Pursuing the Excellent Life
Sept. 15, 2021

Flourishing and Spirituality with Dr. Bernadine Lewis

Many of us have a faith, but how is that different from spirituality? Is spirituality like food in the sense that we need it to care for our bodies (or in this case, our soul), something that every person by the nature of being a person has to deal with, or is it more like art and music? Spirituality, unlike religion, focuses on obtaining a sense of peace and of purpose.

Andrea and Craig welcome Reverend Dr. Bernadine Lewis as she tells us a little bit about how having a spiritual dimension to one's life could contribute to flourishing. She speaks about how spirituality has been in her family for generations, and why a lot of people still aren’t really flourishing despite comfort, wealth and success, and what might be missing in their life to truly flourish. Listen to the episode to learn how to flourish by incorporating spirituality into your life.


Bernadine 00:00 

The first thing is you have to guard your spirit and be very protective, meaning then you realize being involved in a bunch of activities, you know, being tied down or having a lot of commitments will sometimes disrupt that, that sense of peace or disrupt that purpose. Cause then you get caught up into, oh, I don't have time to do or to center myself or to, to really do or acknowledge what, what I'm really feeling pulled to do.

Craig  00:47 

Hi folks. This is Greg Van Slyke. Welcome to the Rational Ignorance podcast where we talk about ideas, values, and living life well.

Andrea 00:54 

Hi, I'm Andrea Christelle, a philosopher and outdoor enthusiast who lives in Sedona, Arizona.

Craig 00:59 

And I'm a business professor, author and rancher who lives in the middle of the woods in Eros, Louisiana. We're here to have fun, interesting conversations that help us get to the heart of what it means to live a good life.

Andrea 01:09 

Rational ignorance is an idea from economics that basically means there is a limit to what we need to know. So we'll skip the small stuff and focus on what really matters and help you move towards a flourishing life.

Craig 01:26 

Spirituality is something that many people feel to be an important or even essential element of a good life. Other people reject this notion altogether and see spirituality or any faith-based commitments as a source of delusion and confusion. Here at the Rational Ignorance podcast it so happens that we both value spirituality, but in different ways. In our own conversations, we've debated back and forth the nature of spirituality and the nature of religion. And so today we're gonna dig into that a little bit deeper. We hope you enjoy and benefit from the Rational Ignorance podcast. If you do, please help us spread the impact with our little podcast by sharing your favorite episode with one person this week.

Andrea 02:07 

Today we are fortunate to have as our guest Bernadine Lewis, director for undergraduate programs at the WA Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University. Bernadine Lewis's professional experience includes over 20 years of higher education experience as well as entrepreneurship. Dr. Lewis is passionate about her work with business students, and that work includes a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. She also serves as the co-chair for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the League of Women Voters of Northern Arizona. Her academic background includes a doctorate in divinity, psychology and business undergraduate degrees, as well as an MBA. Dr. Lewis, thank you for joining us.

Bernadine 02:50 

Thank you for having me.

Craig 02:53 

So Bernadine, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Bernadine 02:57 

Well, yes, I can, although I think my, my sister here covered it all. You know, I think in having this discussion, to give some background to that, being raised in, in Georgia and, and being the granddaughter of a spiritual leader and a Southern Baptist preacher, I never thought that I would be called to follow in the footsteps of the ministry. So despite the business and entrepreneurship, the call was still there and in the south, it is not unusual when one is involved in, in politics in some form or fashion. It is not unusual for people of color of African descent to also have that calling into the ministry in one way or another. So, uh, just like the other well-known Lewis from Georgia who was also known as Reverend Lewis, here I am Reverend Lewis.

Craig 04:17 

So for those of you who aren't familiar with the south, the Bible belt is a real thing. The church is,

Bernadine 04:28 

It really is.

Craig 04:29 

Yeah. And churches are a community in a way that you don't see, well, you see it in, in big Catholic parishes and some of those things and other parts of the country, but really churches for many people are the fabric of their social life, not just their spiritual life in the south. And so I think it kind of makes sense that, uh, in some communities there's this intersection of the, of religion and spirituality and politics, which is pretty interesting. So just a little note for those of you who may not have lived in the south,

Bernadine 05:03 

It really is.

