Here we look at 'Tests' found on the spiritual path and the 'Apparent Problems' that - these problems are almost invariably a way of providing a learning experience.
This age was originally written for our SavaricGlaston.com site Site. In due course we will update this page to cover Tests in a more general situation.
We have looked at starting projects and keeping them going. Now we need to look at some of the obstructions to sustainable growth that are experienced. All new ventures experience difficulties and problems, but there are some unusual facets that particularly effect spiritually inspired initiatives. There is a saying that:
‘All Problems are Opportunities’
In our case these apparent difficulties open up opportunities for growth - but are also part of a ‘winnowing process’ which allows successful projects to flourish and those that are unsuitable to wither and die.
A clear and consistent pattern emerges as we look at these apparent problems.
Apparently negative influences tend to disrupt everything we set out to do –
But these forces play a constructive role in compelling us to focus clearly on what we are trying to achieve
There is a lot to be learned from these so-called problems. Let us look at some of them.
The Place- As Glastonbury is our model, it is appropriate to look at the ways in which difficulties arise in this particular place. The town grew up as a balance of a ‘secular town’ with the Abbey as its ‘spiritual heart’. With the dissolution of the Abbey this pattern changed, and it became a more conventional market town - and later a modest manufacturing town.
Glastonbury originated as a place of spirituality and only developed into a market town with the dissolution of the Abbey. Today it is re-emerging as a place of spiritual transformation, but if it is to reach its full potential, it will have to re-establish this balance of a spiritual heart supported by a secular town.
This ancient pattern is beginning to emerge in a contemporary guise. What we might call the spiritual heart is now made up of a number of individual men and women of every faith, belief and spiritual path. They are not living together in one commune but are scattered about in their own houses all over Glastonbury. This new community has a growing awareness of its own entity is still tends to be fragmented. There are groups and centres and occasional events in which the whole community participates but there is a lack of overall cooperation and cohesion. This part of the community will need to understand its role with complete clarity if the town as a whole is to move forward.
Similarly, what we are calling the secular town does not fully understand the town’s emerging new role. We are not using the term ‘secular’ in a pejorative sense but simply to define its difference from what we are calling the spiritual heart. This ‘secular town’ is supplying all the services that were supplied in the days of the Abbey and is just as essential to the life of the town today.
Both these parts of the town are essential - and a greater understanding by all of these different roles is vital if the town is to flourish and reach its full potential.
So is the purpose of this split ? Originally it seemed as if this gulf in understanding was an obstruction in the way of progress. In recent years it has become apparent that this difference in understanding has necessitated a need for a real outreach to others that has in turn led to a much stronger awareness of the inter-dependence of all parts of the town. The need to reach an understanding with those who see things differently has led to a tempering and moderating of extreme points of view and a re-defining of some aspects of how the truth is seen. Building these bridges is leading towards a closer understanding than would otherwise have been achieved.
Perhaps this will also lead to a more balanced awareness of the needs of all part of the town than was possible during the days of the Abbey with the unbalanced authority and strength of the monks.
Finance - In Glastonbury, it is not easy to establish a spiritually inspired project as truly sustainable. There are a number of reasons for this - one of which is the difficulty of raising finance. The projects we are looking at are usually delivering services to pilgrim visitors who do not necessarily have ample funds available. There is also the vexed question of the morality of charging for purely spiritual services.
It is also difficult for conventional people to understand and appreciate services that appear to them to be unusual, esoteric and impractical. This results in the difficulty of obtaining support from banks, trusts, investors and the other usual sources of business finance.
Despite these difficulties there are a number of successful spiritual projects in the town included amongst their number are Chalice Well, the Abbey and the Glastonbury trust all these are thriving and sustainable. There are two key financial factors to their sustainability that are:
- They have an ‘income-generator’, such as a successful bookshop or entrance fees to their premises.
- They have an endowment of premises or wealth, which gives them a useful part of their total income
We have touched on these points already, but it is worth bearing in mind in mind that any project will eventually need to find solid and reliable income from one or both of these sources.
Could there be a possible advantage to these difficulties in raising finance ? Perhaps there is such an advantage. The inherent difficulty of obtaining funding means that the services delivered and the market for these services need to be carefully defined. In due course, if it is destined to be so, attention to detail and close attunement with the available spiritual guidance will help the project to flourish. Once it is firmly established and seen to be working in a practical fashion, then conventional sources of funds will start to take an interest and in make funding much easier. The very early difficulty has produced clarity of purpose that might not otherwise have been achieved.
People - The town is unusually blessed with talented people. Many of these feel that they have been ‘called’ to live in the town and have been ‘asked’ to provide their various special skills and talents to help the town to flourish. There is a wealth of artists, musicians, writers, therapists, computer experts, and almost every other talent. There are probably more graduates, as a proportion of the population, than most other small town in England.
