The Nine Spiritual Capacities

“The human person is a threshold where many infinities meet.” ~ John O’Donohue

“What we call ‘I’ is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki


Devotion to contemplative practice brings enhanced self-awareness, soulful presence, and spiritual depth. The separate self learns to awaken from its isolation and enter into communion with the larger cycles of life. Through contemplative practice, we—as earth beings—can develop capacities for feeling into and communing with ‘Spiritual Earth:’ Her cycles and Her presence. A longing for this communion invites us onto the path of deepening and growing with spiritual capacity.

The path of practices is cyclical, like walking a labyrinth. It is common to refer to the spiritual path as a “wheel.” This outline offers an overview of the capacities that are developed with each turn of the wheel. There are nine distinct spiritual capacities. Each distinct form is necessary for navigating that phase of the full cycle. Capacity grows as you deepen into the practices. With every turn of the wheel you always receive the sustaining gift of Inner Stillness.

Certain spiritual capacities develop more readily than others.  In using this summary, learn to adapt your practice regimen to meet the present spiritual needs most requiring attention. Life on the spiritual wheel never becomes complete. We stay on the wheel as our way of continually attuning. Our capacities for soulful presence and spiritual zest grow through years of devotion. This summary traces one full turn of the spiritual wheel.

A mantra that may prove helpful: “Be still and awake in the feeling field.” Attend especially to two primary aspects: Stillness and felt perceptual presence. That ground of presence is always perception—heartfully, bodily felt—held in contemplative communion with a companioning presence: Spiritual Earth held in the Vast Stillness. Life never leaves Love’s embrace.

The Nine Spiritual Capacities

Attuning    Discerning

Emptying    Responding

Pausing     Relating

  Receiving     Communing



AttuningTo become relaxed, attentive, wakeful, aware, and observant.

  • Key Words: Noticing, Attending – Heartfully-Mindfully-Bodily.

“There is no inevitability where there is a willingness to pay attention.” (McLuhan)

“Buddha means aware, miraculously aware.” (Bodhidharma)

Reminder: Be wakefully attentive.


Emptying – To release, surrender, and let go.

  • Key Words: To Voice, Release or Express Suffering, Grieving, and Dying (of any kind), as well as all Separating Emotions.

 “Our lives are embraced by a mystery that is gracious and trustworthy, and our human fulfillment lies in surrendering to it.” (Tom Owen-Towle)

“Inside this new love, die. Your way begins on the other side.” (Rumi) 

“Everything comes out of emptiness.” (Shunryu Suzuki) 

“Allow emotion to uncouple from the self.” (Robert Sardello, adapted)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

“Mourning is indeed a brutal form of emptiness. But…if we can remain open, we discover that a mysterious “something” does indeed reach back to comfort us….”     (Cynthia Borgeault)

“No one is exempt from our pain for the world. Everyone at some level feels distress over the world’s future.” (Joanna Macy)

“When a person feels safe to express his or her own…feelings, without being judged or redirected, that person is more apt to say what is really going on.” (Michael Diamond)

“Grief has a sound, a sound that embarrasses the repressed and offends the oppressive; grief is the sound of being alive.” (Martin Prechtel)

“Grief is an obligation to the life one has been awarded, an obligation to life to make more life.” (Martin Prechtel)

“I had jumped into the darkness, and I had been caught in the arms of love.”          (Bede Griffiths)

Reminder: Release clinging, cultivate emptiness.


Pausing – To become silent, still, open, transparent, trusting, and patiently waiting. Become ‘No-Thing’ open to receiving.

  • Key Words: Opening, Stillness, Resonant Interval, Pregnant Emptiness, Potentia, Silence, Incubation, the ‘Waiting Space’

 “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until we are nothing God can make nothing out of us.” (Martin Luther, adapted)

“Thirty spokes are made on by holes in a hub, by vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use….” (Lao Tzu)

“Praise to the emptiness that blanks out existence. Existence: This place made from our love for that emptiness!” (Rumi)

“Everything we see is a part of Emptiness.” (Shunryu Suzuki)

“The essence of emptiness is pregnant with potential and contains all possibilities.”     (Al Huang and Jerry Lynch)

“Love is emotion held in Utter Stillness.” (Robert Sardello)

“We are an open, empty place waiting for what we are called to be at any moment.” (Robert Sardello)

“Receptive space is a naturally occurring emptiness everywhere that is not a substance but invites energy to inhabit it with substance.” (Alan Rayner)

“Be still and notice.” (Gerald May, adapted)

“Stillness is peace. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’” (Jesus of Nazareth, adapted)

Rumi’s poem “Buoyancy.”

 Reminder: Release restriction and willfulness, and receive the grace of stillness.



Receiving – To become Receptively Present (attentive, still, open, and receiving).

