A spiritual perspective on some area of life asks questions like these:
- What is my current relationship with this part of life?
- How would I like my relationship with this part of life to be?
If you remove the physicality from life, what remains is energy. But energy alone is meaningless. What brings meaning to different energy patterns is how you relate to those patterns.
So these questions can pop you up to a spiritual perspective by helping you focus on the relationship you’re experiencing with any aspect of life. The spiritual perspective is the lens that gives you clarity about how you relate to different energy patterns. Everything in life can be seen as an energy pattern.
Another way to frame this is to note that everything you ever think about it is a thought pattern, which is also an energy pattern. Neurons in your brain fire in a certain way when you think any thoughts. And other parts of your brain have relationships with these patterns. So whenever you think a thought, other parts of your brain automatically activate their own neural firing patterns in response.
Hence the big picture “spiritual” perspective is also about how to change or improve the relationships among these different firing patterns. If everything you experience in outer reality is represented by a firing pattern in some part of your brain, then you can consider that all relationships have internal representations in your mind. So you could regard spiritual growth as an effort to change these patterns in some meaningful way. Do you want to make them more harmonious, more orderly, more playful, etc?
I find this perspective immensely useful on a practical level. I use it for making day-to-day decisions frequently. Just getting clear about what kind of relationship I want to have with some aspect of life helps me consider the long-term perspective and the core quality of life issues involved for myself and others.
These questions can also be asked repeatedly to create rewarding growth arcs in different areas of life.
Assessing Your Spiritual Relationships
A simple way to answer these questions is just to list a bunch of descriptive words and phrases that come to mind when you think about a particular part of life.
For instance, when I was growing up, here’s how I would have described my relationship with public speaking:
- tedious practice
- too much attention
So from a spiritual perspective, my personal energy and the energy of public speaking aren’t meshing well. Our energies are fighting and resisting each other. The alignment isn’t there.
Note that this relationship exists within my own mind. The relationship itself is a collection of neural firing patterns interacting. And since it exists within my mind, that gives me some power to change it over time. That may not be easy, but I can surely engage with these patterns and nudge them to change over time.
After years of Toastmasters and other speaking experiences, here’s how I’d have described my much improved relationship with public speaking:
- in control
So that relationship is much improved from where it was earlier. However, I can still see further room for improvement relative to where I really want this relationship to go.
Here’s where I’d say my relationship with public speaking is today:
- occasionally silly
So this relationship has lightened up a lot. It no longer strikes me as a situation where I need to feel confident or in control. Wanting to feel confident while speaking would be like saying that I need to feel confident while making breakfast. I could try to feel extra confident while making breakfast, but it would be an odd framing to use all the time. It would be like Tom Hanks reveling in his ability to make fire in the movie Castaway.
Notice how an overly tense or controlling relationship with public speaking can get in the way of creating an aligned relationship with the people in the room. One misaligned relationship can block the full richness of another relationship from coming through. It’s hard to access the fun and playfulness of this connection if a complicated relationship with public speaking is getting in the way.
As I gradually transform misaligned relationships into more aligned ones, I notice that new relationships very often emerge.
It’s much like being in a human relationship with a mismatched partner. While your energy is tied up with that person, it’s hard to see the potential for a more aligned, loving, and joyful relationship to come into your life. Your current relationship can easily block better relationships from coming through.
Breaking up is also a way of transforming a relationship. Enforcing boundaries can help you get some distance from a misaligned relationship, so you can reassess what kind of relationship you want to have in this area.
Earlier this year I got clarity that I really didn’t want to have any personal or professional relationships with Trump supporters. It felt most aligned to kick them out of my space completely, so I adopted a policy of purging them from my life and work. They consistently violate my principles and values, and I realized I’d very much prefer not to have such people in my life at all, at least not at close range. When they’re too close I mostly feel disgust and contempt due to the boundary violations, like I’m being raped by red-hatted idiots. But when I do proper boundary management and keep their energy from violating my space, I feel that this relationship is much improved. I still have no desire to engage with them, but I no longer feel disgust and violation. Instead I notice gentler feelings like compassion and forgiveness starting to emerge.
