Kevin B. Burk, author of The Relationship Handbook: How to
Understand and Improve Every Relationship in Your Life.
In many New Thought communities, we have a model for the four Kingdoms of Consciousness. Iíve recently heard this model attributed to Rev. Michael Beckwith of Agape in Los Angeles, so Iíll repeat that attribution before describing the model.
The four Kingdoms represent different perspectives on how life operates. The First Kingdom is where everything is done TO us. This is the Kingdom of Victim Consciousness. The Second Kingdom is where everything is done BY us. This is the Kingdom of manifestation where we consciously create the things in our livesóin my community itís often referred to as ďPrinces, Parking Places and Palaces.Ē The Third Kingdom is where everything is done THROUGH us. This is the Kingdom of co-creation, where we are conscious that we operate as expressions of Spirit. The Fourth Kingdom is where everything is done AS us. This is the Kingdom where we lose out attachment to our egos and our individual identities and live our lives knowing that Spirit is, and always has been, in charge.
During our lifetimes, we will spend time in many different Kingdoms. In fact, we may live in multiple kingdoms at any given time, switching metaphorical residences depending on the issue or situation at hand.
As difficult as it may be to accept (itís certainly difficult for me to accept, at any rate), no one Kingdom is any ďbetterĒ than any other. Our mission is not to move into the Fourth Kingdom and take up permanent residence there. As long as weíre having our Human Experience, weíll spend time in all four Kingdoms. Whatís difficult for me to accept is that even now, I still have strong judgments about the relative property values in the Kingdoms. I aspire to the high-rent districts of the Third and Fourth Kingdoms, and Iíll admit to owning rental properties in the Second Kingdom. Itís never okay, however for me to spend any time in the First Kingdom because itís never okay for me to be a victim.
This is a recent awareness for meóone of many, actuallyóand I still find it rather unsettling. Of course, Iím also coming to realize that ďunsettledĒ is apt to become one of the nicer experiences for me for the foreseeable future.
In September of this year, I began the first year of training to become a Licensed Practitioner of Religious Science. Practitioners are analogous to lay ministersóthey are spiritual counselors, trained in the art of compassionate listening, who are dedicated to knowing the Spiritual Truth that every single person is whole, complete, perfect and an individualized expression of All That Is. The first year of this training involves excruciating exploration of our own thoughts, beliefs, values and choices. The philosophy is that in order to be able to see the Divine in others, we first have to be able to see the Divine in ourselves. I know that itís the single most important process Iíve accepted in my life, and Iíve already experienced significant shifts in awareness. It is, however, the most extended, intense, deep work Iíve ever done in my life, and while itís many things, ďfunĒ isnít really on the list.
Ultimately, this process is about making me aware of my own false beliefs and replacing them with Spiritual Truth. Normally, Iím all for that; however, Iím discovering that I really like many of my false beliefs. Some of them took years to perfect, and they really served me well. And I feel rather lost without them. I know that I will develop new skills that will be far more powerful and effective, but in the meantime, I feel vulnerable and helpless.
The start of this current breakthrough was several weeks ago when my Secret Identity was exposed in class. This identity was so secret that even I didnít know about it. But evidently, mild-mannered author Kevin B. Burk was, in reality, SPIRITUAL BYPASS GUY!
ďSpiritual BypassĒ is a term used to describe the way that we can use spirituality to avoid experiencing the pain of our false beliefs. Iíve always had a judgment on it that ďSpiritual BypassĒ is nothing more than a fancy kind of denial. Claiming that everything must be perfect because itís all part of the Divine Plan can be a reasonably effective way of stuffing our true feelings and creating a mask of Spiritual Mastery. I, of course, would never stoop to spiritual bypass. I had never met a painful memory or a false belief that I wouldnít confront or a shadow that I wouldnít embrace. Iím all about the deep inner work, and over the years, Iíve done an extensive amount of self-exploration and soul-searching.
