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Different Spiritual Journeys Have the Same Methods!

Updated: Apr 14

By: Michael Ketterhagen

As I was studying to be a Roman Catholic priest at St Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, I was introduced to the many spiritual practices of the Catholic saints. I remember saying to one of my fellow students that I wanted to be a saint someday. That was my spiritual goal. 

In studying the lives of these saints they kept talking about temptations of the body, especially temptations of enjoying sexual pleasures that were not consistent with the spiritual life. My seminary teachers and these saints referred to these temptations as “sins that needed to be confessed.” They also mentioned the problem of certain emotional responses that I had, like anger, jealousy, envy, pride, sloth, self-righteousness, etc.  They seemed to just come from nowhere inside of me, often totally out of my rational control. These spiritual models “preached” the need to overcome those emotional tendencies in order to really become one with God.

I continued my theological studies and began to wonder what some of the saints in other spiritual traditions, like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Yoga, believed and practiced when they wanted to connect with God and become “saints.” They had the same focus on these spontaneous human reactions. They arose for many of these spiritual practitioners. However, the Eastern tradition believers did not associate the failure to overcome these human thoughts and actions as “sins.” They were not considered thoughts and actions of “separation from God,” but in our human inability to make decisions that were more in tune with our higher human and divine natures rather than in tune with our animal natures. They believed that one needed to learn certain practices and prayers in order to rid oneself of these tendencies.

After much reflection, I now believe that the spiritual struggle of all humans who wish to become spiritual persons/saints is the struggle we have in identifying ourselves with our animal nature instead of our human and divine natures. Most of us humans have to learn how to move beyond our animal needs/urges—food, sleep, sex, and self-preservation—to the awareness of our higher strengths—compassion, friendliness, non-judgment, kindness, and fearlessness. We must learn that we are not just physical beings but also spirits who can use our human powers of discernment and decision to live divinely. We can learn to live as Christ, according to Christianity, or as Buddha, according to Buddhism, or as saints and yogi(ni)s, according to the Yoga Tradition.

All these traditions leave this process of moving from animal to divine to the Source of Life, by intending to live as that Source wants and then sitting daily in meditation to allow that healing spiritual power within — whether that power is called the Holy Spirit, or Atman, or Consciousness — remove the grip that our animal needs have on us. This sitting in the silence of meditation or the absorption of contemplation allows the transformation/conversion of ourselves to unfold in whatever way it needs to. Through meditation processes like Center Prayer or Christian Mantra meditation (in Christianity), or Vishoka Meditation (in Yoga), or Lotus of the Heart practice (in Buddhism), etc. the “Inner Healer,” the divinity within, will release us from these animal-nature tendencies and bring us from a purely physically controlled life into the world of the saints/sages.

This is not laziness or non-effort on our part. It is, as Taoism teaches, the practice of “wu-wei” – “active non-action” or “inactive action.”

I bow to the Divinity within you!

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