I also notice, as you might expect, that with this misaligned energy out of the way, there’s a newfound invitation to explore the relationships that this energy was blocking. My connections with high-trust people have growth stronger, and I’ve been investing more in some of those relationships. For instance, I’ve been really enjoying my months-long involvement in the Transformational Leadership Council’s Diversity Committee. We’ve been having hard conversations about inclusiveness and anti-racism, and I’m loving it. It’s inspiring to connect with friends who are genuinely asking how we can do more to make a difference, and they’re investing extra time and energy month after month. I was initially concerned that this kind of group might fizzle out, but I’ve been seeing the opposite. The passion, energy, and honesty have been growing as we’ve continued to invest.
Being angry at Trump supporters is too easy. But getting wrapped up in that energy is mostly a distraction. It hides the calling to invest in something more deeply transformational that could actually move the needle forward.
Asking yourself what kind of relationship you want to have with a certain area of life is a call to deeper honesty. This isn’t easy.
One trap is getting caught up in society’s expectations. You may start by wanting what you think you’re supposed to want. Society taught you how some relationship is supposed to be. You may buy into that model, but maybe in the long run it doesn’t really work for you.
I like to see society’s models as stepping stones. They aren’t really where I’m going to end up, but I can still make some progress if I aim for them, at least till I discover something better.
The tricky part is getting clear about what you really want and not getting sucked into society’s partial matches for too long.
The public speaking example shows how I initially aimed for confidence with speaking. Isn’t that the ultimate goal for a public speaker? Get up on a stage and speak with confidence? It’s fine to aim for this as a starter goal, at least until it feels hollow.
Again, it’s like feeling confident making breakfast. Once you see beyond the illusion of fear, it’s not so inspiring to think that you even need to be confident.
So then you pick a better relationship goal. Maybe it’s fun and playfulness. Maybe it’s presence. Maybe it’s creative flow. Maybe it’s inspiring people.
This is especially applicable in business, whether you’re an employee or entrepreneur or you like to just mess around. What’s your ideal relationship with work and business?
Here’s how I’d describe my relationship with my business today:
- waves of work, play, and rest
I just made this list off the top of my head. It’s interesting to me that I didn’t describe my business as organized, productive, profitable, etc. The spiritual lens helps me focus on my personal relationship with it.
This isn’t where I started as an entrepreneur. Initially I cared about success and achievement. Now I think more about the experience of flow.
I also place a high value on flexibility and variety, which are more important to me than routine and structure. I like that I attract readers and customers with expansive and flexible interests who don’t need me to stick with just one niche topic year after year. Each day people communicate with me about different types of challenges and experiences. I like how this keeps the relationship with my readers fresh and growth-oriented. It keeps the door open for surprises and synchronicities.
Just as it’s difficult to discover the honest truth about the type of relationship you want, it’s also difficult to publicly admit how you feel. But if you can openly share your truth, it is easier to attract and enjoy the kind of relationship you really want. You also won’t have to waste so much time and energy dealing with partial matches.
It takes courage to make your own individual choice here. It takes courage to admit when you’re wrong. It takes courage to stand by your choice when you’re right. And it takes courage to stay with the flow of evolving relationships because they don’t remain static.
Courage helps you find and follow a path with a heart in your relationships with different parts of life. At some point you’ll need to break from society’s expectations, so you can explore the aspects of these relationships that don’t agree with society’s plans.
What’s really happening here is that your brain stores the patterns of society’s plans for you, and you’re also upgrading how you relate to these patterns. Initially you may obey them. Then you may rebel against them. And then you might frame them as stepping stones or intermediate lessons. This latter framing can create more harmony in your thinking.
When you consider the spiritual perspective, realize that it’s all about relationships. How are you relating to each part of life? Where are you experiencing flow and harmony? Where are you enduring resistance and struggle? Let each misaligned relationship point you towards deeper desires.
Be ambitious here. Keep asking for the impossible if it’s what you really want, and you may eventually get it. And you’ll realize that that’s not the end of the road either – the possibility space is vaster still.