following excerpt is taken from the book Your Soul’s Compass:
What is Spiritual Guidance, by Joan Borysenko & Gordon Dveirin .
It is published by Hay House (October 2007) and available at all bookstores
or online at: www.hayhouse.com
Opening the Conversation
It was the summer of 2004, on a surpassingly beautiful day in Barcelona,
Spain. We were privileged to be attending the Parliament of the World’s
Religions, where I (Joan)—as a scientist interested in consciousness
studies—had been invited to participate on a panel about prayer.
Perhaps the most fascinating session we attended at the Parliament was
a conversation about fundamentalism. The participants were Rabbi Michael
Lerner, a political activist and the editor of Tikkun magazine (tikkun
is a Hebrew word meaning “to heal and repair the world”; former
nun and respected writer on world religions Karen Armstrong; and female
Islamic scholar Kamah Kamaruzzaman.
Drawing on her seminal book The Battle for God, Armstrong discussed the
recent rise of virulent forms of fundamentalism in virtually all world
religions, characterizing it as a reaction to a soulless and technologically
driven Western worldview. Lerner described modernity itself as a form
of secular fundamentalism. The Islamic scholar Kamaruzzaman, who was the
last to speak, passionately affirmed that the way to transcend these two
competing yet interrelated fundamentalisms was for us to discover the
common ground of our shared humanity.
An awareness of that common ground can emerge from a special kind of spiritual
conversation that goes beyond external differences in belief. One of the
Sages whom you’re about to meet in these pages, Father Thomas Keating,
convened an annual conference at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass,
Colorado, in 1984, inviting participants from a variety of religious traditions
to converse in just such a special way. One of the basic tenets of the
Snowmass Conference is that participants speak from their tradition—sharing
their experiences of God or Ultimate Reality—but not for their tradition
in terms of dogma. This kind of dialogue is called interspiritual, and
it’s a profound form of interfaith understanding and communication.
Interfaith conversations occur at two levels:
1. Externally, they focus metaphorically on the varieties of flowers in
the garden of faith and cultivating an appreciation for—or at least
a tolerance of—the differences among them.
2. Internally, they focus on a shared spirituality that transcends differences
in belief. These internal, interspiritual conversations reveal the common
ground out of which the diverse flowers grow and the sunlight, wind, and
water that nourishes them all.
In his beautiful book The Mystic Heart, Brother
Wayne Teasdale writes:
The real religion of humankind can be said to be spirituality itself,
because mystical spirituality is the origin of all the world religions.
If this is so, and I believe it is, we might also say that interspirituality—the
sharing of ultimate experiences across traditions—is the religion
of the third millennium. Interspirituality is the foundation that can
prepare the way for a planet-wide enlightened culture, and a continuing
community among the religions that is substantial, vital, and creative.1
The 15 spiritual leaders from the Snowmass Conference arrived at a consensus
on the principles of authentic interreligious conversation—principles
that you’ll come to recognize as being interspiritual as you eavesdrop
on some of the highlights of the discussions we had with the Sages in
the pages that follow.
Father Thomas Keating outlined these guidelines in the book Speaking of
1) The world religions bear witness to the experience of the Ultimate
Reality to which they give various names: Brahman, the Absolute, God,
Allah, [the] Great Spirit, the Transcendent.
2) The Ultimate Reality surpasses any name or concept that can be given
3) The Ultimate Reality is the source (ground of being) of all existence.
4) Faith is opening, surrendering, and responding to the Ultimate Reality.
This relationship precedes every belief system.
5) The potential for human wholeness—or in other frames of reference,
liberation, self transcendence, enlightenment, salvation, transforming
union, moksha, nirvana, fana—is present in every human person.
6) The Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious
practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service
7) The differences among belief systems should be presented as facts that
distinguish them, not as points of superiority.
