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The Stages of Spiritual Growth

The Stages of Spiritual Growth

by Rev. Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
January 7, 2020

In the mid-1980s, author and founder of Agape International Spiritual Center Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith introduced a simple model for understanding the Four Stages of Spiritual Growth and Development. While it is not the only guide, it is an enlightening perspective on the journey from victimhood to empowerment. The four stages are to me, by me, through me, and as me.

The process is ongoing, moving through each stage as you grow spiritually.

The first stage is the victim stage. In this stage, you move through the world believing that some external force or power is controlling your life. You may catch yourself saying something to the effect of, “Why does this always happen to me?” In this stage, you are unable to see that you have access to a power for good in the universe that is greater than you are, which you can use. It is a disempowering context through which to live your life. You move to the second stage upon the realization that you are not a victim, and that the world is not happening to you, but for you.

The second stage is all about manifestation. You recognize that you have access to the power within you to create. Maybe you watched the film, The Secret, spent some time in Science of Mind classes, or did some other reading that propelled you to understand the law of attraction, and you began successfully practicing it in your own life. With your new understanding, you’ve learned to manifest great parking spaces, mutually nourishing relationships, and the right and perfect job, for example.  You start to feel that there must be something more than this game of manifesting. There may be a sense of emptiness with a desire to deepen your connection with the Divine.

In the third stage, you let go of control and the illusion of power. Now that you have strong life structures in place, you’re no longer reactive and have surrendered the need to control every aspect of your life. You move into the flow of life, becoming an instrument of the Divine as you continuously surrender to the Indwelling Presence of God. You may receive nudges from the Divine to move in a specific direction, or you may get shoved if necessary. You have the consciousness of, “I surrender, I am an instrument, I am a vehicle through which Spirit speaks and acts.” Life is happening through me.

In your evolution into the fourth stage, ideas of separation lose their power. Through your consistent yielding to Source Energy, the Divine takes the driver’s seat in your life. The last vestiges of ego and separation dissolve. You realize that you are the presence of God, Spirit is expressing as you. The fourth stage is that of unity. At this point, you experience Spirit as you. In the flow, you are called to trust and be.

In which stage are you?

And so it is.

Have the Faith of God

by Rev. Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
December 24, 2019

Remember, as a child, how thrilling Christmas Eve was? I remember being so totally excited and filled with anticipation for my good in the form of presents that I could hardly sleep that night. What if you were to carry that same childlike joy, wonder, and awe into each night before bed, but being able to sleep deeply, knowing you are loved and cared for by your creator?

The Winter Solstice just occurred on December 21st, and we are in the heart of winter. We have plunged the depths of darkness and can now celebrate the return of the light. What a beautiful reminder that the light always returns. Always. Whatever darkness you may have experienced or are currently experiencing, please know that the light will return. On Christmas Day, while many commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world, I invite you to consider what light is being born in you?

American New Thought writer, teacher, and leader Ernest Holmes wrote, “Jesus was the embodiment of Divine Love who showed the way, the truth, and the life, and revealed that the heart of the Eternal is most beautifully kind.”

Jesus was a mystic, a way-shower who showed us how to do for ourselves what he did for himself. He taught us how to be born again, to have the faith of God and not just faith in God. Christ was not his surname. Having the faith of God is what is meant by “Christ-consciousness.” To have the faith of God, be unwavering in your understanding and embodiment in your belief that God is all, under, above, around, and about.

Jesus always gave thanks and commanded the outcome desired, and that outcome would manifest. He never asked God to answer his prayers, please, or thought to himself, “maybe this will work,” or, “I sure hope this works because everyone is watching!” Jesus knew the power of his word and was unwavering in his faith; he had the faith of God.

Consider the miracle of the loaves and fishes from the Bible. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up, and thanked God for them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. The baskets were never depleted. Five thousand people were fed, and there were pieces left over.

At this time of year, as we contemplate the birth of the most Divine person, let us rededicate our hearts to the service of humanity. Be kind and loving to one another, shine your light, forgive, and have the faith of God.

Contemplate and give thanks for the many blessings you already see in your life. Simultaneously wait in joyful anticipation for the multitude of gifts that pour into your life from the kingdom of heaven within such as love, wisdom, beauty, joy, peace, harmony, wholeness, bliss, forgiveness, prosperity, faith, and more.

What light is being born in you today?

And so it is.