  • Key Words: Open and Trusting, Holding, Waiting, Welcoming, Listening, Embracing

 “Center within the heart and feel the warmth of openness.” (from a Sardello retreat)  

 “Look at the life of nature with an inward feeling participation.” (Georg Kuhlewind)

“Receptive will resonates as a will developed in devotion that guides the soul, and it directs its effect upon the soul.” (Georg Kuhlewind)

 Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:16)

 “God guard me from those thoughts men think in the mind alone; he that sings a lasting song thinks in the marrow bone.” (W.B. Yeats)

“I contain multitudes.” (Walt Whitman)

“The receptive will is at one with spontaneous attention [of] the streaming element that carries and sustains attention.” (Georg Kuhlewind, adapted)

 Reminder: Be radically receptive.



Perceiving – (Without the intrusions of intellect) – to sense, feel, and empathically embrace the body, the other, the place, presences, the world, and the Deep Beyond.

  • Key Words: Sensing, Hearing, Feeling, Seeing, Awakening, Imagining

 “Vision is impossible without truth to one’s deepest feelings.” (Alfred Kazin)

 “To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower.” (William Blake)

 “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear as it is, infinite.” (William Blake)

“Experiencing the pain of grieving and coming closer to the actual creating activity of dreaming must be accompanied by the wisdom of the senses.” (Robert Sardello and Cheryl Sanders-Sardello, adapted)

“True imagination involves alert consciousness participating through creative perception.” (Robert Sardello and Cheryl Sanders-Sardello, adapted)

“Heart perception is warm, spacious, receptive, inclusive, embracing, hospitable, intimate, spontaneous, and ever-present.” (A composite from several sources)

Reminder: Be immersed in perceiving.



Discerning – To Notice, Recognize, Distinguish, Comprehend, Determine.

  • Key Words: Differentiating, Discriminating, Clarifying, Seeing, Understanding.

 “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (Rilke)

“Discernment is like a spiritual instinct that operates without intellectual intervention.” (Robert Sardello)

“Intuition characterizes discernment, which differs from rational thinking.”    (Robert Sardello)

“Intuition is the faculty of comprehending the object of the soul in its interior relation with the cosmic totality lying concealed under the variety of the world.” (Toshimitsu Hasumi)

“Think with the mind descended into the heart.” (Parker J. Palmer)

“Discernment bridges the intangible realm of feeling and sensing with the tangible realm of responding (leading to active or action-less response).” (Gerald May, adapted)

 “To distinguish is to clarify; to divide is to destroy the underlying and ultimate unity.” (Sharon Parks)

 “Discernment is living and navigating the currents of the intangible soul-spirit realms of not knowing.” (Robert Sardello, adapted)

Reminder: Maintain the disciplines of inner stillness and listening.



 Responding – To reflect, mirror, inquire, and awaken into aliveness from insights arising within receptive-perceptive presence.

  • Key Words: Asking (with openness), Reflecting, Entering, imagining, Participating, and Communing.

 “I have a strange feeling you heard me before I started. You heard me to my own story. You heard me to my own speech.” (quoted by Nelle Morton)

 “Attend dream images as living beings.” (Renee Coleman)

“Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.” (Rainer M. Rilke)  

 Reminder: Reflect with feeling, wonder, and presence.



Relating – To enter the dance with an ‘other’ while remaining receptive with, within, and in the shared presence of mutuality and communion.

  • Key Words: Gesturing, Joining, Dancing, Merging, Collaborating, Becoming.

“To love means to have an intrinsic interest in another person.” (Howard Thurman)

“Compassion is allowing the other’s emotion to be with you.” (Robert Sardello)

“The crux of the Tao mentoring process is the dance between mentor and mentee, where each is involved with giving and receiving. (Al Huang and Jerry Lynch)

“By acknowledging the shared presence of emptiness, mentor and mentee enter into communion as partners.” (Al Huang and Jerry Lynch, adapted)

 “Reverence the energy’s own limitless flow. It surprises us with good things far more than we now envision…and works in unexpected ways….” (Nelle Morton)

Reminder: To merge with the “currents of communion.”



Communing – The dance of life becomes a “new gift.” It dwells and lives as a new-born Presence: flowing, breathing, affecting, infusing, and permeating all relations.

  • Key Words: Imagining, Composing, Creating, Embodying, Dwelling, Interbeing, Flowing, Dancing.

 “I sing the body electric.” (Walt Whitman)

 “Our reasonable, liberating visions of holiness are restless until incarnated.” (Tom Owen-Towle)

“I live my life in growing orbits which move out over the things of the world.” (Rilke)

 “The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.” (Rabindranath Tagore)

Reminder: Birth, embody and nurture this new gift.








©Reverend Roy Reynolds

May 10, 2017