However, I do want to make sure that I am clear that this path isn't about thrill-seeking, partner-swapping, lack of commitment, or any otherwise very unconscious and self-serving things. Completing a connection in our lives isn't just dropping and running when things no longer are easy and feel good. Quite the contrary, the spiritual path takes us to places that can be very challenging, and commitment becomes key. In this vein of thinking, I wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about what commitment looks and feels like on the spiritual path and how to avoid the trap of simply chasing down the new spiritual flavor of the month.
Spiritual Tourism and Fear of CommitmentFor many people, spirituality is now the latest game for seeking fulfillment. Whole legions of people are running around going to retreats, listening to gurus, and attending consciousness seminars. As far as games we can play with ourselves, I would be perfectly content if this replaced the games of war and greed. However, spirituality can become the worst trap of them all if not approached correctly. If people are still trying to get something from spirituality--to get something from an outside source--they soon become very lost on this path. The trajectory can go something like this:
- A person finds a spiritual teacher/path/text that they really like.
- S/he devotes tons of time to it.
- This person may become a strong advocate for this approach/teacher/etc.
- This person may even consider everything to be perfect.
- Then the illusion breaks, and the teacher becomes just another human being, the spiritual community becomes just another group of people; the spiritual texts become just writing on paper.
- In this disillusionment, the person soon finds a reason to leave.
- This person finds another teacher/group that seems amazing and infallible, and the cycle renews.
From the outside looking in, it seems obvious what the problem is. It is always easier to find fault in others, but nonetheless, I encourage you inward--as I always do--to see how you place Truth, Wisdom, Love, and Enlightenment outside of you. I encourage you to see how you've decided that you need to do or get something before any of these are yours. In this way, you are actually afraid of committing to YOU! It sounds impossible, but many of you have been taught that you are not wise, worthy of love, or capable of being your awakened self. It sounds impossible to be awakened and to be love because you believe and live out these lies, and when you are living out these lies, no spiritual tradition can set you free. Only you can ever do that.
The Spiritual Teacher: Just a DoorwayAnother big lie that gets people perpetually sampling different spiritual flavors is that you need an awakened spiritual teacher to get enlightened. This is a horrible lie. Can spiritual teachers create space and inspire others to awaken? Yes. Can spiritual teachers do deep and intense energetic healing? Yes. Can spiritual teachers help students to clearly understand themselves? Absolutely.
But ultimately God heals. God decides if you will awaken, and just as importantly, you decide if you will awaken. If you sit in the powerful presence of an awakened teacher and something sparks, what is that spark? Is that the grace of the teacher? Perhaps. Is that God flowing through that teacher? Perhaps. But if you do no open to it, nothing arises. I sit with so many students, and I have sat with many who simply stay closed. So nothing flows. When a student opens up, the magic of connection can arise, but the deeper movement for the student is always within him or her. In that way, the teacher is just a tiny spark that inspires the student to see the spark that is already burning within.
The Never-Ending Search for HealingIn the context of healing, great commitment is very much needed. Patience is needed. In a culture lacking patience, many people just want to feel good. They want to feel good at all costs, but they don't necessarily want to deal with the core pain that is making them feel poorly. So they find superficial fixes, and that goes for the spiritual path just as well. Go on all the vision quests and retreats you like, but if you haven't dealt with the core issues, they'll all come storming back once you get home. It's not the world's fault. The world will continue to do what the world does. In this way, we have to take responsibility for our own healing.
Along with that, you have to listen to your inner knowing. You know if a healer or healing modality is right for you, and until your inner knowing says it's time to make a change, you need to stick it out. So much true healing takes us right back through intense pain before we can start to get better. As I often say, the broken leg must have the bone set first, and the setting process can be almost as bad as the original breaking of it, maybe worse. This is where that persistence and self-discipline are so vital. Otherwise, people hop from one healer to the next, and each time a healer starts to get close to a core issue, the individual runs away. This is often preceded by a set of excuses about why the healer isn't right for them or some illusory way that they've been wronged or violated. It's a sad thing to say, but people tend to be more committed to pain than to healing.
Committing to the spiritual path isn't a commitment to a teacher, healer, community, or doctrine. Ultimately, it is a commitment to yourself. But once again, don't take that to mean that you hop from one spiritual path to the next. Most people don't even really listen to their inner knowing or know how to learn from spiritual path. It always starts with listening to your inner knowing to truly hear what is right for you. You can't just swallow the whole whale; you don't need all of that, and some of it won't sit well with you. So learning how to listen to your inner knowing/intuition is both the alpha and omega of the spiritual path. For those of you who are new to doing so, here are a couple links to point you along the way:
Cultivating a Commitment to Yourself
- Practicing With Your Intuition (A YouTube Video)
- Refining and Trusting Your Intuition
- Your Expanding Intuition: Getting Comfortable With Difficult Messages
From this space, you begin to understand what your needs are. The more you practice, the more natural it becomes as you remove fear from your decision-making and learning processes (and fear certainly is the main factor to cloud intuition).
Deepening Into Connection With a TeacherAs you trust yourself and find the tools and tips you need, that actually expands the space of learning you can achieve with a spiritual teacher or a spiritual path. The deeper you go, the more intense the issues may become. Trust becomes a vital part, but because of discipline and self-commitment, committing to a teacher appropriately becomes easier. Without trust of yourself, you will always be suspicious of others. You'll have a tendency to want to drift from one thing to the next without a clear compass. You may soon become one of those people who can say all the right spiritual things, but you do not really understand the concepts you profess to know. In that sense, the only one whom you are fooling is you.
But if you do make a commitment and stick with it, you will start to see all the true spiritual teachers are pointing to the same thing. All the true teachings--whether they involve prayer, mediation, chanting, supplication, fasting, or whatever else--are simply pointing back to the inner divinity that you already hold. They simply show you that you have divine love; that you are divine love. And the work has always been to peel away the layers of your own illusion that separate you from that beautiful truth.
The Unending Road AheadOr you can keep cycling through different teachers and traditions until you are so utterly sick of them all that you give up. In giving up, a letting go may finally happen. It is very often letting go that allows spiritual realizations and even enlightenment to arise. When we finally give up on getting anything from the external world, suddenly we can start paying attention to the internal world. What do we find when that happens? Have we been following our bliss this whole time? Or was the spiritual path just another game to make us feel good all the time? If this is you, see what happens when you no longer are chasing down new "spiritual" paths and ideas.
The irony is that the spiritual path is always here. It is always in this moment, and it is always possible to connect with the fullness of being without using one spiritual tool. This may even sound paradoxical given the nature of this blog, but it is true. What I do is to meet people in a variety of ways and at a variety of points in life and to draw them back to this truth--that I and other spiritual teachers are not necessary for you to be you. But also ironically, once we fully recognize that we have all this love inside of us, the work before us and focused perseverance becomes exceptionally clear. Because as those of you who have awakened know, the awakening is just the beginning, not the end of the journey.
With all of that said, find something that feels true to you, and stick to it. Allow the beauty of a spiritual tradition to unfold for you and to help you naturally be you.
This picture is gift from Becky Stiller. You can see more of her photography on this Flickr link.