You can imagine how I felt to discover that I had taken Spiritual Bypass to the level of a super power. I am a master at Spiritual Bypass. Iím so good at it, that I canít even tell when Iíve performed one. My secret is that I do do the work, and I have embraced and embodied the Spiritual Truths in my lifeóbut only to a point. When it came time to explore the deeper, more painful childhood memories, I would immediately hide behind all of the Spiritual Truths that I had embraced and could continue to believe that I had a reasonably uneventful childhood with absolutely convincing authenticity.
Well, it was nice while it lasted.
Once I was unmasked, I spent a few weeks horrified at what was going on behind the mask. I was suddenly aware of all sorts of thoughts and beliefs and motives that had been working behind the scenes and these simply did not fit in with the carefully-crafted persona of an authentically loving, spiritual, compassionate man that I had created. I worked hard on that persona, and it was so good that I didnít even realize that it was a mask.
The truth is that it was such an effective mask because it was largely real. I had created a mask based on my Authentic Self. Again, thatís the super power of SPIRITUAL BYPASS GUY. My challenge the past few weeks has been resetting my internal bullshit filters so that I can begin to detect when Iím bullshitting myself. Itís a very fine adjustment because the secret of truly effective bullshitting is to do it homeopathically, using the smallest possible amount of bullshit in the largest possible amount of authentic truth, so that it creates a virtually invisible shield to protect the most painful and powerful false beliefs from investigation.
One of the assignments this term is to visit a 12-step meeting and write a report on our experience. The fact that thatís the entire description of the assignment is a separate issue for me because I really like to know whatís expected of me when Iím completing a task that will be graded. (And as I wrote that last sentence, yet another piece of the puzzle just fell into place. Iíll explain shortly, but for now, Iíll share that this is simply another facet of my issues with authority figures.)
Now, I think this is me speaking and not SPIRITUAL BYPASS GUY, but my belief about this class is that the objective is not so much to complete the assignments as it is to commit to the process, which is as much about the assignments themselves as it is about our reactions, experiences, issues and beliefs about the assignments. The 12-step assignment is a perfect example of this. Iím choosing to believe that the value isnít in the paper that I wrote, but in the journey of self-awareness that Iíve experienced as a result of having to do this assignment in the first place. Iím learning a lot about myself as a result of this assignment, but little of it has to do with issues of addiction.
I went into this assignment with my judgments firmly in place, and the experience of attending a meeting didnít change them. Before I share the only pertinent judgment, I need to make my position very clear. I believe that 12-step programs have helped millions of individuals, and that they provide an exceptionally valuable service. I believe that the ďStepsĒ that involve an experience of spiritual community, service, and learning self-responsibility, are powerful, loving, supportive tools. I know the power and the value of 12-step programs, and have friends and clients who would not be alive today without the support of their 12-step communities.
Youíre expecting a ďbutĒ and here it is. I have a personal issue with the 12-step approach. While I embrace and extol steps 2 through 11, theyíre all build on the First Step, and thatís my problem. The First Step, at least as far as I, personally, judge and experience it, the one that asserts that we are powerless over our addictions, keeps one trapped permanently in the First Kingdom. My judgment of the fundamental principle of 12-step programs is that they are based on the belief that we are ill, damaged, or otherwise flawed. I understand and appreciate that the rationale behind this step is that it is the doorway to surrendering to a Higher Power. My issue is that it never allows for what I hold to be the only real Spiritual Truth, that I am whole, complete and perfect, and that anything that appears to contradict this is simply a false belief of the ego.
Iím hardly the first person to take issue with what I see as the fundamental victim consciousness of the 12-step approach, and the majority of individuals who have taken issue with it have far more impressive credentials than I do. The thing is, this isnít a mild observation for me: I have a real charge on this. This entire assignment has pushed a huge button for me, and after a few days of venting and processing, Iím ready to question what the real issue is for me.
My judgment is that itís wrong to identify as a victim, which is what I judge 12-step groups to advocate. Since itís NEVER about the other person, what I discovered is that my real belief is that itís wrong for me to identify as a victim. I have a problem with other people spending too much time in the First Kingdom because itís never okay for me to be there.
