LIVING AS APPRENTICES
In the classes I teach, I’m accustomed to saying that spiritual transformation requires three components: surrender, choice, and feeling safe (i.e. believing that we live in the unshakable kingdom God and no matter what happens to us we are safe).
Now, I’m prompted to add a fourth component: “consciousness.” In Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Richard Rohr reminds us that consciousness is “that which sees me seeing” (p.85). In other words, it is the skill of separating myself from my thoughts and actions and being able to observe myself doing that thinking and those actions. If I can’t get outside myself and watch myself being me, how can I see what needs to be transformed? And how can I see the need to surrender and make different choices?
When this concept of “consciousness” came up in a class last week, I raised the question, “How do we develop the ability to become conscious of our thoughts and actions?” A counselor in the class said that the act of looking back on our past to see how our parents or grandparents may have influenced our lives is a one way of learning to step outside ourselves and become observers. Also it seems to me that teaching us to be “conscious” might be the role of the Holy Spirit is playing when the Spirit brings up places in our lives that we need to examine. However it happens, the idea of me looking at me and deciding I don’t like what I see is necessary for repentance and transformation.
One of my continual issues is “vainglory” – the idea of acting with the hope of the approval and acceptance from others. Some of us find it difficult to accept compliments because we want to appear humble. But vainglory goes beyond that. Vainglory is an “unconscious” need to go looking for those compliments or even acting in a way that forces approving words.
Today my pastor (and boss) praised and quoted a post from this blog during a sermon. That made me smile. Then he went on to say that mine is the only blog he reads. I gave him a thumbs up. Later in the sermon he quoted something I had said in a conversation that he really liked. Those comments “puffed me up” a bit more.
As I was leaving the sanctuary, three people mentioned the mentions. Now my addiction to approval kicked in. Since I understand consciousness and was able to watch myself getting a bigger and bigger ego boost, I began to be concerned. So I decided to walk out the door of the church instead of walking toward the crowd coming out of the sanctuary. I saw how I was loving the attention. I knew that I have grown beyond the sad little girl who craved constant affirmation. So I needed to stop feeding the addiction. I thanked God for the compliments and went on my way.
Consciousness, “that which sees me seeing,” is a God-given blessing to help me live in the kingdom.
This really draws me back to two concepts I first encountered with my brilliant mentor Brian DesRoches. The first is the idea of self-referencing, which is the ability to examine my own circumstances and think, “What it is like to be me right now?” Brian would contrast this with others-referencing, which is when we look to others to tell us how to feel.
For instance, parenting can easily teach children to others-reference. “I was really proud when you scored that goal,” or “I’m upset about your poor grades” both subtly imply that the child is responsible for the emotional state of the parent, and also that the child should look to the parent’s emotional state to determine what impact her actions (or existence) are having.
“That which sees me seeing” I think is very similar to self-referencing. And self-referencing is a teachable skill. “What is it like for you…?” is a foundational question. In the parenting examples above, it could be, “I really enjoyed seeing how much passion you put into that game. What was it like for you when you scored that goal?” or “I’m wondering what you’re thinking as you look at this report card?”
That leads to the second concept that I learned from Brian – the question, “How do I want to experience myself right now?” Once I’m learning to become conscious (or to self-reference), then it becomes possible to audit. For instance, I’m arriving home at the end of the day knowing I’m tired and cranky. I can decide that I want to experience myself as an involved husband and father, and invite the Holy Spirit’s assistance in living into that vision. Or someone might choose to experience herself as someone who knows enough to avoid a situation prone to causing a flareup of vainglory; she might even find, later, that she enjoyed that experience of herself more than she would have enjoyed the flattering praise in the first place!
So – I love the ideas of adding “consciousness” to the transformative list! The fun thing is we can help fellow apprentices develop the ability without having to tell them what we’re up to. Almost any time someone relates an experience they had during a soul-training exercise, or an experience where they chose to act differently because they were living out of their identity in Christ, “What was it like for you when…?” is a natural question for a facilitator or director to ask.
Ah, yes. Vain-glory. It and I are well acquainted, Karen, in much the same way that you illustrated. Ever since reading and discussing the chapter about Vain-glory in The Good and Beautiful Life, I have become more aware (conscious?) of my “need” for affirmation as well as the tendency, upon receiving affirmation, to get caught up in vain-glory. Practicing “consciousness” takes practice.