One Voice: Ellen Williams

One Voice: Ellen Williams

I hope my children and grandchildren will ask "Who am I?" and learn to define themselves by their spiritual natures, not by their physical forms or achievements.

Ellen Williams
Richmond, VA
United States

I do not think one can answer the question "Who will we be for each other?" until we answer the question "Who am I?". Both individually and collectively how we define ourselves is essential to how we respond to events in our lives and how we treat each other. With the mystics of all major religions, I believe that we are spiritual beings who have form as opposed to forms who have a spiritual aspect. Our essential nature is eternal and transcends any other identity we take on as we individuate. We so readily define and identify ourselves by age, gender, accomplishments, education, membership, intelligence, possessions, economic wealth, the roles we play, health, athletic prowess, appearance and on. When any of these are challenged or taken away, it is a crisis. It is a spiritual crisis first and secondly may be a moral crisis. It is a crisis of identity. If we define ourselves as spiritual beings, issues of trust, responsibility, community, mutuality, and virtue are addressed first spiritually.

A crisis of metastatic breats cancer, which affects both health and finances (since my investmenst are now worth half of what they used to be and insurance costs are high), has reassured me that who we are spiritually is what matters most. I have found great sustenance in both my practice of contemplative prayer and the insights of a book by Kathleen Singh, The Grace in Dying.

Her experience with hospice patients has led her to beleive that those who are dying are forced to go through the same process as those who are seriously pursuing the path of enlightenment through spiritual disciplines. Those who are dying are forced to let go of all by which they have defined themselves. What is left in the dying process is their essential nature, their spirit, which is transpersonal. Those seeking enlightenment, union with God, are likewise opening themselves to higher levels of consciousness that transcend the personal and consequently letting go of old ways of defining who they are.

When we as persons or communities or nations define ourselves by our personas, egos, myths and differences instead of our essential beings, a crisis will knock us of our feet. When grounded in our essential being, we have the strength of a mountain which is changeless and calm no matter what weather is raging. This does not mean there are not practical things to be done, but we can remain calm and focused. We might ask ourselves if such an economic crisis would have happened if more were truly grounded in our spiritual being instead of in greed, deceit and personal gain. Perhaps we as a nation have dropped to the lowest common denominator in our spiritual life.

I hope my children and grandchildren will ask "Who am I' and learn to define themselves by their spiritual natures, not by their physical forms or achievements. Then they will be for themselves and for each other what is needed for our mutual benefit.

About the Project

Over the past several months, we've been exploring the spiritual and moral aspects of the economic downturn and flaws that have been exposed in financial systems. Online and on air, we've generated a challenging, edifying, cross-cultural conversation called Repossessing Virtue. We continue to look for fresh thinking and language for talking about what has happened and why — not just in terms of financial tools and strategies but in terms of personal conscience and values. We're looking for practical resources for individual and communal evaluation and renewal, moving forward from this crisis.

In exploring the moral, spiritual, and practical aspects of the economic downturn, we've asked past guests, listeners, and other familiar voices for their wisdom and insight about the changing economic climate.

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