Should a spiritual person try to say and think only positive thoughts?
How does a “spiritual person” react to the tragic news of last Friday’s elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut? The short answer: no different than anyone else.
Interestingly, this was the question that appeared in my mind hours after hearing the disturbing news of the Newtown incident and after feeling a rainbow of emotions ranging from disbelief to sadness to simply anger. After reading a few headlines, I found myself extraordinarily saddened by this heinous act of cruelty to such beautiful and innocent beings who deserved to live a free and happy life. My sadness eventually turned into a certain amount of anger, not only at the young man who committed this terrible act, but at our society in general for being in such a discordant state where such a thing could happen. Then I thought, “Hmm. I consider myself to be spiritual, is it okayfor me to be sad and angry right now?” A moment later, I felt the words “Hell Yes!” echoing from within me.
For those of us who began at one point or another identifying ourselves as “spiritual,” it’s easy to fall into a number of traps that prevent us from simply getting real with how we experience life and the world. What does this label of spiritual really mean anyway? Is a “spiritual person” somehow different than any other person in how they experience the circumstances of life? Should spiritual people behave a certain way when they hear tragic news such as this? Should a spiritual person try to say and think only positive thoughts?
Of course, this is the very problem with words. Words are our way of describing and connecting with one another about our experiences, yet words by their very nature must and do dis-connect us with reality, or what’s really going on within and without us.
How do words disconnect us from reality? The sixth and last Patriarch of Zen, Huineng, was quoted to have said, “Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger.”
The word spiritual is no different. When we think of someone spiritual, we actually start conjuring up images related to the concept. The thought, “she is a spiritual being” can create images of a holy person, a person of pure thoughts, someone who’s always positive and who never gets angry or raises their temper. Yet there is no way to verify whether people who are often referred to as spiritual always match these statements. Spiritual is just a word and while it can sometimes be helpful and point in the direction of a greater truth or meaning, one can certainly get stuck with the word spirituality or by using the phrase “I’m spiritual,” mistaking the finger for the moon and creating a disconnect between what you feel and how you think you should feel!
The truth is that a “spiritual person,” if there is such a thing, should be able to experience life’s circumstances like anyone else. If you identify yourself as a spiritual person, you have the right to feel sad, to feel confused and you have the right to feel angry. Reacting with sadness and anger to an event like Newtown’s elementary school shooting is a completely natural way to experience that news, no matter how spiritual you are or believe you are. Anger is a very powerful emotion, containing an immense amount of energy. In spiritual communities, anger can sometimes be viewed as a less desirable and even outright wrong emotion to have. Yet guess what happens when you try to suppress anger in the name of trying to be more spiritual? Often, you get angrier.
Like all things, sadness and anger must be experienced fully and honored fully until they are no longer present and until their energy transforms into something more positive, more hopeful. When we look at great spiritual people throughout history, it’s clear to see that they were not considered great because they were never sad, were never angry, or never had a confusing and challenging day. On the contrary, most of the great spiritual leaders throughout time have had their fair share of obstacles and difficulties.
It’s noted that Gautama Buddha nearly gave up after spending sevenyears in the forest as an ascetic, failing to reach enlightenment; I’m sure he had more than just a few hopeless and sad days. Yet that very willingness to surrender his old ways and open completely is what led him to discover the middle way, and, ultimately, wake up. And while Jesus spoke constantly of love and peace throughout his life, he also expressed immense anger at times, most notably when he overthrew some moneychangers’ tables in front of a temple one day. What made these two beings near symbols for spirituality was their ability to transform the emotional energy of their sadness and anger into a force for good. They did not stay in their grief forever, nor did they continually justify their anger—they simply honored and respected their emotions in each moment as a part of a larger process, which served a greater good for the whole of humanity.
So, as we experience the various emotions of sadness, grief and anger related to last week’s Newtown tragedy or any disturbing items in the news for that matter, let’s remind ourselves that these are normal emotions to be feeling, even for spiritually-minded people like ourselves. Recognizing and honoring this fact, our awareness will help to transmute these emotions into inspiration and eventual action that can help prevent these kinds of heartbreaks from taking place, making our world a kinder place to live.
Kevin Ruess Marshall is a spiritual life coach who works with clients to question their tightly held beliefs about themselves in order to gain the confidence needed to face their deepest fears and realize personal freedom. In 2008, after 10 years of intense spiritual study and practice of various traditions, including Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Toltec Wisdom, Yoga, and Hinduism, Kevin began serving as a coach to friends and colleagues with regard to their spiritual life journey. Over the years, his practice expanded to more clients through word-of-mouth and continues today. With a background in software development, Kevin also loves uniting his passions for technology and spirituality by working on cutting edge tech projects geared toward spiritual living.
Learn more about Kevin at http://cafetruth.com/professionals/kevin-marshall/
Ed: Charlene Taylor
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