Becoming a wiser mature person — how do you do it? For spiritual development, it’s more than just aging and having more experiences, which come automatically. It’s what you do with your time and opportunities that makes the difference.
Shakespeare’s King Lear offers a cautionary tale for us here. The king made some bad decisions on ruling his kingdom with his adult daughters. His most virtuous daughter wouldn’t flatter him, so he gave his kingdom to his fawning daughters, who manipulatively praised him.
As a result, he lost his kingdom — and in the end, he lost his health and sanity. At one point, his companion/counselor — “the fool” — told him: “Thou should not have been old till thou had been wise.”
Important Items to Consider
Part of self-improvement is determined by two factors: having free will and how timing plays into our journey. Free will gives us the ability to choose, to create our destiny by our choices. Whether we make growth or fear choices matters.
Also, there is a timing to life. Sometimes we need patience, other times it’s good to strike while the iron is hot. Plus there are life stages. Often by midlife, for example, a transition or crisis causes us to pause and possibly change direction.
Keeping in mind these considerations (free will and timing), here are five ways to grow spiritually.
1. Experiment intelligently.
Yes, we do need habits and routines for stability and to conserve energy. To grow, though, we need to try things out, sometimes go out on a limb. Just be relatively confident that branch can support you.
That means using your intuition, along with some due diligence, to try new things. It can be as small as a new driving or walking route. Or it could be starting a new project, new artistic creation or career.
Some people are risk takers by nature and need to look more before they leap. On the other side, for those who are naturally more cautious, sometimes you do need to take a chance even though you might even look foolish and belly flop in front of the group.
(I just had a flashback of years ago in film school. I showed a film I made in front of all my peers. As I watched the film with the audience, we all realized it was a not very good. Ouch.)
In any event, we need to take a certain amount of risk to reach our potential – and creatively face the challenges that come with it.
All this experimentation will open up new horizons. And with a new expansive view, you take in more. And then what happens? You grow and are more present to your life.
2. Follow your heart.
Good things happen when you are open-hearted. You receive insight, peace and compassion. Life becomes more joyous as you recognize and use your gifts (your genetic, Source-given abilities). You also actualize your skills to help yourself and others — to make the world a better place.
Don’t let your dreams go up in smoke. They can take time to develop. Have intention, be patient and persistent to make your dreams a reality.
3. Connect with uplifting people.
You may connect with inspiring support people indirectly, through podcasts and books. Or you can directly link with people online or offline with whom you have common interests.
These people could be mentors or “kindred spirits,” who resonate deeply with you and you with them. You become more loving and positively charged by such inspiring people. In turn, you naturally grow spiritually.
4. Be with people from different backgrounds.
Your kindred spirits can be from different backgrounds: race, religion, sexual orientation, politics and history. Sometimes, though, there are people that you don’t have much affinity with, you have little in common. They may be people with different viewpoints and backgrounds.
Here’s something to be alert to … You can become too comfortable by being only with people who agree with you. It can distort your perspective. It can even make you isolated, siloed and narrow-minded — you can lose touch, perhaps unknowingly, with a large, diverse world.
By being with people who challenge your approach — and may even be critical of you – you can benefit, even from uncomfortable experiences. You can develop acceptance, tolerance and widen your perspective. You can find common ground too. It all comes from connecting with “different” people.
The idea is to recognize and honor everyone, even those you disagree with. You may also have to stand up for your values. Then you develop integrity, compassion and wisdom in the process.
5. Use social media and the Internet intentionally.
The ease and flow of information and online connections can be a blessing or a curse, or both. It depends how we use it.
It’s easy to get lost in a series of clicks, and suddenly you are down a rabbit hole and in surprising places. Sometimes this is fun and interesting. Sometimes it’s distracting, misleading and a time waster.
The key is keeping an eye on yourself while you access information and connect online in social media. You may need to do some parenting on yourself regarding your online and cell phone behavior.
Sharing your life on social media is something like a public diary. Be selective and intentional what you share. Of course be authentic, while also keeping your audience in mind with how you are communicating.
A good guideline is to ask: Is this experience coming from love or fear? If you’re confused or unsure, give it time to sort itself out. Rarely is there an urgency that a few moments, hours or days can’t intervene to make things clear and calm the waters.
Final Thoughts on Spiritual Growth
Keep in mind the above five keys to becoming wise: experimenting, following your heart, connecting with uplifting people, as well as those from different backgrounds, and using your time online well.
These practices will help you grow and keep you in balance. You want to have your body-mind primed to be alert and responsive. In turn, you have the energy to make good choices and follow through on them. You will be more resilient, learn from experiences and avoid repeating negative patterns.
For example, when the job offer or date doesn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up over it. You can take a pause. You can use it as grist for the mill — figure out how you can use the experience.
Plus Our Species Is At Stake
We belong to a species called Homo Sapiens, which comes from the ancient meaning “wise humans.” Now is an urgent time to grow into the name we have used to describe ourselves. Our very survival might be at stake.
With enough experiences – success and failures – we can use the five suggestions to eventually become a helpful elder in society, someone that the world needs now more than ever.
Here is your gift and challenge:
You are just who you are, which is perfectly enough, while always growing and exploring to be more. Accept who you are, which could be nothing else. It’s paradoxically simple, yet profoundly mysterious and wonderfully zen now.