Sunday, February 22, 2009

Our Guides and Guards

"... [W]e need to be willing to let our intuition guide us, and then be willing to follow that guidance directly and fearlessly" - Shakti Gawain

My friend Brittany Holmes has found hybrid vigor in mating the Mind as a Commitee metaphor and the Observer insight from spiritual traditions. She shares her guru mindchild with us: "I've been really trying to keep the idea in my head to live as if someone is always watching me throughout the day. ... I have ... 3 people I feel are watching. One is loving and accepting, one is holding me to high standards, and the other is encouraging [me] to do the right thing."

This harmonious trio really resonates on a few chords:
  1. Non-judgment - If you find yourself feeling guilty, let the loving persona observe you feeling guilty and sooth you with the reminder that guilt does not help.
  2. Motivation - When you find yourself being too lax, the watcher with high standards provides the impetus to act.
  3. Mindfulness - When you're thinking about what these entities might be observing, that's your Observer at work. That's you being mindful.
  4. Positivity - The separate roles she envisions are all quite uplifting. Having a part of yourself loving you no matter what is an amazing thing; being held to high standards also helps us to always strive to do our best; and the observer who encourages right actions is a terrific motivator for ethical living.
  5. Greater than the sum - Each of these watchers has something special to offer, and their powers combined augment and reinforce each other.
These benefits jumped out, announcing Brittany's notion as something to help me and others. As I've been reflecting on it, sharing it with friends, and reading about it, I've found that this concept shows up in many different religious, spiritual and cultural traditions around the world. In Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love, she relates many wonderful things taught her by a Balinese medicine man. "According to the Balinese, each of us at birth is joined by four invisible brothers who then protect us all our lives. They are always looking out for us, even in the womb. ... The spirits of the brothers remain with the child for life. Each represents a virtue that we need to be happy and safe: intelligence, friendship, strength, and poetry. Yes, poetry ." (from Blogalicious) Some Christians believe that we have guardian angels who love us dearly protecting us. Perhaps the guardian angels are past family members or maybe a true celestial being who has been assigned to be our guide. Shamanistic, some Eastern (such as reiki), some African, and some Native American traditions believe in spirit guides and animal spirit guides. For example, see the Korean changseung protector shown in the photo with this post that I shot in Seoul. The list goes on and on.

A pattern can be seen in all of the different cultural points that speak to psychological, supernatural, or unknown beings loving, guarding, and advising us. When I see an idea repeated so often, it really intrigues me. Either a) there's some truth to it or b) there's something about the human condition to make us want to believe that it's true. In many cases I think that both cups hold water.

Whether you believe in guardian angels, helpful ancestors, spirit guides, the Balinese 4 invisible brothers, imaginary friends, minor deities, or maybe a personified portion of your mind, it's all a helpful team of advisors. Even if there are no beings, just acting as if there are such beings as Brittany does helps hold you to your most authentic self. So, whether or not it exists, there's value in feeling or believing that it is true. In the Buddhist view, the observer is you. The loving, protecting helping, guiding true self is the real you, free of ego and delusion, free of fear, desire, and suffering, filled with wisdom, compassion, and lovingkindness. Manifest your protectors to keep the Imp of the Perverse at bay, to turn the Critic away at the door.

This post is dedicated to Brittany Holmes, my friend whose enthusiasm for living and learning is a constant inspiration.

Request for comments - Don't starve the post!
  • What observers do you have?
  • Do you find the observers stifling or helpful?
  • How to the observers help?
  • Do you know of traditions with other guides, advisors, etc?

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