Spiritual Director (SD): Welcome, please come in and have a seat.
Seeker (S): Thank you, I have been thinking of coming to talk with you for a long time but only now had the resolve to show up.
SD: No one comes to spiritual direction without some desire beginning to flicker forth. The desire to know something more gives birth to curiosity. I give thanks to whatever allowed that desire in you to come to the surface. Has the desire given form to a question?
S: This seems like such an elementary question, but one where I am stuck — What does Paul mean in his letters to the early Christians when he proclaims to see with the mind of Christ? Paul says that believers in the Way are transformed by the renewal of their minds into the mind of Christ. What does Paul mean?
SD: A wonderful question. What Paul is saying is a hard concept for our ego mind’s to grasp. There is often an initial misunderstanding. Paul is not saying that seeing with the mind of Christ is equivalent to becoming a Christian or even to a person having a unitive spiritual experience.
S: By unitive spiritual experience you mean the kind of experience I’ve had looking at a beautiful sunset and suddenly realizing I am a part of and intimately connected to God’s boundless creation?
SD: Yes, exactly. One of the important distinctions to understand here is the difference between stages of spiritual growth and having a state spiritual experience, which the history of human spirituality shows has been available to human beings since the earliest historical records of shaman producing a mind altering experience through incantation, dancing or some kind of substance use as a part of a ritual. State experiences seem to be fundamental to human psychic well-being; and like you say we often have glimpses of these experiences when we slow down and are fully present in the moment.
S: I believe I have had more of these than I realize.
SD: Right, I think we all have more unitive spiritual experiences than we realize. One reason these experiences don’t stick with us often is the very reason they are unitive experiences, that is our ego self has slipped into the background and is not as present to claim the experience in an ego sort of way. In other words the state experience simply is, and it’s not something produced through our ego agency.
S: That makes a lot of sense. But still begs the question of what is Paul getting at when he talks about seeing with the mind of Christ.
SD: I’m not trying to avoid your question. State experiences when they occur in the context of a traditional church setting are often viewed as experiences of salvation or being born again and can incorrectly be equated with being transformed into seeing with the mind of Christ. The point I’m making is that being transformed into this new way of seeing with the mind of Christ is a stage of spiritual growth not simply a state experience, which can occur anywhere in one’s spiritual journey trajectory.
S: OK, I think I understand. You’re saying I shouldn’t confuse an unitive state experience, as sublime and meaningful as it might be, with what Paul is talking about when he talks about being transformed into seeing with the mind of Christ.
SD: Correct. Seeing with the mind of Christ is a mature stage of spiritual growth that usually does not occur until after many years of contemplative practices have allowed a seeker to become sufficiently aware of how his ego self operates so that a realization arises that his ego self identity is not who he is. When this type of awareness is present then there is an opening for Grace to transform the seeker’s way of perceiving into seeing with the mind of Christ.
Of course, the process of this transformation beginning to unfold can be triggered out of the blue by a state experience like it did for Paul on the road to Damascus. But even for Paul this new way of seeing was something that evolved in his life after his road-to- Damascus experience. Paul had many experiences of being persecuted and imprisoned. These conditions ironically created conditions for contemplative realization just as the conditions John of the Cross experienced when he was imprisoned or more recently in our own time Nelson Mandela.
Normally this new way of seeing evolves through a long period of contemplative practices. This is what animated many in the early church to go to the Egyptian desert or the caves of Cappadocia to engage in contemplative practices that created space for God to change their way of seeing. Paul’s unitive experience on the road to Damascus is what helped set Paul off on his new spiritual journey, but it was only from his years of spiritual growth as an itinerant minister that gave him the understanding to be able to articulate his insight that the new way of seeing Jesus called people to (metanoia) was best described as seeing with the eyes of Christ.
S: So what is the nature of this stage of mature spiritual growth where a normal way of perceiving is transformed into seeing with the mind of Christ?
SD: Perhaps the most significant part of this stage of spiritual maturity is that the seeker has begun to experience that who he or she is is not just an ego identity. There is a realization that the totality of conscious perception is more than perception from our psychic ego construct. The totality of the human awareness is that she is a psychic ego construct and also a divine beingness connected with the beingness of all creation which we call Christ. Her contemplative practices help open up a space to experience that she is more than just an ego identity and that she can perceive reality in a new way.
S: I think I understand what you’re saying but I’m not quite sure. How else would you describe it?
SD: The analogy that is most helpful to me is that of light. As we all know the nature of light is that it is both a wave and a particle and whether it is as experienced as a wave or a particle depends on its relationship to an observer. Human beings are similar to light — they are both a particle of ego identity from which they perceive as well as being a part of this infinite wave of divine beingness from which they can perceive. To be transformed into the mind of Christ is to be able to perceive the world from one’s aspect as a part of this infinite wave of divine beingness. Because our apparent identity depends on relationship, our ego identity pervades when we see ourselves only in relation to a job, our parents, or others — that is we are seeing ourselves as an object. When we see ourselves from within our relation with divine beingness we begin to see that we are, and everything is, connected as a part of this divine beingness. We are not separate from our own awareness. We see our neighbor not like our self, but the way Jesus asks us to love our neighbor — as ourself.
