Historically, “grace” had several meanings. In Christian religion context, it usually refers to the notion that God might grant us something unexpected, undeserved, to bless us or save us. In Buddhism, a similar state exists, known as flow or grace, where we allow the natural flow of the universe, like water, like Tao. In Hinduism, devotional or bhakti literature references grace as the ultimate key to spiritual self-realization. And if we look at the word itself, grace has its Latin root of gratus, meaning grateful.
In times of strife or hardships, we as humans usually have two approaches that we cultivate. One is to gain back control and power over the situation; things get messy, run away (or deny); injustice strikes, start a fight; someone betrayed you, seek revenge; love didn’t work out, look for a new lover. This path is tempting indeed, especially if we’ve been deeply disappointed or hurt by someone. Anger rises especially if we’ve been struck down by injustice. And what’s even more tempting is that power is effective. And in this approach, the intention is to control; if we gain control over the thing, then we’ll be in charge and it won’t hurt us or disappoint us again.
The second approach is grace. I often think of grace as the intersection where patience and gratitude meet. It may seem like too little, too small or just not enough. I am not advocating us to be martyrs by always being grateful or allowing things and people to walk all over us, or take advantage of us. We need to have good boundaries and know our limits. But some battles are not worth fighting – because it doesn’t help anything anyway. One of the greatest lessons in life is understanding that sometimes true power is the ability to do nothing. And grace is truly powerful, and truly wise.
Let me tell you about Anima Sola. Based on Roman Catholic tradition, it is an image depicting the Lone Soul; she is often portrayed in bondage, alone and imprisoned, fires surrounding her, yet holding up her hand in hope, refusing to allow her current circumstances to define her entire life’s experience or even the very aspects of who she is. The Lone Soul is a state also referred to as the dark night of the soul, or purgatory, or confronting one’s shadows within, so that integration of Self can occur. This aspect of a human’s experience was what the alchemists called nigredo, meaning blackness or the dark period that occurs between two days, dying back, cutting out, purifying, to ultimately make space for grace. Many alchemists believed that the pathway to the philosopher’s stone, or enlightenment, was to first take all alchemical ingredients to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter. In Jungian Psychology, facing our shadow self is what ultimately lead to self-integration and self-fulfillment. For Carl Jung, the principles of alchemy were what he believed to be his most important part of becoming a pioneer in psychology. Black work, or nigredo, is something the ego resists but it is the key to self-awareness and individualization.
Let’s go back to Anima Sola. She was believed to have landed in this purgatory due to misplaced romantic affections – she basically fell in love with the wrong man. (And isn’t that quite humanly relatable.) Because of this association however, a lot of people throughout history have used her in their magickal practices (or rituals) for reasons and intentions not of spiritual integrity. When we allow our shadow side to take over us, to be tempted by the injustices, we might do a lot more damage, not just to others but also, to ourselves. I’ve known way too many people throughout my life, who out of anger, wrath, jealousy, envy, lust, pain and pride, have caused harm onto others – only to one day be consumed by guilt, shame, and the consequences of their actions. When we seek revenge or payback, or want to abuse our power, what we are actually desiring is either “to do onto them as they’ve done to us” (i.e. we want to make them feel like they made us feel) or we desire to heal. When the intention is to harm another, regardless of the reasons why, it is immoral and it is never right. What we need to focus on is how to heal and move forward with our own life; we do this through grace and by transforming the emotions through the heart, and our mind’s perspective.
Louis Welden Hawkins
Meaningful transformation is found in the hands grace.
Anima Sola offers great insight into how to work with energy during our dark nights, and how to transform emotions into something of light, to settle ourselves into the soothing peace within. Even in her own purgatory, her hands are opened pointing up, and her eyes are set towards transcendence. She reminds us that grace is what we must do; that it isn’t too small, too little or not enough; that it is actually extremely hard to resist the temptations of power, and to instead, allow surrender. For it is surrender that is the greatest strength and greatest power; for it is in surrender and trust, that power transforms to its highest. We cannot make someone see us as who we truly are, if they are not willing to, or able to; we cannot make people love us or respect us; we cannot make this world full of peace; we cannot bend this world to our will; we cannot make people have integrity and empathy.