8) In the light of the globalization of life and culture now in process,
the personal and social ethical principles proposed by the world religions
in the past need to be re thought and re expressed.2
The fourth basic principle—that “faith is opening, surrendering,
and responding to the Ultimate Reality” and the recognition that
this essential “relationship precedes every belief system”—is
a way of saying that guidance is available to all human beings.
A dinner conversation that we had with our friends Sara and Rachael spoke
to this guiding function of Ultimate Reality in a very down-to-earth way.
Recounting some of the startling synchronicities that had occurred during
the past year that had deepened her spiritual journey, Rachael—who’s
petite, vivacious, and seriously smart—laughed and told us, “God
leaves bread crumbs to show us the way back home.” In other words,
we can count on a beneficent force—like the prince’s parents
in the Hymn of the Pearl from the Introduction—to help us find our
way to becoming more skillful, loving human beings.
But if we can rely on spiritual guidance to lead us to a realization of
our true identity, then how come the journey seems so difficult and the
road so long and so often disheartening? As Dr. Ed Bastian, another one
of our Sages, remarked with a laugh, “If we’re the Buddha,
then how come we don’t know it?”
Perhaps the reason for our ignorance is that there’s a second variable
in the equation of spiritual growth (as the fourth principle of the Snowmass
Conference states): surrender to, and cooperation with, the force of guidance.
Surrender and cooperation aren’t always easy. They entail letting
go of our own agenda and waiting patiently for the path to open step-by-step.
Releasing ourselves into the unknown can be scary. Most of us would rather
chart our own course if for no other reason than that it helps manage
fear. But letting go of the steering wheel and trusting in a greater compassionate
intelligence not only has the potential to be anxiety producing; it’s
On the one hand, surrendering to guidance involves the bone-deep realization
that we’re helpless—no matter how hard we try to control things,
we’re ultimately not the sole author of our experience. On the other
hand, in some mysterious way entirely beyond the capacity of words or
rational thought to convey, we’re one with the author of all experience.
The realization of that oneness is at the heart of the spiritual journey
and our ability to trust that a wisdom greater than our own is helping
The journey home to our true nature and to God-realization—which
are one and the same thing—has three parts according to Father Thomas
1. First, as the journey begins, there’s a compelling experience
of a Mysterious Other.
2. Second, as we progress along the way, there’s an effort to come
into union with that Mysterious Other.
3. Third, at the point of realization, we understand that there never
was an Other. Our own true Self—the answer to the question Who am
I?—is Ultimate Reality.3
If this sounds abstract, confusing, or heretical to you, you’re
in good company. From the beginning of time, people have struggled to
find words for what can’t be said but may only be realized in the
laboratory of the heart. Our hope is to make this all as transparent and
clear as we can, giving you the means for discerning your part in the
ongoing symphony of life.
Both of us, your humble authors, as longtime students of the world’s
great wisdom traditions, are somewhat familiar with various theories and
stages of the spiritual journey. But there’s an enormous chasm between
head knowledge—the rational concepts we have about things—and
direct, embodied experience. The former is like a menu that describes
what we could experience; the latter is the actual meal, which can only
be appreciated when tasted. When rational thought gives way to direct
experience, the events of daily life become a revelation and a mystical,
mythical journey—whether (as you’ll read about in the next
chapter) spiritual guidance comes dressed in a robe of glory or in the
rags of stress and disappointment.
Your Soul's Compass: What is Spiritual Guidance?
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. and Gordon Dveirin, Ed.D.
1. There are a lot of books being
written today about spiritual subjects. What makes this one different?
Many of today's "spiritual" books are concerned with self-centeredness
and getting the goods—how you get what you want. Spiritual guidance,
on the other hand, is about tuning into a greater intelligence and willing
the good rather than the goods. Rather than focusing your intention on
what you want, it is a matter of tuning into what Life wants. When you
do that, two things follow. You find inspiration and peace personally,
and you're more effective in bringing forth the best possibilities for
others—your family, your friends and co-workers, our world. When
you get out of the box of "I, me, and mine" it's remarkable
how a greater wisdom shows up to guide you.