Craig 05:04 

It's a real thing.

Bernadine 05:06 

Yeah. And for the African American culture where the church has been everything, it was the school, you know, it was the community center, it was the homeless shelter, the it's, the everything. And so life, you could often, in the African-American community, find yourself in church several times a week, not just on Sundays, which typically is the holy day or the day of worship.

Craig 05:43 

So before we get too far into this, I wonder if you could help us put some definition to the term spirituality. You know, I've always been a little bit confused by this term and exactly what it means. So maybe you could tell us what, what it means when you say it and what it, so we have some kind of context here.

Bernadine 06:07 

You know, spirituality, unlike religion, it really, I think comes into being more of a an individual practice and it focuses on those practices, focuses on obtaining a sense of peace and of purpose. And unlike religion, which tells us, okay, we go to the temple or our places of worship on this day, Saturday or Sunday, you know, it has, uh, each, each religion has a, has a name and, and it has very specific ways of worshiping or acknowledging, um, whoever they call their creator or the Supreme being. And I've learned that religion often is based upon "Don't do this. Don't do that. We do this. This is what we do. This is what we do not do." And if you follow all of these things, you may end up in this eternal place, either up or down. And I have found or heaven or hell and wherein spirituality will begin to cause you to realize that this heaven or hell really is just between your ears. It's it's in your mind. And that you can have heaven or hell right here on earth. And, uh, but still it's it's it's and, and, and in order to have that peace or to recognize when you're going through that hell, you have to look within, as opposed to religion may be giving you some directives on what you need to do outwardly, uh, in order to obtain this peace, uh, to relieve yourself of this hell that you may feel like you're in.

Andrea 08:24 

So Bernadine, if I hear you correctly, it sounds like spirituality is a much more personal thing. And one of the reasons we wanted to have you on today is because we're doing a whole series on a flourishing life. And, and what it means to flourish. And I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about having a spiritual dimension to one's life could contribute to flourishing?

Bernadine 08:55 

Sure. For one, you know, the beginning of, of spirituality and, and that walk when an individual is seeking to find that sense of purpose, that sense of peace. The one thing that I often share is you first have to acknowledge your connection with whomever you call creator. And, and religion tends to teach that we're out, we've fallen from connection with, and I guess we're supposed to do all of these things in order to get back in connection with creator with spirit. And then that's where we get religion. Religion means to tie back, to link, to connect. Spirituality, I acknowledge I am never, ever uh, disconnected from the spirit of the most high. The spirit resides in me and I reside in and with the most high, and in order to maintain that, the first thing is you have to guard your spirit. And, and be very protective, meaning then you realize being involved in a bunch of activities, you know, being tied down or having a lot of commitments will sometimes disrupt that sense of peace or disrupt that purpose. Cause then you get caught up into, oh, I don't have time to do or to center myself or to really do or acknowledge what I'm really feeling pulled to do. And so that, that first step, if in acknowledging that I am in spirit and spirit is in me. And then now I am responsible for, for nurturing that, for guarding that, and, and that means, you know, we, we may have to not indulge so much in food and in libations and in celebrations, um, but really seek to find that balance so that we do not lose that connection.

Craig 11:29 

I'm not sure how I feel about that living here in Louisiana with the food, the food.

Bernadine 11:38 

Well, it, for some, for some, some, I mean, and I come on, we know when we have overindulged and we feel that. And when after we have overindulged and having fun and even studying or working too much, so I'll make it it's not just about the food, but it is sometimes we eat too much. A few nights ago I ate too much and I knew that I needed to go home and, and do some writing, but I was not able to. And I really felt bad about that, but there was nothing that I could do. And, and so for that moment and, and spirit, when I say spirit, that's your higher self. So we, we don't have to get all spooky, but the, you know, but it is, it is your connection with the most high, whomever you acknowledged to give that reverence to. And so I really felt bad. I knew I needed to do that, but I was not able to. And, and so in that moment I was out of balance. I was, I was out of touch with my higher self, and then that moment I knew that I needed to do something. That honored my higher self, but I was not able to. And the beautiful thing though, you know, that's when we start talking about grace and, and so I, all I could do was just sleep, fall asleep in grace, but, but that's that connection when you're led because of having that connection.

