By Julie Spangler
I was recently asked about my spiritual journey: where did it start and what led me into the work I now do with Lorian? I don't usually like to talk about myself... my journey into fire. These things are so personal and internal, and to me, seem pretty ordinary. Unlike many I know, I had no great shattering opening, revelation or transcendent, out-of-body experience.
My birthplace, New England, is covered with old colonial churches, one small version of which stood up the path and across the road from my family’s converted barn. Its wooden pews were made a little more comfortable by the long, wine-red velveteen cushions, but for me, the soft southern voice of Reverend Greene did not soften the harsh tones of the words he used. To my young heart, God was a loving Presence, but this was not the God that our church presented to me. During my confirmation class, I asked the assistant pastor, "If God is a loving God, how could He condemn anyone to eternal damnation? This is not an act of love." He basically patted me on the head and told me I was too young to understand. Not a good answer to give a teenager. I was stubborn enough to trust my inner knowing, and truthfully, I suspected he didn't know how to answer my question.
Around this time, when I was fifteen, I had an insight. I was sitting at the kitchen counter listening to my older sister and my mother discuss various ideas — in particular they were wondering about the possibility of reincarnation. To me the answer seemed an obvious yes, this is possible. Living more than one life made perfect sense to me and I couldn’t quite figure out why they were questioning the issue.
Sitting there listening with a strong affinity to the question, I nevertheless wasn't inclined to join their exploration, and as I wondered why I heard a voice inside clearly say, "It is not time". With that came an understanding that my work at that time was to continue growing up, to stabilize my personality, and that I would know when it was time to explore further spiritually. There was no doubt that this was truth for me. I neither questioned it nor thought to tell anyone about it. It was simply an unshakeable foundation of knowing coming from deep inside my core. Looking back, I can't say why hearing an inner voice did not shake my world. Why didn't I shout it out? I just felt so completely at home with it. The whole experience seemed somehow normal and trustworthy and deeply part of who I am. I went on about my life without questioning the source of this voice or its message. I knew that one day I would look for spiritual insight, and that I would know when it was time to start. What is noteworthy, looking back, is that sense of ordinariness this experience had. This was not remarkable. It was normal. And it led to the next time I experienced an irrefutable knowing.
In February of my sophomore year at the University of Washington, I learned about a place called the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community in Northern Scotland. My sister, who was visiting there with her husband, had sent me some booklets by two of the community’s founders, Dorothy Maclean and Eileen Caddy. I was curious, but Findhorn had little connection to my busy university life, so I only gave this reading material a quick glance. Even so, in the core of my being it felt that when the time came this was where I would go to begin my spiritual explorations. No question - just a sense in my body of an open flow toward Findhorn which my mind translated into a "knowing".
That time came on my 20th birthday. After my sophomore year at the University of Washington in Seattle, I took a summer job with Seattle Parks and Recreation. Each week I led a group of inner city kids backpacking in the mountains, which also fed a deep need in me to be surrounded by the peace and beauty of the natural world (accented though it was by the loud, boisterous enthusiasm of a bunch of young teens). On my day off, to celebrate my birthday, one of my friends took me sailing on Lake Washington and again, I had that sense of directed flow. It felt like an inner door had opened, and I knew the time had come. Instead of continuing my studies at the University, I would head out to Findhorn, and I had a feeling I would not be coming back. This is not something I could tell my friends or family — how can one explain such a sense? But like the initial insight at 15, I just knew it deep in my inner self, in my bones. It is like the flow of a river that knows its banks, natural and directed and home.
When I arrived at Findhorn a few months later, I found it to be a spiritual home that spoke deeply to me. It was partly the everyday, joyous acceptance of the living spirit in ourselves and in everything we do - an affirmation of the fact that each one of us has a personal relationship to the God within - and partly the wise and mind-expanding words of David Spangler who was living at the community then and gave a talk every week during the summer. In Findhorn I found a way of being in the world that was founded on Love, Light and Wisdom, as one of Findhorn's three Founders, Peter Caddy, would say. In David's lectures and writings, I recognized a description of my own inner experience, and I found myself empowered to continue trusting my own spiritual connections. I heard the words of Christ unencumbered by impositions of guilt or exclusionary judgments. There was an affirmation of the potential in each soul to be an expression of the Sacred in the world, a creative source of service in partnership with Spirit. We were not perceived to be children who needed to be punished, but rather sparks of the divine walking on the land and learning how to integrate into the limitations of an earthly embodiment. This called forth a sense of responsibility and creativity for how I expressed that living spirit through my everyday choices.
David’s talks often focused on our wholeness, integrating the transcendent parts of ourselves with our personalities. In fact, he did his best to avoid using hierarchical terms like higher and lower when speaking of spirit and the self. Yes, our personalities need conscious direction, but they are not less valuable than our soul. Our personalities are expressions of our soul's intent and the emphasis on our wholeness and capacity to be a source of light in the world spoke deeply to me.
Peter Caddy, one of Findhorn’s founders, used to say, “Love where you are; love who you’re with; love what you’re doing”— and live a life of service. The two years I lived in Scotland anchored this practice in my mind and heart and into the activities of everyday life. As I returned to America, I joined some colleagues I had worked with at Findhorn to help found the Lorian Association with the intent of bringing a recognition of these same values out of the purview of intentional community and into normal mainstream life.
My sense of inner flow has become an everyday experience, which has drawn me to lead a class called Journey Into Fire: Awakening to the Light of Self. It offers experiential practices which invite us to redefine ourselves as expansive beings rather than as limited ones. These exercises help me know how better to stand in the core of my being and hold a stable center. I then have a greater capacity to hold love and to act out of that love even as I may feel buffeted by disturbances around me. I have noticed a difference in my engagement with the world when I stand in my core, an inner stance which is both in my body and also expansive. It allows for both an acknowledgement of oneness and also an appreciation for my individuality. There is more capacity for love and a sense of empowerment and generativity. There is a sense that I can feel the transcendent, and it can walk in my feet on the land. The Sacred is not separate from me, far out of reach and unknowable. It is within and all around me. It is my home and from this home my life flows.
This, I think, is what I was looking to understand all those years ago in my youth. It is the gift of human incarnation to the planet. Incarnation is not easy. There are experiences which traumatize us and can shatter our identity. But the world is unbelievably rich with so many different cultural traditions supporting healing and wholeness, leading us into light, each one offering tools to support individuals in expanding their sense of identity — each one potentially leading to freedom. If we are attentive, our whole life becomes a path toward a greater capacity to hold the sacred. The particular gift that Lorian offers to this mixing pot is one of expansiveness, breaking out of the constrictions of dogma, and each finding our way of connecting to the living spirit, the mystery of the world we live in and the beings we share the world with – our unique way of connecting to the sacredness within it all. This is what the journey into fire is all about.
Everything that Incarnational Spirituality has to offer stems from the recognition that there's a light within each individual life. As the new year begins, consider exploring your inner light by joining us for Journey Into Fire: Awakening to the Light of Self. From January 10-February 13, Lorian Faculty Member Julia Spangler will gently guide you through practices and processes to understand and attune to the power of being yourself in this world.