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Refining Your Character With The Fruit of The Spirit
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The Fruit of the Spirit
There are many texts of perennial wisdom which outline personal characteristics that will enhance spiritual growth and create a more positive life.
This article will begin with the Bible, and the Fruit of the Spirit outlined in the book of Galatians. It will look at other texts and the similar traits outlined in them, to help you enrich your own spiritual journey.
The Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:22-23; "22 But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." King James Version
Galatians 5:22-23; "22 But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." New International Version
Galatians 5:22-23; "22 But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law." Amplified Bible
What Does That Even Mean?
You may wonder what those attributes, the Fruit of the Spirit, have to do with you, and with how you live your life. The truth is, if you examine each characteristic and strive to implement it in your daily life, you will find yourself experiencing peace of mind and spiritual growth.
When you take the focus off of yourself, and turn your focus outward, toward the service of others as you embrace and embody the Fruit of the Spirit, you enter the Universal Flow of Energy.
Fruit of the Spirit
This is a daily meditation that I do as I am falling asleep. It is adapted from several Buddhist texts, and from the great teacher Thic Nhat Hanh.
Breathing deeply, think first of yourself. Extend love to yourself. Say (in your head or out loud)
"May I be peaceful, happy and light in body, mind and spirit. May I be safe and free from injury. May I be free from anger, affliction, fear and anxiety."
Now, extend your thoughts outward to the people you love. Picture their faces. You can name specific people or groups of people.
"May ... my children, my spouse, my family, my friends... be peaceful, happy and light in body, mind and spirit. May my children, my family and friends be safe and free from injury. May my children, my family and friends be free from anger, affliction, fear and anxiety."
Next, think about someone for whom you are neutral. For me, this group includes my ex husbands and estranged friends. I neither like nor dislike them. I am neutral toward them. Picture their faces.
"May ...my ex-husband be peaceful, happy and light in body, mind and spirit. May my ex-husband be safe and free from injury. May my ex-husband be free from anger, affliction, fear and anxiety.
Now the meditation gets harder, as you think about your enemies. People you dislike, as well as people who dislike you. If you can't think of any specific person, rest assured there is someone out there who does not like you, for whatever reason.
"May my enemies be peaceful, happy and light in body, mind and spirit. May my enemies be safe and free from injury. May my enemies be free from anger, affliction, fear and anxiety."
Finally, imagine everyone in the rest of the world. Again, people you don't know, people you don't like, people who may not like you. Extend the loving kindness to everyone. EVERYONE.
"May everyone be peaceful, happy and light in body, mind and spirit. May everyone be safe and free from injury. May everyone be free from anger, affliction, fear and anxiety."
This meditation helps you focus loving feelings toward yourself (easy), toward people you love (also easy), toward people you are neutral about (harder), toward people you dislike (yikes, this is really hard) and toward people you don't even know.
The purpose is to teach yourself to love others. Regardless of who they are or what they do, you can still love people. You can extend loving energy and thoughts without speaking a single word.
The primary spiritual lesson we are here to learn is love. We are completely and deeply loved. And we can accept and embrace that fact. And as we are loved, so too should we love others.
Jesus said that it is easy to love your friends, but it is much harder and more challenging to love the people you dislike. As you walk through your daily life, be conscious of the fact that you are completely loved. As you look about you, send loving energy to those around you.
You don't have to say or do anything differently. A mindset that begins with love and ends with love leaves no space for other thoughts.
It is not easy to be love, but that is what we are called to do. BE LOVE. Don't focus on feeling loving emotions or thinking loving thoughts, but instead think about being love.
In difficult situations, with difficult people, in all circumstances, react and respond with love. This does not mean a sickly sweet, syrupy response. It means releasing judgment about other people, forgiving people of their mistakes, and letting go of grudges. Holding on to all that negative energy does not help you develop spiritually. The negative energy only slows down your growth and prevents you from experiencing the bliss of living awake.
Breathe deeply and allow yourself to be love.
Experiencing joy comes first from inside. It is not an external display of false exuberance and enthusiasm. Joy is a light that is born within you and glows from the inside out.
Joy develops from an attitude of gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation of the blessings in your life. When you realize how lucky you are, joy springs from your thankful heart.
During a recent yoga class, I instructed my students to raise their arms above their heads in tree pose and reflect on what they are thankful for. One surly student sarcastically scowled and said, "For what?"
I responded, "I don't really care what you're grateful for. You have so many blessings. Choose one."
We all have things in our lives for which we can be grateful. We also have things that are difficult, unpleasant and painful. Think first on the beauty, the love and the blessings you are surrounded by. As you focus on these things, they will grow, and your heart will be filled with joy.
