Coming Face to Face with Ourselves on the Contemplative Journey

The truth about ourselves is inevitable; whatever it is, it is going to come up. When the dust settles after the first fervor of religious conversion, we once again confront our old temptations.

Father Thomas Keating

Walking the spiritual path can be frustrating.

Yes, the initial birthing experience might feel like waking up to a new dawn; elation is carried forward by an expanding awareness. This might last a few years, months, weeks, days…

Eventually, though, the emotional baggage of a lifetime catches up with us. We’re suddenly confronted by ancient and primarily ineffective coping strategies. The whole fantasy falls apart. We feel like infants trying to get our needs met.

As Father Thomas Keating puts it “…emotional hang-ups are the chief obstacle to the growth of our new self because they put our freedom into a straitjacket.”

If we do learn to control our emotional reactivity and respond mindfully to situations, we may run the risk of spiritual pride. We might begin to think of ourselves as highly realized people a step above everyone else. Look at me, how very open and aware I am.

When we see this in ourselves, it’s humiliating, devastating. Putting ourselves over and above everyone like that, we realize how little we’ve learned. I remember weeping in my bed for days.

Then, finally, all this concern about how I’m doing on my spiritual journey gets exposed for what it is. How long does it take to realize it was never about me and my journey? There but for the grace of God go I.

Truth is, nobody really cares how I’m doing on my so-called journey, not even God. In fact, I might think I’m walking this path, but really God’s been carrying me the whole way – shaking her head from time to time, wondering if I’ll ever let go of the struggle.

Let go and let God.

I am on a journey. I want to be engulfed by God’s presence, power, and glory. The only way I can do this is to let go.

Rich Lewis

Whatever degree of divine union we may reach bears no proportion to our effort. It is the sheer gift of divine love.

Father Thomas Keating

It seems like this cycle repeats itself frequently, even as it defines the overall journey. Moments of frustration turn into times of elation. We grow a few steps; then we feel knocked down. We try our best; then we remember to place ourselves at the mercy of Grace.

Through it all, God carries us, love transports us, hope defines us, and Spirit guides us. With any luck, we eventually learn to simply get out of the way. God is good. Life is good. That’s all we really need to know. 

Praise be.

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Kimberly Holman

Kimberly Holman is a certified Mindfulness Meditation Teacher (MMT) with a B.A. in psychology from the University of Maine and an M.A in religious studies from Naropa University.