Last time we looked at an overview of my plan to renew my spiritual practice and the twelve areas it covers. The first area is Context, which is about exploring the wider perspective of your life. Another name for it could be Causes and Conditions. It’s divided into two sections: Personal and Collective, and in this post, we’ll delve into the personal dimension…
As I said before, Context is a good place to start because you need to understand where you’re at before you figure out what changes to make. Then you can go through each area of your life and decide which practices you need within the context of your situation. Personal Context includes:
- Your home and life circumstances
- Your habits and daily routines
- Your life story to date
- Your family and ancestors
- Your horoscope and current transits and progressions
- Your map of the spiritual path and your position on it
- Your karma
- Your personality type and conative style
- Anything else you think is relevant
You can go as deep as you like with this exploration but it’s a pretty big subject – especially when you include the collective dimension. It would be easy to get sidetracked before you even begin. So it’s important not to spend too long on this area. You need to get on with the business of actually doing the practices, not researching and going down rabbit holes.
On the other hand, it might be obvious what changes you need to make, in which case, you can just get on with it. However, it’s still worth taking some time to assess your situation: look at the resources you have and the practices you do and how effective they are. Also make a note of skills you have and things you need to learn.
It’s not always possible to see the full context of your life clearly because of blind spots, emotional complexes and shadow material. So you might like to get feedback from others who know and understand you well and aren’t likely to take it as an excuse to criticise you in a destructive way. Or perhaps you need professional guidance in a particular area.
You may also want to keep a journal or diary for self-reflection so you can track what you’re doing. As you progress with your practice, your perspective will change as you grow so you’ll need to constantly reassess your context. Doing this will also help you to learn from your experience.
When you’re writing your journal, don’t get caught up in the story or lost in the details. The idea is to simply note what the situation is and how you feel about it. You can explore specific problem areas later once you’ve prioritised your plan. But how you approach this really depends on how complex your situation is and how far you’ve wandered from the path.
You’ll probably find that each of these points interconnects with the others and they all start bleeding into each other. But going through it systematically will help you to see the connections and perhaps find some new perspectives.
To begin, examine your home and life circumstances to see how conducive they are to spiritual practice. You might need to make some space or prioritise how you use your time. You could de-clutter and get organised so you’re not wasting time on things that don’t matter. Also look at your habits and routines to see if there’s room for improvement – there usually is!
You need a good daily routine to ground your practice and keep you focused so your energy isn’t scattered all over the place. But don’t try to change too much or cram your schedule with activities. You probably only need a few basic practices that you can do every day, such as meditation, exercise, good diet, and so on. Any activity that can’t be changed, like work, can be incorporated into your practice and approached mindfully.
Once you’ve got the basics sorted out, you can dig a little deeper by exploring your life story to date, perhaps in a journal or memoir. This is especially helpful if there are problems that never seem to go away or issues that keep coming up no matter what you do. But don’t beat yourself up or wallow in self-pity. Look for patterns with the aim of deepening your understanding and compassion. There’s a good post about journaling on Loner Wolf here.
Examining your past is also a good way to explore your connection to family and ancestors. You can do this by talking to relatives and researching your family tree, or through meditation and shamanic techniques, or both. Patterns you find here may shed extra light on your own experience and life story.
Your self-knowledge will grow over time so you’ll need to revisit your story and re-evaluate what you’ve learned. But this is where we need a strong caveat or two:
It’s easy to spend too long exploring your story and it can become a way to distract yourself and avoid real change. The endless ruminating is how your ego keeps the illusion of itself going, using noise and bluster and smoke and mirrors to add weight to itself. But you can’t think or write your way out of every problem, so you have to know when to stop.
Self-knowledge is essential for developing wisdom but the more you dig into your past, the more you’ll find. Beware the infinite regress.
The second caveat is that you can’t necessarily trust your memory or the memory of others when it comes to the events of your past. As Martha Beck says:
“The personal history in your head is always a fictional story crafted to match your biases… A negative, nihilistic version of your history is no more verifiable than an optimistic, creative one. … We do violence to our destinies whenever we trust our stories over our experience.”