On being Happy
You can learn more about developing a peaceful mind
Read this article about ways to develop a peaceful mind, if you'd like to learn more.
Peace through Tao
The short answer from Taoists is this: Inner peace is found in self acceptance.
More fully, to find inner peace and self acceptance, students of Tao are instructed to keep three ideas in mind.
1. The PAST is gone and done. You cannot change or alter it. You can accept it.
2. The FUTURE is not yet here. You cannot changer or alter it. You can accept the unknown.
3. NOW is all you have. Accept it.
There are many different opinions about peace, internal peace and world peace. The truth is, you can have a perception of peace, regardless of what is happening around you. Peace of mind is an internal matter.
To find peace, you must first begin within yourself and then extend peaceful thoughts outward. From your own peaceful perception of the world, peaceful thoughts can arise about what is happening all around you, regardless of circumstances.
Everyday we are bombarded by situations, people and circumstances that leave us feeling attacked, unappreciated, or unloved. We give our peace away in favor of suffering in these circumstances.
Stop. Take a deep breath. Remember that the people, circumstances and events really have nothing to do with you. What people say, what they do, how they act, it is all their own dream. You are only a bystander in their own story. And they are bystanders in your story.
Instead of sacrificing your peace of mind, take a moment to see again. Realize that nothing is actually happening to you. Sure, stuff is happening, but it's not all about you.
You have complete control over your thoughts, your perceptions and your actions. That is all. You can control nothing else. Given that fact, then you have the choice to see peace instead of strife. Love instead of anger.
You can see peace instead of this. Choose again how you will perceive the world.
From Greek: Makrothumia
From Strongs Concordance, the word longsuffering comes from Greek origins
Greek: Makrothumia: From the words makrós, meaning long, and thymós, meaning passion or anger.
Makrothymia (divinely regulated patience) comes from God and is the practice of waiting a sufficient time before expressing anger (or passion). It avoids the premature use of force that arises out of imporoper anger.
This quality embraces steadfastness and staying power. It is a counterpoint to short tempered, being long tempered.
Longsuffering. Forebearance. Patience. How many times have you rolled your eyes and wished that you could have more patience?
I remember very clearly one day, standing in line at McDonald's. The line was long. The summer day was sweltering. The teen-aged clerks excruciatingly slowly took each order, then managed to get most of the orders wrong.
Standing in line, I held one baby on my right hip, while my toddler held my left hand. My young son had wrapped himself around my leg, while my older children took turns running in from the playland, to tackle my legs and inquire about their lunch. My then-husband grumbled angrily behind me about the interminable wait and teen-aged incompetence.
To one side, an older man scowled in my general direction, then said loudly that people with so many noisy children should eat at home.
I was hot. Tired. Hungry. Embarrassed. And I prayed to God for patience. I remember clearly, closing my eyes and whispering, "Please, please give me patience."
And a small, still voice deep inside my heart answered gently, "This is how you learn patience. In trying situations, your patience will be honed."
I knew better than to argue with God. Especially in McDonalds.
Over the course of the years, I learned the value and beauty of long suffering. In my life, long suffering took on the appearance of graciously enduring difficult situations, without griping and complaining.
It means practicing a quiet, gentle demeanor when you want to fight and scream. It means allowing life to unfold before you, knowing that you can only control yourself.
When the baby is screaming, the baby screams. Getting angry does not help the situation. Patience requires a gentle, settled heart that is willing to accept whatever circumstances life brings along, and knowing that things will change.
When someone is speaking harshly or unkindly or gossiping, patience requires no retort. Silence is the best answer for patience.
Kindness Changes Everything
Random Acts of Kindness
You can practice Random Acts of Kindness to anyone, anywhere. You can be kind, and still be yourself.
Random Acts of Kindness means doing something kind for someone, unasked, unexpected and without any expectation of their reaction. Just a nice act, without any thought of what you will get out of it.
You can practice kindness randomly, any day. It doesn't have to be a big deal. You can do something kind for someone.
Some ideas for Random Acts of Kindness: Hold the door for a stranger, help an elderly person in the grocery, ask a mom if she needs a hand, give a stranger a smile, say thank you, pay for a stranger's coffee, leave a kind note for someone, thank a police officer or any other public servant for their hard work, notice an older veteran wearing a hat that shows their military service and thank them for their service, offer to let someone go ahead of you in line, offer to help someone who has their hands full, let someone in during a traffic jam, give someone a card, buy someone flowers, compliment someone.
For more ideas about Random Acts of Kindness, check out this website:
Being kind is not difficult. You can be kind, regardless of what kind of mood you are in, what kind of day you've had, or whatever your circumstances are. Kindness costs nothing. It takes little effort to be kind, but it does require mindfulness, or in the least, an intention to practice kindness.
