SPIRITUALITY AS EMPOWERMENT
When we think about power we might think about furthering ourselves in our careers, amassing wealth, or exerting greater influence in our communities. We are taught that willpower, with a dose of good fortune, is necessary to achieve our goals. Some of us shrink from the challenge to reach for our dreams. Others who are able to do so might question whether the price one has paid for success was worth its rewards.
HOW WE COPE
When faced with the challenges that success demands or when disappointment ensues, a challenge of a different sort confronts us, who are we and how do we judge ourselves. Our relationship with ourselves becomes a crucial element in determining what we will do next, our expectations, and our reaction to the outcome that arises from our decisions to meet these challenges. When we have a poor relationship with ourselves, certain kinds of problems arise that inevitably prevent us from succeeding and reaching our dreams.
When we suffer from feelings of inadequacy, every slight, disappointment, and confrontation with our own limitations magnifies what we find deficient or lacking in ourselves. We inevitably compare ourselves to others we deem as superior in some way or to some abstract standard we expect ourselves to live up to crushed and disheartened by the unreasonableness of these expectations. An underlying sense of entitlement may contribute to these feelings that can inevitably lead to depressed mood or toxic envy and resentment.
BLAMING, CONTROLLING OR MANIPULATING OTHERS
When we harbor a sense of entitlement we want what we can’t have and resent others who have what we want. Looking at things this way allows us to justify using any means possible to exploit or manipulate others to gain an advantage or affirm our entitlement. Living with a sense of entitlement compromises our regard for the concerns of others and thus risks damaging our relationships.
DRIVING OURSELVES HARDER
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This is an old adage whose wisdom is as often as not delimited by the futility of applying it to those situations where failure to recognize our limitations renders success impossible, worse, leading us down a path of discouragement and exhaustion. In other cases, we can become a victim of our successes unless we take stock of who we are and our purpose in life. Without doing so we may find ourselves living a hollow life without the joy and contentment we had expected success would bring us.
Procrastination, magical thinking, that is hoping that everything will just take care of itself, or rationalizing away reasons for not pursuing our goals prevent us from taking the risks necessary to reach our goals. This is not to be confused with letting go of unnecessary expectations of ourselves that otherwise can be liberating. When relinquishing expectations makes us feel happier we are not rationalizing.
If we avoid dealing with problems we never give ourselves the opportunity to reach our goal much less to learn from these experiences. Addictions sabotage opportunities to confront our problems. They are like a short circuit in an electrical system; the path of least resistance shuts down the operation altogether preventing the flow of energy to reach its intended destination.
WHAT DO WE DO INSTEAD?
Spirituality, as I define it, represents our relationships with loved ones, one’s self, one’s heritage, the future, the Earth, all living creatures, life itself. It is what takes us beyond our individual selves, our narcissistic investments, and the toxic envy and resentment that delimit our personal growth. Instead it promotes the path toward self-fulfillment as opposed to an aggrandizement of self that is solely invested in a combination of natural endowment and sheer determination which fails because we must inevitably come to terms with reality, events about which we have little or no control, and our own limitations. If we fail to recognize our helplessness to change these aspects, what the philosopher, Heidegger called “thrownness” in life, we will ultimately fail to come to terms with what is necessary for us to ultimately achieve success, that is letting go of unrealistic self-expectations, a sense of entitlement to have whatever we wish for when we want it, a freeing sense of peace that enables us to open to the possibilities to pursue our goals with a sense of joy rather than grim determination, to allow others to be themselves and thereby improving our relationships. This process of “letting go” is not resignation or a surrendering of our dreams as it might seem but instead a spiritual awakening to the fact that we live in a world that stands apart from our will and yet that which we are very much a part. By accepting ourselves as imperfect creatures and the world we live in as the same in its imperfections we open ourselves to experiencing more love toward ourselves and compassion and empathy toward others. We are thereby empowered to pursue our dreams with a greater sense of joy and purpose.
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Posted by Robert Hamm, Ph.D.
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Robert Hamm Ph.D