Inner peace is hard to come by right now. Even before we stick the key in the front door, we are uneasy about friendships that aren’t what they used to be, job insecurity, climate change, neighbors who pray in foreign languages, and a war with terrorists we don’t know how to recognize, with no known address. Who wouldn’t be looking for daylight?
There is quite a marketplace these days for spiritual nurture and self help. Seekers have so many resources that it is easy to become overwhelmed or cynical, and to do nothing. Yet the need for respite from spiritual anxiety continues to grow. Where we seek nurture, and where we find it – from the Dalai Lama or Dr. Laura — makes a great difference, and not just for people living on mountaintops. Today’s Huffington Post blog features a piece on “How to Find a Spiritual Teacher”. The ambient anxiety that does not resolve with a glass of good red wine over dinner, may indeed have a spiritual dimension. We are seeking a sign that we are headed in the right direction, a dove with an olive branch. We do not trust our reading of signs, or we trust them too quickly and desperately.
There are landmarks in the search for guidance. Authenticity means that a resource represents itself fairly. It is not Dr. Laura’s fault that we pin our hopes on science to such a degree that we wistfully trust the “Dr.” credential, to provide us with a guru. What is disappointing is that her PhD in physiology would be offered as an implicit reason to trust her wisdom. Be careful about endorsements.
Do not fear to explore resources for nurture of the spirit. But come equipped with questions. Religious authority does not guarantee wisdom, nor does a clinical credential, but it does not rule it out either. Be an inquisitive consumer. What kind of heart is behind the teachings you are considering? The heart of a broadcaster who advises an anxious person of color to avoid interracial marriage if she cannot tolerate cruel humor, is different from a heart that invites generosity toward strangers in flooded parts of Tennessee or Pakistan. The heart of one who seeks to banish any group from worship near Ground Zero, is different from one who prays for endangered birds in Louisiana. Generosity of spirit is a good landmark for a spiritual teacher.
One of the best landmarks of a trustworthy spiritual resource is humility, the capacity to accept uncertainty where we would prefer clear answers. In the presence of conflicting viewpoints, in this multicultural, spiritually complex era, a trustworthy spiritual guide supports our uneasy tolerance for ambiguity, rather than coaching us in glib certainties. While waiting for clarity, we can all use a little help, in order to be at home in the fog.