Reflections on the Universal Love of Christ, Christmas 2019

Have you ever read or listened to someone present a theory, conceptual framework, or some other school of thought for the first time and felt completed disoriented by it on the one hand and at the same time experienced an inner pull of  “YES! YES!” on the other hand?

The Hubble Space Telescope’s latest image of the star V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon) reveals dramatic changes in the illumination of surrounding dusty cloud structures. The effect, called a light echo, has been unveiling never-before-seen dust patterns ever since the star suddenly brightened for several weeks in early 2002.

Well that is how I felt the first time I encountered the school of thought referred to as evolutionary spirituality or conscious evolution. I believe it was in 1998 when I discovered the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).

Teilhard de Chardin, a pioneer and primary source of evolutionary spirituality overall, was a philosopher, Jesuit priest,  paleontologist and geologist whose theological and philosophical work was way ahead of his time such that his ideas were perceived as a threat to the Catholic establishment. Thus, these writings were suppressed during his lifetime.

The core idea of evolutionary spirituality/conscious evolution is that we live in an unfinished universe and its ongoing development toward Universal Love depends on us and our willingness to actively participate in the evolution of consciousness in/through our lives lived in the world.

In 1998 and now, this work lights me up—it opens my mind and expands my heart! In fact, whenever I’m in a state of despair, I turn to Teilhard’s work but more often contemporary teachers of evolutionary spirituality such as Barbara Marx Hubbard, Michael Dowd, and Brian Swimme.  And, most recently to Franciscan friar, spiritual teacher, and author, Richard Rohr’s book, “Universal Christ.”

Thus, as we approach Christmas 2019, I’d like to highlight a few core ideas from Rohr’s book, offer a brief sample of his supportive teachings then share a few of my reflections.

But before I do, I would like to acknowledge that some of you may have instantaneous aversion to the words, “Christ” and “Jesus”– I get it, trust me. I’m a recovering Protestant. And, if that is true for you, I ask that you please set that aside for five minutes and open your mind and heart to the possibility that Rohr might just have a gift for you.

  • Original Goodness, not Original Sin

Rohr: …most of the world’s great religions start with some sense of primal goodness in their creation stories. The Judeo-Christian tradition beautifully succeeded at this, with the Genesis record telling us that God called creation “good” five times in Genesis 1, and even “very good” in 1:31. The initial metaphor for creation was a garden, which is inherently positive, beautiful, growth-oriented, a place to be “cultivated and cared for”, where humans could walk naked and without shame. But after Augustine, most Christian theologies shifted from the positive vision of Genesis 1 to the darker vision of Genesis 3—the so-called fall.

I find Rohr’s teaching on Original Goodness not Original Sin a profound and essential one.  From about 2008-2015, I immersed myself in Buddhism and seriously considered taking Buddhist vows. However, I chose not to do so for many reasons which I will not go into here, but I am deeply grateful for those seven years and all the benefits that resulted from that period of my life.

One of the many gifts Buddhism gave to me lies in a core teaching on the fundamental goodness of humanity and all life. I did not realize the stranglehold that the teaching of Original Sin had on my being until I truly received and digested the Buddhist teaching on Basic Goodness.

And this is evidently true for many Westerners who turn to Buddhism as Rohr addresses this topic in this book at greater depth in a section entitled, “Why the Interest in Buddhism?”

Rohr: I am convinced that in many ways Buddhism and Christianity shadow each other. They reveal each other’s blind spots. In general, Western Christians have not done contemplation very well, and Buddhism has not done action very well. Although in recent decades we are seeing the emergence of what is called “Engaged Buddhism.”

and I would add the reemergence of “Contemplative Christianity”

Rohr continues this section emphasizing the importance of both contemplation and action on the spiritual journey. I view this marriage of contemplation and action as an evolutionary imperative of our times– deeply related to the transformational shift to a theology and cosmology of a Cosmic or Universal Christ that includes you and me and ALL life.  

  • Jesus and Christ are two distinct beings—Jesus the Person AND the Body of Christ.

Rohr: When Christians hear the word “incarnation,” most of us think about the birth of Jesus, who personally demonstrated God’s radical unity with humanity. But in this book, I want to suggest that the first incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.

The incarnation, then, is not only “God becoming Jesus.” It is a much broader event….Christ that the rest of us continue to encounter in other human beings, a mountain, a blade of grass, or a starling.

When I am graced to see with sacred eyes and orient my being and life from this “everything is holy now” vision, the difference is beyond description. I feel an inner shift from a ho-hum state to a state of aliveness, exuberance and reverence even in the most mundane activities such as walking our dog, Bella.

Thus, as we approach Christmas 2019, the religious holiday commemorating Jesus’s birth, I invite us to consider celebrating our amazing Cosmic Christ. As we do, we may ask ourselves what we, individually and collectively are birthing, in and through the seeds of our thoughts, words, and deeds and then seriously consider how these seeds contribute to a not- yet New Earth of Universal Love.