You are not your story. What happens in your life isn’t who you are, so don’t get attached to it. You will reach a point when you’re ready to let go of your story, but you can’t force it. When you find yourself getting bored with the same old stuff coming up over and over, then you’re probably at the end of the line – but that doesn’t mean the story stops…
If you have an accurate horoscope it can add another dimension to your life story. You don’t need to do this if you’re not into astrology (or think it’s a load of old bollocks 😉 ), but done well, it’s an invaluable tool for exploring your life from an archetypal perspective. You can stick to current transits and progressions, or go back to your birth and plot the entire pattern.
Depending on your age, it can be helpful to look at major cycles, such as the Jupiter and Saturn returns, as well as transits of the outer planets to themselves, such as the Uranus opposition. It may also be interesting to compare different house systems and the various approaches to astrology – but that’s another potential rabbit hole, albeit one with stars at the end of it.
When you’ve finished stargazing, you can begin to explore your relationship to the spiritual journey and where you are on the path. In a sense, you’re always at the beginning and that’s a good way to approach it. Don’t assume that because you’ve been practising for a long time that you’re further ahead than someone just starting out. And don’t assume that because you’ve had a few ‘experiences’ that you know what’s what.
Your map of the spiritual path and expectations of how it works will colour your experience of the process. This is especially important when it comes to the dark night of the soul and the purification that inevitably occurs along the way. If you’re not aware this could happen, it’ll be a nasty surprise when it does and you might take a wrong turn – like I did.
Most spiritual traditions have a system of graduating their teachings so they become more subtle as you progress. If you apply an advanced teaching at the start of your practice, you could misunderstand and wander off the path without realising. So it’s best to stay open to learning new perspectives and don’t assume you’ve got it all figured out.
And don’t assume that because I’m writing this that I know what I’m doing either!
That brings us to the speculative and thorny subject of karma. It’s often seen as punishment for bad deeds in a past life, but this is incorrect. Everything that happens has multiple causes and conditions and karma is only one of them. The word means ‘action,’ but it’s only intentional action, whether physical, emotional or mental, that creates karmic fruits.
Karma is driven by ignorance of the true nature of reality and the self. So its fruits, whether good or bad, are designed to wake you up to reality in the present moment. Since each moment is a product of countless known and unknown causes and conditions, it can’t be anything other than what it is.
So there’s no point judging yourself for making bad choices in the past or messing up your life. You acted the only way you could under the circumstances at the time. This isn’t a copout or a way to dodge responsibility because you’re still responsible for how you act right now in this moment. You might like to explore this idea and test it for yourself.
After analysing my life from every conceivable angle over the last 30 years, I’ve accepted this truth: If I could’ve made different choices in the past, I would’ve done so. That doesn’t mean I never made a mistake – I made millions! – but I could only act within the limits of my understanding at the time.
The point is: I can make different choices now and plant positive karmic seeds. That’s what the Mystic Warrior Practice is ultimately about.
You can read about the Buddhist perspective on karma here.
Finally, you might want to explore your general psychology and how you approach doing things. The idea is to establish your starting position in terms of self-knowledge and skill. But you do need to be honest with yourself and you may like to get professional guidance.
Areas to explore include: your personality type, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, or a highly sensitive person or empath, and how you express your masculine and feminine sides, and so on. You may also want to establish your level of development in each area of your life, including strengths and weaknesses, your level of self-awareness and intelligence, how you go about learning new skills, and your conative style.
Doing this will help you to find practices that resonate with your particular way of being and learning. You can also identify weak spots to work on or areas where you need a bit of a challenge. You can go as deeply into this as you like, but again, it’s another potential rabbit hole with the same caveats as above:
You’re not your story or your horoscope, and you’re not meant to conform to whatever psychological model you happen to be using. These models and maps are useful up to a point, beyond which they become a problem. So as part of the Mystic Warrior Practice, all these maps of psychology and spirituality will be deconstructed when we get to the Mind section.
In general for Personal Context, you may find it helpful to consider the difference between things that can be changed and things that can’t. Some aspects of you and your life are givens and have to be accepted as they are. But it’s not always clear and you can waste a lot of time trying to change things you need to accept, and accepting things you need to change.
With that in mind, next time we’ll get into the murky realm of Collective Context…