I met a good friend the other day, for the first time in a long time. As in, years! I don’t even remember the last time we had seen each other, but what was really interesting to me, was realising that we had been on similar journeys since that last time, whenever that was! This friend and I met many years ago, it feels even longer than it probably is, when we both studied Kabbalah at The Kabbalah Centre in London. As we were catching up, we discussed how we had both moved on from some of the practices and experiences we learned during those years. And this got me thinking about insight, spirituality, and action.
Let me set the scene. The year was 2010 and I had moved to London only a month after graduating from Glasgow University. I had no job, no real plan, no friends. I had a room for a month and an address. I was guided by this deep and resolute conviction in myself and in life, and I didn’t care if I didn’t have any plans. I felt done with Glasgow and London was my next step. I learned a valuable lesson then, that I’m only now putting into practice. You may follow your instincts but be smart about it! 3 months after moving to London, I was still unemployed, low on savings, and moving into my 3rd flat! In that space of feeling like an utter failure and slightly hopeless about my next steps, I decided to go and try Kabbalah, which was something that I had actually come across when I was 13 years old. Many people know of Kabbalah as that thing Madonna practices, or Jewish mysticism, or even a cult! For me, it was a place where I didn’t feel so alone in this vast world and universe. I learned many things, remembered some, confirmed others, and met some very important people along the way.
Actively practising and studying spirituality is quite the process. There is a lot of self-reflection, self-confrontation, self-appreciation, and lots and lots of questioning. Questions about yourself, others, the world, the universe, how you fit into everything that exists around you. It is both relaxing and overwhelming, and like many things in life, balance is the best remedy for it. I’ve always been a macro-level thinker, which has always enabled me to see patterns over extended periods of time, and spiritual studies really reinforced this skill. This is both a gift and a hindrance, for whilst I can remain calm in the face of great chaos, I can also be very detached from everyday things. For example, one of the features of my zodiac sign – Pisces – is that we have a deep knowing that everything will turn out okay in the end. We don’t know how, but we know it will, so sometimes we don’t really care about the mundane aspects of life.
In hindsight, I can also see something that I couldn’t see at the time: the bubble of “Love & Light”. Spiritual studies and experiences are often perceived as life-changing, transformational, growth-focused, and positive – all of this in response to the negativity of one’s ego, which one must overcome at all costs. Everything happens for a reason, and that reason is for us to grow, no matter how dire the situation is. People are encouraged to see the positive and the silver-lining so much, that eventually, this can become a doctrine not to be questioned. “That person with depression? Well, maybe they’re not being positive enough in their lives. They should be more positive! Let’s send them ‘love & light’ or ‘thoughts & prayers’.” It can become an experience that people have “over here” in the realm of “higher consciousness”, and the danger is that the hierarchy of consciousness, can become a hierarchy of people. Suddenly, it’s not just the consciousness that is higher, the people who hold and possess it are also higher… than others.
I experienced this contrast when I started practising as a therapist but began feeling this imbalance even during my therapy training. The danger of always being positive and thinking positive thoughts, is that you may actually be in full avoidance about every day life. You spend so much time thinking about the Universe that you forget you live on planet Earth. I certainly experienced this. Inadvertently, the righteousness of my new thoughts and wisdom served to further shame my past experiences and to give impetus to the Catholic morality I had grown up with. I felt so spiritual and righteous when I gave up alcohol and sex. They had both represented the demise of my soul and the dominance of my ego, and giving them up felt like being in control, in a very holier than thou way. But by focusing on the positive (new thoughts and experiences) and neglecting the negative (past thoughts and experiences), I created even more distance within myself. I failed to notice that my very valid emotional wounds were very much raw and completely open, and I found myself welcoming someone and something into my life which would irrevocably shatter it into pieces.
Studying, attending, and practising therapy taught me something that spirituality never did: to accept my wounds, to acknowledge the shadow. That is the first step. The following steps are about healing that wound and find practical ways in which to operate in the world from a place of a closed scar, rather than from a place of an open wound. The main difference between them is action. Being aware is great, and essential, but then we need to act on it. We need to walk the walk alongside talking the talk. I talked for many years. I read many books on spirituality and personal development, attended several workshops on a variety of things, and watched hours and hours of TED Talks, speeches, interviews, etc. I got insight after insight after insight, but never did anything with them. I would just buy the next book, watch the next thing, listen to the next lecture. This is great, and very useful. Insights nudge us towards something. But if they’re not paired with action, we just go back to sleep. Do you know it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain? That’s a lot of repetitive, and consistent action! By the way, this number is extremely reduced if you use creativity and play – it can take only 10 or 20 repetitions! This is why arts therapies are extremely powerful! We mix insight and action, creativity and transformation. It’s a win-win situation!
What I’m really trying to say is this: most of the answers you’re looking for are already inside of you. You really just need to do something about them. And thinking about it, is not doing, by the way!
Lots of love and action!