The following is a work-in-progress version of The Spiritual Path by Dan Joseph. This book is a collection of past Quiet Mind newsletter articles, along with accompanying questions and answers. The current edit was completed in June 2021.
You are welcome to submit questions of your own to Dan at email@example.com.
Shortly after my book Inner Healing was published, I began sending out a newsletter with articles on spirituality, psychology, and personal growth. I have continued to write the newsletter for nearly twenty years.
In this book, I've collected some of the most popular articles. To each, I've added a set of questions and answers, based on conversations I've had about these subjects with friends, readers, and clients of mine.
You're welcome to skip around in the book. Each chapter can stand on its own, and none require you to read what came before.
I do want to clarify one point of language. Although I reference a "path" and "journey," I believe that the real spiritual journey is simply a process of awakening to the spiritual light within us. This inner light restores peace to our minds, love to our hearts, and inspires actions that benefit everyone. The "journey" to the light is simply an opening to what is already there.
My goal in this book is to help clear a path for that light to shine brighter into awareness. As we allow that to happen, we naturally bring healing and comfort to the world.
Years ago, I set off on a cross-country trip with a friend. Our plan was to camp and hike our way through the national parks of the western United States.
I had been living in a city for the previous few years, and was starved for natural beauty. And so, as we drove into Yosemite to begin our tour, I was riveted. The mountains were breathtaking. The alpine fields were touching. I felt like a thirsty man who had stumbled into an oasis — there was beauty everywhere.
My friend and I backpacked for a few days along the waterfalls of Tuolumne Meadows. The landscape was magnificent. Then we moved on to Utah, and moonlit hikes among the spires of Bryce. We waded knee-deep in water up the canyons of Zion. We strolled through the tundra of the Colorado Rockies.
It was all stunning. Mountains, waterfalls, flowers — indescribable beauty. There were moments when I felt a sense of spiritual transcendence. And that, of course, was why I really went to those places — to feel that inspiration. To feel that transcendence.
But as the weeks passed, a curious thing happened. It began to be more difficult to get my "high." These mountains were great, of course — but they weren't much different than the ones from last week. That field was beautiful — but so were the others. I began to chase more dramatic scenery, looking for a spiritual lift.
Eventually I got to a point where I just couldn't make it happen. I did my best to extract a high from what I was seeing — the mountains, the fields — but I just couldn't do it. It was discouraging. Shortly thereafter, we ended the trip and I went back to my city life.
It took me years before I understood what had happened. In this article, I'd like to show how broadly the lesson can be applied.
Getting What You Give
On that trip, I fell into a common trap. I believed that I was getting my spiritual lift from something external — the mountains, the streams. This began a cycle of chasing better mountains, better streams.
In fact, though, my "high" was coming not from what I was getting from the mountains, but from what I was giving to them. Let me explain what I mean.
On the first day of my trip, I looked out at those mountains and said — so quickly I didn't realize it — "My goodness, you are beautiful. I appreciate you so much." I was then immediately swept up in the joy of that thought.
It seemed like the mountains were making me feel joyful. But it was really my love for the mountains that lifted me up.
If I had seen this, I could have kept the flow going. I could have entered each new park saying, "Ah, what wonderful things can I extend appreciation to today?"
But instead, I fell into the trap of trying to extract from externals. "I need better mountains," I thought, "bigger ones, something more dramatic." As I did that, the outflow of my appreciation was blocked — and thus, the sense of transcendence became harder and harder to reach.
I share this story because it illustrates the power of choice. We can choose — at any time, with any thing — to extend copious amounts of love and appreciation. And we will be instantly lifted up by our choice. We are in control of the outflow. There is nothing that prevents us from exercising our right to give.
I didn't realize this on my cross-country trip. I thought that I could only embrace the most dramatic, towering mountains. Or the most delicate, flower-sprinkled fields. But the fact is that I could have chosen a pebble on the path and enfolded it in waves of love and appreciation — and thus been lifted up.
The key is to realize that the power lies with us. We don't need to chase love and appreciation; instead, we can offer those things, and immediately experience them.