Remember that no one Kingdom is any ďbetterĒ than any other. Each Kingdom has its own benefits and limits. Consider the First Kingdom: there must be an attraction to living there, because itís certainly well populated. The benefit of living in (or vacationing in) the First Kingdom and embracing Victim Consciousness is the freedom from personal responsibility. In the First Kingdom, we get to whine and complain; we get special privileges; other people have to take care of us, and be sympathetic to us, and protect us. True, much of the First Kingdom may appear to be run down and depreciated, but there are also some lovely vacation homes in the First Kingdom. The cost of living in the First Kingdom, of course, is personal choice. Without personal responsibility, we lose the ability to take an active role in the life we create.
What Iíve recently discovered is that itís never okay for me to be in the First Kingdom because when I visit there, I never get any of the benefits. When I visit the First Kingdom, Iím vulnerable, wounded, and helpless, but the authority figures that are supposed to step in and be supportive, protective and sympathetic just ignore me. I get all of the pain and none of the payoff, or at least that was my experience as a child living in the First Kingdom, and so I created the belief that living in the First Kingdom is death, and I must avoid it at all costs.
The thing is, itís impossible to avoid spending time in the First Kingdom. Thatís where SPIRITUAL BYPASS GUY came into my life. The First Kingdom borders the Second Kingdom to the East and the Fourth Kingdom to the North. Both the First and Fourth Kingdoms involve surrender of personal will, but in the Fourth Kingdom, itís surrender to All That Is, rather than to The Way Things Appear to Be. When I live in the First Kingdom, Iím in the very high-rent district, right on the border of the Fourth Kingdom, and SPIRITUAL BYPASS GUY has always helped me to convince myself, and my neighbors, that I donít actually live in the First Kingdom, Iím actually in the Fourth Kingdom. Iím not a victim, Iím spiritual.
What Iíve come to realize is that Iím not really fooling anyone, at least not anymore. I may tell myself that I live in the Fourth Kingdom, but if I had kids and they went to public school, theyíd still be in the First Kingdom School District. While I canít change this, I can change my judgments and beliefs around it. As Iíve discovered, most of these beliefs have to do with my relationship with authority figures. Basically, Iím not inclined to trust them, and Iím strongly (and largely unconsciously) motivated to seek out their approval so that theyíll be less likely to betray me by not protecting me the way that I believe they should. Not knowing whatís expected of me, then, is extremely frustrating, and this showed up with the incredibly vague guidelines for the 12-step visitation assignment coupled with the verbal instructions that the report will be ďgradedĒ and if itís not satisfactory, it will be kicked back to us to be re-written.
Now, how perfect is that for me? I donít know whatís expected, and if I donít perform up to a standard that the powers that be refuse to define or clarify, Iíll be punished. Thereís no possible way even SPIRITUAL BYPASS GUY could spin this little scenario into a Fourth Kingdom experience. Iím feeling totally victimized by this, and also recognizing that this is hardly the first time Iíve had this feeling of impotence and frustration. The difference is that now that Iím aware of what it is, and where Iím actually living in this moment, Iím finally at choice. I can question these beliefs and shift the ones that donít serve me any longer.
Some of this process is quite simple, because Iím aware that Iím relating to my class instructors, two of the most loving, compassionate people itís ever been my joy to know, as if they were the Taliban, because I have a huge attachment to never incurring the displeasure of any authority figure in my life. This is only one of a great many beliefs that no longer serve me, but Iím accepting that in order to question and release these beliefs, I have to meet them on their own turf, and they all seem to live in the First Kingdom zip code. Iím still not comfortable with the idea of a permanent residence there, but since I evidently need to be spending some time there, Iím willing to lease a rental property for a while.
Itís in a surprisingly nice neighborhood, actually, with easy freeway access to the other three Kingdoms. It will be interesting to see if the Social Services have improved since the last time I visited.
Kevin B. Burk is the author of
Relationship Handbook: How to Understand and Improve Every
Relationship in Your Life.
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