At the moment this wealth of talent is under-employed. It is very difficult to generate a reasonable income in Glastonbury and many bright people are working behind shop counters and doing other ordinary jobs. Working behind a shop counter can be a blessed activity, if one is providing services and goods of the sort in which one believes to be of value to the people one is serving. Nonetheless, a more effective harnessing of these skills and talents would not only provide more income for the people concerned but also help the town as a whole to flourish.
This is another problem that may be a ‘cloud with a silver lining’. People are drawn to the town thinking that this special place will enable them to flourish in a way that was not possible in the outside conventional world. This is a misleading thought. In practice Glastonbury needs the inherent talents of the people that it calls but it also needs the practical skills that they have developed and honed in the everyday material world. The early difficulties will help the individual to understand this need for balance between their spiritually inspired talents and their materially honed skills. Once they have reached this understanding, they will be able to find their true niche in the town which will lead to achieving a personal balance between adequate personal income, a fulfilling role of service and an enjoyable place in the community.
Vision - Nothing can be successfully started unless there is a very clear vision of what is to be created. In our case, it is essential that the original ‘inspirer’ of the project is able to access what we have called the ‘over-lighting energy’ of Glastonbury and is able to ‘attune’ with what is being called for. Having reached this attunement, then it is vital that a really clear vision is defined and, ideally, put into writing.
To progress the project, it is necessary for the originator to find one or two others to share the vision – then for the vision to be adjusted in such a way that the original core group share and understand it.
This group needs to sound a clear note and transmit the vision of what they are trying to achieve. Individuals who feel drawn to the project will come forward to work constructively with it. Individuals who are not particularly interested will not come forward and time will not have to be spent in explaining something at great length to those who are not really interested.
What is required is clear enough – keeping in touch with this vision is not always easy. Once the project has started a whole welter of new difficulties will arise involving cash flow, volunteers, people, equipment and other resources. These practical details tend to cause confusion and distraction, and a conscious effort has to be made to keep reaffirming the original vision with certainty that it will be achieved.
These apparent difficulties have a positive contribution to make in that they compel a constant attention to clarity of the vision and the sharing of this vision with all who are involved.
Fragmentation - There is an expression called the ‘Precession of the Equinoxes’ by astrology and ‘Axial Precession’ by astronomy. This is a phenomenon whereby the Earth's axis appears to move in an anticlockwise direction against the fixed stars taking some 26,000 years to complete a circuit. Astrology has allocated the 12 signs of the Zodiac to specific constellations of the fixed stars. The earth's axis is taken to have moved through the sign of Pisces from A.D. 0 to approximately A.D. 2000, when it moved into the sign of Aquarius where it will remain for another 2000 years. The transfer from sign to sign is a slow process and takes place over many years but this is the broad pattern. Astrology calls these two phases the Age of Pisces and the Age of Aquarius.
The astrological interpretation of these ages is that the Piscean was one of authority and control - strong leaders deciding the terms upon which people lived and compliant individuals going along with what they were told. With the Aquarian age has come the emergence of independence and individuality. Individuals want to look after their own lives and to make their own choices and are suspicious of authority. This has led to democracy but also to the increasing difficulty of running a country or a project. This difficulty particularly comes into focus in Glastonbury.
Many of the people involved in starting new community projects in Glastonbury feel that they have been ‘called to serve’ in the town. Often, they have paid a high price in honouring this call - they may have left jobs, families, partners and friends. They enjoy and appreciate the freedom they have attained to be fully themselves but are often reluctant to impair this freedom by complying with the needs of others. This reluctance to compromise, negotiate and change in order to work with others leads to a tendency for fragmentation and separation.
The result of this is that it is difficult to produce a widely shared vision. A shared understanding of a narrow and individual project is usually attainable - but a larger shared vision of ‘Glastonbury as a Whole’ is hard to achieve - a vision of the world as a whole is even more difficult.
Like the other problems which we are looking at, the solution lies in absolute clarity of purpose and the ability to share this clarity of purpose and vision on a wider scale. This is not always easy, but it does appear that as more and more people share a common vision then the process of clarity appears to accelerate.
Entropy - Entropy is a term used in thermodynamics to describe the way in which complex structures tend to gradually run down into disorder and a stable state. Such structures can only be maintained by continual input of new energy.
This also applies to human activities. A huge amount of effort is put into establishing and building a project but for one reason or another it does not seem to last. Over the years the project gradually loses energy and may eventually disintegrate and disappear.
