Growth is life, and life is growth. Parents of a newborn child keep watching for signs of development with the child, and rejoice at each new phase. They would be extremely alarmed if the baby seemed to make no progress at all.
We take this physical growth for granted. But what of the spirit? If a person who feels stuck spiritually, can be very distressed at not making any progress. In that distress the question is likely to arise, “What can I do to advance my spiritual journey?” There is always the question about whether our spiritual life progresses without any thought on our part just like our physical development. When we grow restless with the situation we are in, we look for some means of cooperating with our own spiritual growth, even if we do not have a very clear idea of what that means, or what it involves.
Watch [be awake] therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.
But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched [stayed awake] and not allowed his house to be broken into. Matthew 24:42,43
People who have not been reborn are like those who are dreaming. People who have been reborn are like those who are awake. In fact, in the Word natural life is compared to being asleep and spiritual life to being awake. True Christian Religion #606
Natural life in and of itself, apart from spiritual life, is nothing but being asleep. But having a natural life with a spiritual life inside it is being awake. Apocalypse Revealed #158
Waking up requires effort. There are many ways of doing this. One way is called dividing your attention.
The point is to take advantage of the fact that we are very complicated beings with many different levels and centers. When a negative emotion is active, it wants 100% of our attention. In that way, it keeps us asleep. The moment we put part of our attention somewhere else, the negative emotion loses some of its power.
If an enraged person tries to control his anger directly, he usually gets more angry. Many people have discovered an indirect method–counting to ten. Why does that help? It is because the effort put into counting takes away some energy that was put into the anger. Instead of trying to control his anger, he wakes up to that part of himself that is not angry and can calmly count to ten. When he wakes up, the anger loses some of its power.
Another way to do this is to focus your attention on something else. Some people do it by rubbing the back of their hand until they can feel a tingling or warmth. By putting attention on to the back of the hand, the emotion gets less attention, and is free to subside. This act of focusing on the sensations in the hands is called “sensing.”
It is possible to put attention on the back of your hand even when you are doing something else. You can experiment with this by rubbing the back of your non dominant hand until it tingles. Then continue reading while keeping part of your awareness on your hand. You can divide your attention in that way. With practice you can do it for several minutes or even for hours. It is a skill that can be developed like any other skill. Its importance lies in giving you a tool to use when some negative emotion starts to overwhelm you.
If you notice yourself getting furious, you can divide your attention. In that divided state, only part of you is angry, and the other part is calmly observing. You are simply finding a calmer part of yourself so that you are not overwhelmed with the anger. This is possible because there are many levels in the human mind.
Using the analogy of the mansion, it is like having someone stuck in the basement full of anger and deep in misery. Then a voice from one of the higher floors of the house says: “What are you doing down there?” The other voice is also a part of us–it is just on a higher level.
Jesus told a parable that involved a son who received his inheritance and went and wasted it on riotous living until the money ran out and he was eating pig’s food. At a certain point “he came to himself,” and began to reflect on the difference between his life, and the life of the hired servants in the house he left. He woke up to his situation. (Luke 15)
Some of these wake up calls are very dramatic and come at a desperate time in a person’s life. We can also wake up in those little moments when we are feeling frustrated, fearful, or just annoyed.
Jesus said: “And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through.” Luke 12:39 And
again: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41
“Watch” means “wake up.” Our first task is to wake up to spiritual life. Think of how many crimes are committed by people who are spiritually asleep. All negativity comes because we are asleep.
A man was sleeping in his bed. A robber broke down the front door, walked into the house, robbed him of his possessions, and, just before leaving, started beating him with a baseball bat. The man woke up to a barrage of blows and soon was beaten unconscious. His first thought when he came to was: “If only I had been awake I could have done something to stop myself from being robbed and beaten.”
This is a parable of our spiritual life. Our negative emotions are like the thief. They invade our thoughts, rob us of peace of mind, destroy our relationships, and spiritually beat us up. Let’s take an example.
A man returns from work, tired and frustrated. He opens the door, finds that his wife is out on the patio reading a book. The kitchen is a mess. There is no food in the oven. The man loses his temper, begins to yell at his wife, calling her names, complaining about her habits. He has no idea of what she has experienced during the day. He did not take the time to find out. She gets so mad at his attack on her that she starts throwing things. Soon there is an ugly fight, the police are called in, the man is marched off to jail, and he mutters to himself: “I don’t know what came over me! How did that happen?”
On a spiritual level, it is as if “anger” came sneaking into his heart, closely followed by frustration, self-pity, fear, and a host of other negative feelings. They took over his mind and body, and he found himself yelling at the woman he loves, physically beating her, being carried off to prison, all because he was spiritually asleep!
If he were spiritually awake, would he fly into a rage like that over nothing? Being asleep, he was robbed of his love, his peace of mind, his sanity, and possibly his marriage. Does a father start the day saying to himself? “Today I would like to do untold emotional damage to my daughter by calling her stupid and ugly?” If he looked on it as a choice, he would never choose to do anything that would harm his child. Instead, he falls into patterns of criticism and putdowns that leave his daughter an emotional wreck at the end of the day. In a more conscious state, he wouldn’t do that.
Does a wife start the day with the resolve to make her children and her husband’s lives miserable by yelling at them, and nagging until they want to leave home?
Does a child make a conscious decision to annoy and pester people around him to the point that they want to wring his neck? Why do people do these negative things? Would they do them if they were spiritually awake?
Think how vital it is, then, to be spiritually conscious.
Not everyone has such a dramatic reminder of the need for growth. Some just find that life has very little meaning, or that they find themselves chronically unhappy or frustrated. A young man was talking to his clergyman and said: “I am, a successful man. I have a good job, a nice home. I am married with three children. I go to church every Sunday. I participate in the youth group. I help on church committees, and do everything that I thought would make me happy. Yet I am miserable. What’s wrong?” The minister replied: “It looks as if it is time to begin the inward journey.”
Then the question is; “How do I do that?” Have you ever had the experience of being in such a vivid dream that you did not know whether you were asleep or not, and you ended up pinching yourself? That is a way of waking up.