Spirituality exists far beneath the ordinary reaches of our senses; you have to go deep to get to it. It is in constant communication with the surface above, yet it can often feel like a distant and unique world all its own. To be spiritual is to be aware of how the surface level and its deeper counterpart mingle in meaningful ways that connect us to something greater than ourselves. In that regard, our spiritual ancestors are more than just our lineage. When trying to develop a standard for how each generation is performing we tend to look at material accumulation, such as, leaving our children better off than we were and leaving the world a better place. Materialism, as a sole metric, however, does not take into account the spiritual evolution of the generations. Without a linear plot to follow, the question becomes, what’s the metric for measuring a spiritual ancestor? I suggest that it’s when you observe people who are steadfast, humble, resolute in their knowledge, and able to make, what Gregory Bateson called, “a difference that makes a difference.”
You won’t find your spiritual ancestors in the surface-world of modern-day politics but you can find them in our Founding Fathers. They weren’t overly concerned with being re-elected; they were concerned with a bigger picture and a grand experiment that sought the release from oppression, albeit with historically oppressive pockets of its own. While they were willing to lay down their lives for the freedom of unborn generations, they also had to dig deep within themselves to find their true spiritual values. It was a time that tried people’s souls. Their spirituality didn’t lie on the surface where starvation and survival overshadowed everything else. It went deeper than that. Although we can’t find anything spiritual in our current form of government, impassioned pockets of progress and social evolution continue to shape today’s discourse through protest and speech. By contrast, our Founding Fathers fierce determination was much different than the idiocy of today’s political debate. They made a difference that made a difference.
Personally, my spiritual ancestor is Erv Polster. In 1977, as a fledgling therapist in Niagra Falls, New York, I spent many long winter months reading everything written by Fritz Perls and his contemporaries, including Gestalt Therapy Integrated by Erv and Miriam Polster. Perls was a brilliant provocateur who took Eastern wisdom, Western causality and European seriousness and smashed them all together to produce a form of therapy that was completely unique, lively, spiritual and highly applicable. In the summer of 1977 I left my job, packed my bags and headed west to study with the Polsters. My work with Erv was transformative. I cried deeply with him, laughed wholeheartedly too, and was altogether enamored by his crafty genius. The Polster’s introduced me to Barbra Dillenger who introduced me to Gregge Tiffen. Within a two week period of time in 1977 these three people effectively changed the course of my life. I never went back to New York. Instead, I developed a busy and community-minded psychotherapy practice in San Diego. Eventually my children were born here too. Looking back, I can see that my life turned immeasurably when the inspiration of Perls led me to the creative genius of Erv Polster and set a young man on his future course. It was a difference that made a difference.
There’s an old saying; the more we know the more we know how little we know. In other words, as we get smarter we realize how stupid we were. It’s the humble person who knows enough to know how little he or she knows, not the braggart or the egoist or the one seeking approval by trying to impress us with their knowledge. You’ll know who your Spiritual Ancestors are by looking at your deeper connections to historical and present day people that have influenced you at levels that are undeniable. When the first child in a family goes to college, that child becomes a spiritual ancestor to all future children in that family line because a barrier is broken. Energy can now flow where it was once did not. When my grandparents fled Russia during the Russian Revolution a new generation with new opportunities was born here in the United States. My lineage now contained a breakthrough opportunity that did not exist prior. Your spiritual ancestors are the people who have made a difference that has made a difference in your life. They exist in your history, your consciousness and in the patterns that determine how your future will unfold. They did more than provide parental guidance, or mentorship. They literally changed the course of your life. Look to the Guru, not just the gifted; to the independent one, not the enabler; to the wise one, not the pretender; to the silent leader, not the one banging the drum. Look deeply within and you’ll find your spiritual ancestors wrapped around your future dreams.
About the AuthorLarry Laveman, LCSW, BCD, is a Psychotherapist and Author in Solana Beach, California. His publications include topics on marriage counseling, supervision, mental health and spirituality. He is the former Chief Clinical Director for Harmonium, Inc., a community based nonprofit organization specializing in children, adolescents and families. You can find contact him via Google +, LinkedIn, or this website's contact page.