The New Disciples
All the way to heaven is heaven. —Catherine of Sienna, fourteenth century As we move into the twenty-first century, spiritual inquiry has entered a phase of ripening maturity. Today a large number of seekers have abandoned the glitz and glamour of so-called spiritual trappings. They are more sober and realistic about the quest, better educated, less naive about quick weekend fixes, and generally less argumentative and resistant.
Over the last three decades, more and more of us have become aware of the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit. We’ve been rebirthed, reparented, rolfed, and realigned with acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, therapeutic massages, and energy work. We’ve been recovered and 12-stepped, cleared and cleansed with everything from colonics to sage, sweats to primal screams. We’ve learned to find shadows, codependent patterns, past lives, and lost inner children. We’ve given up cigarettes, hard liquor, and red meat and taken up veggies, flower essences, and herbs. We know our cholesterol levels and our heart rates. We know where the sun and moon are on our astrological charts, the number personal year we’re in, our enneagram and Myers/Briggs acronyms.
We’ve gone to workshops for our souls, our sex lives, our aura, and our finances. We’ve filled countless notebooks from more lectures than anyone can name and spent weeks in ashrams, convents, monasteries, and retreat centers. We’ve meditated, recycled, networked, drummed, danced, inner-journeyed, and chanted in a dozen languages. We’ve listened to gurus, shamans, channelers, visiting lecturers, and a multitude of teachers who act as escorts through our passages.
And now are we all saints and masters? Probably not. Are we more awake? I think so. Are we more prepared to carry out our missions? Probably. For all the flaws and missteps, the dabbling and psychobabbling, and in spite of the ever-present potential for narcissism and inflation, through the process many of us have been made ready for our assignments in the world.
A new breed of spiritual seekers has emerged in the last sev- eral decades. I call them disciples—awake, aware, committed, and global in worldview. They have been identified by many names, among them Transitionists (journalist Marilyn Ferguson), Enzymes (futurist William Irwin), socially transcendent (author and business consultant Marsha Sinetar), preservers, promoters, and prophets (minister and author Louis Richard Batzler), new world servers (the Tibetan channeled through Alice Bailey). They come in many forms and from many backgrounds, and these new disciples are all rolling up their sleeves to do the work they came to do.
At first I hesitated to use the word disciple in this book. Perhaps what seemed most risky about the word is that it has usually meant devotion to one particular spiritual or religious tradition, but it also holds creative, active energy of consciousness. A disciple is one who recognizes, commits to, and is obedient to the promptings of his or her inner spiritual imperative and chooses to bring that consciousness into every aspect of life.
Disciples are responsible for themselves, knowing they are always in the process of growing and choosing to shape their personalities to serve their spiritual intentions. Disciples tend to be open, flexible, and teachable, inclusive in their worldview and dedicated to participating in the healing of planetary challenges. In the movie City of Joy, one of the characters says there are three ways to go through life: run, observe, or commit. Disciples commit.
Disciples are found everywhere and are identified by their being, not necessarily by their doing. Disciples tend to call forth the positive and the good in every circumstance. One by one they discipline their resources—body, mind, emotions, money, careers—and these resources become their servants, not their masters.
Disciples struggle under the weight of rules imposed by external authorities but gradually grow freer by their obedience to inner guidance. So whenever you see the word disciple in this book, put in parentheses in your mind freeman or freewoman.
Disciples have matured in consciousness from “saving the world” into serving the world. Some are true visionaries, often appearing hundreds of years ahead of their time. They bring the first hints of changes to come. Today they are sometimes just minutes ahead of the rest of us because the lag time is closing between those who sound the call and those who respond. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an example of a true visionary who saw and spoke the dream for those who would follow.
Next come the rebels. Their job is to disturb the status quo, and they usually do. They push against boundaries wherever they focus their attention, challenging systems, exploring, even demanding new possibilities. Whether they question health care or education, a scientific assumption or a local environmental problem, they challenge our conceptions of reality at the nuts-and-bolts level. They are innovative, creative, and sometimes downright outrageous. Suffragettes and their sisters who followed are examples of rebels who challenged accepted societal myths.
Some disciples are here on assignments of preservation. The job of the conservationist disciple is to hold on to the accrued good we have already learned and attained. When they do their job well, they keep us from enacting changes too quickly during a transition. Those who defend the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, are an example. Even as we have to adapt and redefine our understanding of those documents so that all people benefit from guaranteed rights, we have to maintain the stability of the document in the first place.