A few years ago, I read an article about defining your life. The article asked people to sum up their life mission in six words. I pondered the idea, and read some of the responses before developing my own life mission.
This is what I decided my mission in life is: Practice Kindness. Teach Peace. Transform Lives.
It seems like a simple enough statement, but since settling on those six small words, my life has changed. in ways I could never imagine.
Deciding to be kind, and setting an intention of kindness has made me mindful of how I treat people, including and especially strangers. When I decided that part of my life mission includes practicing kindness, not only did my attitude change toward people and in situations, but I also felt better.
It was an unexpected bonus of extending kindness outward. I felt better about myself. Instead of getting irritated with the billing person at the hospital, I thanked her for doing what must be a very difficult job. The gratitude in her voice, for being acknowledged, made my day. I wasn't looking to make myself feel better. I was hoping to help her have a better day. In the end, I had a better day too.
Kindness is its own reward. Being kind takes no real effort. It can be as simple as putting on a smile and saying thanks. Waving at a stranger. Not complaining. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, kindness improves your quality of life.
Authentic kindness, according to author Deborah Khoshaba, Psy.D., is a decision to respond to the needs of others. It is not born from any compulsion to be a do-gooder or a goody-two-shoes.
You can read her full article here:
Kindness matters. As I tell my children, my family and my students and friends, it is far better to be kind than to be right.
Being right is nice, but it doesn't always make things better. It doesn't help people feel better, or end an argument. Being kind will almost always leave both parties feeling better about the situation.
And although you may be accused of having selfish or impure motives, continue practicing kindness. There will always be doubters. As the song says, "Haters gonna hate, hate hate." It doesn't matter what people think or say to or about you. Be kind, whenever possible. And remember that it is always possible.
The Power of Kindness
Defining what is good could take an entire lifetime. Religions vary on what is good. People differ on what they consider good. Cultures differ on good versus evil. So how do you determine whether or not you are actually a good person? How do you know if you are evil? Do you ever know the truth about who you are?
According to Buddhist beliefs, good and evil are both innate characteristics of life. Every person has the capacity for good as well as the capacity for evil. When we deny our own capacity to be good or evil, then we are ignoring who we really are.
Goodness comes from choosing actions that benefit others before oneself. According to Psychology Today, good means a lack of self-centeredness and an ability to empathize with other people, feeling compassion for others and putting their needs before your own. Psychology Today goes on to say that being good means benevolence, altruism and selflessness toward a greater cause.
Above all, goodness can be defined as looking beyond superficial differences between people and recognizing that we are all one. We are all connected. We are all joined together in this great cosmic dance. Once you recognize that connection, you can relate to and connect with the essence that is our own humanity. And that is good.
What does it mean to be a good person? Is being "good" the same as being "kind"?
Goodness and kindness are not two sides of the same coin. You can be kind, without being good. And you can be good, without being kind. Let me share an example from real life.
I know a person who is a good person. She volunteers in the community, she organizes projects for the less fortunate. She does good things, she looks beyond her own interests to the needs of others, she puts others before herself. She is a "good" person. She is, however, very unkind. She doesn't smile at people. She is not friendly. She doesn't go out of her way to make a person's life easier. In fact, her personality is abrasive. That doesn't make her any less "good". It's just who she is. She doesn't waste her time trying to be kind.
On the other hand, I know a gentleman who is very kind. He buys coffee for the homeless guy who sits outside the coffee shop in our town. He goes out of his way to greet everyone with a kind word and a smile.
But in his business life, he is very self centered. He makes business decisions that benefit solely his business, without thinking about the impact on others. He is not "good". He is kind.
Our goal, as we grow in spiritual maturity, is to learn to balance the characteristics of goodness, kindness, patience, and the other Fruit of the Spirit. It is not something that anyone will be perfect at every day. Some day's you may be patient, but your kindness has been completely tapped out.
There is no black and white. People are not "all good" or "all evil". Each one of us has days we wish we could take back, when we are unkind, mean spirited, self centered, and egocentric. The goal is to be better today than yesterday. And on the days when you aren't as good as you wish, then tomorrow is another opportunity to try again.
"The whole course of things goes to teach us faith. We need only obey. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right word.... Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into you as life, place yourself in the full center of that flood, then you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment." Ralph Waldo Emerson, Spiritual Laws Essays
Faith is not limited to religion. One can have faith in a higher power, without belonging to a church or a particular religion. Faith reaches far beyond the confines of religious rules and regulations. Faith reaches into the nature of who we really are, to connect us to a source of inspiration and hope.
