During my senior year of high school, I experienced a deep personal crisis, one that severely impacted my relationship with my family, friends, teachers, and school administrators. I won't go into the messy details, but let me just say that the adults in the room overreacted to an inappropriate, unwise, and unfortunate decision by a teenager. At the time, my spiritual mentor, a highly spiritual and philosophical man I met while working part-time at the local public library with whom I'd share many deep and insightful conversations, told me something quite profound: we choose everything that happens to us and we must critically examine our life experiences with the understanding that they all have a purpose and are part of our spiritual growth.
These words gave me perspective, and I was able to make some sense of my crisis, but it wasn't until several years later when, a bit older, I found myself in another difficult situation that I came to understand the true significance of those words and their relevance to my spiritual growth and maturity.
In fact, it had been my own fear of their import—a fear I believe similarly experienced by many—that kept me from fully comprehending and accepting his words earlier. And that is, our spiritual maturity requires that we first acknowledge and own our individual responsibility for our decisions and actions.
This is not easy. It requires us to see ourselves not as victims but as the architects of our reality. By taking ownership of and responsibility for the act that drove me into my deep personal crisis, I was able to view the experience more holistically.
Discovering a universal purpose behind our experiences isn't simply ascribing a lesson to each and moving on. As a matter of fact, finding a reason for something that has happened to us is the easy part. The greater challenge is to not only accept the fact that that experience forms a part of our life’s tapestry but to understand that we ourselves are the weaver of that tapestry. In order to achieve full spiritual maturity, we must accept that we alone are responsible for our lives and everything that happens to us.
This demands complete compassion towards ourselves and those who may have hurt or disappointed us. It requires us to explore why our higher selves, our souls, would choose a painful and difficult experience to grow. It involves an active, not passive understanding, one that assumes that we are the creators of each and every one of our stories.
In this regard, many in this world are limited by the normative view of God and humankind's relationship with God. Through that lens, we are all viewed as God's children. Having been raised Catholic and after nine years of Catholic school, I had derived some comfort in the notion of God as the father figure. After all, in the Catholic faith, the Nicene Creed, begins "I believe in God, The Father Almighty." Yet, in this relationship dynamic, we are always children whose fate is dependent on some higher being and are challenged to view ourselves as mature, autonomous beings who are ultimately responsible for our own fates. We must recognize that we are the true makers of our own lives. My mentor once told me that this requires us to view God not as our father but rather our equal.
We also live in a modern society that, in many ways, has perverted our views of individual responsibility. Especially today, we live in such a culture of blame and victimization that we do not share accountability for our own welfare—both physical and spiritual. Moreover, we’re also in danger of developing a culture of dependency on government.
To achieve spiritual maturity and understand our purpose in this world requires that we first accept our personal responsibility toward our own lives and then recognize how it plays into our collective responsibility toward one another, the recognition that in one way or another all of our decisions impact others.
This kind of spiritual maturity can take years to develop. It involves accepting our mistakes and understanding what it means to be a soul having a human experience. Achieving this level of consciousness is not easy in this world because it’s been ingrained in us that so much is outside of our power—whether in the hands of government or some unseen force or an omnipotent god—while the reality is that we are complete, capable and powerful beings, with the power to create and live our own lives, the lives of our choosing. The moment that we can accept that we are truly the architects of our lives and our world is the moment we can truly take responsibility and realize our power to change the world.