Our spirituality is ultimately the freest experience we can have. So much of our lives are controlled by something external. At work our behavior reflects the requirements of the job, our boss, our coworkers. Off the clock we answer to the needs or expectations of all the other people in our lives. Spirituality, meanwhile, rests in the realm of our interior lives - uninfluenced by anyone else unless we decide otherwise.
In a culture where over sharing is now normal, there is something delicious about having our very own intimate secrets: secret desires, secret fears, secret knowledge. To give any one of them away by sharing them out loud, is to give away something precious. These deep thoughts are, in fact, an important part of who we are. They can help us to understand ourselves.
Spirituality is the one type of experience we are truly free to process without making an explanation to anyone else. A case could be made that before sharing spiritual experiences with others, they should be allowed to settle on our minds, perhaps even be savored for a time.
Awareness of Life’s Mystical Nature
Transcendent experiences are special gifts to treasure and learn from. As our awareness of the mystical nature of life increases, it is hard to keep them to ourselves. The first inclination is often to tell everyone about what has happened. There is always time to tell your story. First try turning things over in your head. Try to find meaning in what has happened.
Your thoughts are filtered through the lens of previous experiences and what you think others might think. Keeping our perceptions to ourselves, at least for a while, prevents those other people’s filters from diluting or corrupting our sense of that experience. It’s not that you should never tell your story. Just don’t be afraid to own your experience and protect what it means to you.
Freedom to Interpret Your Own Experiences
Having trusted friends to tell such things to can help us test out our crazier interpretations. Just remember that no matter if their reactions are positive or negative, once the story is out there, you will never be able to “un-hear” the feedback you have gotten.
Let’s say a butterfly lights on your knee while you are waiting on a bench for a bus, staying several minutes. This brief encounter fills you with delight and feels like a lovely little spiritual moment. You tell two coworkers about it and they give you two different reactions. One says “Ewww! I hate when bugs land on me!” The other says “How cool. My grandmother used to say that was a sign of good luck.”
Here is an interesting exercise to try. Think of a conversation you have had about some event in your life. Make a list of the adjectives you used to describe that event. Now make a list of the reaction words used by the person you told your story to. Would you still use the same adjectives to describe that event? What new words would you use?
Time to Process the Mysteries of Life
The freedom to interpret the mysteries we encounter in life, is essential to our spiritual development. We all need a certain amount of space to process things happening our lives. This is especially true when we go through something really weird or amazing that seemingly has no explanation.
Spiritual development takes time. Only rarely does it happen quickly. There are many stories of great mystics who upon witnessing some sort of miracle turned right around and changed the course of their lives. We tend to forget that there were many things leading up to their turning point. For most of us, it takes time to fully process the puzzling gift that we have just received in the full context of our lives. Only we can decide if this experience is meant to give us new direction or recommit us more deeply to what we are already doing.
Finding Inner Confidence
It is true that we can be feel pressure from too many nagging questions. This may make that inner liberty to discover our own truth feel like a sort of confinement. It is a paradox. As soon as we define a sense of personal freedom we can find ourselves tethered to it. Do not fear. Try to clear your mind. Then ponder just the one thing that seems to keep rising to the top and set everything else aside for a time. Clarity comes with focus.
The decision to chart your own course spiritually can be lonely. To unbind yourself from your family’s system of belief can be both liberating and frightening. There are risks. Some people in your life will see it as a betrayal of your heritage and values. They might feel hurt or be worried because they see your new direction as destructive in some way. Not everyone is going to respond helpfully even if they mean well. Maintaining a certain sense of independence can help you to stay focused and confident.
Learning How to Take Risks
Part of what you are learning is when and how to take risks. Sometimes it is worth getting out of your comfort zone to share with another person what is happening in your life spiritually. Spiritual seeking can open your eyes to healthy choices especially when it comes to sharing your story.
Is this sharing for your own benefit - or to drive home some sort of point? If sharing it is going to cause someone pain, what is the most compassionate course of action? Maybe this experience is really meant to benefit only you, so it would be okay for it to belong just to you.
It is interesting to consider what ideas, and which people, we feel bound to even in our inner most thoughts. Finding the space to explore our experiences without the undue influence of others is vital to living life on our own terms: to writing our own life story.
When you give yourself permission to consider things privately, an intentional approach that is both honest and kind will be more likely to present itself. Your spiritual development depends on you having faith that what you are going through will help you to grow. You do need not be tethered to anyone else’s views. Treasure the opportunity to explore your own deeply personal mysteries.
You are never more free than when you seek your own answers.
Dana Kester-McCabe is an artist, writer, new media producer, and Quaker minister living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She is the author of The Delmarva School of Art, and other creative projects through Moonshell Productions.