Monasteries of the Heart

A Healthy Path

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How do you know if you’re on a healthy spiritual path? I always use as my measure the quote by an unidentified mystic, “Do you want to be a saint? Be kind, be kind, be kind.” It’s a good indicator of whether I’m on a healthy path or, despite the shelves of spiritual books, lost in a pathless jungle.

The other day I read an article by Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder of Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, called “Ten Signs of Progress on the Spiritual Path.” Her first sign of spiritual growth was Obuntubotho. She writes: “When Bishop Desmond Tutu introduced Nelson Mandela at his inauguration as the new president of South Africa, he described him as being a man who had Obuntubotho. ‘Obuntubotho,’ he said, ‘is the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humanness, gentleness, putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness.’ Oburntubotho is the first sign of progress on the spiritual path.”

Lesser’s other nine signs of a healthy spirituality were: living in truth, being real and honest, accepting pain as part of life, serving others, becoming more conscious of the interconnectedness of all things, accepting the paradox that we are both loved and alone, celebrating the ordinary and putting on the mantle of God’s optimism.

I agreed with all of her signs, although I might put Obuntubotho as number 10—the culmination of spiritual growth. Would I add any other? Well, I cry a lot so I’m hoping that the “the gift of tears” is a sign. As Joan Chittister writes, “Tears attune us to ourselves and tears attune us to the rest of the human race as well. Once we ourselves have suffered, the suffering of others falls upon our softened hearts and we become more human members of the human race.”

I’d also add “lightness of being”—am I able to laugh at myself and the endless games I play like “how to measure progress on the spiritual path.” There’s nothing worse than a seeker who takes herself too seriously.

How about you? Why not read Lesser’s article and add your wisdom.