2. What prompted you to write about spiritual
We are living in dangerously polarized times—science versus religion;
one religion against another; politicians who believe that they are divinely
guided; terrorists who make the same claim. The credibility of external
authorities, from corporations to nations to religious leaders is at a
low ebb and many people feel disoriented and disheartened. So the question
arises, how do we as individuals and groups find our bearings? How do
we set our moral, political, economic, and personal compass in a way that
optimizes the good?
3. What is the soul's compass? Is it different from a moral compass?
The soul's compass is magnetically attracted to the True North of the
heart's loving intelligence, which is a dynamic relationship to a greater
reality that is the Source of all being. When we're in touch with that
Source, the soul's compass becomes a moral compass, an economic compass,
a social compass, and an overall guide to an intelligent, illuminated
life. Whether you're a mother or a father, a sports fisherman or a singer,
a student or a corporate executive, you've had the experience of everything
coming together in a way that felt right, harmonious, and whole. It's
like something greater…a tremendous aliveness... is moving through
you and all is well with the world. You're centered, present, effective,
and kind. That's spirituality in action, and it arises moment by moment
from our connection to that greater reality which enfolds us.
4. You interviewed 27 Sages—respected
leaders from diverse religious or spiritual traditions to help you understand
the soul's compass and how using it opens you to spiritual guidance. What
did you ask them about?
We asked our Sages who were male and female Christians, Jews, Quakers,
Buddhists, Sufis, Hindus, shamans, and even two poets--12 questions. We
wanted to know how they defined spiritual guidance, what their personal
experience of it was like, what blocks it, what encourages it, what the
role of doubt is, how community helps or hinders it, what they thought
we're evolving toward as individuals and as a world, and what they would
tell world leaders if they had that opportunity. One of they key questions
we asked was how to tell the difference between spiritual guidance and
your ego's wants and desires on the one hand, and the beliefs and opinions
of the group you belong to on the other.
5. How do you tell the difference between spiritual
guidance and your own ego?
One of the Sages, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, laughed when we asked
that question and quipped that if we could answer it he would become our
disciple. In other words, it's hard to know sometimes who's talking—your
wants and fears or a Higher Power--and there are no foolproof formulas
for being sure. On the other hand, there are certain metrics (measuring
tools) that can help. Every religion has practices that help people orient
to the good. St. Paul enumerated nine fruits of the Spirit including qualities
like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness which are a wonderful
help to discernment. Where's the love in this choice? Where's the peace?
So, if you're trying to discern whether it's God or some other force urging
you to blow yourself up and take out a busload of tourists with you, your
decision would fail the test of love and kindness. If what you think is
guidance is marked by anger, fear, hurry, or worry, that's a message to
go back to the drawing board. Haste, we learned, is poisonous to guidance
whereas patience courts it. As the Quakers say, there's an inner light
within each one of us, but there's a lot of other stuff, too. But as you
practice discernment, little by little you get to know the voice of your
ego or false self, and your true Self, your connection to Source. We focused
a great deal on discernment in Your Soul's Compass because it is the vital
bridge that unites faith with reason.
6. You characterize your book as an interspiritual
dialogue. Is that the same as inter-religious?
Spirituality and religion are related, but different. Religion has been
defined as a bridge to the spiritual, which sometimes succeeds and sometimes
fails. But the spiritual lies beyond religion. If you ask a spiritual
person—whether they are religious or not—to share their lived
experience of Ultimate Reality or God (whatever they call Wisdom or the
Source of Being)—they meet on common ground. Religions are like
islands that, when seen from the surface, appear separate with deep gulfs
dividing them. But when we descend to the depths—how they connect
us to the Source of Being--it's clear that they all arise from that same
Source. The late Brother Wayne Teasdale, who was both a Catholic monk
and a Hindu monk, called these depths interspirituality. He believed that
dialogue about our most deeply felt spiritual experience could pave the
way for developing what he called a global civilization with a heart.
