6 types of spiritual experiences (part 2)

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In part one of this post, I gave a brief intro to The Spirituality of Imperfection, and the first three types of spiritual experiences that authors Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham outline in the book:

Release, Gratitude, and Humility.

If you haven’t already,hop on over to check out that postfirst. (I split it into two posts so it wasn’t super long!)Here, I’ll continue with describing the other three types of experiences:

Tolerance, Forgiveness, and Being-at-home.

Tolerance

“When we accept ourselves in all our weakness, flaws, and failings, we can begin to fulfill an even more challenging responsibility: accepting the weakness, limitations, and mixed-up-ed-ness of those we love and respect. Then and only then, it seems, do we become able to accept the weakness, defects, and shortcomings of those we find it difficult to love… Spirituality begins with this first insight: We are all imperfect … Tolerance begins with vision—the ability to see the world in a way that is somewhat ‘different’…This vision, of course, goes beyond the grudging mere ‘tolerance’ of ‘putting-up-with-because-I-have-no-choice’ of a non-spiritual vocabulary. The essence of tolerance lies in its openness to difference.”

I’ll admit that I do cringe a little when I see the word “tolerance” because of exactly what the authors point to in the above excerpt: that it seems to bear a connotation of “begrudgingly putting up with” each other, rather than doing our best to whole-heartedly accept each other, flaws and all. However, I do think that the authors’ meaning of “tolerance” falls more in line with the idea of “openness,” as they note, which has a softer feeling to it.

In a coaching session recently, I shared with a client an example I read somewhere (I believe in one of Russ Harris’ writings on ACT) about how to distinguish between “tolerance” and “acceptance.”Imagine that you’re going to hang out with your closest friends: would you want them to tolerate you being there, constantly checking to see if you’re still there and wanting you to leave? Or would you want them to accept your presence, flaws and all? I know to some degree it's semantics, but language is also powerful and can have a very tangible impact; for instance, I don’t think society should aim for just “tolerance” of LGBT friends and family. Rather, we need to accept them whole-heartedly, because that’s how we strive to treat people we love, even if we don’t always agree with them.

I also love the authors’ point that we cannot truly accept others’ shortcomings if we are not willing to practice acceptance of our own. “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete” — Jack Kornfield.

Forgiveness

“Resentment is the poison of the spiritual life…The opposite of ‘resentment’ is forgiveness. The main spiritual shift that takes place in the event of being forgiven/forgiving is thus a new experiencing of self; blaming others falls away, and we begin to accept primary responsibility for who we are. Forgiveness comes when we let go of the feeling of resentment by surrendering the vision of self-as-victim.”

I have seen resentment so powerful that it caused a loving mother to lie to everyone (including herself) and continue down a steep path of life-threatening alcoholism, ruining any chance of saving her marriage or having custody of her children. Her resentment toward her husband and other family members was palpable, and though it was a significant focus of her treatment, she was not in a place where she was spiritually open to releasing her grip on these resentments and moving toward forgiveness. I wish this story were unique, but it’s not—which is why resentments are a core component of Steps 4 and 5 in AA and other 12-step fellowships. I have been fortunate (and feel a little spoiled, frankly) to say that I have never been abused or betrayed to the point that I have built up strong resentments in my life. Most annoyances or “mini-grudges” have been insignificant or short-lived.

In the work that I do, though, I regularly bear witness to women who have have been treated horribly, often by those who are supposed to love them the most. No wonder resentments form. Especially if abuse or neglect occurs in childhood, a child has no choice but to be a victim of that situation because they are fully dependent on the adults in charge of them. As an adult, being victimized happens, too — but as Kurtz and Ketcham assert, we will continue to hold onto resentments if we view ourselves as victims. There is a key difference in acknowledging that you have been victimized in a situation (and healing to become a survivor), versus living your life from a victim stance, feeling that things just happen to you rather than taking responsibility for your choices.Again, I’m not talking about acts of violence. We’ve all known (or at times, been) that person who constantly complains about their situation but doesn’t seem to take any real action to change it.

To move toward forgiveness, you must take responsibility for yourself and decide that your wellbeing is more important than being “right” or constantly playing the “I’ve been wronged” tape in your head.As the old adage goes, holding a grudge is like letting someone live in your head without paying any rent.

Being-at-home

“Modern humankind feels homeless in the deepest meaning of the word: not in the transient sense of having no place to sleep for the night, not even in the wider sense of poverty’s homelessness, but in a monstrous, universal sense of having no place wherein we fit… the experience is of lost souls circling endlessly… for only in finding that ‘fit’…does one find a place to rest, a place to hide, a place to be one’s-self—a home ... A spirituality of imperfection helps us find that experience, that fit. First, by accepting ourselves as imperfect and essentially mixed, we fit into our own being. And second, by applying the spirituality of imperfection to our relationships with others, and especially to family, we learn to ‘see’ all relationships in a different way, and so learn how to fit with others, how to find a real home.”

I can hear Brené Brown’s voice in my head right now saying, “As humans, we are hard-wired for love and belonging.” And as usual, she’s right. Not only are we wired for this from an evolutionary / survival standpoint, but from an emotional standpoint, too. We long to feel “a part of” and are most deeply wounded when we feel “separate from.” Now, this doesn’t mean we want to be around each other all the time! Believe me—in this phase of my life I’m realizing more and more that I am truly an introvert who has masqueraded around as an extrovert for much of my younger life. I like having lots of alone time. But if I don’t feel connected to others at a meaningful level (and that does include some quality time with them on a regular basis), I feel very alone and disconnected from life. The assumption that introverts don’t like being around people is one of the most common myths about this group.

To me, “being at home” means having a handful of people in my life with whom I can show up as all of who I am without fear of rejection. It means feeling at-home in my body—which does not mean thinking my body is perfectly beautiful, but rather that it is my body and I am embodying it and respecting it because it is a significant aspect of me and my earthly experience.

I also have to remember that, at times, I will feel that familiar loneliness creeping in and start to believe the thoughts that I do not truly belong, that I'm not really wanted— but thankfully, I now have tools to deal with those thoughts so I don’t run rampant with them. I have a husband and other people in my life who will talk me off that cliff. Like most of life’s most important lessons and all six of these spiritual experiences, part of my spiritual practice is the forgetting-and-remembering, again and again.

Which of these 6 types of spiritual experiences do you feel most comfortable with? Which is most difficult for you to open up to?

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Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.