Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Articles > Spiritual Inquiry, Part Two

Spiritual Inquiry, Part Two

Sirr al-Basir/Lee Irwin

In my first reflections on this subject, I explored the aspects of spiritual inquiry that are most immediately of concern, primarily in our relationship with others in the context of our developing global world. Now I want to explore those aspects of inquiry that are perhaps less obvious but equally important. In our encounters with others, we discover our differences and learn to negotiate those differences in mutually respectful ways. However, self-inquiry requires us to turn inward toward unexplored depths where certainty is less clear, and at times, painfully absent. There is a very profound reason for this absence, which will be revealed if we are courageous enough to fully acknowledge our own lack of insight or understanding, and to recognize our own limits.

So often spiritual teachings are about certainty, clarity of insight, or the affirmation of specific spiritual truths. I find that such affirmation is often rooted in a predetermined attitude, one that seeks to validate a belief or to support an inherited assumption about the human condition. Of course, inherited spiritual truths are important markers on the road to Wisdom, but the road is more winding and less certain than what one might expect when given a map that points toward specific destinations. If we think about Wisdom as emergent, as coming into being through the auspices or portent of our own awaking, then we might realize that spiritual truth is not a consequence of collective affirmation. The challenge is to have the courage to recognize that spiritual inquiry, in the deep and most profound sense, is a matter of radical self-honesty and the naked, unbuffered recognition of our limited, even if inherited, beliefs and values.

A meaningful exploration of self-development always requires a willingness to not settle into a comfortable value system as though those values, however beautiful and valid, are sufficient to represent our utmost efforts in spiritual realization. In terms of spiritual inquiry, the question is: do our beliefs inhibit, perhaps in subtle ways, our actual development? So simple, and yet so often unseen. While there is a certain comfort in holding values that seem elevated and profound as inspiring and genuinely uplifting, we may then discover that we have only reached a plateau of insight that holds us captive to our own assumptions. This is not the goal. The goal is to have the humility and courage to see the limitations of our preconceptions, to allow ourselves to feel the impinging contractions that keep us safe in a turbulent world of uncertainty and yet bind us to a fixed attitude that is less than the full realization of our deeper spiritual potential.

I do not write this lightly or as a criticism of others’ approaches to a spiritual path, but more as a reflection based on inquiry I have applied in my own life. When I sense myself settling into a certain sense of accomplishment at having gained some degree of insight, I stop and reflect. Does this degree of insight actually represent what I am truly capable of attaining? Is this state of comfort with my beliefs a sign of accomplishment or only a way station on a path to less realized states, a resistance to conditions that challenge my own heartfelt beliefs? This is what spiritual inquiry asks: to what degree do my beliefs align with my deepest spiritual capacities? Not the potential that makes perfect sense to my own thinking, but that potential that I have not yet discovered, which I have yet to understand or even see. The challenge is to go beyond the limits of my current state by continuing the process of dedicated inquiry.

The underlying assumption in such inquiry is based in a specific belief that I acknowledge as fundamental to my human condition. My belief is that we, as human beings, do not genuinely understand or attain to the full capacity that we hold as spiritual, embodied beings. Many spiritual traditions offer descriptions of our human beingness, of our spiritual capability, but they do so embedded in a traditional way of thinking. I do not deny the value of such descriptions, as they do serve as paradigms for human development. However, in a more emergent sense, I believe that human capacity is developing, evolving, to an increasingly complex, multidimensional realization of potential unseen and unknown by former generations.

The deep awakening of potential is expressed through many trans-traditional modalities, in science, in art, in technology, in cultural synthesis and creative discovery that cannot be contained or interpreted by older, more constricted worldviews. This is equally true for the very nature of our deep humanity. Thus questions of spiritual inquiry require the courage to move beyond the formidable strengths of tradition and into the less stable and more variable ground of emergent discovery. And this means that the human condition is not predetermined nor defined by past models and collective attitudes. What is emerging in the instable flux of creative becoming, is the yet-to-be-determined capacity that will define humanity as fully mature in a genuine, holistic sense.

But how, in such a complex developmental era, do we as individuals face the challenge of recognizing both our limits and our potential? This is a matter of on-going spiritual inquiry. Let us go further within, into the very heart of this inquiry on the human condition. Let us ask another question: can we imagine that the realization of human potential would have only one solution, one answer? I believe that there is no one answer, that the existential response is based on the lived experience of each person. So many models of human development posit an underlying ontological condition as formative to our shared humanity. They assume a unitary primal source as the highest condition for self-realization, and draw a conclusion that such an underlying condition has an optimal expression as a unitary path that dissolves differences.

