Phase IIa - Designing an accessible path
Step 1. Stating the anticipated destination of your Path
Reflect. Before constructing your Spiritual Path, you will need to reflect not only on its anticipated ultimate destination, but also on its moment-by-moment destinations.
- First , reflect on your Path's ultimate destination. Do you anticipate that this Path will lead to Enlightenment ... to union with God ... to Heaven ... to Nirvana?
- Next, reflect on your Path's moment-by-moment destinations. These are the qualities or characteristics that you will need to practice and attain in your daily life in order to reach the ultimate destination of your Path. For example, in Buddhist traditions, the 10 "perfections" (Pali paramis) -- generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, effort, patience, truthfulness, strong determination, selfless love, and equanimity -- are the moment-by-moment qualities practiced by those on the Buddha's Eightfold Path to enlightenment and liberation from suffering. Reflect now on the personal qualities or characteristics (e.g., Spiritual ideals) that you will need to practice in your daily life in order to reach the ultimate destination of your own Spiritual path? For example, on a moment-by-moment basis, will traveling your Spiritual path require experiencing and expressing qualities such as compassion and practicing personal ethical standards that prohibit harm to self or others?
Rehearse (visualization). As in Phase 1, imagine that you are seeing an image projected on a movie or TV screen. You see an actor playing the role of YOU as you are, or potentially could be, when on your Spiritual path, experiencing and expressing your Spiritual nature, moving toward your Path's ultimate destination. Try to get a clear image of the actor on the screen. See the actor revealing to the audience the qualities your personal Spiritual path requires. What would the actor need to look like, sound like, behave like, to enact these qualities? Do you see a person who strives to be generous, ethical, moderate, diligent, patient, truthful, determined, loving, and calm in every aspect of life -- including thought, speech, emotion, action? What qualities or characteristics are required to travel this Spiritual path? What ultimate destination is in view? Allow any thoughts and images to arise as you visualize what it really means to travel your personal Spiritual path on a moment-by-moment basis in your daily life.
Record. Click on the Spiritual Self-Schema Blue-Print and in the space provided, enter the anticipated ultimate destination of your personal Spiritual path (e.g., Enlightenment, Heaven, Nirvana, Union with God, ...). Then list the moment-by-moment destinations of your Path -- those qualities or characteristics (e.g., the "perfections") that you will need to experience and express in your daily life in order to reach your Spiritual path's ultimate destination. (Keep this Worksheet open so that you can add information to it in Step 2).
Step 2. Creating cognitive scripts and behavioral action sequences to keep you on your Spiritual path during the normal course of the day.
Staying on your Spiritual path requires not only habitually engaging in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are compatible with the moment-by-moment destinations of your Path (e.g., generosity), but also, actively refraining from those that are incompatible (e.g., refraining from harming self or others in thought, speech, or action).
Reflect. What habits (or self-schemas) do I already have, and which ones will need to be developed, to keep me unswerving on my personal Spiritual Path?
In the design and construction of your new, more easily accessed Spiritual self-schema, you will want to retain those aspects of old schemas that have been useful to you in the past and discard those that have not. For many people, religious beliefs and practices are an integral part of their personal spirituality. If this is true for you, begin by reflecting on your religious self-schemas -- those habitual pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with your religion -- that in the past have facilitated the experience and expression of your spiritual nature?
- Reflect on any existing spiritual/religious self-schemas that you use to experience and express your Spirituality (e.g., identification as "I am a Buddhist, I am a Christian, I am a Hindu, I am a Jew, I am a Muslim, I am a ..."), and the strength of your self-identification with your religious faith. Examine ways in which your current spiritual/religious self-schemas help you to, or hinder you from, experiencing and expressing your Spiritual nature (e.g., when they are activated do you experience and express your "perfections" -- the moment-by-moment destinations of your Path? Or, does this schema ever lead to shame, guilt, fear, hatred, selfishness, prejudice, intolerance, hostility, or increased suffering? Reflect now on those cognitive scripts and behavioral action sequences that should be retained. Some examples might include reading or reciting passages from particular holy books or scriptures, or engaging in specific religious practices and rituals. Also reflect on any cues-to-action that have been useful to you in the past, such as the ringing of a bell calling you to prayer or meditation, or similarly, a specific time of day or meal that reminds you to stop what you are doing and remember your Spiritual nature. Do not let the examples provided here limit you -- reflect on whatever is, or has been, a source of Spiritual inspiration for you personally. In your 3-S Journal, make a note of those that have been useful so that you can include them later as you continue to work on your "Blue-Print."