Along these lines, I sometimes engage in a practice that I call "doubling up." If I feel that I'm lacking something — kindness, for example — I decide how much of that thing I'd like. Then I try to give twice that amount to the people in my life. I try to double, in my giving, what I want to receive.
Of course, the "outflow" of kindness creates a simultaneous "inflow" of kindness — and sure enough, I begin to feel it. Although there may be some internal resistance at first, I find that this practice always produces positive results.
The realization that we receive what we give is an empowering one. Instead of spending our time chasing externals, we can spend our time giving internals — and thus experiencing them. The power is in our hands, because we are always free to give.
Q: I was taught not to "give to get." I think we should give without expectation of anything in return. But it seems you think "giving to get" is a good thing. Am I understanding that correctly?
A: The doubling-up practice draws on a basic law of psychology: we will always experience the thoughts that we share with others. So you could say that on a deep level, there's really no way for us to avoid "giving to get."
I sometimes use the metaphor of a pipe. When water flows out through a pipe, that water touches the pipe first. Regardless of where the water eventually ends up, it first comes into contact with the pipe.
In the same way, our thoughts of kindness and appreciation first touch own minds. Perhaps the thoughts strengthen and multiply as they reach other people. Perhaps they don't, if other people don't choose to accept or share them. That's beyond our control.
But our thoughts always impact us. They touch us first. We are the ones who are most immediately affected by them.
If we fully realized this, we would immediately commit to flowing-forth kind, loving, peaceful thoughts into the world. We would realize that this flow will benefit us, first and foremost, endlessly.
We would also see that critical, judgmental, hurtful thoughts — regardless of whom they're directed toward — will also first-and-foremost affect ourselves. Anyone who truly saw this would immediately commit to a lifetime of extending kindness and compassion. Anything else would be seen as unnecessary pain.
The traditional idea of "giving to get" does involve some type of manipulative type of giving. And certainly, this is unhelpful.
But the deeper "giving to get" concept reveals that we do "get" the thoughts and feelings that we extend. We are always the first recipients of our giving. We experience what we offer.
Q: Let's say that someone hurt my feelings and I want to feel better. How do I "give" something like that?
A: You can begin the doubling-up process by identifying the specific inner experience that you want to welcome.
If someone has hurt your feelings, perhaps you are now seeking an experience of comfort. Or a sense of feeling loved. Or perhaps you want to feel safe and secure.
Whatever experience that you choose, you can name that target. You can say, for example, "I want to feel comforted right now."
Then, you can begin to extend comforting thoughts to other people who come to mind. As you extend thoughts of comfort, you will experience them.
In this process, you don't need to start with extending these comforting thoughts to the person who hurt you. That might feel like too much of a leap. Instead, feel free to start with "easy" people — friends, family members, or even "neutral" folks.
Try to build a momentum by extending kind thoughts to those people. Let yourself be helped by the thoughts you're extending, regardless of who you're extending them to.
If you choose to put icing on the cake, and end the practice by extending a few kind thoughts to the person who hurt your feelings, that's great. But really, just building a momentum is all that you really need to do.
Always feel free to start with the "easy" people.
Q: I find that nature does help me feel peaceful. Isn't it OK to seek out natural beauty if that helps you to get in touch with a sense of peace?
A: Certainly! I love to be immersed in nature, and spend quite a lot of time taking walks outdoors.
However, as you enjoy nature, you can keep in mind that it's your love for what you see — rather than the specific forms themselves — that fill you with a sense of joy. And you are not limited in any way by the outflow of your love and appreciation.
Dramatic scenery might easily evoke a sense of appreciation. But you can give boundless amounts of appreciation to a single fallen leaf, or the sound of a cricket, or a little breeze. The power is entirely within you.
Even a city street can be perceived through the lens of appreciation. There is beauty and wonderment to be perceived there as well. As you extend thoughts of appreciation to the cityscape, it will be reflected back to you in just the same way that a natural setting would.
Feel free to experiment with this: Choose a simple object, and allow yourself to enfold it with thoughts of gratitude and thankfulness. A pebble, a pen, or anything else will suffice. See how you feel as you extend appreciation to that thing.
You may find, as you do this, that the little pebble or pen is as wonderful of a mirror for your appreciation as any giant mountain.