There is the way of power and there is the way of grace. One relies on our own strength and courage of will, while the other is based on trust and inner knowing. For me personally, it is my belief that both are of one, but this is in the heart. If a person sees power as something to exercise their will and harm onto others, then even their definition of grace would be of a similar pathway. Again, the most fundamental way we can affect the world around us for the better, is to attend to our own state of mind; to cultivate a beautiful world inside of us; to transform “sin” to “virtue”; to realize that it is ultimately only our own choices that matter; that true freedom is what we do with what’s available to us; that when we finally stop striving at all costs for the rain to come into our garden, it will come. Grace happens when we stop striving. Grace happens when we meet it at the intersection of patience and gratitude. It’s not too small, it’s not too little; it is enough.
When something unpleasant comes up, we usually want to remove the external forces. This is of course necessary when it needs to be, but I find that unless it’s been transformed within us first, the effect won’t be long-lasting. And the best way to transform anything is through an internal process. In addition to answering, “what kind of external thing do I need to remove”, we should also shift our eyes inward and reflect on what energies, stories, beliefs, habits, patterns and attitudes may not be of use to us. By adjusting on an inner level, we will also be able to make better external choices, of more awareness, to move forward.
The following exercises are just a starting point of reflection for transformation purposes; understanding that all emotions and states of being are purposeful and needed, but that we can also transform them by understanding what they are actually telling us; by understanding their essence and need. And when we create space within ourselves by removing outdated beliefs and unwanted habits or impulses, we are ultimately creating space for something else to enter – and it will enter. I also use some of the “sins” as example and show how within each sin is a virtue available to be expressed, if we choose to.
Control & Surrender
I wrote an extensive article on “The Art of Surrender”, diving deep into the topic of control and surrender, so you can read it here. Power, just like control, is ultimately carrying its underlying desire of surrender. Control is about dominance. Dominance is the state of external power or authority, and it is my belief that dominance is always coupled with a deep (possibly unconscious) desire for submission, for surrender and for being held in the attention of another person. To be witnessed there, to be guided there in a safe space where one can release their vulnerability, and to be led to an experience that transcends boundaries, restrictions – into the mystical, spiritual and the deeply emotionally bonding. This is how people connect: when we let go. This is surrender; intimacy is surrender, love is surrender, eroticism is surrender, mysticism is surrender, prayer is surrender, faith is surrender, trust is surrender, intuition is surrender, grace is surrender. In surrender – is deep trust. And in deep trust, there is always surrender, there is always gratitude, there is always love, and all else is there. Trust and love. That’s the answer to everything.
Questions to ask yourself: “Where am I afraid to let go? Where do I not trust myself? What situations do I not trust and why? Do I trust myself? Where do I exercise a lot of control? Who do I want to control; what situations do I feel I need to control? How does it feel when I let go? What does surrender mean to me? How does it feel when I trust someone? Where do I restraint myself? With whom did I want to open up but didn’t, and why? How do I feel about domination; about submission? What is my relationships to power and control? Where has someone been controlling towards me, especially in childhood? How would it feel if I am with someone who treats me with trust and allows me the safe space to be my true self?”
Lust & Love
It is important to remember that our sexual energy is important and powerful. Love is not limited to sexual experiences, and of course we don’t have to be in love with every person we are physically intimate with; but it is important to understand where we might be misleading ourselves, or another, when we are in lust versus in love, so that we are also more clear of our underlying intention, and more honest in our interpersonal connections. Lust desires you intensely for itself; love accepts you as you are, as it be. Lust idealizes; love just feels. Lust is about distance, to sustain physical attraction; love is about closeness, to build real intimacy. My article on Exploring The Intimate Relationship talks more about how to build deeper intimacy with a partner.
Questions to ask yourself: “Can I feel past the lust? Am I co-dependent on lust? Do I use lust to avoid emotional intimacy and true bonding? What are some of my beliefs, attitudes and experiences around sex, physical intimacy and erotic pleasure? Which ones do I need to remove from my mind? What does sex mean to me; what does eroticism and intimacy mean to me? How do I express myself sexually? What do I find pleasurable? What does love mean to me? How do I express love towards others, and towards myself? What does intimacy mean to me? Where am I afraid of being truly intimate with someone (which means emotionally)? Where am I avoiding intimacy and bonding, so that I can sustain lust and distance? Is there healing that I need in order to release some of my unhealthy habits, or impulses, or sexual addictions? If so, what does this healing look like? What intimate experiences do I desire in my life? How can I make space for this?”