S: So what you’re saying is that human beings have two ways to perceive and that we get to this mind of Christ way of perceiving once we realize that we are more than our ego self identity.
SD: Yes, although it is a bit chicken and egg. Sometimes a realization that we are more than our ego identity comes first; sometimes a perception from the infinite wave of beingness precedes. Usually experiences of these understandings arrive in tandem. For emotionally mature spiritual seekers their contemplative practices and the intimacy of their relation with God allow these seekers to stabilize this ability to access this way of perceiving with the mind of Christ. There is even a name for the development of a stabilized way to access this boundless way of perception — sanctification.
S: I guess what you’re saying is if I want to be able to access seeing with the mind of Christ I need to understand the contemplative spiritual practices that I should be engaging in on a regular basis to open up this way of perception.
SD: Yes, and it is important to understand that being able to see with the mind of Christ is part of a maturing developmental process. It is quite natural to first just see from and identify with our ego identities when we are younger. People are not able to experience that they are more than their ego identity until after they have developed a healthy ego. The other important part of this stage of spiritual maturity is that by then we have developed an intimacy with God, whether through our contemplative practices or other ways of devotion we have reached a deep and abiding love relation with God.
S: I know a bit about contemplative practices like centering prayer and lectio divina but what are ways that I might develop a deep intimacy with God.
SD: Here is how Richard Rohr describes this process: “The only way I know how to teach anyone to love God, and how I myself seek to love God, is to love what God loves, which is everything and everyone, including you and including me! “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “If we love one another, God remains in us, and God’s love is brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:12). Then we love with God’s infinite love that can always flow through us. We are able to love things for themselves and in themselves—and not for what they do for us. That takes both work and surrender. As we get ourselves out of the way, there is a slow but real expansion of consciousness. We are not the central reference point anymore. We love in greater and greater circles until we can finally do what Jesus did: love and forgive even our enemies.” You can see from Father Richard’s description how integrally loving God and seeing in a new way are different sides of the same coin. He describes the way we love everything as something we do by getting ourselves out of the way” — that is by ceasing seeing only from our ego identity.
S: The Bible talks about being born again, is this what it means to be born again to realize one is not just one’s ego identity.
SD: This is true but perceiving with the mind of Christ is an ongoing developmental process. Its evolving nature means that this realization, or being born again, is something that must happen over and over again. An initial state experience of unity and boundlessness, a glimpse of seeing with the mind of Christ if you will, is often what puts one on a spiritual journey path, but it is the beginning of the path to experience the mind of Christ not the end.
S: Are their difficulties I need to be aware of as I try to more deeply engage with practices for the contemplative journey?
SD: A pitfall on our evolving spiritual journey is to become attached to a state experience and stay stuck there. When this happens rather than growing into being transformed into seeing with the mind of Christ we can develop a rigid ego self identity, with a religiosity like the Pharisees, so we think we have an exclusive experience of the truth. We reify our own experience rather than seeing it as a mere glimpse of the infinite. When we do that we reinforce our ego identity as a saved person or a spiritual person. In fact, the whole object of our our glimpses of the infinite, which do allow us to feel reborn, are for these spiritual glimpses to put us on the journey to become free from being a slave to our ego identity, not to serve as motivations to become more attached to an image of how we would like to see ourselves.
S: Seems there is always a way the ego will try to snatch back its way of seeing and its need to be in control.
S: Are there other ways, apart from engaging in contemplative practices, that allow a human being to experience the totality of who one is and begin to identify more with being a wave of light than a particle, a thing.
SD: Yes, a very normal way for this to be experienced is the process of dying. When a person is dying naturally over a period of time because of an illness the person’s sense of themselves as just a physical body begins to diminish and the person often begins to experience that she is more and more her spiritual body, or to continue our analogy her light body. As anyone knows who has spent time with a loved one who is dying this is a deeply sacred experience to help hold the space as this emergence of a dying person’s light body grows. When we help hold this space as a loving witness our light body, the part of our beingness that is grounded in Christ also experiences a deepening.
S: Don’t the creeds talk about affirming belief in the resurrection of the body?
SD: I am sure there are many different views on this, but mine would be that what is being talked about being resurrected is the light body, the spiritual source that sustains our beingness and connection with all beingness. The creeds don’t specifically talk about a physical body being resurrected, though many assume that meaning. My view would be that a correct interpretation is an understanding that the life ever lasting spoken of in Christian creedal statements is about the eternal life of our spiritual body, the bodily part of us that sees from within the mind of Christ.
S: You are not saying that people who are terminally ill get to the point where they want to die are you?
SD: Not at all. The nature of life is that we all die. And no one normally wants their physical body to cease, but a natural part of the process of dying is the realization that one is more than just a physical body. When struggling with a terminal illness there can be both a strong will to stay in the physical body and a natural letting go of the physical body into the light body, the beingness of creation we call Christ. Being human is not about one overcoming the other, being human is about the paradox that both are there — our desire to remain connected with the physical experience of being alive and our desire to merge back into beingness itself, into the mind of Christ.