Q: I give of myself to a great many people — and I don't always feel "lifted up." Instead, I often feel exhausted by all the giving that I do. How does this square with what you're saying?
A: In this doubling-up practice, we first draw upon the gifts of our inner light. We touch into a sense of inner peace and appreciation. Only as we access that do we extend it forth.
If you do this correctly, you'll find the "touching in" process to be restorative. Then, the giving or extending simply strengthens the core experience.
I find that most people who are exhausted by giving (and I've certainly been there myself!) are primarily focusing on behavioral forms of giving. But if we let our inner light guide us, we may be inspired to simply flow-forth some loving thoughts, or a kind word, or a smile.
There may or may not be an elaborate "doing" or behavioral aspect of our giving. Often there will be. But sometimes, there won't. We can simply follow our inspiration when it comes to the outflow.
Above all, it is important to allow ourselves to be inspired by what we extend. If we do this, giving will be a way to multiply our internal blessings rather than a chore or a "to do."
Making contact with an inner sense of love, peace, and appreciation — and then letting it guide any forms of extension — is the key.
Q: Is your search for "better" scenery similar to people's search for "better" romantic partners?
A: Yes, I do think there's a strong parallel to be drawn there. There have been countless psychology books written about "chasing the high" of romance, and the inevitable temptation to move on to a new relationship once the high wears off.
Some people eventually realize that the happiness they experience in a relationship largely comes from what they themselves are giving to the relationship — not what their partner is (or isn't) giving to them.
Becoming aware of this dynamic reorients us back into a state of empowerment. You can offer what you want to experience, and you will benefit from your offering. This awareness is the great pivot in many relationships from conflict to harmony.
I will discuss interpersonal dynamics quite a bit more in the articles to follow.
The Masquerade Ball
Imagine that you are invited to a masquerade ball. You spend weeks choosing a costume for the event. Should you dress up as royalty? As a villain? As someone famous? As an angel?
You eventually settle on a costume, and go to the ball. There you find hundreds of other people, dressed in the widest variety of outfits. The party is all in good fun, and you play through the night in your chosen role.
Then, around midnight, a strange thing happens. Everyone in the costume ball suddenly falls asleep. When they awake, their memories have vanished. Where am I? everyone asks. And silently, they wonder: Who am I?
People look around the room, and begin to sort out the situation. Over there is someone dressed in gold finery, with a crown. That must be the queen of this place. And look at him over there — he has knives and swords. He must be dangerous. And look at that one: she looks like some sort of animal. Maybe she's crazy.
There's a great scramble. People flock to the "good" people, away from the "bad" people. Some of the good ones bravely begin to round up the bad ones, using the weapons at their disposal. For a while there's a chaotic melee. Eventually, after a struggle, things settle down. The bad people are subdued, and they sit — tied together — in the middle of the room.
Then, abruptly, part of a man's costume falls away, and a woman cries out. "Wait," she says, "I remember now. That pirate — he's my husband. He isn't really a pirate." The memories begin to return. "She isn't a queen — she's just dressed that way. And he's no priest, I'll tell you that."
As the costumes come off, people begin to remember their true relationships. "I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you," they say as they untie their friends and family. "Please forgive me — I forgot who you were." "I don't know what came over me."
The party-goers shake their heads at the strange turn of events. They toss away their costumes as they walk out of the party, concerned that they might forget again.
"How easily we are fooled," remarks a man as he drops a mask. "A little cardboard, a little paint, and our loved ones are gone."
As strange as this story sounds, it's what happens in this world.
Each of us comes into the world without a stable human persona. Then, as we "mature," we work to "find ourselves." This usually means that we try out a variety of worldly roles, until we find one that feels comfortable.
The problem is that these roles are as flimsy as costumes at a ball. If we were to recognize this, we could have a bit of fun. But like the partygoers who fell asleep and confused themselves with their roles, we tend to forget who we really are.
Let me give a personal example of this. When I was in college, I considered myself a "student." After that I saw myself as a spiritual seeker, and a writer. Then a businessman, a writer again, a teacher, and so on.
