(Updated October 11, 2021)
The distinction between being human and being spiritual has usually been dualistic, not acknowledging that there are many hues between these two states, and that each of them have light and shadow within. Being ‘spiritual’ is often thought to be more righteous than being ‘human’, and abiding by that belief minimizes the value of being human, which we all are.
I think a famous quote from Jesuit priest and philosopher Teilhard de Chardin makes it easy to misconstrue that we should be more spiritual than human: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
We have all been born as humans on the planet and it is very important to honour our humanness; after all, this is what the 7.4 billion of us have in common. It is definitely not our spirituality or the dogma of our religion.
Let’s explore why it is so important to humanize our spirituality. Since some see being spiritual as incongruent with being human, they may develop a disconnect with their humanness, which will limit their spiritual growth by going into ‘spiritual bypass’ to avoid their human issues.
In terms of the seven chakras, they might avoid the issues of the three lower chakras (base, sexual, solar plexus) and focus on the development of the upper four chakras (heart, throat, brow and crown). The lower chakras, and also the heart, are in the area where our human ‘stuff’ resides, and some want to ignore it because it can feel uncomfortable and messy like a murky swamp.
We may want to avoid our humanness because many judgments have been made about it and some of its intrinsic traits have been shamed. To be human means that we are not perfect and have flaws. Let’s examine aspects of the human condition that paradoxically lead to or impede us from further spiritual growth.
Author Jeff Brown calls this “Perpetual Positivity Syndrome – PPS” and states that it is “one of the most common obstructions to awakening on the spiritual path.” He defines it as the “addictive need to default to positivity under all circumstances.” If we need to adhere to being only positive, we will not face our pain that needs to be healed. Brown goes on to note that we won’t be able to “hold space for other’s suffering and turn away from the growth demanded by life’s challenges… we may jump into the light while averting the shadows that inform it.”
It is normal to experience a wide array of feelings, whether they fall to the positive or negative side of the spectrum. Feeling sadness, loss, anger or fear does not make you a negative individual, but instead shows that you are human and have the courage to avoid stuffing these emotions, embracing them to work things through.
It is indeed our shadow, darkness, and humanness that is the raw material for our spiritual development. If you had transcended your shadow and humanness, you would no longer be on this planet. If we can perceive and be with our light and shadow at the same time, we will transform.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined the phrase ‘shadow’, and did extensive exploration of this concept. He writes that “one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” He challenges us by asking, “How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side to be whole.”
Very apropos to the current world stage and politics, he conveys that “whatever is rejected from self appears in the world as an event.” No wonder all the ‘isms’, such as sexism and racism, have blatantly surfaced, right in our face, so they are no longer hidden.
There is a strong correlation between love and shadow. We learn much about this from the wise words of author Marianne Williamson, who hits us square between the eyes to bring us from a slumbered to an awakened state. In her book, Illuminata: Thoughts, Prayers, Rites of Passage, she states that “until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t know who they are. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t know what love is.” Whew!
While we accept grieving as a natural reaction to loss, we have put so many parameters on it that we stifle its very process. Grief is not linear, but we have given the grief process a formula to follow that starts with shock, and goes on to denial, anger, acceptance and so on. The truth is that we will go back and forth through the many states of grief.
We put a time frame on grief and yet it is different for everyone. If grieving people don’t follow the expected timeline, we say they are stuck and challenge them by asking, “How are you going to move forward?” When a person is in the middle of the grieving process, this is the last thing they need to hear or be shamed for. Grief will be processed differently by every person.
We actually never really get over grief – just imagine a parent who loses a child. Does time really ‘heal all wounds’ or does it just diminish the effects of grief? Instead, the loss of someone or something important continually reshapes us. Feeling grief means that you have loved deeply, and are compassionate and passionate about life.
Crying is a sign of strength not weakness because we are willing to embrace our uncomfortable emotions. There is still so much stigma against crying: men are weak and women are drama queens using tears to manipulate. Yet in reality, crying performs an important biological function – tears release toxins from stress and the act of crying produces endorphins and anti-bacterial agents. That’s why we all love a tear-jerker movie, as it gives us the opportunity to cry and release stress without stigma.
Crying shows that we can be vulnerable, sensitive, and have an open heart. This leads to love and intimacy. We need to have inner strength to cry. Big girls and boys do cry.
Never become a martyr to be of spiritual service as you sacrifice your own human needs and the need to love and be loved. Unfortunately, some religions venerate being a martyr, as I was taught in my childhood. At the age of six, I would kneel on prickly weeds and pray to show my love for God. I often wonder if Mother Teresa suffered from depression because of not getting her human needs met?
We need to integrate our human nature with our spiritual self and see it as a continuum to become whole. We can bridge this by our human/spiritual ability to love, be real, authentic, aware, and conscious, and hence humanize our spirituality.
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