Some people are bridges who grasp the new vision and figure out pragmatic ways to make it work in the material world. They may come up with practical new ideas for elder care or offer new plans for integrating non-English-speaking students into a public school. An example of bridge building is reflected in the new forms of mediation, for example, in settling differences between industrialists and environmentalists.
Whether we are here to dream, preserve, disturb, heal, implement, or model, modern disciples learn that the dreams in our hearts have to be matched by our craftsmanship in the world. No matter what role we are chosen to play, the important thing is to realize that we are neither the role we are playing nor the play itself. We are the playwright, the creator behind all the drama. The more clearly we know that, the better we play our part.
Even so, each disciple faces the challenge of how best to play the part he or she is assigned. A letter from a friend who accepted a major new appointment in her profession characterizes the initial difficulty. “Oh, Gloria,” she wrote, “how does one wear the purple?” She meant, how do any of us step into our roles with authority and humility?
We don’t automatically know how to live our truths. It takes careful craftsmanship to bring truth into the material world.
Individuals in all traditions demonstrate the possibility of spiritual craftsmanship through the peace and clarity with which they craft their lives. Like a master cabinetmaker or a fine jeweler, they can teach us skills and techniques, be our models, mentors, and guides as we move from apprenticeship to journeyman status and finally into the position of master craftsman. Still, no amount of reading about them or observing them will cut the diamond or turn a graceful leg on a lathe. Dabbling, momentary inspiration, or admiration won’t make us masters. We must dedicate ourselves to finding the synergy between method, motivation, and material in our own lives.
Spiritual masters have taught ways and means of spiritual craftsmanship universally. They have taught that spiritual craftsmanship is a way of life, an ongoing process of self-responsibility. Whether we are in training to be a shaman, sitting at the feet of a guru, following a devotional path in a convent or monastery or studying eclectically on our own, if we are serious, we will find ourselves experiencing similar initiatory passages no matter what road we follow. These passages are described in the sacred stories of traditions throughout the world.
We can gather priceless pearls from modern disciples as well as from those who left us their treasures. We are indeed blessed to have such a legacy and to live in a time that allows us to have so many choices about powerful techniques and practices.
It has been my privilege to work with hundreds of disciples over the past two decades. These people have a great deal to share about the traps and privileges of the path. I have watched many of them flower into spectacular lights and a few of them give it up when the temptations or demands were too great.
Throughout this book I will be sharing with you observations, inspirations, and techniques that come from a variety of universal traditions. Because this book is not about religion or comparative religion, I have no interest in arguing the case for any one way of walking the path. I am interested in the spiritual essence that is present in all of life.
I will also be sharing with you stories of people who have made commitments to live their deepest spiritual intentions in the world, identifying the struggles they have encountered and mastered and how they did it, revealing the wisdom they uncovered and describing the practices they do.
Our lives are our stories. Ultimately it is the state of our total being that affects the world. I was impressed by a comment made by someone who was part of a party invited to dialogue with the Dalai Lama. While this person was certainly interested in what His Holiness had to say, he admitted that he mainly wanted to see how the Dalai Lama tied his shoes. That’s what eventually affects us most of all, isn’t it? Not the eloquence of words, nor books and concepts, but the way the truth is being lived in the world.
My Personal Walk
My own discipleship accelerated on what started out as an ordinary day in March 1975. Before charging into my busy schedule, I settled down to meditate, said a prayer, and took a few deep breaths, and within minutes the course of my life was redirected as surely as if I had been lifted off one highway and placed on another.
With no warning I felt a rush of concentrated energy, a sensation of compressed wind that started in my feet and moved quickly to my head. It was intense, undeniable, and very physical. I felt no fear, but my left brain was scrambling unsuccessfully to understand what was happening. I had been a spiritual student for many years and had been clairvoyant in varying degrees since childhood. I’d also had a typical Western left-brain education and put a high priority, as I still do, on being grounded and making things work in this world. As this unexpected and unidentified door opened, a wiser part of myself took over with the simple directive “Be still.”
As if in a vivid dream, I saw the spine of someone I knew. I could see exactly what was wrong with it, and my hands seemed to know how to “fix” it. The disharmonies deep in the person’s psyche that had manifested in this spinal problem were equally clear to me.
Excerpted from Barefoot on Holy Ground by Gloria Karpinski. Copyright © 2001 by Gloria Karpinski. Excerpted by permission of Wellspring/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.