THE LAWS OF LOVE
A Guide to Living in Harmony with Universal Spiritual Truth
The Seventh Spiritual Law: Perfection
The spiritual law of perfection is one of the most misunderstood of all spiritual laws because it has nothing to do with being perfect. Rather, it is about cultivating our talents and abilities and expressing them in the best and most skillful way that we can. It is not about perfection, which is unreachable, but about perfecting, which is an every day affair.
The seventh spiritual law tells us that each human being has a gift to give and he must discover that gift and give it to the world as best he can or he has not achieved his potential. When he is successful in giving his gift, he begins to shine. He lights up and we see him in his unique splendor. If you haven’t seen the movie “Shine” (starring Geoffrey Rush) you should do so. It is a cinematic poem expressing all the great themes of the Seventh Spiritual Law.
The Pursuit of Excellence
The seventh spiritual law is not about comparing yourself to others, but about challenging yourself to develop and excel. You may be able to swim only five laps and run only a quarter of a mile when you begin to train. But each day you work out you get stronger. If you are not committed to practice and improvement on a daily basis, you would not be able to run your first 6 K race, not to mention your first Triathlon.
No matter what our abilities are, we can develop them. We can be the best we can be. We can fulfill our potential. That is what the law of perfection is all about. Abraham Maslow called it self-actualization.
Healthy competition with others is merely a tool to help us develop ourselves. However, sometimes it works just as well to compete with ourselves. We swim one more lap today than we did yesterday. Or we do a better job recognizing and owning our judgments.
We engage in the perfecting process not because we are broken and need to be fixed, but because we are a work in progress. We are not yet all that we can be. We have unfulfilled or unrealized potential.
Mastery happens only for those who are committed to the learning process. They learn the basic skills of their craft and practice them constantly. Sometimes they try something and it does not work, but that doesn’t discourage them. It just gives them helpful information. For those who are intent on mastery there are no failures; there are only experiences that helped them to learn what works and what doesn’t work.
Self consciousness and the fear of failure are two major obstacles to our achievement of proficiency and eventual mastery. If we are afraid to make a mistake, if we are mortified and beat ourselves mercilessly when we do something stupid, we aren’t going to make it through the apprenticeship phase.
Good teachers know this. They don’t expect too much of the beginner. They encourage and support him and make light of difficulties. Eventually, the student gains confidence.
When confidence comes in, then the teacher begins to challenge and question the student. He makes the student work. He refuses to let the student settle for a level of skill he can surpass.
In the end, the student internalizes the teacher. He becomes his own critic. He refuses to settle for less than he knows is possible. He moves beyond competence and proficiency. He becomes a master of his craft.
This process of perfecting or becoming skilled is the same in any area. There are apprentice electricians and master electricians. There are apprentice violin makers and master violin makers.
In addition to self-consciousness in the student, destructive criticism or inappropriately high expectations from the teacher can abort the process of developing mastery.
Great teachers/masters know when it is time to praise and time to push. That is what makes them great teachers. They can be infinitely gentle and encouraging. And they can be challenging, confronting, and even ruthless if the student has arrogance or false pride.
In the end, the best students surpass their teachers. They learn all that their teachers can teach them and they learn new things on their own.
Teaching and Sharing the Gift
Without a good teacher, a mentor or a role model one respects and admires, one cannot easily learn a skill or a craft. It is not impossible, to be sure. There are always a few self-taught masters around, but they are few and far between. Most students need an interactive process. Most apprentices need feedback on their work to further perfect it.
For the teacher, finding a talented and committed student is a great joy. For mastery means little if the skills learned are not passed on to others.
Yet how many students have the talent to achieve mastery? And, of those, how many are committed to the practice necessary to achieve it? Luke Skywalker doesn’t just show up in Obi Wan’s anteroom every day.
So you can imagine the teacher’s satisfaction when a talented and willing student shows up.
Imagine if you were a great singer but you never got to sing in front of an audience. Something would be missing. To achieve mastery without an opportunity to share, to inspire and to teach means very little.
Each one of us is here not just to realize our potential. We are here to share it with others. We are here to inspire others to find their own gifts and learn to trust them. And we are here to support, encourage and empower others to express their gifts.