Second, what additional habitual pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors do I still need to develop that will facilitate the experience and expression of my spiritual nature?
Cognitive Scripts. You will probably need to change the content of your inner-dialogue -- the incessant chatter of your thoughts that probably jumps here and there seemingly with a mind of its own, often barely above the level of conscious awareness. If your inner dialogue is not compatible with your Spiritual path you will rapidly find yourself back on your old habitual path. We will talk more about how to regain control over your inner-dialogue in a later section on Clearing the Path. For the purposes of designing your Path, you will need to reflect on the scripts you could write for your inner dialogue that are consistent with your Spiritual path. Then through repeated use of these scripts, the content of your inner-dialogue will change. This requires consistency and persistence. Reflect on what self-affirmations, mantras, or inspirational phrases you could use that are consistent with your own Spiritual path?
- Creating new scripts:
- Affirmations: Click on the daily 3-S affirmation for a simple example of a new script to use at the beginning of the day. Each week, try replacing the words 'Spiritual nature' in the 3-S daily affirmation with one of your Path's moment-by-moment destinations (e.g., each week select one of the ten Spiritual "perfections" to include when reciting your daily 3-S affirmation). This will help remind you each day to embody that particular quality while engaged in your usual daily activities.
- Mantras: Mantras are words or syllables, sometimes without conceptual meaning, that are chanted or intoned during meditation as a method of intuitively experiencing the mysteries they symbolize, and for helping to focus the mind (e.g., 'Om mani padme hum'). One may also use a word, such as 'love' or 'peace,' or the name of one's Spiritual guide, as a mantra that can be repeated (to oneself) throughout the day. Metta (loving kindness) meditation, which is described in more detail in Phase 3, also utilizes mantras (i.e., the repetition of phrases, such as 'may all beings be happy').
- Other inspirational phrases: Create additional scripts for yourself that are compatible with your Path.
- Integrating old compatible scripts: Construct a list of sayings or phrases that you have found useful in the past that have helped you practice your Spiritual ideals (e.g., those you identified earlier as part of an existing religious self-schema), and/or find poems or passages from scripture that are consistent with your Path's moment-by-moment destinations. You may wish to link to a website that provides daily affirmations consistent with your Path. Copy these sayings and passages into your journal, memorize them, and silently recite them during the day.
- Abandoning old incompatible scripts: Refrain from any harmful thoughts. It is not enough to include thoughts that are compatible with your Spiritual path, you also need to actively refrain from thoughts that are incompatible and hinder you from reaching your Path's destination. This requires that you become aware of your thoughts, that you acknowledge those that are inconsistent with your Spiritual path, and that you very deliberately set these thoughts aside. What scripts will you need to abandon?
Behavioral action sequences. You will also need to create or modify behavioral action sequences so that they are consistent with your Spiritual path.
- Creating new action sequences: Consider creating a new activity or ritual. For example, you might want to begin regular attendance at a place of worship or establish a Spiritual practice. Or you may want to structure regular periods of contemplation or meditation (as in Phase 2b). Or, you may want to do at least one act of kindness each day. Do not let these examples limit you; identify as many activities, rituals, and other behavioral action sequences that you can initiate immediately that are relevant to your own Spiritual practice.
- Integrating new components into existing action sequences: To remain steadfast on your Spiritual path, you will need to transform everyday tasks into opportunities for the experience and expression of your Spiritual nature. For example, when bathing, try to integrate a Spiritual cleansing ritual; when eating, integrate rituals such as candle lighting to symbolize the light of your growing Spiritual insight; or when exercising, include a Spiritual stretch (click on the 3-S Stretch to see an animated example that you could use or modify.) As with the 3-S affirmation, when doing the 3-S stretch, you could replace the words 'Spiritual nature' each week with one of the Spiritual "perfections" you are currently practicing in your daily life). While performing your routine household tasks, you could also offer assistance to others (e.g., helping an elderly neighbor with that task). Again, do not let these examples limit you; reflect on your own daily routines and the potential for integrating new components into these routines that will help you remain on your Spiritual path.
