked Daniel Kahneman’s work, I must admit that sometimes thinking fast, accepting or rejecting, is valuable. Instead of having to stop and think about everything, predispositions and values allow us to make quick decisions. Therefore, we need discernment on the spiritual journey, choosing what to think about deeply and when.
I’ve found that a good time to think deeply about something is when beliefs and practices that used to work for me no longer do. That’s when I am prompted to slow down and reconsider.
Let’s Be Patient
I sometimes get impatient with people when I look around and see how quickly they accept or reject. Too many seekers today jump headfirst into ancient religions or wisdom traditions without teasing apart the beneficial from the redundant. Others reject without any investigation. I have to remind myself to be patient. Thinking slowly is complex and not for everyone. You may also get impatient when you slow down and think. That’s why I mention this, to urge all of us to be patient with ourselves and others.
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- Monk of All Faiths: Inspired by The Prophet (fiction)
- Spiritual in My Own Way (memoir)
- Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides (nonfiction)
- Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion (nonfiction)
- Premature Holiness: Five Weeks at the Ashram (novel)
- The Meditating Psychiatrist Who Tried to Kill Himself (novel)
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