Craig 13:28 

So you mentioned grace.

Andrea 13:33 

So let's not move away from the topic of food too quickly, because that is just one of our favorites. And, you know, I think every person needs to eat, right? And so every person kind of needs to find a balance in how much they're going to eat or take care of their bodies when it comes to living a flourishing life. No. And we've talked to some other folks, uh, musicians, artists, and they've connected their work to a flourishing life, but we don't necessarily think that every person in order to flourish has to play music or every person in order to flourish has to be an artist. And I wonder about spirituality. Is spirituality more like food? And to the care of our bodies, something that every person by the nature of being a person has to deal with, or is it more like art and music? It may be for you, or it may not be for you. I feel like spirituality is, is really kind of confusing and some people would say, every person needs to have this, it is like the food of the soul. And other people would say I'm just not a spiritual person, that's not for me, but I, I live a happy and flourishing life. And I just I'm interested in, in your take on that.

Bernadine 14:59 

Every human was created by some higher force, something much bigger than all of us. Now, now here's that religion where I agree a little bit, a little bit, there was a disconnect between man or human and their creator, and it it's for every human to be reawakened to the true sense of who they really are. And so, you know, people who say, oh, I'm thriving. I have a good life and, you know, I often want to ask and I have what, you know, what is a good life to you? What is a thriving life? And to most a thriving life, more flourishing life is, oh, I have a good job. I got a good education. I have a beautiful family, good, you know, beautiful children and they're successful. Um, you know, I have this big position in my company. And, you know, I have a very cushy salary and we go on vacation to exotic places. And that is the definition of many as having a flourishing life. I can, you know, buy mostly anything that I want, you know, and that's the definition. But when we're living a spiritual life, we, we know that we can not get caught up into these material things. They can be taken away at any time. And I've, I've seen many people devastated upon losing that six figure salary and who've taken their lives because what else or I lost, you know, my partner in life, my spouse, what will I do now? I have nothing to live for. When you're living a spiritual life and you've been filled with the knowledge that there is something much bigger than me and I'm a part of something much bigger, um, you realize that your identity is not the title that you hold, the salary that you make and the neighborhood that you live in, it is much bigger than that.

And, and that is something that humans I think forgotten because if religion is defined, as there was a disconnect, a link and, and, and, you know, the story of man falling from grace somehow, then our true purpose is to get back into our right minds. And so I think that's where we lose it. Some humans are defining flourishing life in the physical as what they can see, feel possessed, you know, have, and the spiritual is beyond that.

Andrea 18:21 

So then to get back to the question, do you think that the spiritual dimension of life is an essential component of life for every person?

Bernadine 18:30 

It is. That's the way the creator designed this, but here again, if, if one is so caught up in their ego and caught up in what they can see, feel, you know, I can have whatever I want or mostly anything that I want. Then they obviously have not come into that realization. But can we agree that we know some people who have the six figure income and the nice cushy home and nice car and they still, when you see, if you know them personally, they're still always searching for something. You know, they have all of this stuff, but there's saying something is missing and they tend to go after, you know, I'm trying this this year and then next year they're trying something different rather than to be satisfied with the wonderful family, with what you already have. And typically those individuals are the ones that are not connected, um, to something higher than all of the physical possession.

Andrea 20:54 

Bernadine, one of the reasons I wanted to ask you about that is because as you know, I live here in Sedona and many people visit Sedona that I would say fall into that exact description, that picture you have painted for us. In many ways have very successful and seemingly flourishing lives and yet come to Sedona because they feel that there is something missing or some connection that they desire. And so if someone is seeking that, and I think religion probably is one of the most obvious places to go when people are seeking a spiritual life, religious communities often offer a path to that. But if someone was interested in that path and not necessarily interested in following a religious doctrine, what advice do you have for these people to open up this spiritual dimension of themselves?