In Glastonbury this energy of entropy is very apparent. There appear to be ‘forces of chaos’ present that resent the attempt to build any new structure or project and do their best to destroy the activity. These ‘negative forces' seem to be more powerful than would be expected from simple tiredness and boredom of those running the project. This often occurs despite the inspiration and guidance that were the source of the project.
Confusion of purpose appears to be the characteristic that opens the door for chaos to enter. This might be lack of certainty between individuals, lack of certainty of what is being created or lack of certainty of the way in which it is to be created.
The willingness of chaos to cause confusion at the slightest opportunity leads to the need for vigilance by the core group. The answer is what I call ‘Clarity of Contract’. We are not talking only of legal or written contracts but also verbal undertakings. Where it is agreed that something will be done, both parties need to be clear about exactly what has been agreed and must hold fast to the agreement as far as is reasonably possible. If it is necessary to change something, then both parties must agree to the change. Any departure from this clarity will open the way for the forces of chaos to make merry – and they are very good at this !
The individuals creating any new spiritually inspired project need to be aware of the perils of lack of clarity. When something is agreed with a supplier, landlord, volunteer, member of staff or anyone else, the initiators need to be certain that everyone is clear on what has been agreed. The responsibilities and obligations of all parties concerned need to have been made clear – and confirmed in writing where appropriate.
Lack of clarity about obligations is one of the single biggest reasons for the failure of community projects in Glastonbury. Uncertainty leaves a vacuum into which the ever-present forces of chaos may enter. But this apparently negative energy has a positive effect in that it is part of the cleansing and sieving process. If the project is not perfectly inspired, clearly understood and attuned with the purposes of Glastonbury, then over lighting energy will do its best to prevent the flourishing of the project.
Group Working - We have described earlier the qualities needed in a core group, staff and volunteers of any spiritually inspired project. Lack of these qualities will always leave an opening for uncertainty to creep in and a weakening of the intent of the project. There are some special problems that arise when working in groups committed to spiritual projects and some of these are as follows.
Clarity of purpose - we have spoken about this over and over again, but it is the key to success for all community projects. There is a continuing possibility of individuals being distracted by my essential mundane details and losing there feel for the true purpose of the project.
Balance of talents - the project needs to have within the staff and volunteers all the talents and experience needed to help the project to flourish. If any skills are missing, then these need to be found by friendly outside support. There is a tendency to think that the existing members of the team can cope with any situation – this blindness to weaknesses is a serious vulnerability.
Balance of authority - the core group in particular will be peer group. That is a group supposedly with equal authority and different skills but of equal value. This is the ideal, but we are dealing with real live human beings. There will inevitably be a difference in natural charisma and authority - it is important that every individual is fully supported but also that the members of the group have the strength and courage to speak openly to members who may be endeavouring to dominate the group.
Balance of structure - the organisation needs to be spiritually inspired but also to be run in a practical and efficient manner. There will be an on-going tendency to move to either a more ‘floating spirituality’ or a more concrete materialism. Like everything else this needs to be watched as moving too strongly towards either of these poles will damage the project.
Ability to delegate - A source of potential problems in spiritually inspired projects is that the individuals inspired with the project itself may have little or no experience of managing groups of people. As a result, an individual may create and develop a specific service but feel that they have to look after every conceivable detail in order for it to flourish. No one else can be trusted to run this particular aspect of the project. Continual vigilance is needed to ensure that when a service is developing rapidly that there are sufficient people involved to deliver this the service properly and that each of these individuals is allowed to take on the responsibility for which they able. Only by effective delegation can the project flourish.
Balance of compassion - all our potential problems are caused by lack of balance. Spiritually inspired projects have to balance two mutually opposed forces. They have a mystical and spiritually inspired vision carried out in a loving and caring way - and that of the need for practical material efficiency.
Those who feel most comfortable with one of the poles will think that kindness is needed at all times and that no one’s feelings should ever be hurt. Others may feel that kindness and compassion may get in the way of taking decisions that are essential from a practical point of view.
Such differences will inevitably occur and if they are not addressed in an open manner we'll lead to resentment and undercurrents of unspoken emotional tension. If something is not working in the group, it is vital that it is addressed in a compassionate and gentle manner. This may require talking through quite painful matters. Not addressing the situation inevitably leads to a far more damaging situation than courageous forthright facing.
Sensitivity to needs of the group - giving a harmonious working group is not always easy. There will be inevitable personality clashes and difference of opinion and differences of strongly held opinions. These differences need to be treated sensitively but firmly if they are not to fundamentally damage the working of the group
Sensitivities to the needs of the community - working in harmony with the community as a whole is essential but again not always easy.
Again, as with the other problems which we have looked at, the answer is always clarity of purpose and a compassionate, wise and discriminating delivery of this purpose