- Refraining from harmful behavioral action sequences. In addition to creating new, and modifying old, behavioral action sequences, it is necessary to maintain the precepts of your personal Spiritual path by refraining from harmful behaviors. For example, the precepts of most Spiritual and religious traditions include refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and the use of substances that can distract you from, or cause you to become negligent in regard to, your Spiritual path (e.g., use of intoxicants). The design of your path will need to include such precepts.
Rehearse (visualization). Return to your image of the actor on the screen playing the role of YOU as you have the potential to be when experiencing and expressing your Spiritual nature, practicing the personal qualities (e.g., the Spiritual "perfections") required of your Path. Imagine, this time, however, that you have access to the actor's thoughts, emotions, and motivations. Now while seeing the actor enacting the specific qualities necessary for traveling your Spiritual path, you can also hear the actor's cognitive scripts, you can experience the actor's feeling state, and you can see each of the actions that comprise the actor's behavioral action sequences. What would you hear? What would you feel? What would you see?
Record. Return to your Spiritual Self-Schema Blue-Print Worksheet and complete the section labeled Cognitive Scripts and Behavioral Action Sequences.
Step 3. Establishing Guidance and Support Systems
Reflect. What support will be available to me so that I do not abandon my Spiritual path whenever I feel physical or emotional distress?
- Spiritual Guide: Who is your principal Spiritual Guide (e.g., the Buddha, Jesus, the Prophets, Brahma, other Deities, an inner Guide, a respected Spiritual teacher ...)? Personify your Spiritual path in whatever way is personally meaningful to you so that you can turn to your Spiritual Guide when needed. During construction and use of your Path, silently recite the affirmation 'I seek refuge in ...(name of Spiritual guide)... ' or in times of uncertainty, you can ask yourself "What would ... (name of Spiritual guide) ... do right now?).
- Supportive text and/or Spiritual teachings: What texts or Spiritual teachings will support you as you travel your Spiritual path (e.g., the Bible, Koran, Torah, Tipitaka, ...other...)? Keep these texts readily available so that you can refer to them frequently.
- Social support: Who do you know that will support and encourage you on your Spiritual path? Maintain a list of names of individuals of like mind -- those whose Spiritual paths are similar to your own -- and who are available to you for support and encouragement.
Rehearse (visualization). Return to your image of the actor on the screen playing the role of YOU as you have the potential to be when experiencing and expressing your Spiritual nature moving moment-by-moment towards your Path's ultimate destination. This time imagine that the actor is reaching out for support. See the actor receiving the needed support from your Spiritual Guide, your Guide's texts and teachings, and your social network of people who share your Spiritual beliefs and practices. Visualize clearly the three levels of support that are always available to you on your Spiritual path.
Record. Return to your Spiritual Self-Schema Blue-Print Worksheet and complete the section labeled Guidance and Support.
Step 4. Creating your Path's points of access -- your "cues-to-action"
Your Spiritual path will never become as readily accessible as the other paths you take habitually in daily life unless it has as many points of access, and unless these points of access are used as frequently. For example, once weekly attendance at a religious service will not, by itself, keep your Path readily accessible to you as you go about your daily activities.
Reflect. How many points of access does my Spiritual path currently have, and how can I increase this number?
Multisensory cues-to-action: Reflect on the multisensory cues-to-action that you could begin to use to remind you to access your Spiritual path. Examples in each sense modality include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- Sight: Select several kinds of visual cues, such as reminders on post-it notes, pictures, statues, movies, books, or other visual materials that can remind you to return to, or stay on, your Spiritual path. Placing items in unusual locations can also be useful. For example, wearing your wrist watch on the "other" wrist will interrupt the flow of your habitual self-schema sufficiently to allow you access to your Spiritual self-schema.
- Sound: Construct a list of songs or pieces of music that inspire you to experience and express your Spiritual nature; plan on listening to this music as often as possible, or hum or sing it to yourself during the day. In addition, use unexpected sounds in the environment as cues. For example, use the sound of a bell or wind chimes, or the song of birds, as cues to remind you to access your Spiritual path. If you live in a busy city, you might want to select a specific sound of the city to serve as a cue.
- Taste: An example of using taste as a cue is to identify one particular flavor in a drink (or food) that you consume several times during the day, and to use that flavor as a cue to experience and express your Spiritual nature.
- Smell: Incense can be a useful cue for some people. However, it may be difficult to encounter during the normal course of your day. Therefore, you might try placing a small amount of a fragrant herb (e.g., lavender) in several locations around your home or workplace, or in a pouch that you can keep in your pocket. When you encounter that scent as you go about your daily activities, take a moment to access your Spiritual path.