Winter is here

by Rev. Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
December 11, 2019

We are in the heart of winter and quickly approaching the winter solstice, which occurs on Saturday, December 21st.

Our daily lives are affected by the shortened days with fewer and fewer hours of daylight leading up to the solstice. On the day of the solstice, we will experience the shortest day or the longest night of the year.

Here in Central California, we will experience between nine and ten hours of daylight, whereas, on the Summer Solstice, we experience fourteen hours. The dark triumphs over the light on the Winter Solstice. After that, the days get longer again and it’s time to celebrate the return of the sun.

The energy of winter and the time leading up to the Winter Solstice calls us to turn within for reflection and rest. Everything lies dormant, awaiting the return of the light. It’s a great time to contemplate the seeds you planted in the fall, which will begin to sprout up above the ground as the light becomes more prominent again.

Allow yourself to feel your emotions and experience the darkness of winter without fear knowing that the energies of new life and inspiration are birthing within you. Nurture yourself with compassion, rest, and reflection. As you do so, it can become the spiritual cradle into which your inner light and new life are born.

Our souls long for silence. It is from the silence where all things new emerge. I have heard it said that silence is the highest form of prayer. I couldn’t agree more. It’s what lies underneath all thoughts, feelings, words, emotions, and even physical forms. Silence is a powerful presence as it is in, through, and as all of creation. We emerged from the silence and will one day return to it.

Take this time of winter to court the silence. You can learn so much about yourself in the silence. Ten years ago, I attended my second five-night silent retreat.

On the first day of silence, I was sitting in my chair in the meditation hall that morning after breakfast, when I noticed a compulsive “reaching for” something. It wasn’t a physical reach but a reach of my attention and energy. I was pulled by a desire to grasp at or attain something. I went back into the silence for a while and eventually realized that it was my cell phone that was pulling the strings of my attention, which I didn’t bring with me.

I had become so conditioned to reach for my cell phone to check for text messages, voice mails, and so forth that the reaching continued even when the phone wasn’t there. In that moment of realization, the “reaching for” dissipated back into the nothingness from whence it came.

In the silence, you will discover so much about yourself and your natural state of existence. You will experience a greater sense of connection to Source and the liberation that comes with it.

And so it is.

The Waiting Place

by Rev. Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
November 27, 2019

We’ve all experienced waiting, whether it be waiting for a plane, a bus, the mail, or an email.  Or waiting in line to pay, waiting for the coffee to brew, or the water to boil for tea.

Sometimes we’re waiting on mightier things, like getting the word about that job promotion or waiting to hear if the potential employer chose you.  Even more significant, waiting to hear back from the doctor about test results.

What do you do with yourself in those moments of waiting?  What monologue is occurring in the privacy of your mind?  Is it life-affirming, positive, and uplifting?  Or do your thoughts tend to go down the route of the worst-case scenario, or doom and gloom?

Regardless of the promotion, the new job, or the test results, it’s imperative that you like yourself amid your waiting.  The waiting will end, and whatever you’ve been waiting on will be what it will be.  Can you be gentle with yourself as you wait?  Gentle as one would be with a newborn baby child?  Can you wrap yourself in a blanket of love and know that God is with you right now and always?

Rather than allow impatience to consume you, consider the time of waiting as your opportunity to rest, just before things begin to pick up again.  You deserve this quality time of respite and rejuvenation.

When you pray, meditate, chant, do yoga, mudras, sing, or whatever your spiritual practice currently is, you are preparing yourself to receive.  You are making welcome all that you’ve been praying about.

Waiting is preparing.  It’s a great time to ask yourself: What’s trying to be activated in me at this time?  What belief is being embodied in me by me?

Let the waiting become a glorious, magnificent space of receptivity!  I’m reminded of an outfielder in baseball waiting for the batter to hit the ball to him.  How funny would it be if the outfielder started complaining about waiting and how tired he is of standing there.  He throws his glove down, and right at that moment, the batter hits the ball to him.  Unfortunately, he misses the catch because he wasn’t ready to receive it; he was too busy being impatient and complaining about waiting.  Then he must wait some more.

Live in a state of expecting your good.  Remember, the thoughts you focus on are making an impression in the quantum field of your reality.  What impression do you desire to leave?

To maintain a healthy attitude about waiting, remind yourself that you are being prepared to receive the great gifts that you’ve been praying over.  Take the time to rest and rejuvenate.  Know that everything is working out in Divine right order, in the right and perfect time.

