Contemporary thought concerning spirit tends to reflect the modern dichotomy between self and soul. Religion is the realm of priests and ministers, functioning as specialists to advise and aid individuals in a particular area of their lives. Most spiritual teachers seem to participate in this dichotomy, seeing themselves as caretakers of the soul or spirit, and leaving concerns of the self to psychologists. (This view is changing somewhat, but the dichotomy is still the rule) It is interesting in this light to remember that the major religious traditions have developed in such a way that their primary concern is either preparation for the afterlife, in theistic religions, or enlightenment that brings freedom from existence, in Eastern religions. Concern for such matters as the redemption of the present world, as fulfillment and completeness of life, can arguably be seen not to be the primary perspective of the major spiritual traditions.
Inner Journey Home, p. 9
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To understand the poverty of spirit we can remember John of the Cross’ “dark night of the soul.” He divides the dark night into two nights: the night of sense and the night of spirit. The dark night for him means the way of poverty. The dark night for him means the darkness, unknowing, and pain of the poverty as the soul divests herself of all possessions and attachments. He calls it a dark night because it is dark emotionally, difficult and painful, and also dark mentally, difficult to find guidance and clarity about this process.
According to John of the Cross, we need to begin with the night of sense, the stage of poverty related to the external life, the material life and all its mental, emotional, and physical possessions. For him the night of sense is the stage of purification of the soul from her animal nature, from her sensual attachments and desires. When we are relatively comfortable with this level of poverty, we can move to the dark night of spirit, the stage of being poor in spirit, which is purification on the spiritual level, totally emptying the soul and getting her ready for her beloved, her God.
Diamond Heart Book V, p. 4
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Nonattachment means we have reached a place of realization of true nature or spirit, and experience ourselves as the spirit, which is inherently nonattached. In the Western traditions, the question is looked at from the perspective of soul, not spirit, where soul is the individual total consciousness through which experience happens. It is useful here to recognize the distinction between soul and spirit. But poverty means the soul has learned to recognize that everything she experiences, everything she has, is not hers. All experience is a gift from true nature, from the source of all manifestation. In monotheistic language, the soul recognizes that whatever richness she experiences, whether material or spiritual, comes from God, a gift and grace from him. She owns nothing because there is only one owner. Even her actions and accomplishments are not hers, for without the capacities and qualities that God gives her she won’t be able to do anything.
Diamond Heart Book V, p. 12
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To be poor in spirit ultimately means that we need to be poor in the inner states themselves, the states of realization, the positive states. We need to be poor in love, poor in compassion, poor in intelligence, poor in truth, poor in awareness, poor in existence. But what does this mean? Clearly, as we open up to our nature we begin to experience these things more. Being spiritually poor does not mean that we do not experience spirit, just as being materially poor does not mean we do not have material things. Rather, poverty means that we do not possess spiritual experiences or material things. We realize that we don't own them; when they come, they come, when they go, they go. We do not have them, hold on to them, or take the position that they are ours. We treat them as visitors, as guests.
Diamond Heart Book V, p. 9
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