Cultivating Spiritual Virtues
Your spiritual growth becomes visible to yourself and others through how you think and act in each moment of your life. Although it is helpful to put efforts into watching and uplifting your outer actions, the good news is that spiritual awareness itself inspires you to be naturally virtuous. The more you understand the spiritual nature of this world, the more sense it will make for you to act with honesty, compassion, surrender, and humility. When you understand, realize, experience, and express the greatness that you, knowingly or unknowingly, already are, spiritual virtues naturally manifest through the way you think and the things you do.
When you see life with an expanded spiritual awareness, virtuous actions are the only ones that make sense. Therefore, the easiest path to cultivating virtues is to stay focused on your life as an expression of pure spirit and on your intention to grow into that awareness and role.
Intention and faith in your own divine nature protects you from the muddy waters of desire, greed, and other not-so-spiritual qualities. With faith and intention, the conscious universe — God, Allah, Jesus, Krishna, and that which exists behind all these divine images and faces — can more easily work with you. That universal friend presents you with situations that challenge you to rise into greater levels of purity in how you live your life. Along with these challenges comes the grace to prosper from them.
Your effort plus universal grace is the magic combination for finding spiritual growth in everything. Some spiritual scriptures describe these two elements, grace and self-effort, as the two wings of a bird. If only grace is flapping, or if only self-effort is flapping, your spiritual flight would be wobbly and inefficient. When the two are working together, your efforts will bring more grace, and grace will support your efforts.
Your inner peace and self-respect are the most powerful tools you have in growing into new virtues. Have you noticed how, when you're feeling happy and full of love, you're naturally kinder and more generous with the people around you? In the same way, when you develop greater respect and love for yourself, you discover, year after year, that you naturally become more virtuous toward others. Moreover, your virtues will be real — not plastic, manufactured, or ready to fall apart at the first gust of the winds of challenge or temptation.
Seeing how one virtue leads to another
As you become more aware of your own spiritual nature and the spirituality of all things, you naturally begin to act and think in greater accordance with the higher good of all. With a higher vision, spiritual virtues are not only qualities you force yourself to have and reveal, but also the best (and perhaps only) way to respond to the world.
Following is a list of ways your inner spiritual transformation can transform all of your personal qualities into divine virtues:
- As you seek truth, your own sense of honesty strengthens and you're able to see more clearly into your pure, spiritual heart.
- As you look into your heart, you begin to appreciate the perfection of your spiritual nature and become more content with who you are, how you are, and where you are.
- As you become more content, your worldly attachments and desires naturally dissolve into the stream of your higher aspirations.
- As you become free from limited desire, your faith and surrender increase, allowing the beneficence of universal grace to guide your steps.
- As you allow yourself to be moved and guided by divine grace, your humility keeps that dastardly ego from tripping your steps.
- When your ego is kept at bay, your ability to forgive expands into gratitude for the perfection of everything that comes to you.
When you glimpse this universal perfection, you attain the gem of equal vision, seeing that everything is made of one substance.
Helping yourself through your compassion for others
You may go through some terribly difficult experience. The challenge brings up feelings of helplessness, anger, frustration, grief, or sadness. Then, the next thing you know, your concern for other people becomes stronger. Or, perhaps someone doesn't offer you a helping hand when you needed one, so you make a commitment to help others in the future when you see them in need. You may have known the pain of losing a loved one and extend your help, care, and blessings to someone else who is going through the same sense of loss. This is where compassion comes in.
Compassion for the suffering of others also helps you to learn the lessons of your own challenges.
- Sometimes it is easier to see the patterns of someone else's life than your own.
- Sometimes it's easier to have compassion for others than for yourself.
If you feel a sense of compassion for someone who is suffering — especially from something you have previously gone through — you're giving a message to the conscious universe that you got the message! You have properly digested your suffering from that challenge and have learned from it. Now, you won't necessarily have to go through the same kind of event repeatedly to wear down your wrong understandings some more. Therefore, more compassion equals less suffering.
The tricky part of having compassion is to bring all the other virtues along as well, especially non-attachment! Compassion isn't meant to entangle you in other people's situations or make you feel upset or angry with whomever or whatever is causing another person to suffer. Rather, compassion is a sense of empathy and a tenderness of the heart.