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Doug’s Words on Doubt & Skepticism and Using all Sources of Wisdom, Insight, and Discernment

In Doug’s brave sermon on “Channeling” this past week (Part 4 in his sermon on “Selflessness”), I liked especially what he had to say about DOUBT and about using all our faculties and sources of discernment.

Here are my excerpts from his sermon.  You can find the whole October 23 sermon in PDF and podcast at www.uuss.org.

Skepticism

Now we come to the final phase: sorting out what to do with impressions that came from a mysterious source.

Up to now I’ve encouraged you to keep your skepticism at bay. For this final phase, it’s fine to open the gates and let you doubts tumble back into the room. But use doubt wisely. Don’t let it dismiss impressions out of hand – that’s just prejudice. Use it to form focused, open minded questions like “What’s real? What’s really going on?”

Here’s my best answer:

There are times when I’m dense, stupid and clueless. There are times when I’m relatively clear, insightful and wise. Mostly I’m somewhere in between.

When I’m channeling, most of what comes out of my mouth comes from the wise end of the spectrum.

Beyond this, I’m less certain.

My hunch is that we are all more deeply embedded in the web of life than we realize. And these practices use our relational instincts to overcome our hyper-developed sense of self and tap into the wisdom and knowing that is the fabric of life itself. But I don’t know this for sure.

Perhaps there are literal disembodied teachers in the flux and flow of life. Perhaps they are metaphors. Perhaps the process sensitizes us to subliminal cues.[1] Empirically I don’t how know to sort these out. I do know that fighting about things that we can’t prove or disprove is a waste of energy at best and a path to holy wars at worst.

So I prefer to let our doubts be doubts and focus on the practical question of how we make wise use of impressions that come from mysterious sources.

Don’t Ask What to Do

I learned three things from this about wise use of prayer, guidance and channeling.

First, ask for insight, not direction. Don’t ask channeled teachers, guides or gods to tell you what to do. Wise teachers – whether embodied or disembodied – don’t want our dependence. So instead ask for wisdom and insight that can help you know what is best.

Ultimately we are responsible for what we say and do. We don’t get to blame mistakes on God, teachers, the devil or well-meaning friends. We are responsible for our actions. We should use spiritual practices in ways that are harmonious with this reality.

So, if we are wondering if it is time to leave a job, don’t pray, “Tell me what to do?” Instead ask, “What might be the effect of staying on?” “What might be the effect of leaving?” “What is it that I’m not seeing clearly?” Ask questions that would help you gain insight and understanding not dependence.

If it’s not clear what to do, keep dialoging with your teachers-guides- sources until it becomes clear. Keep exploring until a course resonates inside you. Act on insight not because something told you to but because it resonates with you.

Second, know the dark side of channeling – ways that it can go wrong either by creating dependence or by confusing channeling with repressed feelings.

All intuitive knowing is filtered through our unconscious – that part of the mind-heart where we store old hurts, pains we don’t want to face and habits we don’t like to acknowledge. Prayer, guidance and channeling work to the degree that we can temporarily step aside from them. We never do it completely. So the more self knowledge we have of our own dark side, the less likely we’ll confuse our unwise tendencies with wise knowing.

I once met regularly with ten therapists in a peer support group. They decided they wanted to work with channeling. It was the most awkward and painful group I’ve ever been in. People who should have known better projected their unconscious fears and control needs onto each other. It wasn’t pretty.

As I said last week, if the guidance we receive would needlessly harm ourselves or others, if it would inflate or deflate our ego, if it’s coercive, dictatorial or autocratic in tone, or if it clashes with our highest values, then it is probably distorted by repressed feelings.

We should use our discernment to sort it out. We can also use channeling or guidance to help deside.

This leads to the third lesson I learned:

Never make a big life decision based on channeling, guidance or prayer alone. We have multiple resources to draw upon, including self-knowledge, experience, reason, emotional intelligence and intuition. In making big decisions we want all these counselors at the table. We don’t want intellect stomping out feeling. We don’t want past fears shouting down intuition. We don’t want intuition blotting out reason. We want all of them constructively and compassionately engaged. None of them is as smart as all of them together. None of them is as wise as all working as a collective.

In Unitarian Universalist circles, intuition – including prayer, guidance and channeling – is often underdeveloped or under appreciated. So it is helpful and healing to take the time to cultivate intuitive knowing.

I am wiser than some people who are smarter than me because I draw on a wider range of resources than they do. And there are people a lot wiser than me simply because they’ve cultivated a wider range of faculties and know how to integrate them harmoniously.

So if you haven’t cultivated relational instincts through prayer, guidance or channeling, I encourage you to not shy away from them. Cultivate them as an experiment. See what you can discover. This may require temporary suspension of disbelief – but not permanent suspension.

Ultimately we want to use our relational instincts to enhance our intuitive abilities so we can invite them all to be full partners at the table. Not as ridiculed children, dictatorial tyrants, or spacey hippies. But as smart, heartful partners to be part of our collective as we become wiser members of the larger collective – the circle of all life and spirit and being which is all of us.

Blessed be.


[1] Malcom Gladwell in Blink (Little Brown and Company, 2005) describes some of the research on subliminal processing of information.

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