Listen deeply, love widely

SN&R columnist Joey Garcia offers truths about change

Joey Garcia is a counselor, teacher and an SN&R advice columnist.

Change isn’t easy for anyone, and the chaos of life can often drown out any spiritual consciousness that may assist us with it. We asked Joey Garcia, writer of SN&R column Ask Joey, how to shed some light upon paths of transformation and tune us into our muffled guiding voices.

What simple steps do you recommend to a person who seems motivated to change and improve aspects of themselves and their relationships but can’t seem to get started?

I would urge that person to stop trying to please other people. Someone who says they want to change but fails to make fresh choices is not committed to living a different life. She or he is only invested in saying whatever is necessary to see relief on the face of the person who wants them to change. It may be their current romantic partner, a boss or a parent, someone who cares deeply but probably has difficulty balancing those feelings with their desire to control the person who is struggling. Often this caretaker feels betrayed by broken promises. But the person who is stuck sees his or her own inaction as potential yet to be fulfilled, not as a lie. To initiate real transformation, he or she should pour energy into discovering two things: the truth of who they are, which is described beautifully in Buddhism as “the face before you were born”; and secondly, what spiritual gifts they want to develop within themselves and give to others. This is the real launchpad for transformation.

We’ve just gone through a holiday season, and these tend to be the times that bring up guilt, old sibling rivalries and the opening of old wounds for many of our readers. What advice can you give people dealing with family baggage?

Observe with interest the attitudes, behaviors and qualities that you dislike in family members. Then, notice how and when you embody the same character traits. In other words, yes, you are becoming your mother, father, sister, uncle, aunt, sibling, etc. So the next time your mamacita pulls you aside to criticize your brother’s choice in women, you can listen without complaint or attachment because you are now aware of how you gossip about, say, your supervisor’s romantic choices.

What do you say to a person who feels trapped in an unhealthy relationship but doesn’t seem able to do something about it?

Read the Ask Joey column every week in SN&R, and go to therapy! Seriously, relationship addiction is usually an unconscious attempt to process old childhood wounds. So, “Maggie” had ambivalent parents and now she has one ambivalent partner after another. She doesn’t realize this. All she knows is that her partners alternate between being attentive and being indifferent. And, just like in childhood, Maggie thinks it means there is something wrong with her. She even believes that if she could just get her partner to love her, everything would be perfect. In reality, if Maggie invested in good therapy (and read my column!) she would heal that young, wounded place inside herself and be free to choose an emotionally available partner.

What’s the best way to find happiness in a relationship?

By understanding that your partner’s job is not to make you happy. That’s a social lie. Human culture is full of ideas that create tension and trouble, like “You complete me” or “I can’t live without you.” We call these thoughts romantic, but we should call them insane. The sane mind knows that committed relationships are a spiritual path. Here is a liberated thought: “I am complete and can thrive with or without you. I choose freely to be with you because I am discovering how to love deeply through my experience of my relationship with you.” Learning to give of oneself without demanding something in return requires that we heal our own wounds. It can be difficult at first, but lasting joy is the result.

Why do people resist change?

Our culture teaches us to devote everything to creating identities based on achievements and belongings. Real change requires that we strip some or all of that false self away, and for most people, that’s too terrifying.

What steps can people take to get more in touch with their spiritual side in the new year? Why is that important?

Commit to a daily practice that requires shedding the layers of internal noise and learning to listen and cultivate the silence within. Buddhist meditation, Christian contemplation, hatha yoga and tai chi all invite us to develop this habit of inner awareness. It’s also vital to submit to a guide for the journey, someone who is further along on the spiritual path and can companion you through the darkness and the light. Be willing to question your beliefs, too. Many people waste time trying to prove that a belief system like reincarnation or shape-shifting is true. This is ultimately a distraction from the spiritual journey, not an advancement on it. But they don’t realize that until years later. It’s common sense: The more baggage you choose to pick up, the more you have to carry and unpack later. Esoteric belief systems are unnecessary weight.

So why is a spiritual life important? It takes us to the core of who we are and why we are here: to be enlightened, to serve, to love and be loved. It’s our purpose for being alive.

How do people who belong to organized religions heighten the role of faith in their daily lives?

By adhering to the compassionate practices of those religions as instituted by the person who inspired the religion and by those who work to maintain the religion’s integrity.

What would you advise people who are spiritual in nature but don’t belong to an organized religious group?

Shift through your prejudices. If you call yourself a former member of Religious Science or a recovering Catholic, you are choosing to identify yourself according to your past because you still have issues with it. Clean up your beliefs about how that religion did you wrong or what you think is wrong with organized religion. Open your mind long enough to understand how that religion served you. Open your heart to deeply appreciate that faith tradition. After all, you are only on a spiritual path when you begin the practice of truth. Honesty allows you to trust yourself enough to make a commitment to a disciplined practice, like yoga or contemplation. Without a daily discipline, you are avoiding real growth in compassion.

Times are tough, and many people are finding themselves struggling just to get by. Does getting people in touch with their spirit actually help them better deal with nitty-gritty life issues?

Absolutely. Most major religions teach that human life is impermanent. If I understand the transitory nature of everything—from emotions to relationships—then I am already looking for the opportunity in what I would at first perceive as a crisis. When a personal disaster strikes, I can grieve my losses, then look around to see how the Divine is calling me more deeply toward personal evolution.

What are three of the best “simple changes” a person can make to become a better human being?

Let me offer a motto I created for myself about 15 years ago: “Listen deeply, love widely and be transparent.” It’s easier said than done!