The seventh spiritual law is all about giving and receiving. Only those who are given the gift can give it back. One cannot be a student forever.
That is the height of selfishness. The student must teach. He must trust that he is good enough. He must take the risk, however difficult it may be for him, to share who he is and what he can do with others.
Without mastery, abundance is impossible to achieve. Things are done, but clumsily and ineffectively. Add a certain degree of clarity and skillfulness and things get a little better. Murphy’s law ceases to prevail.
But when mastery comes, things are done beautifully, easily, and efficiently. It seems they are done not by effort but by grace.
The notes of the master violinist seem to float on the air, and the bow moves silently and with incredible speed on the strings. A master like Heifetz does not just play the notes. Under his hand the notes come alive. The composer is resurrected from his grave and we encounter the beauty of his work as if for the first time.
Effortlessness and grace are qualities of mastery. They bring an abundance, a harvest not experienced before. When the master Jesus poured the water, the wineskins filled to overflowing. When he cut the fishes, they began to multiply.
How did he do it? How did Heifetz hit that note? That we may never know. Even the master does not know how he does it.
The truth is, there is a hand behind his hand, a breath behind his breath. If you asked Jesus, he would tell you “I can do nothing lest the Father bids me do it.”
Spiritual perfection is completely different from worldly perfection. Spiritual perfection is miraculous. Things get done but you do not know how they get done. You cannot claim authorship, even if it was your hand that pushed the switch.
Miracles are demonstrations of spiritual perfection. We do not know how or why they occur. But we do know that the person through whom the miracle comes surrenders to a consciousness greater than his own. He becomes a vehicle for the expression of the creative love energy of the universe. He is a messenger of God, a divine conduit, one who demonstrates the abundance and grace that are available to us whenever we surrender our limited egoic consciousness to the divine will.
When Jesus gave us the Sermon on the Mount, he spoke of spiritual perfection. He told us that all of our needs could be met through our surrender to God. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They do not toil, yet see how they prosper.”
The seventh spiritual law is about prospering, not by labor, but by grace. The vehicle has been fashioned by committed practice. The instrument has been impeccably tuned. Now it is time for the master to play.
When Krishna plays the flute, the notes resound in all our charkas. We hear and feel the notes, but we don’t see all the lifetimes of practice that went into mastering them.
Mastery is a partnership of the human aspect of us with the divine aspect. Study, discipline and experience perfect the vehicle and make it ready for its spiritual work, its divine calling.
Each one of us has a divine calling. We have gifts and talents we need to develop so that we can express the divinity within us. Expressing our calling gives us JOY. It is the work of our hearts. There is no greater experience on earth than that of joyously sharing our gifts.
We know from spiritual law number four that what we really desire and put our energy into comes to pass. If we have a strong desire and an equally strong commitment to our gift, we will gain confidence in it and learn to give it joyfully to others. But that does not happen over night. Most of us do not fulfill our potential early in life. It takes time to understand who we are, to recognize our gift and bring it forth. It requires great dedication and patience. It requires discipline and practice.
If you are not patient and committed, you cannot actualize your potential. Impatience is the great obstacle to right livelihood. A career takes time to evolve. A calling takes even longer.
A Course in Miracles says “Only infinite patience brings immediate results.” Try to understand that. If you need immediate results, you are not patient. So be patient and committed and the results will come, perhaps even sooner than you think.
As we achieve mastery we begin to move in the creative flow of the universal love energy of the universe. We spontaneously attract what we need for our continued progress and growth. We barely have the thought “I need this” when it appears in front of us. Please understand, this is not magic. We are not reciting some secret words or formula. We are simply moving in alignment with ourselves and others.
The more skill we develop in life, the easier it is for us to move in alignment with the Tao. Once we experience the effortlessness of being “in the flow” of reality as it unfolds, any kind of effort or struggle is unsatisfactory. Why push the river or swim against the tide? It is exhausting and unnecessary.
When we experience the flow, stagnation is no longer acceptable. So we learn to make little adjustments when we feel the energy becoming trapped or blocked. Our attention moves to the obstacle or the blockage and dissolves it, so that the stream of life can move on.