Bernadine 21:09 

First to get quiet with self. And I think you and I have had this discussion about, you know, we're, when we talk about now, we're beginning to talk about a lot about diversity and inclusion and equity. And my approach is that one must first self-reflect. And so this is I think the beginning of any serious life change or undertaking that you are about to embark upon. So going within, it's always about going within, you know, the beliefs and the practices. The outward gives us some, uh, begins to give us that discipline. And so then, but when we want to center ourselves and connect, then we must sit still. And start by seeking what is really inside of me and what is drawing me and what is it and where is it should I go and what is it that I should do? And that is true spirituality when you recognize that divine wisdom, divine knowledge divine, I prefer to say overstanding rather than understanding. It is within us. You just have to sit still to ask for it, to be revealed and to be reawakened in you, and then you can move forward. And so, you know, a beautiful place like Sedona, which causes, you know, gives you that opportunity to be in the midst of the most beautiful part of creation and often to walk or to just stop and stand and to take all of that in, that is a spiritual moment. When you behold, the beauty of Sedona, that is a spiritual moment because it causes you to just stand still or to sit and to just take it in to stop whatever it is that you've been doing,

all of the busy-ness, all of the thinking. A setting like that is the perfect beginning to, to reawaken. And if you're already reawakened, to commune, which is communication to commune with the most high, to be at one with self, which you're, again, we are never out of the presence of the most high.

Andrea 24:10 

I really love what you're saying there. Certainly the reflection and self knowledge is, you know, really consistent with this constant philosophical project of knowing ourselves, right? That's what we hear is know yourself. And that seems so simple, but can be so tricky, right? But, and you have tied that back to connecting to and appreciating the beauty all around all around us. And so it seems to be this project of both going inward and appreciating what is around us in terms of the natural beauty.

Craig 24:56 

I just wanted to play skeptic for just a second. I mean, that all sounds really good. We're going to connect with ourselves and, you know, enjoy beauty and all of those things, and that all sounds wonderful. But you know, it's a struggle just to get through every day for a lot of people, regardless of their station in life, either you're in, or you're trying to, to keep all the balls in the air. And, you know, there are a lot of balls that we're juggling these days. And I think most people would really like that idea, but how do we do it? How, how do you actually make that happen in the kind of world we live in today?

Bernadine 25:43 

You just do it. It's what is important to you. There's a scripture in the Christian Bible that that says "What profit is the man to gain the world and lose his soul." So, so what is it, what is more important to you? Is it more important that you, you know, is it more important to have, you know, this home behind, in a gated community? You know, the, the designer high powered fast car, you know, the, this big title, but when you go behind the gates of this gated community and you walk in the house, you and your partner, there's contention, you cannot find peace in your home. You know, you hide out at the office. That's a good excuse. I have to work late so that you do not have to be at home. Is that more important to keep up the facade or to have peace? And I think we all know the answer. Many people have chosen to stay in turmoil rather than to downsize so we do not need a six bedroom home. We'd be happy with just a three bedroom home. We do not have to stay behind the gated community. Let's go somewhere where there the neighborhood or the community, are like-minded people like ourselves. Let's have a farm and animals like Van Slyke. So, and that's when we go back to, or we can use the example, the three of us have visited countries, or even states where the people are not as prosperous as the rest of us. But there is happy. You can't even describe their happiness and the peace that they have. And we're looking at them like, oh my God, but look how they're living. Look where they live. They hardly have anything to eat, but their, the smiles and the laughs are genuine. They don't have a care in the world. And these people are typically the ones who keep their prayer life going, you know, they're, they're loyal to it and they will talk about whomever that higher being is in their lives. So, you know, we, we can not, and I guess that's the responsibility that I took on when I answered the call to ministry, Dr. Van Slyke to persuade others on why they need to choose to reawaken and be connected to something higher than just their bank accounts and the influence that they have that has brought them into these positions of power.

Craig 28:59 

You know, I think that's, that's an excellent point because. We're, uh, we're always, if you get into that, that treadmill of modern life, there's always something else to buy. There's always another promotion to seek. There's always another job to go after. There's always more money to get. I mean, it just it's simply never ends. I mean, a lot of us have been in this situation and, and you, you know, you get there and it's like, wow, this is great. This is awesome. And then, you know, three months, six months, a year later, it's like, yeah, all right now. I mean, I experienced this when I stepped back from being in administration. What in the world was I thinking, you know, there was so much stress. I was away from home. I was on 30 airplanes in 30 days one year. I was gone all the time. I wasn't around, you know, my wife whom I love dearly. I wasn't around all my animals who I, I love Tracy more, but it's close. It's close, but I love Tracy more than the animals, but you know, it was, it was tough. And after a while it felt a little bit pointless, you know, despite the good work that, you know, I might've been able to do it at some point, you know, it's just, it's just this hedonic treadmill where you're always trying to get something and it's never quite enough.