Pretty soon, as Dr. Seuss wrote, “Somehow, you’ll escape all of that waiting and staying, you’ll find the bright places where boom bands are playing.”

Let the boom bands emerge.

And so it is.

What’s Your P.L.A.N.?

by Rev. Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
November 13, 2019

Do you have a P.L.A.N.? A Positively Life-Affirming Narrative? It’s always good to have a P.L.A.N. to live from and pull up as needed. Years ago, I started what I call a brag book to cultivate my first P.L.A.N. In this book, I recorded every wonderful compliment and praise received.

Then whenever the critic, the doubter, the negative storyteller, or other conditioned aspects within would startup, I would refer to my brag book to remind myself of how others saw me. The compliments quickly canceled out the harmful noise, which freed me to think spiritually magnificent thoughts instead. As I began to believe those thoughts instead of the others, life became a vivid joy-filled reality.

Eventually, I began stringing the compliments together for one giant positive life-affirming narrative, which, when reading it aloud, made me feel light, giddy, joyous, and free. It’s a great way to begin writing a new story for yourself and your life. Often individuals are seduced by their own story of negativity and victimization. Then they retell that story to themselves, share it with their friends, talking about it so much that they believe it to be true. All the while contributing to their suffering.

There is an old Buddhist quote, which states: “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” This human existence is sometimes messy, and we will all experience pain at different times in our lives. I believe we are called to remember this statement in those times. “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”

Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl observed: “Between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. How will you respond? Have a P.L.A.N.!

Everyone needs to have a P.L.A.N. I’m not speaking of a method for achieving an end, but instead, a positively life-affirming narrative. It’s helpful to have some empowering words you can turn to in your time of need, in those moments when you’re feeling less than 100% at the top of your game. As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s an ideal time to begin filling your spiritual bank account with gratitude, especially if you aren’t feeling it now.

Try this P.L.A.N. for gratitude on, let it transform you.

I’m grateful, thankful, and much obliged. My heart overflows in appreciation for all that is. I am gifted, shifted, and lifted. I’m well blessed, highly favored, and my cup runneth over. I lean into my good and say yes, bless, bless. I’m on the high side of awesome at the top of my game. I praise my life in the name of love. I give thanks for the abundant good all around me.  I’m on fire for Spirit and unafraid to show it. My words uplift, inspire and create. And oh yeah, I’ve lost a little weight. Suffering is optional. What’s your P.L.A.N.? You can borrow mine.

And so it is.

Letting Go

by Rev. Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
October 30, 2019

It’s the time of year when I begin to feel a deeper connection with Spirit. After my birthday, just before the time change, as it begins to cool down, and the holidays rapidly approach. There’s an essence of family, connection, love, and generosity in the air. The palpable presence of the Great Mystery is right here in the midst of it. It calls us to go deeper to remember the Truth of who we are and who we came here to be.

It beckons us to release our grasp on that which no longer serves us; Just like the autumn leaves fall gently to the ground, painting the streets in a beautiful color, as they let go of their attachment to the tree. Spirit wants to decorate your life with technicolor beauty, will you allow it?  It wants to free you from limitation and lack and have you sparkle and flow in Divine prosperity and goodness. Will you let it? Yes!

If there’s something you’ve been holding on to, is it time to loosen your grip and let it go? Maybe there’s a story you’ve been telling yourself for far too long. Perhaps there are relationships that no longer contribute to your highest and greatest good. Maybe it’s time to stop beating yourself up over small stuff, or thinking you’re not good enough. You can get the letting go vibe going by releasing clothes and shoes you haven’t worn in a year.

As you do this, I invite you to invoke in your mind’s eye the image of an autumn leaf falling from a tree, see how it swirls and twirls through the air dancing to the ground – feel the liberation of releasing that which no longer serves you.

Often individuals are challenged in letting go because of fear of the unknown. The unknown is where infinite possibilities exist.

There are some things that we know, some we don’t know, and a vast amount we don’t know that we don’t know. In the letting go, we become available and receptive to the infinite realm of possibility which exists in that space of what we don’t know we don’t know. The Great Mystery is infinite in potentiality, unlimited in its generosity, and has birthed itself into existence as you so that it can know itself in a particular way.

While the unknown can be fearful, when you turn to the God of your understanding for assurance, validation, and guidance, it will not fail you. While you may not have the ability to articulate the next step, there is something within you that knows. Trust God, lean into it, let it guide you.

