For much of my life, I’ve been trying to facilitate transformation—conversion, change of consciousness, change of mind—with various strategies and formats.
The transformed mind lets you see how you process what’s coming at you. It’s of supreme value because it allows you to step back from your own personal processor so you can be more honest about what is really happening to you.
The Achilles heel of organized religion might be that we tend to tell people what to see instead of teaching them how to see. The thing we often miss is that…
Transformation is not merely a change of morals, group affiliation, or belief system—but a change at the very heart of the way you receive, hear, and pass on each moment.
Do you use the moment to strengthen your own ego position or do you use the moment to enter into a much broader seeing and connecting? Those are two very different ways of seeing.
In this light, I offer three observations on the process of transformation.
1) True transformation is the process of letting go.
The word “change” normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation, the mystery we’re examining, more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is falling apart.
Otherwise, most of us would never go to new places. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. You will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart.
This is when you need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening your controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Not accidentally, he mentions this narrow road right after teaching the Golden Rule. Jesus knows how much letting go it takes to “treat others as you would like them to treat you” (7:12).
Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of your inner life, what we call your “spirituality.”
Change of itself just happens; but spiritual transformation must become an actual process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.
2) True transformation risks even the attachments of love.
The Christian way is to risk the attachments of love—and then keep growing in what it actually means to love.
As we start trying to love, we begin to realize that we’re actually not loving very well. We are mostly meeting our own needs. The word for this is “codependency.” This kind of love is still impure and self-seeking and thus is not really love at all. So we have to pull back and learn the great art of detachment, which is not aloofness, but the purifying of attachment.
Our religion is neither solely detachment nor solely attachment; it’s a dance between the two. It’s neither entirely isolation, as symbolized by the desert, nor is it complete engagement, as symbolized by the city. Jesus moves back and forth between desert and city. In the city, he feels himself losing perspective, love, and center; so Jesus goes out to the desert to discover the real again. And when Jesus is in the desert, his passionate union with the Father drives him back to the pain of the city.
The transformative dance between attachment and detachment is sometimes called the Third Way. It is the middle way between fight and flight, as Walter Wink describes it.  Some prefer to take on the world: to fight it, to change it, fix it, and rearrange it. Others deny there is a problem at all; it suits their needs as it is. “Everything is beautiful,” they say and look the other way. Both instincts avoid holding the tension, the pain, and the essentially tragic nature of human existence.
The contemplative & transformative stance is the Third Way. We stand in the middle, neither taking the world on from another power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We hold the dark side of reality and the pain of the world until it transforms us, knowing that we are both complicit in the evil and can participate in wholeness and holiness. Once we can stand in that third spacious way, neither directly fighting nor denying and fleeing, we are in the place of grace out of which genuine newness can come. This is where creativity and new forms of life and healing emerge.
3) True transformation causes our motivation to foundationally change.
From a religious perspective, a conversion experience is an experience of an Absolute. And once you’ve experienced a True Absolute, everything else is relativized, including yourself! Once you’ve experienced fullness, you don’t need to keep seeking “that which does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2).
Authentic God experience always leads you toward service, toward the depths, the edge, the outsider, the lower, the suffering, and the simple. What you once thought was “the center” has shown itself not to be the center of anything. If there is not such an earthquake in both your heart and mind, I do not think you can rightly speak of spiritual conversion.
Transformation begins with a new experience of a new Absolute, and, as a result, your social positioning gradually changes on almost all levels. Little by little you will allow your politics, economics, classism, sexism, racism, homophobia and all superiority games to lose their one-time rationale. You just “think” and “feel” differently about most things. If this does not happen in very specific ways, I have no reason to believe you have been converted.
Your motivation foundationally changes from security, status, and sabotage to generosity, humility, and cooperation.
If you do not want to go there, you’d better stay away from the Holy One.
*These thoughts were originally adapted from three of Richard’s Daily Meditations. Sign up for them here.