Greed & Fairness
Greed does not have to be financial. We all have moments of greed when we want or desire more than what is enough. To transform greed, we need to consider how we might be stretching ourselves out of what we truly desired and what we already have. Ultimately, we need to build appreciation and reflect on reciprocity. When we are being more charitable towards others, we shift our focus towards giving – rather than taking. I sometimes describe greed as a state of chronic disatisfaction. Greed usually has roots in the belief system that “you don’t have enough”. So even when you do – you just continue to perceive that you don’t, you take more than you need, you give little or nothing of yourself to others, and you always pursue more and more and more. The remedy: look within yourself where you have that lack mentality, and remember that you are enough; that giving someone affection does not mean you’ll have none left, even if they don’t reciprocate. When someone is described as being “cheap” – it often has nothing to do with money per se – it is about emotional cheapness, where they just don’t give anything to another person, and/or what they give is always tied up to conditions and/or expectations.
Questions to ask yourself: “Where do I experiences greed in my life? What does it feel like? What do I want more of, for the sake of wanting more? In what areas of my life am I rarely (or never) satisfied, no matter what has happened? Why? What am I really after? What do I really want beneath the “desire” of my wanting more? How would I feel if I was satisfied in this area of my life? How could I be more fair? Where do I need to give more? Where do I need to exercise more reciprocity? What would it look like and feel like if fairness was exercised in the areas of my life where I have excess desires? Do I only give if I know it will be returned? Where do I take more than what I need? Am I grateful and appreciative of what I already have? Am I enough?”
Gluttony & Temperance
If we expand beyond the traditional definition of gluttony, we’d find that it is anything that focuses on immediate gratification, inconsiderate of its effect (or harm) onto self and/or others. In essence, it is about excess, similar to greed. To transform this, we should consider temperance, or moderation, which walks in the middle. Nothing in excess is ever good for us, even salads. Don’t deny yourself pleasures, don’t suppress them – but don’t be enslaved by, or dependent on them. Moderation allows us to walk the path of refusing to let short-term desires overpower us, and sway us away from our true long-term desires. Immediate gratification is a problem that causes problems in all areas of life, particularly in relationships. We must remember patience in our interractions.
Questions to ask yourself: “Where am I willing to harm myself and/or others in order to satisfy my appetites/desires? Where am I abandoning long-term potential for immediate gratification? Where am I willing to burn bridges just to get my way? What am I really craving? What am I really desiring? What am I really needing? What would happen if I practiced restraint? What would happen if I held off gratifying myself in this situation? How can I support and fulfill my long-term deeper desires?”
Sloth & Hope
We might go into “sloth” because of a feeling that our efforts wouldn’t matter, so why do anything at all? Or it can appear in our lives when we falsely believe that we don’t have what it takes to make our vision a reality. The reason for these beliefs are individual, but one remedy for it, is hope. Hope is a challenge, hope is difficult but hope is absolutely necessary. Hope walks in the scary forest and whispers, “what if, maybe tomorrow?” Hope is courageous because it never gives up, and as such, we can always find it within us; because it would never give up on us. It’s like faith; it’s an organ inside of us, that is available to sing us back home, to clarity, inspiration and vision. You can read more about ways to find hope in challenging times, in my article on “Ways to Restore Hope”.
Questions to ask yourself: “Where do I give up too easily? Where do I tell myself “it’s not worth it”? Where am I afraid of failure? Where do I don’t make a lot of effort? What small thing can I do today towards the thing that I want? Where do I feel inspired? When was the last time I felt happy and inspired; what was I doing? How can I replay this feeling now, through doing something else? What would happen if I just allowed to feel as I feel now; (imagine feeling okay with how you are already feeling)? Where am I being too harsh or critical on myself? What would happen if I just allowed myself to do what can be done in the moment?”
