The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers as they’re more commonly known, is a small religious sect that grew out of 17th century England. It’s the religious group I claim, and just like any other tradition, we have our unique way of saying things. One of our common phrases is “Turn toward the Light.”
Quakers talk a lot about the Light. It refers to the Light of God and the belief that there is that of God in everyone. Each one of us has Inner Light. The Light of God is part of who you are. I don’t care who you are or how the world has judged you. The Light of God is part of who you are. This is a deep and important truth. One I want you to hear. But let me also say this…
The Light of God is part of who we are. But so is our identification with change and death, like and dislike, success and failure. Each one of us has a particular set of attachments that shape our self-understanding, our personality, our choices. What we identify with matters because our identifications determine how we show up in the world. Our identifications inform how we make decisions. And decisions matter. At any given moment in time we can look around the world and understand that the current situation, whatever it is, is the byproduct of a whole bunch of people’s past decisions. And, of course, at any given moment in time we can look at our own life and understand that our current situation, whatever it is, is like 90% a byproduct of our past decisions, all of which grew out of our attachments and identifications.
And so a mature spiritual practice demands that we examine and unpack these attachments and identifications. The goal of spiritual practice is transformation—a transformation of identity. Last week I said that our ancient teachers ask us to find and root our identity in the Eternal. Which is a beautiful, but lofty idea. So let’s break it down to the nitty gritty. We already named the fact that everything is always changing. Think about your life. You know this is true. Your job changes. Or your boss changes. Our politicians change. Our grocery store stops carrying our favorite ice cream. Our planet is spinning. Our bodies are aging. Change is constant. And when we find and root our identity in something that changes, we suffer. Our ancient teachers were pointing us toward something that exists beyond change. And one of the most important and powerful spiritual practices that we can undertake is to try and understand what they meant.
This is turning toward the Light.
Last week I described a practice. Slow down. Turn inward. Be still. And listen.
It all begins with slowing down. If we’re running a million miles a minute in a hundred different directions we have no chance of tapping into the subtle nature of Spirit. Please understand, I’m not asking you to give up your life and become a monk. I understand that life is filled with time-consuming responsibility. And I also understand that much of life is filled with pleasures we want to hold on to. Spiritual practice doesn’t negate the responsibility or the joy of life. Just the opposite in fact, it supports it. Imagine being able to approach your challenges at work without anxiety. What if you accepted the fact that failing at something doesn’t mean that you are a failure? You are the Light of God. Success and failure are just two aspects of an ever changing world. They come and go all the time.
Slowing down means giving ourselves enough space to notice when we’re lost in attachment—when we’re clinging to an identification of someone who always succeeds (or whatever your particular story is…).
Slowing down means taking intentional moments to pause. Moments to feel into our bodies. To notice our breath. To let our attention turn inward. To turn toward the Light. We live in a loud, busy world. And our attention is a commodity. People want it. It’s a radical thing to pause and claim our attention as our own and to direct it inward toward the Light of God. It’s a radical thing to decide to anchor our identity in the Eternal.
But just imagine the courage that could arise if your identity and self-worth didn’t hinge on the ever changing fickle nature of like and dislike, success and failure. When you take the time to slow down and turn inward, you’re giving yourself permission to be still. And this stillness allows you to hear a different voice. The world is constantly shouting about how you should be richer or more beautiful. Or how such and such will instantly make you happy. But deep down, we all know the truth. True lasting happiness will never come from something outside ourselves. When we find and root our identity in the ever changing nature of the world, suffering will always be the result.
When we slow down, turn inward, find stillness, and listen we’re making a conscious choice to turn toward the Light of God within. We’re making a conscious choice to find and root our identity in the Eternal.
Imagine the feeling of making decisions based on what you hear when you turn inward. When your actions are rooted in deep inner listening, you’re able to move forward in life with confidence and clear direction. The world will still be shouting out you and trying to lure you back to its attachments. It’s not going to stop. And this is why spirituality is understood as a practice. Spiritual practice is the slow recalibration of our attention. It’s a constant, consistent, devoted effort to remember and remember again our true identity.