As you all know, a major highlight of teaching university classes for me is the time I spend over coffee - one on one - with each student. The topic of our coffee-time is not the class itself, but the history of his or her spiritual journey.
I had another of those sessions today, and I was completely floored by the dignity and spirituality of the "Word of God" - in the form of a living, breathing human being - sitting there before me. The sincerity, dignity, sensitivity and intelligence of these students never ceases to leave me in awe. This is particularly true of Naropa University students, who generally attend the school because they are engaged in some sort of quest for meaning. Like the wintertime ice patterns I'm so addicted to on our Rocky Mountain alpine lakes, each person has a completely unique set of circumstances and creative responses that leaves me in awe. Here are a few of the things I've learned during these conversations:
1. Suffering is a large part of every person's life. It seems that God takes an enormous risk in incarnating in an individual body and personality, an incarnation that entails a completely unique point of view, and which then has to learn to get along with thousands of other unique points of view. This interaction between personal world-views necessarily entails suffering, because each of us is so different. I'm amazed, however, how each individual uses that suffering as a kind of gas to fuel a unique spiritual journey, one that involves finding creative solutions to the suffering. This, of course, is what the purpose of good religion, philosophy and psychology is meant to be. And each person, it turns out, discovers a slightly different set of answers.
2. Joy is also a major part of every person's life, and much of this joy arises from the insights that he or she discovers and co-creates as a means of transforming the suffering into beauty, like an oyster changing an irritating grit of sand into a pearl.
3. These students do not focus on blaming others for their sufferings. Rather, they look inside themselves and take an honest look at the ways in which they may have contributed to their own suffering and to the suffering of others. I find this honesty and sincerity especially inspiring and heart-warming, especially in a society where the blame game is played so persistently and continuously.
4. Meaningful conversation really is an art - one that is beautifully co-created by two people - and it possesses a dynamic all its own which is ITSELF like a living person. Here I think of the trinitarian pattern, where the mutual relationship between the first two Persons of the Godhead IS a third Person with a reality all its own. One of the things I most appreciate about good conversation is the ability two people have to allow it to unfold slowly and patiently, with no rush to get to some kind of endpoint. Conversation really is an adventure, for we never know exactly where it will lead.
5. I really love listening, asking focused questions, and then listening to the artful way in which the other person responds. For me, directed listening is one of the most fulfilling tasks in life. The uniqueness of each person's response to this listening attention really does make me feel like "a kid in a candy store" . . .
Photo: Ice artistry on Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
For Spiritual Direction or Workshops, please visit: http://www.resourcesforspiritualgrowth.com/
Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.