When tulips are cut and placed in a vase in your home, you’ll find they lean toward the light. Be like cut tulips and lean toward the light when you’re afraid of the unknown. It loves you exactly as you are, and it wouldn’t change one thing about you.

And so it is.

The Wings of a Hummingbird

by Rev. Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
October 16, 2019

Have you ever stopped to appreciate the beauty of a hummingbird? They are fascinating the way they hover mid-air next to flowers and trees in their quest to find food.

The average North American hummingbird beats its wings 50 times per second, so quickly, the wings become invisible to the human eye. High-speed cameras can capture the wings. Even though we can’t see the wings, they are there.

Oneness is something we cannot see because we are individualized expressions of the Divine in different bodysuits. From the perspective of quantum mechanics, on the subatomic level, everything seen and unseen is energy in constant flux.

Albert Einstein observed, “Concerning matter, we have been all wrong. What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.”

His theory of special relativity e=m2 shows that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. In other words, energy and mass are interchangeable; they are different forms of the same thing or two sides of the same coin.

As we grow spiritually, there is so much which is invisible to the human eye. We are beckoned by the Divine to trust and have faith in something which we cannot see.

The good we’re seeking is within us now. It’s already here. It’s everywhere present, and we just can’t see it. Maybe you’ve identified what you think you want or need to be happy, so you can’t see the overflowing wellspring of magnificent good right here in front of you, permeating the environment all around you.

There’s a great story I heard from a friend who visited a shaman in Africa. The shaman was working with a woman who was still psychically married to her past husbands. She had un-forgiveness in her heart and was operating from her unhealed, conditioned past.  As such, she was unable to see her soulmate, who was in her current circle of friends.

When Jesus said, “You have eyes and see not. You have ears and hear not,” he was saying that you only see your belief or your thoughts about reality, you don’t see reality. What you see is what’s passing through your awareness and call that real.

If there’s something you’ve been seeking to experience in your life and you think it’s not here, please consider that maybe it’s already here, but you just haven’t been able to see it because you’ve been looking for it from your conditioned past. Then do your inner work to raise your vibration, affirming your good, which is all around you. As you heal your past, you’ll begin to see with new eyes, the life you have imagined for yourself.

Accept that all of your needs are met; there is good for you, and you ought to have it; the Universe is conspiring for your highest good, and what you are seeking is also seeking you.

And so it is.

Spooned by God

by Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
September 20, 2019

It’s essential to devote time to explore your inner world. You can access your inner world through the portal of your imagination which I invite you to do now.

Imagine a vast and majestic, holy castle within you. This castle is the high altar of your consciousness, the kingdom of your soul. It is the place within you, wherein all that you have ever desired now exists and abides. It is eternal and vast; it is the place where your innermost dreams and desires are fulfilled. It is your home, your real home, and it’s already paid for in full. There are no mortgages or leases or second mortgages on this home, and it is your line of eternal equity.

Whenever you get tripped up by the circumstances, conditions or personalities in your life and begin to think that God is not real, come back to this place, to this castle within you and ask God to show itself to you. God accepts requests and responds accordingly. It knows what you need to see, hear, feel, sense, and experience to remember how much you are loved and adored by It.

For example, many years ago, I had only just begun my spiritual inquiry and quest for Truth, when the relationship with my boyfriend came to an end. I was heartbroken, a real mess; fraught with disappointment and sorrow, I cried and cried. The time came when I needed some respite from the sadness; a peaceful night’s sleep, and that is when I made my first request of God.

Do you know that cuddling thing you do with your beloved at times commonly referred to as “spooning”? Both of you are curled up in a fetal-like position, one behind the other with knees bent. There is such a sense of love and safety in resting together that way.

I was so upset, heartbroken and tired of being this way when I said: “God if you’re real, then why don’t you spoon me?” I realized this might have been an unreasonable request, yet I felt a sense of relief in asking God for some love and comfort. I laid there in my bed in that fetal position waiting when I suddenly felt energy push up against my back, behind my knees and the blankets snuggling tightly around me. I knew it was God.

I felt loved and at peace, then I fell asleep.

Don’t be afraid to ask God to reveal Itself to you and then begin to look for it everywhere. I guarantee you will start to see it more and you will know that you are sweetly courting the Divine as the secret and unseen self within all selves. Each time it shows itself to you, give thanks for its appearance.

One day you will no longer have to ask; it will simply be with you always in all ways, and you will know It like you know your name.

And so it is.