I do not hold such a view. I know, not believe, but know through direct experience that there is indeed such a unitary foundation to human consciousness. However I also know, in terms of the very same experience, that the application and creative differentiation of our shared unity is as important, if not more important, than the actual unity itself. I do not deny the value of our ontological depths as foundational for the arising of the human condition. However, I also recognize that this arising is a profound expression of spiritual discovery, for out of unity comes difference, and out of difference comes depth. Our differences matter and the application of this principle is the basis of meaning and significance for our shared human existence. The goal is not a return to undifferentiated unity, but the actualization of difference in the context of shared understanding and emergent co-existence.

Maturity in this example is measured by the ability to recognize all the complex variations that best represent alternatives within a shared context of peace and cooperation. The solution is not a “one way” path but a multivariate set of paths complimentary to other paths. This means that the responsibility for a realization of potential on any one path lies with the integrity and commitment, with the degree of insight and realization, that epitomize that specific path as one among many. Unity is the underlying principle that gives coherence and value to any path, and spiritual inquiry is a means for adaptation and emergence of differences. This means that our inquiry can best utilize our potential when we have the courage to seek beyond our comfort zone and to validate our beliefs through acts of cooperation that do not compromise the integrity of a unique approach to spiritual development.

However, there is another equally important concern, and that is the degree to which we are guided to clarity and inspiration in the realization of inner potential. This guidance is constituted by something more than our efforts or dedication to ask difficult and meaningful questions. It is a sense of communion with the very source of creative expression. There is an indwelling presence of compassion, love, and clarity of mind that instills right action and infuses our humanity with the inspirational processes of creation itself. This creative sentience, this gift of life we know through mind, heart, and soul, is part of a greater process that fills us with the desire and aspiration for mature, enduring insight. The resonance we feel when seeing a beautiful flower, the elegant mix of colors, hues and shades beaming forth in fall or just emerging in the greening of April showers, or the face of a child, or the smile of an aged person, is the very luminescence that draws us toward greater self-awareness. It is the gift of life that compels us, and if we have the clarity to acknowledge the gift then it shines forth ever more brightly.

We do not inquire simply as individuals isolated from the life-source; rather, we are the very expression of that life-source, its actual creative manifestations, its holy work as the coming forth of species. Spiritual inquiry in this case asks, how can I best serve that deeper impulse toward maturity and the discovery of shared creative potential? How may I open myself, in all my relationships, to a higher quality of appreciation and respect? How can I assist in giving birth to the next generation of spiritual seekers? How can I overcome my own blindness and limited views? Spirit says, love and be loved; give and be given to; offer and receive the necessary respect and insight that truly honors the gift of each person’s realization. We must awaken to the hidden urgency that presses us toward mutual creative discovery.

In closing this meditation, I want to emphasize that the work of genuine spirituality is to open to your present situation, whatever it may be. There are no optimal conditions other than those that you find yourself in at this very moment. The spiritual path is right here, right now, not waiting for some better circumstance or condition. If you are struggling, suffering, feeling your own limitations, then you are on the cusp of creative insight if you can turn your focus away from the immediate present and toward the immeasurable depths that constitute your real and actual nature. Detachment is good, but creative insight is far better. Humility requires tremendous strength, a determined inner commitment to a lifelong process of discovery. Through humility we are able to see our own boundaries; through determined inquiry we can surpass those limits and foster new creative insights.

The next step, the insight that guides us and helps us make the right decision, depends upon the purity of our motives, the sincerity of our aspirations, and the inner determination to act in accord with spiritual principle in all situations. That is why spiritual inquiry is crucial and difficult—to ask the right questions and to seek emergent insights can guide us to an outcome that will ground each person in an inner stability capable of innovation. This process takes patience, a willingness to learn from error, and a sense of worth that is able to build a lasting truth as well as a dedicated way of life. You are your path and no one else can live it for you. The purpose is to embody an example that is truly worthy of respect and love. To love and be loved is the way; embodied without qualification, such love opens an endless creative path whose luminescence can instill inspiration in others. Selah, now and always.

Click here to read Lee’s first entry on this subject, Spiritual Inquiry (Part One).

Image: Lauri Rantala, “Ruitočohkka illuminated” via Wikimedia Commons

Lee Irwin is a Professor in the Religious Studies Department at the College of Charleston where he teaches world religions with an emphasis on Native American traditions, western esotericism, hermeticism, contemporary spirituality, mystical cosmology, and transpersonal religious experience as related to dreams and visions. He is the Vice President of the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE) and a board member of the Sophia Institute and the Institute for Dream Studies. He has been a workshop leader and group facilitator for over twenty years, particularly in the areas of visionary cosmology and the development of the sacred human. He is the author of many books and articles, including: The Dream Seekers, Visionary Worlds, Awakening to Spirit: On Life, Illumination, and Being, The Alchemy of Soul, and Coming Down From Above: Prophecy, Resistance, and Renewal in Native American Religions.

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4 November 2015

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love, wisdom, spirit, heart, The Great Mystery, discovery, self-evaluation, courage, spiritual inquiry,
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