The problem is that a student has to study — otherwise, his identity begins to fall apart. A seeker needs to seek. A writer needs to write. A businessman needs to make money; a teacher needs students.
So there was a great deal of pressure that arose from these roles. When I was twenty-one years old, and my time in college ran out, I fell into a panic. I was a student! And there were no more classes! What would happen to my identity? It was quite terrifying.
Almost immediately, I made the shift to writing. But what happened when a writing project was done? I couldn't exactly be a writer unless I was writing, right? I became almost manic in my pursuit of new writing projects.
And so on. The deeper I identified with my worldly roles, the more pressure I felt to strengthen them. It was like being at the masquerade ball, and finding that my costume was continually falling away. I had to be constantly vigilant to keep it all together — constantly reinforcing the stitching and the buttons. What a horror to lose one's costume!
The other problem with this dynamic was that everyone became distanced from me. I was a student, after all; but he was an executive. We couldn't possibly have much in common. I was a spiritual seeker; she had no interest in spiritual things. Might as well not talk. I was a writer; they barely read anything at all. What a waste of time, trying to connect.
The roles were all that mattered. The costumes were the thing. As I slipped into this confusion, I became very isolated. There came a time when I felt all alone in the world.
What I didn't realize was that I was being fooled by the masquerade. The student, the spiritual seeker, the writer — these were nothing but roles. They were not who I was. The executive, the agnostic, the non-reader — these were costumes as well. Regardless of how strongly people identified with them, they were merely thin coverings, ready to fall away.
Until I began to consider this, I never thought to look deeper.
What Lies Beneath
Imagine that you have a young child. He invites you to attend his school play. You sit in the audience, watching the play unfold, until — there, dressed up as a ferocious lion, is your child.
You grin widely, delighted to see him up on stage. As he plays out his role, you see him for what he is — not a lion, but your beloved son. He's dressed as a lion, of course — and he growls and prances around like one. But you're not fooled for a minute. What your eyes show you doesn't deceive your heart.
This is what happens as we begin to look past our worldly costumes and roles. He may look like your political nemesis. She may seem like a threat. He may be your ticket to happiness. She seems powerful and bold.
But this is all just a play of roles. Beneath the costumes is a light that transcends them all. As we begin to treat the surface wrappings like the flimsy coverings that they are, we begin to catch a glimpse of what lies beneath.
For a moment, our hearts are touched by a flash of beauty — perhaps we see it in a friend or family member; perhaps a stranger. But for a moment, we find a glimmer of something that we hadn't known was there.
For a moment, there's a shimmering of glory that makes the costume seem ridiculous. It might be gone an instant later, but we saw it. And we can see it again. As we let our vision be led past the outer trappings, the light within begins to emerge.
We will see what we want to see. Either a costume, or the truth. A role, or reality. Our vision will align with our desires. And whatever we choose to focus on in another person, we will see more clearly in ourselves.
By seeking the truth that lies beneath the costumes, we will increasingly find it. It may, of course, take practice. We may need to frequently remind ourselves that we're being fooled by a costume. But as we peer beneath the cover, and find the luminosity of the spirit beginning to shine forth, the process becomes like stepping from a room of shadows into the light.
Q: Are you saying that our actions in the world have nothing to do with our true selves?
A: Our actions and choices in the world tend to flow from how we see ourselves. As any therapist will tell you, our self-concepts have a powerful influence on how we interact with the world.
The problem is that a negative feedback loop can easily become established. If you see yourself as having "failed" at a worldly role, this perception of yourself will drain your energy and enthusiasm. This will then dampen your actions, which will tend to reinforce a limited self-concept. This type of spiral can go on for a very long time.
One way out of this spiral is to remind yourself that you are not your actions, your accomplishments, your achievements, or anything else associated with worldly roles. A "victory" in a role doesn't make you good; a "defeat" doesn't make you bad.
Instead, you are the gifted, beautiful actor behind any role that you find yourself in.
As you hold this new self-concept in mind, you may find that a sense of inspiration and clarity rises in your awareness. These facets of your inner light will then inspire new actions, which will in turn reinforce the light. A new, upward spiral can form.