Peace be unto you. Amen.

Revised 12/30/19

Words of Caution for the Inner Journey of Self-Transformation

The three systems of self-transformation outlined in my book and recent blog essays offer examples of comprehensive psychospiritual approaches to the inner journey of self-transformation. The transformative practices highlighted throughout my book and essays are elements of these three and other systems of self-transformation. Thus, by themselves and isolated from the system or school of which they are part, transformative practices are limited and potentially harmful for numerous reasons.

Caution sign citation–By Fry1989 eh? – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20449676

Transformative practices isolated from the systems or schools in which they are embedded are limited and potentially harmful because the psychospiritual frameworks in which they are part provide the container for sensemaking and integration of potentially disruptive experiences that may arise from the use of these powerful practices. Remember, the purpose of these practices is inner transformation. Thus, disruption of one’s inner and, most likely, outer life is highly likely and desirable from the perspective of fulfilling this purpose. However, although such disruption is uncomfortable, the degree of discomfort must not exceed the capacities of aspirants to integrate the experiences into life in a way that allows them to function in the world. Thus, unrooted transformative practices have little developmental value and may cause harm.

Additional dangers often referred to as spiritual emergencies, include obsession with mystical experiences rather than disciplined attention to steady incremental inner shifts occurring over time through the difficult and often emotionally painful work of consistent and persistent self-observation and work with transformative practices. This lure is so seductive and persuasive that American psychologist and spiritual teacher, John Welwood coined the term, “spiritual bypassing” to warn contemporary seekers of this potential pitfall. 

Furthermore, people may be in danger of ego-inflation and self-aggrandizement arising from exhilarating experiences when using transformative practices. It is critical to note that proper motivation (i.e., desire for development for constructive, preferably virtuous, reasons), humility, and a commitment to ethical living are essential elements of the three systems of self-transformation outlined, as well as the ancient-wisdom traditions highlighted in Chapter 5, and the mindfulness-based interventions and Buddhism discussed in Chapters 1 and 2. In addition, the potential for self-inflation and other forms of self-deception significantly diminish with the assistance of a spiritual friend, coach, director, or community.

The literature on spiritual emergencies also warns of the potential for physical symptoms such as uncontrollable shaking. Accompanying the growing field of transpersonal psychology is increasing awareness and understanding of these types of phenomenon such that more therapists can help clients integrate these experiences in a healthy and productive manner that facilitates growth and does not hinder it. After all, ideally, “spiritual experience is viewed as desirable and spiritual seeking is seen as natural, healthy, and in the final analysis, the only truly fulfilling answer to the challenge of existence” (Cortright, 1997, p. 158) This is certainly the case when the experience builds slowly and incrementally over time, or a sudden powerful experience arises after a solid practice and support foundation is in place to facilitate healthy integration.

Another word of caution is that if you join a psycho-spiritual group associated with any of the three contemporary systems outlined in Chapter 5 or others and the group promotes exclusion or intolerance of people outside the group, leave that group immediately and find one that does not. Exclusion or intolerance toward people outside the group is a flashing warning light of cultish tendencies. All aspirants need to avoid such groups as they are highly inconsistent with the inner journey to self-actualization and Self-realization. Also, if affiliation with a psychospiritual group or community places sexual expectations, excessive financial demands, or attempts to control the personal freedom of its members in any way, quickly move on and out!

Furthermore, while these three systems work with the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the human experience, they emphasize the psychological dimension of the spectrum. Consequently, at some point along the journey, albeit different for everyone, typically after many years of consistent practice, it may become helpful, perhaps necessary, to pick a defined spiritual path (i.e., root oneself in an established religion). I acknowledge that for many 21st-century seekers, perhaps those of us who identify as “spiritual not religious” (an inner struggle of which I am quite familiar) may reject the previous statement. This is quite understandable given the painful failings of our religious institutions over the years. However, I have come to realize that I have no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I invite you to consider this as well.  

As highlighted, many, if not all the world’s great religions have inner (esoteric) traditions as well as outer (exoteric) traditions. Most of us are familiar with the exoteric versions of the world religions, which typically emphasize rituals, beliefs, morals, doctrines, and creeds. In contrast, the inner traditions emphasize self-transformation and ultimately the realization of unity with and love of all life and one’s supreme identity and union with God/Spirit/Light. Others may be more at home on an interspiritual or multifaith path which emphasizes the sharing of transformative or union experiences across the religious traditions.

Whether one takes an interspiritual, an esoteric religious, or universal and nonreligious psychospiritual path, it is important to emphasize that they are all maps for the journey of self-transformation; they are not the territory. The territory is one’s life, lived and experienced such that one’s direct experiences of increasing awareness, maturity, and compassion become the barometer of the rightness of one’s chosen path as depicted by the 10 developmental themes of mindful leaders presented in Chapter Four.

