Spiritual formation is not a quick fix with trendy answers. It is not an escape to an inner realm that is divided from our presence here on Earth. Nor is it an ego-driven seeking for personal enlightenment. Spiritual formation is a humble path of awakening to both the transcendent reality of oneness that we share (Brahman in Hindu terms) and into the immanent love (Indwelling Christ in Christian jargon) that enlivens our true being. It involves directly engaging with the mystery of life while opening ourselves up to the grace and presence of The Beloved. A compassionate nature, selfless service, and a loving heart are signs of true spiritual formation.
One of the greatest obstacles to authentic spiritual formation is self-centered thinking and living. The anxious and fearful egotistical self wants to cling to its own mental projections and separate physical identity with all its might. Various religions have different names for the delusional state that can hold people hostage and prevent them from awakening, such as the Buddhist “samsara”, the Hindu “maya”, a “nafs attack” in Sufism and in Christianity it is called “the fall”.
In The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 26 verses 36-46, Jesus of Nazareth asks three of his disciples to stay awake while he goes further up into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Yet, time and again they succumb to their physical (and spiritual) lethargy and fall asleep. This is a metaphorical teaching about how important it is to wake up to the presence of The Beloved in this lifetime, and to remain awake once we have.
This awakening takes both human effort and divine grace. A metaphor that Jake uses for this conjoining is a wooden flute. When we are emptied of our egocentric desires and social conditioning, and are fashioned into a flute, then The Beloved can play through us; the music that is born from this union harmoniously awakens us from our long slumber in worldly time. In Christian theology, this process is called kenosis or self-emptying.
According to The Peace Pilgrim, a woman who walked over 25,000 miles for peace across North America with her only possessions being a toothbrush and a pad and pen: “I talk to groups studying the most advanced spiritual teachings and sometimes these people wonder why nothing is happening in their lives. Their motive is the attainment of inner peace for themselves—-which of course is a selfish motive. You will not find it with this motive.”
In today’s hyper-materialistic and techno-hypnotized social world, many spiritual seekers attend retreats and workshops at centers or online, which may only build up or inflate their egos. The Sufi term for this kind of expansion is bast; the revered Sufi mystic, Qushayri, alluded that there is a great danger in this mood for it can overtake the person with beguiling deception. His advice to novices in this situation was to take shelter in The Beloved.
In other words, seekers should remain vigilant of the pompous spiritual ego masquerading as having attained true spiritual wisdom. Jake has watched this parody play out at spiritual retreat centers around the world, as self-styled gurus prey upon peoples’ desires to be “spiritually enlightened”. These retreat goers walk around all-puffed up on their own personal ecstasy trips while remaining very far from The Beloved in whom we share our true existence.
The Peace Pilgrim finishes her previous statement with this wonderful advice: “The motive, if you are to find inner peace, must be an outgoing motive. Service, of course, service. Giving, not getting. Your motive must be good if your work is to have good effect. The secret of life is being of service.”
Jake has worked as a spiritual formation guide for at-risk youth, at senior residences, for groups at monasteries and retreat centers, and with individuals throughout North America.
Please Contact Jake with any inquiries about doing spiritual formation work either as an individual or in a group setting.