Now of course, I don't believe that our worldly actions are unimportant. Quite the contrary. Our actions can bring healing, peace, and comfort to a world that is great need of those things. As we offer those blessings, we (and others) will be lifted-up by them.
But in order to access those inner gifts, it's essential for us to remember that our light is undimmed by the roles we play. A scientist has no more or less light than a poet. A millionaire has no more or less than a monk.
Scientist, poet, millionaire, monk — all of these are just the wrappings. All of these people, plus you and me and everyone else, have a limitless reservoir of gifts to draw upon and share.
Our light — our true selves, infused with this light — are unaffected by our worldly roles. Keeping this in mind can be very helpful.
Q: What if other people insist on seeing me as just a role? How can I get them to stop doing that?
A: One of the most challenging things for open-hearted, empathetic people to do is to refuse to share other people's misperceptions of them. But this is what we are asked to do.
Some people will indeed choose to see you as a worldly role and nothing else. Those people may believe that roles are all there is. It is your job to step back from those types of perceptions, and remind yourself that you — and they, too! — are the luminous actors behind the roles.
Do you need to argue, or convince other people that there is something more to you than a role? No, you don't. You can simply focus on holding your own peaceful vision of the deeper truth.
As you remind yourself that you are more than a role, and open your awareness to the spiritual beauty behind all roles, you can then allow that awareness to flow out from you. As that outflow happens, many of the people around you will likely perceive a shift in you — a greater wisdom, altruism, peace, patience, or some other facet of the light.
This may help them to see a glimmer behind the role. But that is up to them. Holding peacefully to the truth is all you really need do.
Q: How exactly do we "look beyond the roles" in people? Is there a technique to use?
A: I find that it's helpful to first identify the role-oriented ways we are seeing people Then, we can express our willingness to release those old perceptions and open to an experience of the deeper truth.
Let me give an example of this.
Imagine that you are sitting on a park bench, watching people walk by.
As each person strolls in your field of vision, you note your role-oriented perceptions of each of them. The process might look like this:
"He seems like a friendly young man. It looks like he's a skateboarder. He probably should tie his shoes better."
"She seems worried about something. Probably something about work, given that she's studying her phone and wearing a suit. She's probably under pressure to get things done."
"He looks like he's had a few drinks. Maybe he just came from a bar. Sort of strange given that it's so early in the afternoon."
And so on. Then, after each of those, you might say:
"These perceptions of mine are just elements of the roles.
This is not who these people are.
I am willing to let these ways of seeing go.
I am willing to see a spark of light in these people."
Then hold your willingness to release the old ways of seeing, along with a concurrent willingness to see a beauty-behind-the-roles in each of these people.
As you do this, you may begin to feel a sense of connection to each of them — a sense that you are members of the same family. Feelings of tenderness and thankfulness may arise in you toward each of them. You may feel a rising desire for their wellbeing and happiness. Any number of experiences may emerge.
These people are not their roles; they are the illuminated actors behind the roles. You are opening to that awareness with your willingness. As you see the light emerge in them, you will simultaneously strengthen your awareness of that same light in yourself.
Q: I have a friend who rejects all worldly roles. This means that she just hangs around all day not doing much. She seems aimless. How does this square with what you're saying?
A: I find that when we access the truth behind the roles — when we access our spiritual selves — we are filled with a sense of thankfulness, enthusiasm, and a desire to bless, help, and comfort those around us. The experience is anything but aimless.
If your friend rejects conventional worldly roles, but hasn't yet significantly accessed her inner light, she may indeed feel aimless for a while. However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing; it can be a transition phase. Your friend may have let go of the world of roles. Soon, hopefully, she will embrace the gifts of her inner light.
As always, one of the best ways to help the people around you is simply to model the new approach; to serve as an example of another way. If you access your own inner light by clearing away the blocks that obscure it, your friend may see a spark in you. She may be intrigued by your increasing sense of purpose. She may be touched by the gifts you are flowing into the world.
She may begin to question whether there may be some blocks that she herself can clear away — perhaps a sense of cynicism or resentment that is fueling her aimlessness. That is up to her to explore. Your willingness to access and extend your own inner light is all that is needed.
