by Michael Maciel
Normally, we think of obedience as doing what we’re told. We obey the rules, we obey our bosses, we obey traffic lights. And in our spiritual life, we follow the instructions of our teachers, or we adopt a practice and make it central to our lives. Pretty straight-forward, right? But there is a spiritual dimension to obedience that’s not so obvious.
The deeper definition of the word “obey” is “to hear.” This makes sense because we have to listen carefully to a command or set of instructions before we can meaningfully and successfully carry them out. If we don’t hear what’s being said, or we don’t hear it correctly, then how can we be obedient? Doing what we think was said is not the same as doing what was actually said. So, what does this mean? It means that we not only have to hear the words with our ears, we also have to take them in. We have to accept them. We have to let down our guard and allow the words to bypass the filters of our opinions, our preferences, our biases, and to do so without reacting or arguing with them.
Even if we don’t understand what we’re hearing, we have to let it in. In addition to that, when we’re listening to another person, it’s not just their words but also their tone that we’re receiving. It’s their intention, the context in which we’re interacting with them, their wisdom, and everything else that they’re conveying along with their words. Sometimes, if the moment is right, a mere look from the other person can speak volumes. We sometimes hear the look even more clearly than we hear their words.
This is profoundly important when it comes to inner guidance, the still small voice within, our intuition, our pipeline to the Mind of God—whatever you want to call it—because this is where obedience as a spiritual principle really lives.
Let’s unpack this:
When we seek inner guidance, we are (by definition) seeking an intelligence that is greater than our own. We’re not just trying to access higher levels of our own mind, we’re trying to access the Mind of God, the one that transcends our best abilities to see clearly. You can argue that this is our mind, that we are one with God, but it’s actually more helpful to see it as a thing transcendent than a thing innate. If it’s innate, it becomes too easy for the ego to get involved, whereas seeing it as transcendent automatically requires the ego to step aside. Seeing God as a transcendent Being is simply more practical, even if it is technically incorrect.
So, we approach the Infinite Mind with the expectation that it knows more about our situation than we do. And since it is bigger than what we can currently comprehend, it is highly probable that we are not going to understand what it wants to tell us. We might hear specific words that we can understand, but if that’s what we’re waiting for, the vital information that doesn’t necessarily come in words could go right over our heads.
This presents a dilemma. If the only kind of information we’re willing to accept is information we can understand, there is no chance for us to grow. The only thing we will be able to hear is more of the same intelligence that got us into trouble in the first place. This is kind of what Einstein meant when he said that problems cannot be solved at the same level in which they are created. I believe that we can take this in an ontological sense as well as an intellectual one. In other words, in order to receive information from the Mind of God, we have to rise up into a higher order of being.
This is easier said than done because a “higher order of being” is generally what we’re seeking when we ask for inner guidance, is it not? Intuitively we know that we can’t solve our problems unless we can reach higher ground—we cannot understand the solution to our problems while we are at the same level in which our problems exist. Some of the dots we need to connect are invisible because they exist in a realm we cannot access, much less articulate, even to ourselves.
So, what are we to do? This is where the definition “to hear” comes in. You see, we have this idea that obedience means to act upon, when in reality, that is farther down the causal chain. What we must do first is to let the information sink in, whether we understand it or not. Why? Because the information, like the words (and looks) we perceive in other people, contains much more than intelligible concepts. It contains discreet information that we can only understand subconsciously. More often than not, the information we receive from the Mind of God comes to us in a foreign language, the language of the soul. It speaks to us in symbols, in images, in feelings and hunches, and in synchronistic encounters in the world. It won’t necessarily spell it out in terms we’re familiar with or in ways we can understand.
When we allow information of this sort to sink in, it’s a little like what happens when we eat. First, the food is broken down into its constituent parts. Then it is assimilated into the body. Then, it is converted into energy and subsequently into action. We can’t just throw food into a blender and then inject the solution into our bloodstream. That wouldn’t work. Why then do we expect to get clear, unambiguous guidance from God?
I’m not saying that we can’t. Sometimes a clear, unambiguous “yes” or “no” is all we need. But in order to change us, in order for the information (which is far more than words) to raise us to a higher order of being, we have to let it in—like food—and let it change us from the inside out. It has to go through the natural/spiritual processes before we can be transformed by the truth. And believe me, the information we get from God is ALWAYS the truth. Knowing this is what it means to “have faith.” The universe always gives us what we need when we ask for it. It never misleads us or tries to destroy us. Being is essentially benevolent in this regard.
We can always simply follow the instructions we get, and we should. But unless our obedience has been integrated into the core of our being, and by that I mean at the subconscious level, our actions will only proceed from our intellect and not from our heart. It’s not what we do that counts but what we do automatically. It’s our automatic responses to life that define us a person, not how well we follow the rules. Our conscious choices are variable—our unconscious responses are not. Unless we can be obedient from the unconscious level, any outward form of obedience only shows our willingness, not how much we have transformed. Our transformation is our Wedding Garment, the one Jesus spoke of in his parables, the one that we must be wearing before we can enter into the kingdom of heaven.