Andrea 30:20 

So I wanna, you know, try to make a distinction here if we can, because I feel like we've got two things, two threads of thought running that are related, but not necessarily coextensive. And I think one is seeking happiness or flourishing in material security or prospering, or, you know, excelling in terms of, you know, your career or workplace position or in terms of accumulating wealth. And I think that that can be, but is not necessarily related to spirituality and living a spiritual life. In other words, I think that, you know, people can say I've had it with the rat race, you know, and he say, you know, the person who wins is still a rat. And, um, you know, I want to live a more simple life. And that may be connected to spirituality, but I want to say not necessarily. And it would also seem to me that someone could live an extraordinarily successful life and be fully immersed in their career and find that even as a form of spiritual expression or perhaps, you know, continuing to prosper and accumulate wealth and feeling that not at all intention with their spiritual development and in fact, quite complimentary to it. So, I guess I, I want to sort of untangle those threads a little bit because I, I feel like they could be connected, but they're not necessarily connected.

Bernadine 31:50 

They're very much connected and, and I would end you bringing this up. It reminds me of some of my spiritual teachers that, that I've had in the past who were, there are some religions who hold the belief that, um, you know, having too much wealth is somehow not right, or almost like a sin. And, and I've never, and I would, I know you should not argue with your mentors, your teachers, but I would because the creator when you look around everything around you, flourishes, is full, is luxurious. It's it's, it's thriving. You know, where there is life there, that's fullness. There is no lack. So I, I, I do not agree that, you know, if you're going to pursue this, uh, life of, of being a spiritual being that, you know, you have to live in poverty and, and I, but I respect those religions who, you know, they have given, taken a vowel to give that part of life up. Well, I respect it because those typically are the individuals who live a constant life of prayer and fasting for not just themselves, but for all of us. And so everyone has their place. So I'm not saying, and I'm not, I'm not, that's not, that would not be the teachings that you would find in my church or place of worship if I had one, indeed, we all should be very wealthy and not just monetarily, but we never talk about what about the wealth of, of health. And what about the wealth of having peace of mind and, and what about the wealth of, of having good relationships? And, and, and if you are one of those individuals that has an abundance of monetary wealth, well, I want to challenge you.

What about the wealth of being able to help others? You know, so I've, I have all of this money, you know, and you know, we all are working in higher ed. Can you sponsor a scholarship to help another student? You know, can, can you, can you sponsor a, you know, a student to go abroad because we realize the importance of studying abroad and what that will do to the mind and the life of a first gen student. So there, there are many types of wealth, you know, we tend to just get stuck on, and, and most wealthy people, you know, I have mine. And so this is for me and my house, but, but true spirituality teaches that we should be givers. You know, why, why are we sitting on all of this wealth? And yet we say, we love our, you know, mankind, fellow, fellow human kind, but you see them suffering and you, and you do not do anything. So, you know, we have a responsibility even in having our wealth, the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. So we all are a part of this. We all are helping or should be helping to create and maintain creation. And so we, that gives us a responsibility to each other. And so maybe that's, you know, and that's typically, you know, the struggle you ask, any, any reverend, any minister, when you're trying to convince the wealthy to that, they need to be reconnected. To their creator is difficult because now the wealth, the success that has typically become their god and the religion of how can I get more? But when you say what God is calling you to share. Nope, you know, and so that's why you assume that it's probably easier for a man to get through the eye of a needle than a rich or wealthy man to obtain heaven. And that's something, how can a human, so it's probably easier for a human to get through the eye of a needle reading that always gives me a wow moment.

Andrea 37:06 

And it's a, isn't it a camel?

Bernadine 37:10 

Or a camel. Yeah. But either way, a camel with his humps getting through the eye of a needle than a wealthy man getting into heaven and, and, you know, and that's another thing for, for me, you know, we can have heaven right here on earth. It is a state of mind, but it is difficult to, to get the wealthy, to see that.

