We all have spiritual gifts we can claim. Recently at a workshop I was leading I met Troy. Originally from Jamaica, he now lives in New York City and works as a real estate agent. “But I’m really a supporter of souls,” he quietly explained to me. “People getting divorced, single mothers looking for a safe home for their kids…I listen and I do what I can to help.” As he spoke, he radiated calmness. I knew that if I were in trouble, I would want to be around him.
I asked Troy where he learned to be so peaceful. He said he didn’t know, that he’d been that way since he could remember. That it had gotten him in trouble with boys who didn’t consider him manly enough. “But I figured it was better to stay peaceful even if others didn’t appreciate it,” he said sadly.
Troy came to every one of my talks that week. Every time I was near him, I felt serene. I knew it was no act—this was Troy being truly himself. The last day, I said to him, “You have a very strong spiritual gift. I would call it equanimity.” “Thank you,” he beamed, “it feels good to have it acknowledged.”
Discovering Our Spiritual Gifts
Like Troy, each and every one of us has precious spiritual gifts of the soul. We may take them for granted. We may consider them weaknesses. We even may have been wounded in them by unaware others. But we each have them. They are spiritual attributes that we were either graced with at birth or grew very young through the challenges of our lives. Spiritual gifts are qualities of heart such as graciousness, steadfastness, devotion, humility, purity, integrity, idealism, commitment.
My friend Daphne’s spiritual gift is compassion—you only have to look at her soulful eyes to feel that this is a person who knows how to suffer with the sorrows of others. My friend Ann’s is loyalty—she has been caring for her ninety-eight year old mother for twenty-five years despite never receiving recognition or appreciation. My husband Don’s is gentleness—everything he does and says has a soft quality to it.
It was Homer that said, “The glorious gifts of the gods are not to be cast aside.” What I take this to mean is that we have a responsibility to the heartful, spiritual gifts we have been given—to honor them, to polish them to their fullest, to offer them to those around us and to the world at large.
Merely acknowledging our spiritual gifts can be a courageous act. It goes against all the training we have about being swellheaded or full of ourselves. But nowhere in our lives is it more crucial that we go against this conditioning. Because these qualities are the vehicles by which we bring joy to others and consequently ourselves. To experience this, all you have to do is spend a few moments with someone who is utilizing his or her gift, like Troy, to feel its power, grace, and magic.
To begin to get a sense of what your spiritual gifts are, think about what others have criticized, ridiculed, or shamed you for—for instance, being too sensitive, too kind, or too loyal. Or think what you’ve blamed or shamed yourself for—for being a sucker, not tough enough, or quick to run to the side of the underdog. What positive attribute lies beneath the criticism or self accusation?
For instance, I always used to say, “My wound is my understanding.” Meaning that I can always understand why someone behaves the way they do so I could never kick them out of my heart, which I saw as a flaw. Some behavior is unacceptable! When I saw this in the positive, I came to perceive my understanding as the ground for one of my spiritual qualities–steadfastness.
We are usually challenged in our soul gifts. That’s how we grow them—by refusing, like Troy, to give them up, despite outside pressure or inward doubt. Many spiritual traditions say that the heartfulness we grow through these qualities is the only thing we take with us when we die. Here’s how Edward Bulwer-Lytton put it: “Our great object in time is not to waste our passions and gifts on the things external that we must leave behind, but that we cultivate within us all that we can carry into the eternal progress beyond.”
What a grand and glorious task! Developing our spiritual gifts takes us out of the ordinariness of our days and asks us to see our lives against this immense and much more magnificent canvas.
About the Author:
M.J. Ryan is one of the creators of the New York Times bestselling Random Acts of Kindness and the author of Trusting Yourself, How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For, The Power of Patience, The Happiness Makeover, and Attitudes of Gratitude, among other books. She works as an executive coach to individuals and teams around the world, and is a workshop leader at Omega, Esalen, and elsewhere.