Moving from fear to faith

by Rev. Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
September 13, 2019

When it comes to fear, most of us have learned to respond with forgetting everything and running.

Fear takes the joy out of living and reduces those dominated by it to a state that makes everything they do ineffective. What’s the medicine to cure it? Is there a face cream or a shampoo? Maybe a vitamin or an essential oil?  A powder you can sprinkle on your smoothie or mix into your morning coffee?

You can begin by examining the fear.  Look at it closely, unpack it to see if you can understand why you are afraid.  Ask yourself, what am I afraid will happen? In doing this, you are meeting yourself face to face.  Usually, you can see right away that what you are fearful of is a worst-case scenario you have imagined.  Sometimes the fear grips you, and the worst-case scenario seems very real.

Remember, you are a creative being with great imagination. You’re able to redden your face with a thought when embarrassed or make your mouth water as you imagine cutting a freshly picked lemon from your beautiful lemon tree.  What if instead of imagining the worst-case scenario you were to imagine the best-case scenario?  Ask yourself what the best possible outcome is. What if it all goes right?

It takes a bit of practice, and each time you choose to ponder the best possible outcome instead of the worst-case scenario, you build your faith muscle.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  Fourth-century philosopher St. Augustine observed: “Faith is to believe what you do not see.  The reward for this faith is to see what you do believe.” As you imagine the best possible outcome and believe it will be so, you are rewarded by seeing what you believe manifest in your life.

As with everything in life, practice makes permanent.  In the same manner that one might practice getting into yoga poses or running long distances for a marathon, one practices turning to faith instead of fear.

Intrusive thoughts which create fear may also arise at times.  Individuals who have post-traumatic stress disorder have recurring intrusive thoughts about a distressing situation which leads to more fear.

One practice I use and recommend to release intrusive, unwanted thoughts of fear, doubt, or worry is this: First, in your mind’s eye, wrap the thought in a bubble. Now place the thought bubble in the palm of your hand. Next, gently blow the bubble off your hand. If another unwanted thought arises, do the same.  Repeat until you find yourself in a state of peace and calm.  Without being consumed by intrusive thoughts which create fear, you are free to create a life you love, fueled by faith, anchored in love.

Instead of forgetting everything and running, what if you were to face everything and rise?

What’s the best possible outcome?  Give yourself permission to experience that.

And so it is.

The journey from head to heart

by Rev. Elizabeth Rowley,
Spiritual Director
September 6, 2019

It is said that the longest journey you will ever make is from your head to your heart. We are always thinking, judging, or perceiving everything in our lives in a particular way.  There is a safe feeling in living in thought, it’s what you know, but there comes a time when you must realize you are not living and experiencing life to its fullest; instead you are experiencing your thoughts about life.

One way to get off the bench and back into the game of life is to take the journey from your head to your heart. Become aware of the stories and meaning you add, either consciously or unconsciously, to everything in your life. Allow yourself to be fully present without judgment.  As thoughts arise, allow them to drift by like clouds in the sky without grasping any of them.

As you take this step backward, you become the observer or the witness. You merge with Spirit and without being consumed by thoughts and thinking, you drop into your heart space. Heart space energy is love energy, and as you allow your attention to move from intensely focused thoughts and thinking, it will land in the heart space. As you continue to place your attention on the heart space, the love energy will continue to flow and grow. Bask in it, let the love wash over you and feel the presence of the Divine right where you are.

You will be compelled to treat all of life with loving-kindness. Negative thoughts become fewer and farther between and are replaced by positive, uplifting, and inspiring thoughts which place you in harmony with your highest self.   As you lead an inspired life, you are in alignment with your heart space. Affectionate awareness becomes the new foundation of your perception. Everything is now perceived as a sweet and loving expression of the mystical nature of life. You see with the eyes of love, the eyes of Spirit.

Moving through the kingdoms of consciousness, you have learned that you are not a victim and move into the next stage of consciousness where you discover that you have the power to manifest your deepest desires. Then you reach a point where you recognize there’s got to be something more than this manifesting business and you desire to go deeper. You deepen your connection with your Source and understand that you are a channel of Spirit and it has something to say, be and do through you, and you allow it to be done. Moving into the fourth stage of consciousness, you have now merged with your Source and know that it is the Divine in you doing the work, and you allow it to do and be what it will, as you.

The movement between the different stages of consciousness is fluid, as is the journey from head to heart. Notice, release, let the love wash over you, repeat.

And so it is.