7. Trusting the unknown is a theme you return
to many times in Your Soul's Compass. Since most of us are frightened
by the unknown and go to great lengths to avoid it, why should we court
Fundamentally, because what we think we know is often the cause of our
ignorance. The veil of the past, of memory, often hides from us the fresh,
new, and surprising revelations of the present moment. When that happens
we mistake the menu for the meal, or the map for the territory. One of
our Sages, Swami Adiswarananda, a Hindu monk in his eighties, called life
The Great Adventure. But you can't have an adventure if you already know
everything. That's called a rerun. The spiritual journey begins when,
as the Swami says, a crack appears in the wall of your knowing. That crack
might be an illness that radically shifts your priorities, a financial
reversal that forces you to reorganize your life, or falling in love.
It lets in new light, unknown possibilities. The fact is that life wasn't
created as a done deal. It changes moment by moment even when we're hanging
onto the status quo by our fingernails. Surrendering to the mystery of
the unknown, to the continuous evolution of Spirit, encourages curious,
open engagement with life. Rather than skimming along the surface like
sleep walkers, adventurers wake up to the depths. Like an indigenous person
on a vision quest, the person seeking spiritual guidance has to be in
a threshold stance— alert, responsive, and open to the possibilities
of the moment.
8. If we're continuously evolving, what are
we evolving to?
What a great question! We asked the Sages the same thing. What would a
fully developed, or at least a more fully developed, human being look
like? We would certainly be more kind, creative, and a lot less self-involved.
But to find out who we really are at both a secular and a spiritual level
we have to be free inside. We know what it is to be free externally, but
interior freedom is just as important. After all, you can be at home in
your living room, warm and well fed, but still a prisoner of the stories
you tell yourself about life. As Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault, one of our
Sages put it, changing one letter transforms the closed box of "my
story" into the open field of "mystery." That transformation
brings us into present time—this moment. Not the one just past,
not the one yet to come, not the one that happened 20, 30, 40, 1000, or
2000 years ago. We may not be able to see very far down the road of our
own evolution, but we can see the next step as it opens in front of us.
So is there a goal that we're evolving to? In the most practical sense,
it's to be here now as willing channels of what one mystic called "the
creativity of the heart."
9. Do you offer the reader any practical tools
for following spiritual guidance?
Yes we do, and many have to do with being present. This requires cultivating
a quiet mind. We live in such a noisy world, filled with distractions
and bright lights—both inside ourselves and in the outside world
of chatter, busyness and information overload. We have to learn how to
dim those lights if we are to connect to the stars of the Great Mystery
that can guide us. Meditation, yoga, chi gong, walking in nature, sitting
in beauty. All these are portals to the present that invite a quiet mind.
Paying attention to the body is also a key. Check in with yourself. If
you're feeling tense and contracted, you're more available to your noisy
ego than to the still, small voice. On the other hand, when your body
feels relaxed, peaceful, open, and receptive there's more availability
to wisdom. Just monitoring your body several times a day and stretching
if you're tense or taking a walk helps quiet the mind and creates more
openness to guidance.
10. Joan and Gordon, you're husband and wife.
How did writing this book together affect your relationship?
Writing this book was first and foremost about listening. We spent a great
deal of time listening to the Sages we interviewed, listening again to
the recordings, silently reviewing the notes and finally—most deliciously—listening
to each other as we conversed about the common threads of what we were
hearing and the insights coming alive for us. Through this, we centered
ourselves in what felt like a living community of inquiry focused on vital
spiritual questions such as Who are we? And Why are we here? that continue
to engage us as we hope they will our readers. This process of inquiry--this
great adventure—makes our marriage extraordinarily exciting and
meaningful as we grow together. Of course, writing a book is also trying
at times. Our styles, our interpretive and expressive modes, are very
different and we had to reconcile them to create a unified work. But what
brought us back together, time after time, was our shared love of the
truth. That's what spiritual guidance is all about—listening, being
present, inquiring into what emerges, discerning, and finally acting compassionately
in a way that enhances the freedom and dignity of one's self and others.