Monday, April 14, 2014

Lost on the Spiritual Path

It's a sad truth that so many people who go looking for themselves on the spiritual path can become quite lost. There are some ways that the overt spiritual path as seen in different spiritual traditions, religions, philosophies, and so forth can become some of the most entrapping. People can get themselves so caught up in ideas, tenets, commandments, astrological sign charts, robes, and more that they cannot see the truth. They are simply mired in another elaborate ego game.

I wrote some time ago a post called "Beware the Spiritual Ego." This is precisely what this spirituality blog post is going to address for those of you who have been ensnared. One way or another, the core ego with all its beliefs and fears found a new set of clothes to wrap around itself, so you simply acted out the same types of patterns again and again. The very minor difference is that you did it in "spiritual" ways. But lying is still lying. Cheating is still cheating. Running away from difficult moments is still running away from difficult moments. And being afraid of the unknown is still being afraid of the unknown. The true spiritual path that I'm always writing about is a turning inwards, and so where you got lost was in turning outwards to find external comforts and spiritual experiences to make you feel good, validate you, love you, or some thing else that you thought you needed. Now, it's time to go inside.

Turning Inside and Coming Out of the Rain

Let's be honest: there are lots of fun spiritual experiences to be had. I wish more people had them. They're not a bad hobby to have. But for as much fun as it is to be showered by all these amazing spiritual moments, it can start to get pretty cold out there as you're getting drenched. It's time to come inside. It's time to sit by the fire of your awareness, and if the fire is out, it's time to reignite it.

One of the core illusions at play for a lot of people who get lost on the spiritual path is the idea that the external world has your truth. It's been built up since we're children where we had to rely on others for everything. Obviously, the external world and teachers like myself can offer a lot of information and insights. And there are certainly deep levels of connection and energetic support that can come from outside. But your truth is within you. The true teachers and the true path is a continued turning inwards until you root so deeply in your space of loving presence that growth in your life arises almost if on its own (although this is not a passive space). Until you've had enough with the external world and the many fun spiritual games you can play with it (all kinds of vision quests, kirtans, yoga retreats, etc.), then you're not ready for the true spiritual path.

But These Things Can Be So Intense

I know a lot of these overtly spiritual things can be intense, but as strange as it may seem coming from me, the spiritual path is not an inherently intense one. It tends to get intense because when we turn inwards, we generally build up a lot of energy to overcome our own resistance. This intensity tends to be more of a result of undoing what we have been creating inside that is not in alignment with our truth. It is not necessary all the time, but if there is intensity in your shifting, I encourage you to embrace it. It's okay. It's just part of your process. At each step of the way, we allow and accept what is arising. In that arising, there is the organic and unknown quality to how our lives move, which can be quite scary for the "spiritual" ego. But when things release and flow more naturally, that intensity dissipates.

However, some of the made up intensity of yoga retreats, sweat lodges, and other things can become quite useless. Everything has it's role, but a lot of people can get caught up in these intense moments thinking that they are doing more than they are. We don't generally need to make things intense on the spiritual path as we turn inwards. Plenty of intensity arises on its own. But in this overt level of intensity, many people latch onto this kind of safety in familiarity, and it's usually about getting something. So you keep doing intense heated yoga sessions to get this endorphin high feeling you like. Or you keep going to those week-long silent meditations to feel peaceful, but then you come back to the rest of your life without making any inner changes. The peace soon wears off, and you want it back.

The Feel-Good Spiritual Path Fallout

A popular game the spiritual ego likes to play is to try and always feel good. It inherently wants to avoid pain, so it keeps looking for the safest way to live and the way that feels best. Thus, many people get lost trying to find more and more pleasurable experiences. These people are always looking for the latest and greatest spiritual flavor of the month, and each thing only lasts for a little while. So initially, a new teacher feels extraordinary to work with. You think s/he has all your answers and knows all the right things to say. Then the illusion wears off, and maybe the uncertainty of deeper work starts to arise. For this individual, that uncertain vulnerability is scary. Even if they know that deep work can be intense, they'll soon find an excuse to disappear--get sick, decide the teacher/healer isn't right for them, get excited by some other new path or teacher, and so on. Thus, the spiritual path for this individual is still very superficial. The deeper core issues stay untouched and continue to pull the strings. It's why someone can end up realizing that they've gone nowhere after decades of spiritual exploration and feel like they are just a beginner. Keeping in mind that we are ultimately all beginners, in this particular sense, these people truly are spiritual beginners because they haven't truly turned inwards.