This is not analytical work. It is intuitive. We can feel when we are “off” or when we are “standing in the way” of life . As soon as we feel the tightness or constriction, we move or shift to release it.
This is true physically, emotionally and mentally. We can be “off” in our bodies, in our feelings, and in our thoughts. And we can also adjust and come back into alignment on each level, gradually bringing all levels into alignment with each other and the energy that surrounds us. Correction when seen in this way is neither shameful nor arduous.
When the swimmer feels a pain in the shoulder he eases back and does not pull so hard. Perhaps he takes a break from swimming for a day or two. He lets his body relax and rest.
When the archer misses to the left of the target, he moves his bow slightly to the right. He doesn’t even think about this. He does it automatically. His training and sensitivity have prepared him to make correction as the need for it arises.
This is the way we are meant to practice forgiveness. We miss the mark and as soon as we see that, we make an adjustment. If I get angry at you and hurt you, as soon as I see the hurt in your eyes I am pulling my energy back. “I’m sorry,” I say, acknowledging the trespass. “That wasn’t right. I shouldn’t have done that.”
And then you can let my trespass go, because I owned it. You see I did it out of ignorance, impatience, jealousy or some other human weakness.
You don’t need me to be perfect. You just need me to be honest and responsible for what I do and say.
Interestingly, there is a direct relationship between our need for perfection and our inability to practice forgiveness. The higher our standards, the more fussy we are, the more we expect from each other, the more difficult it will be for us to forgive ourselves or others.
To protect our self-image, we deny our error. We act like we are right even though we know we aren’t. Instead of making correction and moving on, we keep our bow pointed at the same spot and complain that the target is out of place. We blame others. We refuse to take responsibility.
All forms of denial simply make correction more arduous. If I believe that my self worth is somehow on the line when I admit a mistake, I’m not going to admit it very easily.
So the block will stay in place. The guilt will fester. The arrow will continue to miss the target.
The truth is that you cannot be happy so long as you need to be right or are afraid to be wrong. Happiness only comes when you can see your error, admit it, and move on.
That is true because happiness and joy are all about “staying in the flow of reality as it unfolds.” And any form of denial is a resistance to the flow or an obstacle that must be overcome.
You can’t flow with the river if you need to keep stopping to move big boulders out of the way. Can you imagine what would happen to the river if it had to stop every time it encountered a fallen tree or a large rock?
It would not be a river. It would not move on to the sea.
Fortunately, a river cannot pretend not to be a river, so it just goes around all the obstacles in its path and keeps moving.
Humans should learn from the river. Lao Tzu did and so should you and I. When we come to an obstacle, we need to acknowledge it, make a correction and move on.
Forgiveness is not so much about “getting right with God” (although it’s fine to think that if you find it helpful). It’s more about “staying in the flow.” Judgments, mistakes, misperceptions, trespasses are just temporary interruptions in the flow. A strong river moves easily around them.
When admitting our mistakes becomes “no big deal” and our willingness to correct, apologize or make amends is as automatic as the archer moving his bow an inch or two to the right or the left, then our river will be strong and its journey back to its Source will not be difficult or long.
Forgiveness and Mastery
All masters are not only masters of their craft; they are masters of forgiveness.
At any early age, the pianist learns to forgive his finger when it hits the wrong key and the vocalist learns to forgive her voice when it sings off key. Each learns to make the necessary correction.
Children learn to walk by falling down a lot. If adults make them feel ashamed for falling down, they will not learn to walk. They will become physically and emotionally arrested in that stage of development.
To grow, we must make mistakes and learn from them. That is how we learn to walk, or sing, or play the piano.
We need to be very patient and persistent to learn to do anything in life. And the parents and teachers we have need to be equally patient and encouraging. That is how we learn to trust not just in our talent, but in our capacity to improve and perfect our skills.
We don’t realize it, but this kind of constant patience and willing correction of our mistakes is the essence of forgiveness practice.
And please note, I said PRACTICE!
One doesn’t learn to be forgiving by doing it once a year, once a month, or even once a week. If you are learning to play the piano your forgiveness practice might be five or six hours per day.
