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Spiritual secrets vs. Openness

There are interesting differences between those who work with the spiritual side of things, and those who don't, just as there are between insiders and outsiders in any field. One of the major ones is that the person outside the field is unlikely to be knowledgeable or concerned with the problems of someone in the field. At the same time, when there is a close relationship between two people and one is a worker in the spiritual field and one is not, this may cause some communication problems. What is one supposed to or allowed to share?

One of the frequent problems between spiritual workers and their families, friends, and significant others who aren't also similarly inclined, is a lack of communication. The spiritual worker gets frustrated at the lack of understanding shown by the people who should be the closest, but can't figure out how to share and not be rebuffed. For their part, the non-spiritual or spiritual in a different tradition family members or friends are likely to be confused at what's likely to be either a complete clam-up on the part of the practitioner, or too much unfamiliar terminology. Either way, it's likely to cause a feeling of separation and frustration at the inability to communicate meaningfully on matters that are obviously terribly important. This isn't necessary.


There are three types of information that a spiritual worker is likely to run into. The first, and most common, is the type of spiritual experience that happens to most, if not all people. It can be something as simple as a coincidence at the right time, a feeling of unusual kinship with another person, especially a stranger, or the mind-bending feeling that you suddenly know more about the universe than perhaps humans were designed to. Nearly everyone experiences these things, but since it's not always talked about, it's sometimes difficult to tell a partner what's going on. Try to pick terms they'll understand. A hardcore science student may look at you askance if you declare that the person you met at the store was your soulsister from a past life, but it may sink in without comment if you merely declare that you spent a long time talking in the manner of old friends catching up on old times rather than strangers who had just met, and there were an unusual number of coincidental similarities, and it was excellently cool. The problem with this kind of experience is not the experience itself, but the language in which you describe it.


The second kind of thing that a spiritual worker will run into if he or she sticks with it long enough is going to be unsolicted confessions. People with problems will unload them, and either the act of sharing will be helpful enough that they will thank you for helping when all you did was listen and give a few kind, if vague, words, or they will expect some kind of advice. In either case, the difficulties shared should be treated with the same kind of discretion that one would expect of a doctor, lawyer, or anonymous priest taking confession. The personal details of confessions should not be shared; in some cases, even the fact that the person has spoken with you should be kept in confidence.

This sort of secret is one of the most difficult when combined with a close relationship. "Oh, I saw you talking with Faith. What did she have to say?" A common instinctive response to that can be, "I can't tell you. It's a secret." Unfortunately, that's virtually guaranteed to start up some sort of small fracas if your friend or relative is the inquisitive sort. A far better response might be, "There were a few things on her mind that she wanted someone to listen to, and I'm keeping them in confidence." However, for some situations, even that may be a little too much sharing. The phrase "Please respect her privacy by not asking me further," can be usefully applied. If your friend really wants to know what Faith had to say, they can probably ask Faith themselves, and let her decide whether or not to tell them. Don't try this if it's an especially voltile situation, as that may make things worse, depending on the problem. Even if you think it's insignificant, do ask the person who told it to you before sharing. There's a fine line between gossip and confession, but if it concerns a personal problem someone is having, it's probably confession.

If a confession sparks a thought that really begs to be shared, strip the identity of the confessee out of it. The advice will still be good. I was recently contacted by someone seeking advice on how to deal with a certain, very specific, very private, change. In addition to the information I gave that person privately, I prepared an essay on dealing with change of many sorts. It isn't necessarily specific to the particular change my confessee was inquiring about, and it applies to a lot of people rather than just that one. Use extreme descretion with this; if you have a small circle of friends, and one couple is in the midst of a bitter divorce, suddenly coming out with a pronouncement on the evils of cheating, and how to avoid it, isn't going to be keeping confidentiality very well at all. But on a personal level with one's non-spiritually-inclined friends, one can certainly share conclusions one's arrived at from listening to people, without sharing more than "I've been thinking, and listening to what people say, and I think --" to help keep communications open without betraying confidences.


The third type of information that someone interested in matter spiritual and arcane is likely to come across is the weird, bizarre, strange, scary, sort of thing that one only believes because one's just experienced it, and perhaps not even then. Demon kitties from another dimension or mass panic? Past lives or just plain insane? Poltergeist or prank? Fate and uncanny insight, or weird coincidence? Vision or hallucination? Guardian angel or helpful stranger? Divine guidance or schizophrenia? Whatever it is, it is not likely to be accepted at face value by those who value the hard, scientific, and practical over the fanciful and imaginative. Someone who lives by mundane rules is unlikely to be thrilled with a blow-by-blow retelling of one's latest encounter with the hidden forces of the universe, especially if it involves events, people, or beings who just don't exist (according to them). This is probably not the thing to share with them. If you must, tone it down. Way down. Without actually lying to my parents, I once managed to convey the impression that a certain struggle with things best left unmentioned that forced us to leave the apartment at a bad hour and stay away for the entire night had actually been an 'unnameable stench' that entered perhaps through a toilet, and thus made the place unliveable until it could be aired out and repaired the next day. These are people who care about us, and they do often want to know what is going on in our lives, especially when we're extremely happy, or in need of comfort. I was lucky enough to have someone who was able to hear both the arcane and the mundane aspects of the encounter with what wasn't exactly toilet-stench, who was able to comfort and reassure me.


It isn't impossible for someone spiritually inclined to be close to someone who isn't, and even share a good deal of spiritual experiences, as long as they're phrased correctly to avoid problems. With practice and careful editing, one can talk about the everyday mystical, the insights arrived at from listening to and advising others, and even the landmark events that have to be experienced to be believed. Discovering an affinity with the arcane does not mean that family and friends who choose to remain in the mundane world have to be abandoned.
Gone away, gone ahead,
Echoes roll unanswered.
Empty, open, dusty, dead.
Why have all the Weyrfolk fled?

Where have dragons gone together
Leaving weyrs to wind and weather,
Setting herdbeasts free of tether;
Gone, our safeguards, gone, but whither?

Have they flown to some new weyr
Where cruel Threads some others fear?
Are they worlds away from here?
Why, oh why the empty weyr?

-- "The Question Song", Anne McCaffrey
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