Rage & Courage
Righteous anger is needed and purposeful. And there are absolutely situations and people who deserve to be met with anger. It is can a powerful energy when it is channeled in a healthy way, rather than onto other people. It is important to understand how to work with this powerful emotion and to control it, while also, not suppress it. For example, anger might be a sign that there is a lack of equivalent energetic exchange; maybe we’ve been giving too much to someone who rarely gives much in return. In this case, it is a great way for us to reflect on that and stop draining our own energy for those who just don’t give back. It can also be a sign that people have been crossing our boundaries for way too long; and so, it is time to work on our boundaries and just let people go who continue to disrespect them Another side of anger is when we internally feel that we are not living an authentic life; we wear masks, and then feel unseen, so we blame others. The remedy is: be courageous enough to admit your truth, to live an authentic life, and to make the hard decisions to walk away from situations and/or people that are no longer serving you. It takes incredible amount of courage to be honest with ourselves and then make decisions, because of course decisions mean self-accountability. Rage is what happens when we get out of hand; when we want to destroy someone, when we want to harm someone, and to humiliate them, etcetera. In its essence, it is an energy that destroys us too. Courage is a virtue, and aside from love and compassion, it is courage that can meet rage. The thing is: rage is another one of the emotions where we subconsciously feel powerless, like sloth, and so we want to exercise our “power” onto others. It is a sign of powerlessness because if we were truly powerful, then we wouldn’t need to harm another to feel powerful. Courage is the ability to feel all of our feelings such as fear, sadness, pain, hopelessness, powerlessness, disappointment, rage, anger, weakness – and still make the effort anyway, no matter how small.
Questions to ask yourself: “Where do I feel anger and rage in my life? How do I deal with it? How do I control it? How do I feel physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually when I feel it? What is the cause of it? What is the need of it? Why did I feel powerless? What provoked it? When did I feel that way, as a child? What would happen if I was more compassionate and empathic? What would happen if I replaced rage with courage? What would happen if I forgave myself for feeling angry?”
Fear & Freedom
Fear, like all other emotions, is valuable if we can hear what it tells us. It can be the voice of upcoming danger and save us. It also shows us what courage and strength truly are if we decide to take on that challenge. Fear is trying to tell us something, maybe something we’ve closed our eyes and ears to for way too long. It is a sign of change, but change isn’t all bad. Any new experience and innovation begins with fear, and it is a powerful sign of evolving and growing. But it is up to us and our unshakeable belief in existence and ourselves to allow ourselves be aware of fearful feelings but not succumb to them.And in this realization, we are liberated. In fact – freedom would never exist if it wasn’t for fear. How can we be truly free if we don’t accept our own fears? And true freedom is what we do with the choices available to us; for true expansion is found in the enrichment within our limits.
Questions to ask yourself: “What does fear look like; what does it look it? What are my fears? In what situations was my fear helpful, and when was it destructive? How did it feel in my body in both situations? Where do my fears stop me from doing what I love and from expressing my feelings? How am I authentic in my life? How do I deal with my fears? What does freedom mean to me? If I didn’t feel fear, what would I have done? How am I allowing myself to feel my feelings? How am I judging myself and my feelings? Where did I choose something I didn’t want because of fear? What roles am I attaching my identity to? What would I be doing if I didn’t worry about money? Who do I love that I haven’t told because of fears of rejection? Would I still be in this relationship if I didn’t have to worry about security (financial or otherwise)? Where am I not being honest with myself? Where in my life am I playing a role? Where in my life do I no longer feel happy? Behind what mask, role and/or identity am I hiding just to feel (a false sense of) security?”
Envy & Trust
Envy, jealousy … nothing new here. What I’ll say is: it is a distraction. It keeps us focused on someone or something else, to the absolute detriment of your own beautiful self, or the beautiful connection you have with someone. All we need is trust.
Questions to ask yourself: “Do I trust myself? Do I trust that life will always find a way to channel through the right people on my path to support me? Do I trust my path? Where do I experience envy? What or who do I feel jealous of? Why? What do they have, or what is the experience, that I desire for myself? What is stopping me from having that also? Am I grateful for what I have now? Where do I lack gratitude? Where do I compare myself to others? Why would I be competitive? Do I believe that we all have our own paths, and unique roads to have? Where in my life have I lacked in what I needed; where were my needs not met?”
Pride & Faith
Over inflated pride that is fully ego-driven, is often a great limit of self. I’ve often seen people walk away from love and potential happiness, just because of pride. It can blind us from seeing things clearly, and from admitting our own mistakes. It’s no easy task accepting our mistakes and weaknesses, and apologizing when we’ve done something we shouldn’t have; which also refers to having self-compassion. Pride can also limit us when we hesitate to reach out, or ask for help. Have faith. In the truth that you are never alone.
Questions to ask yourself: “Where has pride stopped me from following my heart; from doing something that I wanted to do but then confinced myself that I didn’t (just because I was too proud)? Where do I have too much pride? What weakness am I hesistant to admit? Where does faith help me to open up to someone? How can I be more vulnerable?”