Over-dedication to Following the Rules

On the flip side of this are the people who are overly dedicated to a religion and a set of rules. They have given up their intellect to just do whatever the teacher, pastor, priest, rabbi, healer, psychic, astrologist, or someone else tells them to do. The more intellectual types may often still do this as well, thinking that they can "think" their way to realization. These types heavily study whatever spiritual text to which they are drawn. They will be able to do academic loops around any of us, but these ideas are not freedom. The more the person adheres to these rules and rituals without truly understanding the purpose of religious and spiritual rules, the more they get stuck and potentially aggressive and dismissive towards others who aren't living by these rules.

Hopefully, one day, they realize that 30 years of meditation or praying has put them nowhere. Hopefully they start to realize that they don't really know who they are nor why they've been doing what they've been doing. The ego has all kinds of amazing distractions and excuses. It can say the right things, but on the true spiritual path, what matters is how we say things. It's the space inside that makes all the difference, and it can make taking the same action on the external world have profoundly different consequences. Thus, the meditation that is meant to achieve enlightenment can often be a continued disappointment. The meditation simply to know yourself and to allow yourself to be can open up the world, and the same two meditations may involve the same techniques of breathing quietly with your eyes closed for 30 minutes.

Knowing Something Is Wrong

Usually, one of the ways people start to know they're lost is that they notice they're going in circles. After going to India and sitting with gurus, doing their starchart, listening to psychics, reading Buddhist and Christian texts, listening to sound healing on YouTube, and so forth, they suddenly feel like they're right back where they started. Their romantic life is still doing what it always does. Work is always basically the same. Family issues continue to upset them. The deeper awareness may start to poke its head forward in these moments of sacred doubt, which essentially means you stopped long enough to actually pay attention to your life. This is different than most doubt, which generally comes from the mind's fear. If someone has truly sated themselves on these other spiritual things and have started to look inwards, then we are coming to a true spiritual shift. But if the person just finds another new spiritual quest or teacher to latch onto, then the cycle continues. The person will get excited. Things will go well. The excitement burns off, and the person does whatever it is s/he usually does according to their core issues. However, when a person really starts to turn inwards, some interesting things may start to show up and deeper realizations may begin to bubble up to the surface. The perfect spiritual teacher may now appear in their lives.

The Appearance of the Spiritual Teacher

Ironically, right when a person may be getting sick of the spiritual path, they may finally be ready for it. They may finally be giving up the external search. Now the internal search can begin. Coincidentally, this may be when their spiritual teacher appears. Of course, this spiritual teacher may very well be nothing like the others. Please keep in mind that there are many types of spiritual teachers (You may want to check out this blog post: "What Is a Spiritual Teacher?"). Thus, they come in all shapes and sizes. You may be sitting at the bus stop when your spiritual teacher sits down in a hoody and sweatpants. Because you may never have met a spiritual teacher like this before and are used to seeing them in robes of some sort, you might be inclined to dismiss this individual. Heck, this person may have sat by you for many days at the same bus stop, but you did not have the inner awareness that could sense who this person was. Or your ideas about what a teacher should look like stopped you from seeing him/her. But in this moment of opening where you are tired, lost, and maybe confused on your path, you may suddenly do or say something outside your normal ego habit. You may ask a question. Maybe you don't even ask this person directly. You are simply asking outloud, "What am I missing?" And the teacher sitting beside you may reply, or maybe s/he just looks at you with a smile in her/his eyes to see if you're truly paying attention yet. If you are, you've just taken a step onto your true spiritual path.

Nothing Is Lost

The beauty of life is that all aspects of your life are embraced. So no matter how lost you were looking for God when God was already right here within you, those past experiences and spiritual tools can be re-purposed. If meditation was just about trying to get enlightened, now you can begin to use it appropriately. A good spiritual teacher or healer or even a friend can help you reorient, turning your awareness inwards. As you drop inwards, you may begin to understand the many texts you've read in a new way. You may also begin to see the superficiality of a lot of so-called "spiritual" tools and experiences. All experiences are transitory, which is why there is never a spiritual state of awareness to achieve. The awareness of love and bliss is the awareness that accepts everything as it is. If there is fear, this is fully accepted. If there is joy, this is fully accepted.

On this path inwards, many old wounds that have been trying to hide will get revealed. Many fears that you might have thought you'd "transcended" may reappear with greater ferocity. Truly, you may discover why so few people turn to the true spiritual path, preferring to do this song and dance around the globe with ideas and psychedelic journeys. It's not that different journeys and ideas can't be helpful, but the "how" is often corrupted. They are meant to make you feel a certain way or construct a certain belief system and mental reality. Reality already is. There's nothing to be constructed. It's time for sacred destruction, and it's time to go inwards. This is the journey you've been craving. This is the journey that's always been here. It's time to stop being lost and find yourself in the here and now.
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