One of the finest qualities of being human
"Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself."
— Hermann Hesse
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious—the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science."
— Albert Einstein
The story of the Garden of Eden is considered by many as evidence of our fall from grace and need for forgiveness because Adam dared sought knowledge of good and evil, taking upon himself (and upon Eve) the right that the all-knowing God didn’t want them to have.
Taken a step farther, however, you can also view the story as a metaphor for a basic conflict of the human condition.
You can choose to remain in the garden in obedience to the rules of the house, so to speak, maintain your innocence, and the authorities will give you the gift of happiness and immortality. No work required. No need to struggle with questions of what to believe. No troublesome working through of complex issues.
But what happens if you want to question authority and decide issues of right and wrong for yourself? Ah, then you get what you want. You are given the ability to judge good and evil for yourself. HOWEVER, you lose the perk of being taken care of, beginning with banishment from a plentiful source of food and comfort. Now you’ll have to survive by the sweat of your brow. You will have to live with the awareness you’ll die.
It’s quite a dilemma. And it’s something that people have struggled with for countless ages. You can live within the boundary of a garden created by a religious dogma and creed set down by those who want to take care of you. You can accept their demand that you not decide what is good, right, and wrong by yourself.
OR you can decide to judge your life through our own experience, to solve the puzzle of being human by yourself, and to follow your spiritual instincts where they take you.
Is It Better to Stay In or To Move Out?
There is no shortage of “spiritual” leaders who claim to be guardians of unique gardens that contain the only tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They interpret ancient scripture rigidly and brook no questioning of views passed down by others through many generations. Then too, there are many gurus of newly-created Gardens of Eden. It is not surprising that people choose to follow such leaders because humans have two basic psychological needs—to belong and to feel special.
It is not surprising what can happen when leaders—and members of a church planted firmly in the center of a Garden of Eden—welcome you into their fold. They will try to convince you that only they speak the truth. And you may easily find their arguments convincing if for no other reason than because it feels good to belong and to feel special.
Is that so bad?
It depends upon whether you choose to stay within the hallowed confines of an organized religion and choose to be a disciple who obeys the rules. In that case, staying can be a freeing experience. After all, self-empowerment comes from making choices with awareness.
You won’t automatically become a non-thinking zombie by staying. There are wise, compassionate, contemplative, forgiving, loving, radiant, generous, and joyful individuals in every temple, synagogue, mosque and church. These institutions can transform lives.
What is Your Spiritual Goal?
Today, millions follow the teachings of Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, and Muhammad—as well as countless others.
However, none of these men were orthodox followers of the religion into which they were born. Rather, they were charismatic spiritual seekers, mystics, prophets, troublemakers, critics of the establishments of their day.
What set them apart is that they lived spiritual lives. They all had a passion to seek the truth as it was revealed to their hearts.
Therefore, if you believe there is truth in the religion to which you subscribe, then by all means seek to know that truth and live it fully. As George Gurdjieff, a mystic, philosopher, spiritual teachers, and composer said: “Religion is doing; a man does not merely think his religion or feel it, he “lives” his religion as much as he is able, otherwise it is not religion but fantasy or philosophy.”
Whom Should You Trust as a Spiritual Guide?
If you decide to stay within a Garden of Eden, or if you decide to leave the safety of their walls, be careful. No matter where you are, there will be priests, preachers, imams, rabbis, gurus, friends, teachers, and others who will claim to be an “authority” on life, death, and other spiritual matters.
However, since spiritual leaders, like all humans, can hide negative traits that contradict beliefs they claim to follow, you may need to observe them in action over a long period of time to know whether they “walk the walk” they preach.
Here are some standards you may want to apply to those who would be your spiritual guide.
Are they courageous—or cowards when faced with challenge?
Are they curious about the world and change their beliefs when facts contradict what they thought was true—or do they hide behind unexamined, long-held “truths?”
Do they express joy in all of creation from the smallest flower to the largest galaxy and do they laugh a lot—or are they dour in countenance and blind to the beautiful mysteries of life?
Are they loving toward others, even those with whom they don’t agree–or do they tend to withhold their love even though that may be what the other person most needs?
Are they able to forgive—or do they hold grudges?
Are they content with their lives—or are they miserable and complain they don’t get their fair share?
Are they genuinely grateful for what they have—or are they unappreciative of their blessings because they aren’t what they think they deserve?
Do they examine their own actions and beliefs—or are they unwilling to explore who they really are beneath the exterior that they let others see?
Are they compassionate toward everyone—or do they offer sympathy only toward those who agree with them?
Are they creative and open to new ideas—or are they unwilling to stretch themselves and change the way “things have always been done”?
Are they honest and have integrity—or are they dishonest both with themselves and with others?
Are they resilient when they have had to face difficulties—or are they unable to rebound when there has been a setback in their lives?
While no one is perfect and none of us consistently lives up to our highest ideals, be certain that those whose advice you seek on spiritual matters express, to the best of their ability, the finest qualities of being human.
In fact, it is for this reason that I have chosen to put spirituality at the end of an examination of qualities. By now you will, I hope, recognize that spirituality encompasses all the other qualities that we need in order to live a full and spirited life.
Exploring SPIRITUALITY in Your Life
What does spirituality mean to you?
How has spirituality supported you through difficult situations?
What symbol best represents spirituality—something that can remind you of this important quality when you mired in the minutiae of daily life?
This exploration of spirituality was created by Arlene Harder, MA, MFT, resident of Villa Gardens, a Front Porch Retirement Community in Pasadena, California. The material is not copyrighted and may be used with attribution. (Photo by Dietmar Rabich on Wikimedia Commons under the Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. Permission pending.)