Posts Tagged ‘spiritual confusion’

It is a joke that I am going to be counseling people in just over a month when my internship starts.  Readers – if you ever see a counselor, don’t assume he or she has his or her shit together.  I clearly do not.  I am so confused about spiritual matters.  I had a big existential panic attack this evening.  Its horrible when it hits and then embarrassing after it passes.

My husband thinks that I will feel better once I get back to work (teaching) next month and start my internship.  Being home without adult company and gainful employment is hard on most people.  I suspect he is correct.  That said, I really need to settle on a direction for the next few years and stop these intellectual dives down various rabbit holes… they aren’t productive… they aren’t helping.  My husband says that as humans there are some things we cannot know and we have to trust that we fit into a bigger picture — he says that it doesn’t make sense that our peace or salvation would have to rely on intellectually solving some riddle or figuring out the “right” path.  He argues that there must be many ways and that its just a matter of picking a way that speaks to you.  As an agnostic (who in many ways has deeper faith than I do) he leans pretty Hindu in his Universalist worldview.

So then we return again to the religious drawing board… and we start going down the list of religions we’ve considered… and weigh what we liked and didn’t like, what is available, what is accessible to Westerners, what emphasizes meditation, or prayer, or service, or study, and what our tendencies and strengths are.  And I still suspect we are looking at this all wrong because its still “me me me” and I know that isn’t helping.

But I’ll just put it out there:  I want a spirituality that is authentic and has depth, but is also positive and affirming – not gloomy or fear-based (and yet also not superficial or “too happy/not real”).  My ideal religion/spiritual path would include prayer/group prayer, singing/music, reading/reflecting, listening to sermons or Dharma talks, and an emphasis on spiritual practice / moral discipline in daily life.

For now I need to stop weighing and considering.  Its not that there isn’t a place for intellect and reasoning as part of a spiritual journey… but in my case it clearly needs to be tempered with greater humility and faith because I am getting nowhere.


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This morning I attended my local Unity church (www.unity.org).  The minister’s lesson today spoke to me about how we deal with spiritual confusion.

Just to be clear, I often suffer from spiritual confusion.  My spiritual confusion is tied to the way I habitually conduct my search for Truth.  I have gone about this search by reading everything I come across and attempting to figure out where God/Spirit is in that religion or path.  I believe that all religions are true in a sense.  I believe there are countless paths to God.  So when I read new ideas I do not think “this is wrong,” I think “how can this be true.”  I try to figure it out like a puzzle or an intellectual exercise.  Because I usually operate from the assumptions that I am capable of figuring things out intellectually and that I must solve my problems by myself, spiritual confusion arises.  This confusion involves an overwhelming feeling of being cast adrift and unsure of what to believe and how to practice.  The confusion can be paralyzing.

Paralysis is what I must avoid.  Paralysis does me no good.

So, how does one deal with spiritual confusion and a paralysis of spiritual practice?

The Buddhist group I was formerly involved with had strong opinions about this question.  They said that spiritual confusion is the inevitable result of listening to contradictory teachings.  They said that the solution is to limit one’s view: to abstain from listening to others who are on different paths; to abstain from reading Dharma books from other traditions; to commit oneself wholeheartedly to a single teacher.

In a sense they have a point.  One way to avoid spiritual confusion is to chose sectarianism.  That is, to focus oneself entirely on what one is confident is a good, or even the best, path.  This can be good for developing a deep practice without “distractions” from the outside world.  However, there are also some major downsides to this approach.  While other paths may still be respected at least in theory, in practice isolation breeds extremism.  Listening to only one set of ideas tends to produce a mind that sees one’s personal path as the best or only way to salvation.  This sectarian view can foster minds of hate and spiritual egotism.  One’s personal growth may be stunted by shutting out ideas or practices that help one to better understand and practice spiritual truth.

I personally always ignored this teaching.  I found in my experience that reading other Dharma texts from other traditions helped me to understand matters more clearly.  For me it was like looking at a diamond from different perspectives.  Rather than only seeing a couple of facets, I could explore the gem from multiple angles and have a fuller experience of how I related to that Truth.

The lesson today at church addressed an alternative way to deal with spiritual confusion.  The minister suggested that the problem is not the various contradictory ideas, but the way our mind seizes on them and creates conflict between them.  He referenced Hegel’s dialectical model in which Thesis and Antithesis are necessary for Truth to emerge and that Truth is the Synthesis of the two opposing views.  Synthesis, however, does not emerge from intellectual gymnastics.  Synthesis emerges from the Grace of Spirit.  If we can just observe the ideas or the conflict without identifying with them and without being consumed by them, then we create space for Spirit to come in, to offer guidance and inspiration.  This is another way of saying that we must practice non-attachment, even to Truth/Dharma/Beliefs.  When we do not resist, when we do not wrestle, when we simply let things be and accept them as they are, we create space to see things as they really are and to know Truth.  This is a very Buddhist view.

The minister also suggested that since God meets us where we are, we may receive the antithesis (or conflict) we need to move us further along our path.  Sometimes the blessings of Spirit come in strange packaging.  Less conflict, is therefore the natural result of having less attachment to a point of view.

He said, “do not hold onto any belief system.  Always stay open.  Don’t get locked in, but be open to being expanded in consciousness.”

So perhaps the solution to spiritual confusion is to stop struggling.  Stop struggling and invite God (and the Spirit within) to show you the way.  This opens the way to divine inspiration and guidance.  This is the dawning of wisdom.

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