Do we really expect that it would be less if we are learning how to live in harmony with other human beings?
Why Perfectionism Doesn’t Work
Perfectionists have the hardest time practicing forgiveness. They take everything personally. They are afraid to make mistakes, afraid of criticism or rejection, afraid to fail.
Perfectionists know the quickest way to the cross. They know how to get up on the cross and they know how to put others up there. Their greatest lesson is to learn to be more accepting of the apparent imperfections of life and to be more gentle with themselves and others.
A perfectionist does not achieve mastery, no matter how hard he tries, because he is trying for something that does not exist. Nothing in the world is perfect. Even the greatest master is not perfect.
If the perfectionist wants to be a master, he must ease up on himself and others. He must practice acceptance and forgiveness in each moment. He must become humble and teachable.
All that he can retain from his perfectionist tendencies is his commitment to do the very best that he can. Everything else must go: his pride, his self-consciousness, his harshness with himself and others. He must learn to forgive his mistakes and those of others. He must learn from every error he makes without taking it personally.
It does not matter what your field is. I know guys that have studied Zen who have written books about archery and motorcycle maintenance. They embody the exact same principles.
Mastery is not about what you do. It is about how you do it.
Effort vs Effortlessness
There are two ways to conduct one’s life. One is to try to make it happen. The other is to simply allow it to happen. One attempts to manipulate and control. The other simply surrenders and trusts in the process.
The irony of the seventh spiritual law is that unskilled people must rely on manipulation and control because they have cultivated no artistry. On the other hand, skilled people find it easier to surrender and to trust, because they are confident in themselves and their ability.
One must be disciplined and committed to learn a skill. I don’t have to tell you how many laps the great swimmer did before he dove into the water in a storm to save a drowning child. He prepared all his life for that one spontaneous act.
A person without his skill and confidence could not have done it.
To be sure, a man without skill could have been as brave, but he would not have returned with the child.
We work all our lives to become masters in our field. And our mastery gives us a freedom we could not have without it.
Mastery brings trust in self and trust in the universe. We don’t need to “make” anything happen, because our relationship to life is not one of attempting to impose our will on any person or situation. The river teaches us the futility of doing that.
We aren’t trying to fix anyone or save anyone. We are not trying to redeem the world.
We are not trying to be like Atlas and take responsibility for holding up the world. Overextending ourselves doesn’t help others. It just makes it harder for us to be of use.
No, we simply ask “How can I be helpful in this situation?” and the answer comes spontaneously.
The skillful and willing person does not need to deliberate. Her action is clear and concise. She chooses the most helpful option spontaneously and at the best possible time. It seems effortless and it is in a way because it is supported by the universal energy.
When the master acts, she does not act alone. Her action is supported by the universal energies arrayed around her. We call this Grace. And so it is.
Grace is the alignment of the self with the Self, the human with the Divine. It is an attunement to an energy field of love that originates in the heart and extends outward to all people.
The Miracles of Jesus were acts of Grace. They were actions of the Holy Spirit moving from the heart of Jesus into the hearts of all who asked his help. They were all expressions of love and, as such, they were completely transforming, causing the hearts of others to vibrate at the highest levels of love, if even for an instant.
There are healers like this amongst us today, but that does not mean that you need to go in search of them. For everything they have, you have too. As you attune to the indwelling Spirit of God, you will align yourself with the universal energy and you too will be in the words of St. Francis “an instrument” for love and healing in the world.
That is what each one of us is. All of the gifts we have been given and offer to others are gifts of love. They take different forms, but they are made of the same substance.
When the master offers the gift, he knows that God offers it through him. It is not his gift to give, but God’s gift. His will and God’s will are one and the same or he could not offer the gift.
“Not my will, but Thy will” is both the prayer and the practice of all masters. They do not need person credit. They do not need name and fame. They need only to be messengers of the Great Spirit. For the messenger is filled up by the Spirit of God. His arms and his legs and his voice vibrate with God’s presence and God’s love.
There is no greater calling or experience than this. The small self is placed in the service of the Greater Self. And the gift of At-one-ment is given to all.