The experience of a SHEN (Spiritual Heritage Education Network) conference is a unique way of self discovery and realisation that we are all one.
SHEN is a conference that brings all religions together to discover the spirituality in each and find the same in one’s own beliefs. This year’s conference in September 2016 offered spiritual insights shared by the presenters on their faiths which was wonderful. There was a commonality between all and what follows is a sample of those insights.
Dr. Atif Khalil, Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge's Department of Religious Studies (www.spiritualeducation.org/work/conf2016/atif) presented the following chart in his 2014 presentation: The Perennial Philosophy
He described our quest for the divine as climbing a mountain. All of us climb different paths (our beliefs) to reach the divine (the top of the mountain). If we were climbing an actual mountain we would not look over at others climbing and decide to jump over their path. Our path (belief) is not perfect but it is in the understanding of the imperfections we grow spirituality.
Dr. Darrol Bryant, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and currently Director of the Centre for Dialogue & Spirituality in the World Religions at Renison University College/University of Waterloo, presented Towards an Inclusive Global Family: Recovering the Forgotten Contributions of Christian Mystics at the 2016 conference (www.spiritualeducation.org/work/conf2016/darrol)
As part of his presentation he quoted St Theresa of Avila which seems to sum up our journey and our fears:
It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.”
Teresa of Avila, A Spanish mystic (1515-82), Carmelite nun
I believe the biggest fear we all have is examining ourselves through our inner voice. The first step is finding that quiet inner voice within ourselves. Not easy when we are “fearful”.
Shiv Talwar, who is the founder of SHEN and a wonderful Anam Cara (old Celtic Gaelic term for "soul friend.") came to my house a year ago just before Christmas. He told me that he had been meditating on “Original Sin”. I found it interesting that Shiv, a Hindu, was meditating on a Christian belief. Personally, as a Catholic, I have always had a problem understanding how a baby could possibly have any sin. Shiv said that original sin is “ego” and went on to explain that we all are born into this world with fear and need an ego to survive. Think of young babies or children, they cry when they are hungry or wet. A two year old will throw temper tantrums. Almost everything a child does growing up is self focused (ego driven) to learn and survive. Shiv’s meditation revealed to him that when our ego is driving us it hijacks our intellect (our spirit) from the connection to the divine.
We were blessed this year to have Kevin Nadjiwon who is an Anishinabe, Three Fires-Potawatami, Ojibway, Odawa -Turtle Clan. A Member of Batchewana First Nation Band of Ojibways. Kevin’s presentation "Simply Bringing Back the Old Ways in A New Way" (One mind One Heart) ~ Anishinabek Prophecy ~ took the conference participants through a wonderful explanation of the first nations spirituality and ceremony—- past, present and future (www.spiritualeducation.org/work/conf2016/kevin).
Kevin helped start a non - profit organisation called the 8th Generation Infinity Network a traditional and modern working group of professional leaders, dreamers and visionaries consisting of indigenous and non-indigenous youth, adults and elders. The purpose is to inform the world of the prophecies, visions and dreams of their ancestors for the purpose of sharing sacred spiritual ceremonies, knowledge, wisdom, education, dreams, visions and ways of living in unity and harmony with the land, spirits, other worlds, dimensions and all our relations.
He organised a Healing Prayer Journey called the “Walk For Nations” which took a team of 4 youth and 4 young adults for 8 months (Kevin was one of them) and 8000 kms across Canada sharing their stories, performing ceremonies, building traditional and modern networks and unity.
"They will come to a Fork in the Road. One Road will lead to Materialism and Destruction for Almost All Living Creatures. The Other Road Will Lead to a Spiritual Way upon which the Native People will be standing. This Path will lead to the Lighting of the 8th Fire, a Period of Eternal Peace, Harmony and a "New Earth" where the Destruction of the Past Will Be Healed"
Some of Kevin’s insights given during his presentation included:
All of the above insights are the basis of all world religions and are example of how our spirituality is the same worldwide.
Many believe that spirituality lacks logic, that spirituality is personal, emotional, etc. and so spirituality is for the non-thinking. Actually Spirituality is the most logical science which was the basis for the Acharya Vivekji presentation on The Logic of Spirituality (http://www.spiritualeducation.org/work/conf2016/acharya-vivekji )
Acharya Vivekji is the Resident Acharya (Professor) of Chinmaya Mission Niagara, Visiting Acharya of Chinmaya Mission Pittsburgh and the Deputy Director of Chinmaya Yuva Kendra (Youth Centre) West.
When Vivekji went to the Vedanta Course at Chinmaya Mission’s Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in India he studied and lived under the guidance of Pujya Swami Tejomayananda* for over two years, in an ashram in India. He thought “now I will find oneness, no anger, no selfishness, no jealously; no envy, no ego, etc. What did I find: anger, selfishness, jealously, envy, ego, I found humanity” However he also found his true self.
As long as we use our eyes we will live by sight. We will live with differences. But when we start to live with our intellect, where ideals are held, we start to live with vision. Our differences are functional but oneness is fundamental.
Vivekji spoke of three laws to the Logic of Spirituality:
He went on to say that every one of us is born from the same cause, the Divine. We are all made up of the very same components of the earth and come from the same cause. Does this not mean we are one?
Where there is change there will be challenges. If we face challenges with a purpose it is called training. But without purpose change is a problem from which we recoil. We need vision to overcome problems.
We have three main fears:
To overcome our fears we have to learn to think. The logic of spirituality is that spirituality is the vision behind all actions.
In order to develop this vision there are 5 steps that need to take place:
-spend more time by yourself
-when you spend time with yourself study the mind and its reaction and why?
-people do not want to see what is in their mind. All of us have six enemies that steal our Peace (see below)
-substitute the negativity enemies with their opposite (see below)
-If you have no enemies you become free to help others and truly love:
When you develop and practice this skill set “all the poison comes out of you”
What was beautiful to see at the SHEN conference was how the presentations by Vivekji, Kevin Nagawan, Darol Bryants, Dr. Ranjeet S Bharaj, Trish Barbato and Dr. Atif Khalil, mirrored each other in the vision of Spirituality (www.spiritualeducation.org/work/conf2016 ). Dr. Atif Khalil, Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge's Department of Religious Studies spoke on The Wings of an Angel on the Tail of a Donkey: Form and Meaning in the Mystical Philosophy of Rumi. He shared in his presentation some beautiful quotes from Rumi:
“Man is called a ‘rational animal.’ So man is two things: The food of his animality in this world is his sensual passions and desires. But that which is his quintessence – its food is knowledge, wisdom and the vision of God. Man’s animality is fleeing God, while his humanity is fleeing the world. One of you lacks faith while the other possesses it [Quran 64:2]: In your own existence two persons are warring. To whom will fortune belong? Whom will it make a friend?”
“He whose intellect [or spiritual conscience] overcomes his lust is higher than the angels, he whose lust overcomes his intellect is lower than the beasts”
“You may try a hundred things, but love alone will release you from yourself. So never flee love – not even from love in an earthy guise – for it is a preparation for the supreme Truth”
The beauty of SHEN is the platform it gives for us to see that there is nothing that divides us spiritually. It is our Ego (fear) that gets in the way of our truly giving to each to reach true emancipated Love.
SHEN typically meets at the end of September. In 2017 it is scheduled for two days: Sept 23 and 24, 2017. The venue is in Kitchener/Waterloo in Ontario, Canada about an hour by car from Toronto international airport.
Come and join us on your journey, you will find much to nourish the spirit.
May God bless you all and keep you close.