Spiritual Seekers: The Backstory
Spiritual seekers have the opportunity to change themselves as well as the world
Posted April 20, 2015
Spiritual seekers are those who follow the path of self-discovery. The path can be a lifelong path or one sought as a result of a life-changing event, such as trauma. I believe I have been a seeker my entire life, but in actuality it might have been born during my youth when I was silenced and so had to seek peace and answers from within and from the scribblings in my journal. My seeking might also be connected to my fascination as a young girl with reading biographies and magazines such as True Confessions. Real life stories provide a deep connection to the kinds of experiences that offer answers for seekers who are posing questions. We want to learn how to navigate our paths and often do this by reading and hearing about how others navigate their own. In this way, the lessons from others are consciously or subconsciously incorporated into our own lives.
Next month I will turn 61, the age at which my grandmother, Regina, committed suicide, which I discuss in more detail in my first memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. Sure, it was the 1960s, before the days when psychotherapy was readily available to help those afflicted by depression. My grandmother’s family physician prescribed Valium to help calm the anxiety associated with her being orphaned at a young age during World War I. In the end, through an overdose, the Valium killed her. I believe if she were living today, she would have more of an opportunity to be a seeker because of the availability of psychosocial offerings, such as meditation, prayer, yoga, creative visualization or creative endeavors like writing. She might still be alive because she would have found new ways of knowing and dealing with her deep feelings of despair.
I just returned from New York teaching a workshop called, “Writing for Transformation” at The Open Center. Regardless of the reason each individual signed up for the workshop, the common thread among all the participants was that they were seekers. They were on a journey of self-discovery; they had questions for which they sought answers. The writing process is one way to find those answers.Spiritual seekers are not necessarily religious. Most often, they have little interest in organized religious practice. In fact, studies have shown that 33 percent of Americans are spiritual and not religious in the more traditional sense.
In the most recent issue of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Karey Pohn, Ph.D. wrote a beautiful memorial tribute to Christina Grof, who she called a spiritual seeker, pioneer, teacher and humanitarian. Like many spiritual seekers, Grof came from a dysfunctional family where she was abused by her stepfather. She also had medical issues such as lupus, chronic back pain and a painful auto-immune disease that severely interfered with her everyday life. Trauma often leads people to become seekers as a way to come to terms with or understand themselves. During the process of helping themselves they often find that they are inclined to share their findings with the collective as a way to help others on similar journeys. Thus, Christina and Stan Grof co-created Holotrophic Breathwork at Esalen, as a way to help people transform.
Pohn also shares a poignant passage from Rainer Maria Rilke’s book, Letters to a Young Poet, which I often quote in my writing workshops and really summarizes the essence and importance of being a seeker.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
As this is National Poetry month, it is timely to mention esteemed poet, Jane Hirshfield’s new book, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, where she discusses poets as seekers of transformation. While a poet might write a poem to seek answers to an inquiry or to tap into a deeper sense of knowing, sometimes the poet’s intention is unclear when they begin writing, but find that the writing process becomes transformative. In summary, Hirshfield says, there may be underlying meanings associated with a poem that can move and change us, but in essence, poems bring us hope. “Poems,” she says, “bring community, inscribing into our thirst for connection.” So ultimately, we are seekers for ourselves, while at the same time our own seeking offers the opportunity to help others, if we care to share our thoughts and/or findings.
Hirshfield, J. (2015). Ten windows: how great poems transform the world. New York: NY, Knopf.
Pohn, K. (2014). Remembering Christina Grof: Spiritual Seeker, Pioneer, Teacher, Humanitarian. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. 46(2).
Rilke, R.M. (2012). Letters to a young poet. New York, NY: Merchant Books. (originally published in 1934)