Q: You talk about our spiritual selves. What is this spiritual self? Who are we, really?
A: This is perhaps the most important question of all. It's one that is best answered with an experience. My recommendation is to seek the answer directly by clearing away any interference to a sense of inner peace, wisdom, and a sense of your innocence. As you practice this, you will find a transcendent, beautiful, ever-expanding answer emerge.
I will share a number of practices in this book that can help to facilitate this experience. But the actual reveal — the awareness of the light, the connection with your true self — is an experience beyond words.
I recently began rock climbing. Not only is the climbing fun, it's opening some new metaphors for the spiritual journey.
There are times, when rock climbing, that you find yourself wedged between two parallel rock walls. Sort of like Santa Claus stuck in a chimney.
To climb up, you use a technique called "chimneying" — you put one leg on one wall, and the other leg on the opposite wall. You inch up your right leg, then your left, right, left, right, left, slowly moving up between the walls.
In this technique, you need both walls — and you need to use both legs. It takes both sides to climb.
The Spiritual Climb
Let me now share how this ties into the spiritual journey. When I began my spiritual practice, I thought that the inner work was all that mattered.
For thousands of years, people had been sitting around in caves, meditating their way into enlightenment. No problem, I thought. I figured that spirituality was like training for a sport: you did your inner work, and you achieved your goal. The more personal effort you put in, the more successful you were.
So I started doing the work.
I learned to meditate, eventually working up to a point where I could meditate for hours a day. I read countless spiritual texts until I was able to quote sections from memory. I combined spiritual and psychological techniques into new exercises, and ran through those exercises over and over.
This was all very good. In fact, it produced some positive results. But the results were maddeningly temporary.
I'd do my inner work, and find some peace — but then, within an hour or so, it would be gone. I'd slip back into a state of misery.
I'd work at opening my heart, and feel some love flowing — but then I'd slide back into anger and conflict. I couldn't seem to hold any of the results. What was I doing wrong? For years, I was baffled.
Then, one day, I saw part of the problem. I was only using half of the chimney. The inner work that I was doing was important — even essential. But it was only half of the process. The other half involved relationships.
As I see it now, releasing blocks is great. Studying spiritual texts is helpful. That type of inner work is empowering. But that work is just a prep for the next step. Having done some inner work, we're immediately able to enter into deeper, more loving relationships with each other — and that's what keeps the momentum going.
Relationships were the half of the chimney that I was missing. I didn't realize that other people had anything to do with my spiritual work. It seemed to be an entirely personal process. But I was missing an important point. The only way to really transcend the limited, separate sense of self is to join deeply with each other.
Stay Out of the Cave
Let me share an often-quoted spiritual story that sheds some light on this process:
In this story, there's a spiritual seeker who meditates in a cave for a long time. Finally, after many years, he attains a transcendent level of peace. He walks out of the cave in a state of great joy.
The man wanders down into the town. As he walks into town, through a crowd of people, someone accidentally bumps into him — and suddenly, the man's joy is replaced with a flash of anger. He immediately realizes how flimsy his "enlightenment" was. So he takes a deep breath, and walks back into the cave to start meditating again.
No, Mr. Seeker! I want to say. That's a trap. Don't walk back into the cave — instead, turn to that person who bumped into you, and strike up a conversation. Connect with him or her. That person who bumped you is the gateway to real enlightenment. You've done some good inner work; now connect with that person and take the journey together.
That was the message I was missing. For a long time, I thought that I first had to do my inner work, and then I could have good relationships.
Now I see that we do these in parallel. We can use every bit of inner work as an opportunity to improve our interpersonal connections. As we release some inner blocks, we're able to extend greater amounts of kindness and love. That, in turn, inspires us to release more blocks, which frees more love to flow. The momentum continues.
The spiritual chimneying technique builds on this idea. You could say that it's a two-step spiritual dance.
In the chimneying process, you release some inner blocks — some unloving thoughts toward yourself or others. Then you use that opening to immediately join more deeply with the people around you.
You inch up the chimney: releasing a few blocks, extending some loving thoughts. You release more blocks, extend more love, release, extend, release, extend. This works both sides of the chimney, and keeps you rising up.