Andrea 37:38 

So Bernadine, something you just said was, you said if I had church or a place of worship, and I just want to tell you that if you did have a church or a place of worship, I'd be there. And I think plenty of other people would be too. But you have been called on a lot, you know, in these recent weeks and months to share your wisdom and to share your insight. And so we just wanted to give you an opportunity for people that have been listening to you and would like to hear more from Dr. Bernadine Lewis, where, where could they do that?

Bernadine 38:21 

I think the primary place right now would be, um, I'm a part of, of a project here in Flagstaff called the Lived Black Experience. And bi-weekly, we are posting or having very difficult discussions in order to inform, educate and enlighten our European American brothers and sisters about what it is to be a person of African descent in Flagstaff and Northern Arizona and the world. And so those conversations we live stream on Facebook through the Murdoch community center and, uh, then there's a YouTube channel that we've created where we move those topics or discussions onto YouTube. So if you cannot catch it live, you can go back on YouTube and watch them again or watch them on, on the Facebook platform. But we're having discussions about how the European American culture has given people of African descent here in America, identities that are not authentic. And so we are using this platform in order to, um, define ourselves. We've always known who we are and whose we are, man. And so this is, uh, this project gives us an opportunity to set the record straight and, and at the end of those broadcast or live streams, I will often say that, um, you know, we've spent generations, I grew up in a home where Dr. King would come and strategize and cry and share his pain and his struggles and challenges. And then there's that other Lewis more well-known, you know, Mr. John Lewis, who gave their lives so that people who look like me could have a better life. And at the same time they were asking their European American brothers and sisters, they were welcoming them to the table when we did not even have a place at the table. And so that is what that project is about. We're no longer asking for a place at the table, but we are preparing the table and inviting others to come and be with us. And so that is what spirituality is when you know your purpose and when, out of your hurt and disappointment and, and in spite of the mistreatment that I can, I mean, I don't like to call him Craig, I call him Van Slyke. He's been my mentor, he's, I still consider him to be my mentor. He was my boss, but for me to be able to look at him and look at him, um, as a friend, as a brother, almost as in like a father figure as well. And Andrea, I call you my sister. It is only being connected to something much bigger, much larger than myself, that I can look at any European American and not be reminded of, and I think both of, you know, the story of my great-grandmother, but I still can tell both of you that I love you. And I'm sincere about that. But out of the hurt of remembering, you know, because we, whether we care to acknowledge it or not, trauma is transferred from one generation to the next. And so I still carry the trauma of a woman at nine, who was captured in a fishing net and thrown into the hull of a ship. And so. It is only by being connected to something higher and greater than me that I can work beyond that every day and come into these spaces where I'm the only, so when we talk about how do we know, you know, that we are being spiritual as opposed to being religious, because perhaps religion would probably in some belief systems tell me that I should be at war with you, but my spirituality tells me that first I need to be at peace with myself. And because I am at peace with myself, I can be at peace with you and I can love both of you and everyone that does not look like me.

Craig 43:57 

Oh, that's just wonderful. I wish that we could all attain that level of, uh, spirituality and frankly maturity. Uh, the world would be a much better place than it is today if we could just even take a little step towards that, we'd all be better off.

Bernadine 44:27 

Thank you to both of you for creating these spaces. That is why we need spaces like this to have these types of conversations.

Andrea 44:28 

Well, it's our pleasure and thank you so much for being in this space with us today. It was just an honor to have you and always a pleasure.

Craig 44:38 

Thanks a lot, Bernie. We appreciate it.

Andrea 44:39 

So, Hey everyone, if you would like to help us offset the expenses of bringing rational ignorance to you, you can make a one-time donation through Buy Me A Coffee or provide ongoing support through Patreon. There are links to both on therationalignorancepodcast.com. Thank you.

Craig 44:57 

The Rational Ignorance podcast is sponsored by Sedona Philosophy, a completely unique tour company that uses Sedona's amazing natural environment to unlock personal growth and insight. Explore nature, culture and history with a philosophical twist. Visit sedonaphilosophy.com to learn more.

Andrea 45:14 

Thanks Craig. If you enjoyed this podcast, hit the subscribe button, please rate, review and tell your friends. Until next time.