Faith is often defined as a belief in things unseen, and as confidence and trust in someone or something. You can have faith in things beyond spirituality. People have faith in science, in other people, in themselves.
There is much more to faith than religion, or even spirituality, but for when I talk about refining character, and the quality of faith, I am specifically referring to a belief, a hope and a confidence in something greater than ourselves.
It doesn't matter how you define your higher power. Whether you call it God, Holy Spirit, Allah, The Light, The Universe, Goddess, Yaweh, Jehova, or Gaia. It doesn't matter what you call it. What matters is that you believe in a power greater than yourself. In developing and refining your character, it is important to understand that we are all connected to something greater than ourselves, and this Universal Intelligence is connected to each one of us.
You don't have to fall to your knees in worship, or bow down, or dress a certain way. If you express gratitude for the blessings in your life, if you acknowledge that there is a force out there greater than you, if you stand in awe at the wonder of creation, then you begin refining your faith.
As the Mystic and philosopher Meister Eckhart so eloquently said, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."
Wayne Dyer on Faith
The idea of being gentle and meek is not a popular one in most cultures, where being strong, forward and abrasive is valued far above gentility.
The quality of being gentle and meek doesn't mean that you become a wall flower or a door mat. It doesn't mean that you can't be successful at work and in life.
Instead, a meek and gentle spirit is one of humility, quiet confidence and settled self assurance. It is not boastful and loud, but strong and confident. You don't have to be loud and abrasive to be strong. Instead, there is a greater strength in calm, quiet and collected presentation.
When life has been hard and dealt you difficulty, rather than react with rough and harsh words and actions, you can accept your circumstances and deal with them with balance, equanimity and grace. These are the qualities of a meek and gentle person.
Self Control (Temperance)
The final Fruit of the Spirit is self control or temperance. Although it is the last one mentioned, self control is arguable the most important aspect of refining your character.
Self control means the ability to control your words and your deeds. When you have mastered control over yourself internally, then you can master the outward aspects of your life. Self control plays the most important role in things such as your thought process, and whether you are happy or miserable; your health; finances; and your day to day life in general.
Self control may be the hardest to master, but it can also be the most rewarding. Beginning with your thought process, you have complete control over how you view the world and how you respond to the world. It takes self control to view the world from a positive, peaceful place, and lack of self control in our mind can lead to misery and unhappiness when you choose to let the world victimize you.
Learning to control your tongue is another aspect of self control that can be difficult and rewarding. It is easy to say something mean, to speak harshly and to respond to people with anger. It is much more difficult to think before speaking, to hold your tongue, and to wait to respond. This takes self control.
The most basic way to practice self control is to remind yourself that you have complete control over yourself and only yourself. You have no control over other people. There is nothing you can say or do to control someone else.
It can be a relief to release your desire to control other people, situations and outcomes. And it is empowering to take control of your own life. You do not have to react with anger. You can respond with thoughtful intention to whatever comes your way.
The Yamas and Niyamas
The five Yamas ethical standards of Yoga are:
Nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, continence (self restraint) and non-greed.
The five Niyamas, spiritual observances of Yoga are:
Cleanliness, contentment, spiritual austerity, study, surrender to God.
Living a meaningful and purposeful life
The Yoga Sutra offers eight steps to living a meaningful and purposeful life. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra describes a practice of moral and ethical conduct, health and spirituality.
The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga include:
Yama: Ethical standards and behavior, it details how we should conduct our lives.
Niyama: Self discipline and spiritual practices
Asana: Physical poses practiced in yoga. These poses connect the breath, the body and the spirit.
Pranayama: Learning to breathe correctly and gain control over breathing, while learning the connection between the breath, the body and emotions.
Pratyahara: Withdrawing our awareness and attention from the external world and turning inside.
Dharana: Slow down the thinking process and learn to concentrate.
Dhyana: Learning meditation and how to be keenly aware of surroundings, without attachment.
Samadhi: A state of ecstasy, when you realize the connection between yourself and the Divine, and between all others, yourself and the Divine.
Be the best version of you
The Fruit of the Spirit is a biblical guideline for behavior and character. It follows the teachings of many other texts of perennial wisdom, which lay out similar characteristics from other cultures. While no one is perfect, and not one of us will ever get everything exactly right, remember that every moment is an opportunity to start over.
Every breath is a chance to begin again. You have the opportunity to show up in your life today exactly as you'd like. It doesn't matter what you did yesterday, or even in the last moment. What matters is that in this moment, you show up and be exactly what you desire to be.
Change is difficult, especially when viewed over the course of the remainder of a lifetime. Instead, practice being kind, patient, gentle, whatever, in each moment. You don't have to worry about being perfect. Just be the best version of yourself. That will always be enough.