Again, my tendency was to do my inner work by myself, and then go do some more inner work by myself. I'd work in isolation, and wonder why I felt so lonely and separate. I didn't realize what was going on. I didn't understand that I was missing the real goal — the experience of spiritual connection.
To make this practical, let me share a simple way that you can try the chimneying process.
Let's say that you're in a restaurant, and your server comes over to you. You suddenly have an opportunity to chimney up to some spiritual heights.
You can begin by noting any unloving thoughts that are present in your mind. Thoughts like, "The prices are so high here," or, "This server probably doesn't like me," or, "I have to watch what I eat so I don't gain weight."
Try to release those types of thoughts, even if just for a moment. Try to allow a greater sense of peace to flow into your mind.
Then, having done that inner work, immediately extend some kindness to the server. Use the inner opening to outflow some love. You may simply smile at him, or ask him how his day is going, or let him know that there's no rush to take your order.
It's quite likely that he'll appreciate your kindness — but even if he doesn't, you've just strengthened your spiritual climb. You'll feel the warmth of your own kind thoughts. You'll feel the strength of your increased interpersonal connection.
You can then drop another set of unloving thoughts, and extend some more warmth and kindness. That will strengthen your ability to drop more blocks, and share more love. By doing this, you clear the way for an experience of deep interpersonal connection.
When I've tried this while dining out, I've ended up leaving the restaurant feeling quite uplifted. I imagine that the server felt uplifted, as well. By combining our inner work with interpersonal joining, we chimney — together — on up to higher ground.
Q: I believe that I have everything within me to be happy. Are you saying that our happiness is dependent on other people?
A: Not in the traditional sense. The classic pitfall in relationships is the belief that if your partner acts the way you want, you'll be happy. If he or she acts a different way, you'll be unhappy. In this view, you're dependent on your partner's behavior for your emotional state. That dependency trap, of course, leads to endless amounts of conflict, arguments, disappointment, and suffering.
My problem is that I went in the opposite direction. I believed that I was not dependent on anyone for anything. I believed that happiness was found after a solitary journey of exploration and discovery. Although I made some progress, it was transitory. Learning to share, or extend, what I found within was an important step for me.
To answer your question: I don't believe that our happiness is dependent on a specific person's behavior. Our inner light, and all its endless gifts, is available at every moment regardless of what the people around us are doing. No one can diminish or put out our light.
However, our happiness is dependent on the sharing of that light. The spiritual light within you is joined with the same light in me, and him, and her. The revealing of our commonly-held light is what we're really seeking.
We are, you might say, spiritually intertwined. We are permanently joined. We are never alone and apart. What seem to be separate conflicts and disconnected lives are like transitory surface waves atop a stable sea.
Happiness comes from the awareness of this. So in a way, we are indeed "dependent" on each other. But it is a safe dependence, arising from the light we share. In the chimneying process, we allow this shared light to be revealed.
Q: You talked about being nice to a server at a restaurant. But what about hostile people? How do you use this chimneying process with them?
A: Let me answer this in the context of forgiveness, which is a fundamental part of many spiritual practices.
In the conventional view of forgiveness, we act with kindness and compassion to hostile people. Or at least, we don't act hostile back to them. We try to be "the better person."
While this is admirable, it often leaves a great deal of hurt feelings in the mix. I myself spent years trying to figure out how to be kind, loving, and forgiving to hostile people while dealing with the emotional pain from their actions. I didn't make much headway, in part because I was trying to squeeze out kindness using my own personal efforts.
When we use the chimneying approach, we draw on a greater resource than our own efforts. Let me share how this might look.
Imagine that a coworker of yours makes an unkind comment about a project you recently completed. Your feelings are hurt. You feel an impulse to argue with him — perhaps tell him what you think of his not-so-good projects — but you instead decide to take a walk and clear your mind.
As you're walking, your awareness is filled with thoughts and feelings of hurt, anger, insecurity, and other unpleasant things.
Here's how it might look like to use the chimneying process:
To begin, you start with the inner side of the chimney. You identify your current thoughts and feelings, and take ownership of them. You say, for example:
I believe that my co-worker is a rude and entitled jerk.