- Touch: Identify one or two tactile cues that you normally come into contact with during the course of the day to use as reminders to experience and express your Spiritual nature. If you have a pet, you might select the feel of its fur, feathers, or skin as your cue. A hug, given to or received from a friend or family member can also serve to remind you to experience and express your Spiritual nature. You might also try placing something that provides an unusual tactile sensation in various locations in your home or workplace so that when you suddenly come across it during the course of the day, it interrupts whatever automatic pilot is currently in control sufficiently for you to make a conscious choice to access your Spiritual path.
Rehearse (visualization). Return once again to the image of the actor on the screen enacting the role of YOU in daily life. This time visualize the actor using these multi-sensory cues-to-action during the course of a normal day as reminders to return to, and stay on, your Spiritual path.
Record. Return to your Spiritual Self-Schema Blueprint and enter your cues-to-action that will serve as multisensory points of access for your Spiritual path.
Step 5. Designing your Path's Signs and Warning Signals
Reflect. Will your Path be clearly-marked so that you can proceed directly towards your destination? Will it have a system of signs and signals so that you can avoid obstructions?
Signs: Reflect on how you will know that you are on the right Path. What signs will you look for along the way? For example, by continuing to stop briefly three times a day to conduct a Self-Schema Check-In (as in Phase 1), you will be able to determine whether you are on your Spiritual path or another incompatible path. By interrupting the automaticity of whatever self-schema is active, you will also be able to determine the extent to which you are able to experience and express your Spiritual nature while this self-schema is active. This will provide you with important data for making a conscious choice to stay on that path or access another.
Warning signals: Reflect on what has the potential to be an obstruction along your Path and what could cause you to detour from your Path. Buddhist traditions speak of hindrances, such as lust (greed, craving), ill-will (hatred, envy, aversion), anxiety (restlesness), sloth (laziness), and doubt. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) use the acronym H.A.L.T. (Hungry - Angry - Lonely - Tired) to remind them of potential obstacles in the path of recovery that trigger alcohol or drug use. You may find this a useful acronym to use as a warning signal along your own Spiritual path. The hunger or craving for any sensual pleasure, the feeling of anger or any negative emotion, the need for the company of others in order to feel whole, and physical and mental fatigue that can reduce your diligent effort and obscure your view -- these are all early warning signals informing you that increased vigilance and/or access to support services are urgently needed. Other easy-to-remember warning signals, also borrowed from AA, are 'People, Places, and Things.' Become aware of any people in your life in whose company you find it difficult to experience and express your Spiritual nature, and be alert for any places or things that are likely to cause you to detour from your Spiritual path. By increasing your awareness of the hindrances -- the potential obstacles and detours along the Path -- they can be avoided or transformed. (You will have the opportunity to practice transforming these stimuli in Phase 3).
Rehearse (practice) and Record.
- Complete the final sections on your Spiritual Self-Schema Blue-Print labeled 'Signs and Warning Signals' . List some 'signs' such as use of the Self-Schema Check-In, that you will use to ensure you are on the right Path. Also list some early warning signals, such as HALT or People, places, things. Identify what you can use to warn you that you are currently on the wrong path, or that you are about leave your Spiritual path). Be specific. The clearer the signs and signals, the more likely they will be of help to you when you need them.
Note: While completing your 3-S Blueprint, be sure to include any practices and rituals that you identified earlier as having been helpful to you in the past. However, do not confine yourself only to previously-used strategies. Remember, as with any schema, the more elaborate the network of links that make up your Spiritual self-schema -- the more it "fills your mind" -- the more readily available it will be for activation during the course of your daily life.
- Gather together all the materials you listed on your 3-S Blueprint (e.g., books, CDs, tapes, candles, fragrances, lists of activities, affirmations, cues/reminders, and so forth) in readiness for schema construction.
- Continue the practice of stopping what you are doing three times daily to identify the self-schema that was active and to assess its compatibility with the experience and expression of your Spiritual nature. Record your observations immediately on a Self-Schema Check-In log, and save it to disk or print it and file it in your 3-S Journal. Be sure to review your check-in logs frequently throughout the program so that you can become aware of any patterns that emerge (e.g., persistent difficulty experiencing your Spiritual nature in a particular context). You will then be able to take appropriate action.