However, the purpose of this book is not to provide an overview of the inner traditions of the great religions, which I am not equipped to do; rather I offer a cautionary note as it relates to the inner journey of self-transformation. If the reader would like to explore any or all of the inner traditions mentioned here, I offer a few possible references in the Additional Resources section along with resources for The Fourth Way, Psychosynthesis, Integral Life Practice, and Mindfulness.

I humbly acknowledge that while the inner journey to wholeness takes consistent and persistence “right effort” as emphasized throughout this book, there is a mysterious dimension of the journey that is completely beyond human effort. While there are different names for this mysterious dimension, I will simply call it grace as taught in the Christian tradition. Grace invites surrender, patience, humility, and detachment as it has little to nothing to do with human effort and more to do with God’s/Spirit’s/Light’s infinite love for us and all creation (see Figure).

Source: Frizzell, Denise (2018). Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders

Note: This essay is an adapted excerpt from my 2018 book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders.”

This Week’s Inspirational Offering from “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders”

Image source: Dr. Anna Storck, @interkultura, retrieved from  http://www.interculture.co.nz/intercultural-competence-training-new-zealand/. Used with permission.

Greater Tolerance for Ambiguity: A Developmental Theme of Mindful Leaders

Integral Life Practice: A Comprehensive and Holistic Approach to Leader Self-Transformation

Integral Life Practice or ILP is a comprehensive and holistic approach to leader self-transformation rooted in integral theory, developed by U.S. philosopher and writer, Kenneth Wilber II (born 1949). Wilber born in Oklahoma City, currently resides in Denver, CO, where he continues to study, write, and present his work primarily through the Internet and Colorado-based outlets, albeit on a limited basis due to a severe and chronic illness. He is the author of more than 30 books and countless articles on consciousness, mysticism, psychology, science, religion, and his integral theory, a comprehensive synthesis of Eastern and Western knowledge.

Wilber refers to his version of integral theory as AQAL, the abbreviated acronym for all quadrants, all levels (all lines, all states, all types, etc.). The elements of quadrants and levels refer to the key explanatory principles Wilber uses to examine the development of individual mind, body, soul, and spirit in self, culture, community, and nature. The four quadrants include the Upper Left or individual interior, the Upper Right or individual exterior, the Lower Left or collective interior, and the Lower Right or collective exterior (see Figure). Wilber further simplifies the four quadrants with the “three basic domains” of I, we, and it.

Figure: Integral Theory and AQAL

ILP, informed by Wilber’s AQAL, is an approach to enhanced personal wellness, development, self-actualization, and spiritual awakening. ILP addresses the whole person and all of life through four basic modules of practice and five auxiliary modules. The four foundational modules are body, mind, spirit, and shadow. The five auxiliary models are ethics, work, emotions, relationships, and soul (see Table).

An ILP approach to self-transformation does not include core practices per se. Rather, the ILP framework invites adherents to select at least one practice from each of the four core modules and to add practices from the auxiliary modules, as highlighted in the Table above. The practices listed in the matrix offer example practices for each module; however, options are not limited to those listed. Developers of the ILP approach outline five principles on which it builds:

·          The Ultimate in Cross-Training, working synergistically in body, mind, and spirit in self, culture, and nature.
·          Modular, allowing you to mix and match practices in specific areas or modules.
·          Scalable, adjusting to however much—or little—time you have, down to 1-Minute Modules.
·          Customizable to your lifestyle: you design a program that works for you and adapt it on an as-needed basis.
·          Integral, based on AQAL technology, an All Quadrant, All Level framework for mapping the many capacities inherent in human beings (See Integral Life Practice by Wilber, Patten, Leonard, & Morelli, 2008).

Furthermore, all modules include Gold Star Practices, recommended as “distillations of traditional practices minus the religious and cultural baggage” (Wilber, Leonard, & Morelli, 2008). Also, quick versions of the Gold Star Practices, 1-Minute Modules, are offered for times when practitioners are pressed for time.

Table. Integral Life Practice Matrix

Source: The Integral Life Practice Matrix, by K. Wilber, 2007, retrieved from http://www.kenwilber.com/personal/ILP/MyILP.html

Integral Life Practice along with the Fourth Way, and Psychosynthesis (see previous essays) represent three different contemporary and universal systems of self-transformation. Mindfulness meditation, the transformative practice I focused on in my 2015 research and highlighted in Chapters 3 and 4 (of my book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders), is part of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism as well as an element of a growing body of secular Western approaches to stress management (e.g., Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), and psychotherapy (e.g., Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy). While a primary purpose of this essay and my book is to inspire and support readers in embarking upon the inner journey of self-transformation, doing so is not without risks. Thus, I offer words of caution in my book and will also do so in a future blog essay.

This essay is an adapted excerpt from my book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders.”