I feel an impulse to "get back" at him by telling him off.
I feel hurt by what he said to me.
I have a worry that if I don't push back, he'll do that again.
You then express your willingness to release those thoughts, and open to an experience of your inner light: an experience of inner comfort, peace, and wisdom.
As you practice allowing your current thoughts and feelings to flow through your awareness like leaves on a stream, and allow them to be replaced by a sense of peace and comfort, your perspective shifts.
You remember hearing that your coworker is dealing with some family and financial challenges. A sense of patience arises in you — not because of your personal efforts to "ramp it up," but because you created a space for that patience to flow into your awareness.
That's the activity of the first side of the chimney.
You then return to the office and approach your co-worker. You say, "Hey — your criticism of my project was painful. But perhaps you didn't mean it to come out that way. I'm happy to discuss the details of the project with you if you'd like."
He seems surprised that you're not attacking him. "No — I didn't mean it to sound critical," he says. "I just would have done that project another way. But I probably should have said that differently."
That's the activity of the second side of the chimney.
You keep inching up: exchanging your defensive thoughts for an experience of your inner light; extending that light to the other person; more inner exchange; more extension.
I have found that this type of approach can sometime produce extraordinary results, shifting hostile relationship dynamics into mutually beneficial new dynamics.
Of course, there's no guarantee that the other person will respond cooperatively. If he continues to be hostile, there's no requirement to continue to engage with him.
But by practicing this chimneying process, you have accessed your inner light and strengthened it for yourself by sharing it. You will be lifted up by your efforts, regardless of his response.
Q: Human interactions exhaust me. I often get tired of all the drama and just want to be left alone. Is there a way to make the interpersonal aspects that you're describing easier?
A: There certainly isn't any pressure to interact with more people than you feel comfortable with. Some of us are more introverted, and some are more extraverted. The world needs all types!
However, you may find it helpful to look at what contributes to your sense of exhaustion. If human interactions seems to center on "drama," you might want to practice shifting your approach.
In the chimneying process, we begin by releasing any unloving thoughts within our minds, and create a space for the inflow of peaceful, loving, appreciative flow of thoughts. Then we share those new thoughts with the people we cross paths with.
We release blocks to the light, extend the light to others, release more blocks, extend more light.
That "extending" process can be simple and easy; there are limitless ways to do it. You might, for example, smile at someone. Or offer a compliment. Or you may simply feel inspired to think of someone you know, and enfold them in a sense of appreciation.
You can do this regardless of the mindset of the person you're extending kindness to. They may be in a high-conflict state, or not. They may be someone close to you, or a stranger.
If an interaction feels more "high drama" than you're comfortable with, you're free to simply offer a thought of blessing to the other person and then go about your day. There's no specific form that your extension needs to take.
You can simply allow your inner light to flow out in a way that is enjoyable to you. The goal in this process is to increase your own sense of peace and happiness.
Q: For years, I've been trying to find someone who is interested in a spiritual relationship. How do you find a spiritual partner to do the "chimneying" process with you?
A: Speaking personally, one of the traps I have fallen into on my own journey is pre-defining what a "spiritual relationship" should look like.
I spent years seeking a pre-defined "spiritual form" of a relationship — all the while ignoring opportunities to connect with people who didn't seem to match that form. Needless to say, my search for the "right form" never produced the results I was seeking.
In the chimneying process, we take a different approach. We access our inner light, and extend that to whomever is in front of us: a friend, a stranger, a coworker, a family member. The person to whom we extend the light can be anyone. There are no restrictions or qualifications.
We don't pre-define who the recipient should be. We don't hold onto any thoughts about whether they will reciprocate, or whether they will appreciate what we offer. We simply extend the light to them.
As we do this, we are forming spiritual connections with everyone we cross paths with. Some of these connections will be brief. Others may blossom into lifelong relationships. By focusing on the extension in the moment, we keep the flow going.
Our inner light shines without limit in all directions. As we allow this light to extend, the spiritual bonds we share with everyone are revealed. Eventually we realize that we don't need to search for spiritual partnerships at all; we simply need to allow the light to illuminate the partnerships that already surround us.