Contentment is most often reached by the five-step process of abandonment, requirement, resentment, argument and discernment that we have discussed here in the past two issues of the Weekly Bulletin.
On the road to Contentment it is possible to stop at any step along the way, and to remain stuck there. When this happens, that is as far as a person journeys along the path of personal and spiritual development in this lifetime.
Some people remain at the first step, Abandonment, and never even venture toward the second step, Requirement. Remember, Requirement is the step taken by the Being who does not settle for feeling separate from God, and chooses to search for a way back home. That search often leads to the idea of we can "get back home," but only if we do or don't do certain things. Yet some Beings simply settle for feeling separate from God, and let it go at that. For one reason or another--usually but not always having to do with culture and environment--they don't probe any further. These people very often feel alienated from life itself, adrift on a sea of uncertainty and forever away from home. Their alienation and separation from God can, if they are not careful, manifest itself in often feeling alienation and separation from other human beings.
Some people remain at the second step, Requirement, and never even venture toward the third step, Resentment. Remember, Requirement is the step taken by the Being who knows that separation from The Essence has occurred, and who wants and yearns to return to that Essence that I have here called God.
Some Beings simply settle for feeling that there is a requirement they have to meet in order to justify returning to God, and let it go at that. For one reason or another--usually but not always having to do with culture and environment--they don't probe any further. These people very often feel required to be, do, or have other things (whatever produces money, success, and power come to mind) in order to justify their own lives. Their need to meet these imagined requirements can, if they are not careful, often manifest itself in rigid, driven, self-demanding, self-critical, then self-righteous and judgment laden lives.
Some people remain at the third step, Resentment, and never even venture toward the fourth step, Argument. Remember, Resentment is the step taken by the Being that becomes frustrated that it is not free. We have said freedom is the natural state of the soul. Freedom is what the soul is. The word Freedom and the word God could be interchangeable. God is the essence of Freedom, by definition. Freedom is that quality of being which knows no limits, is bound by no restrictions, and upon which can be placed no requirements of any kind. Yet if one is raised in a culture in which the very idea of freedom itself is considered against the laws of nature or the Will of God, then even the Natural Order of Things--freedom--can seem very unnatural, uncomfortable, and actually unwelcome.
There are certain Eastern spiritual traditions and religions in which their adherents prefer little or no freedom, proclaiming that the rigid, unyielding, demanding, and deeply judgmental Word of the Maker is what keeps them and their entire society in line, absent the freewheeling decadence of the West.
As well, dogmatic fundamentalist interpreters of some Western religions feel equally bound to maintain rigid lifestyles, with little or no personal freedom when it comes to spiritual matters.
And so, there are many people who do not even get to the Resentment step. They have no desire to. Resentment is the step taken by the Being that feels it is not able to experience and express its true self, which is freedom itself, but many people do not believe that this is their true self. Others get to this step, but go no further. They resent, but they never reason their way out of their resentments. They simply settle for feeling resentment about having to justify returning to God when deep down they know that they should not have to, and let it go at that.
For one reason or another--usually but not always having to do with culture and environment--they don't probe any further. These people very often feel resentful of any authority or circumstance in their lives over which they imagine they have no control. Their deeply resented experience of having no control can, if they are not careful, often manifest itself in seeking control. Such people risk becoming control "freaks," needing to exert their choices and their will over all others nearly all the time.
Some people remain at the fourth step, Argument, and never even venture toward the fifth step, Discernment. Remember, Argument is the step taken by the Being that feels there must be an answer to the indisputably logical questions it is raising about the illogical messages and lessons it is being given about God and life from its culture and society.
Some Beings simply settle for feeling argumentative whenever they confront this issue of what it takes to return to God, and let it go at that. For one reason or another--usually but not always having to do with culture and environment--they don't probe any further. These people very often feel argumentative in many situations and moments during their lives. Their deep-seated experience of wanting and needing to figure everything out by questioning everything can, if they are not careful, often manifest itself in arguing over everything--and, worse, in a need to always be right.
Some people remain at the fifth step, Discernment, and never even venture toward the culmination of these five steps, Contentment. Remember, Discernment is the step taken by the Being that feels clear, at last, about its own truth, about what works and does not work for it, and about what the soul knows, rather than what the mind thinks it knows, about God and life.
Some Beings simply settle for feeling discerning about things in their life, and let it go at that. For one reason or another--usually but not always having to do with culture and environment--they don't probe any further. These people very often feel deeply aware of what is true for them, but are unwilling or unable to put that truth into action. The gift of discernment remains a largely mental gift--a knowing without a doing. It is not translated in any practical or functional way into daily living. Their deep understanding mixed with a lack of will to put it into practice can, if they are not careful, often manifest itself in deep frustration that erupts into seemingly out-of-proportion or unexplained anger over the smallest things--precisely because the biggest things (what they truly know about themselves, God, and life) are being ignored.
So each of these steps can be a place where a Being stops or dead-ends; a spiritual box canyon from which one does not emerge. The trick is to stop the stopping; to keep going; to recognize the signs of spiritual inertia and inspire oneself to get moving again.
This is spiritual renewal we are talking about; spiritual refueling. It often happens at seminars and workshops, weekend retreats and five-day intensives. It can happen in a single moment as well, at one's church or synagogue or mosque, while reading a book--or even a passage from a book--or in response to the simple, chance, utterance of a friend.
These moments are moments of epiphany, when we stop stopping ourselves, and move forward with what we know to be the true and real purpose of our lives: self realization. To know the Self, to experience the Self, to express the Self, to ultimately be the Self that one knows oneself to be: an individuation of Divinity.
Contentment is the first major step in that process of Knowing, of what I am referring to here as Self Awareness. Contentment is a wonderful place to be if it's a way station. It's a sad place to be if it's the end of the line. It, too, can be a stopping point, a box canyon. For many, in fact, it is.
It feels so good after all the struggle, after all the strife, after all the requiring of ourselves, the resenting of what we are requiring, the arguing with what we are resenting, and the not-easy final task of finally discerning our innermost truth, to at last reach a place a Contentment with life, with our place in life, with the God of our understanding, and with the world. Why go any further?
(Next week: Why, indeed.)
Neale Donald Walsch
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