What Is the Spiritual Path?

spiritual path, spiritual awakening,
I originally wrote this spiritual awakening blog post in 2011, and as I re-write it in 2018, it's just so interesting to see how my expression has changed.

The original post that I've since deleted focused on the spiritual path as a practice of being here now.

Which it is.

However, I want to take a step back and offer a broader perspective on what many people actually seek on the spiritual path. While this blog is dedicated to finding spiritual freedom--freedom from ego suffering--there are many other reasons that people follow the spiritual path. I think it's important that I honor those perspectives of the spiritual path so to better help you understand what it is you are truly seeking from your spiritual path.

The Spiritual Quest for Happiness

Happiness is often the goal of many people's spiritual paths, and so that's what they're evaluating their experiences against. "Does a spiritual tool or experience make me happy?" Some people are willing to go a little further and face pain if they eventually get happiness. But the overall goal is to basically feel good.

And oh man are there spiritual teachers and healers who aim to give you just that! Spiritual systems and teachers aiming to bring people happiness offer things like:

  • Ways to find your soulmate
  • Ways to manifest more money
  • Steps to discover your purpose

The desire for happiness is so universally accepted that most people will never question it. Many people will have read the above things and found themselves saying, "Yes! I want all those things!"

Yet any thing or experience you have in the world is transitory. So teachers like me don't focus on such things. You would no sooner find the thing, then life would be gradually destroying it like a sandcastle. Everything and every experience in life is a sandcastle. We have to learn to build these things from a space of joy knowing that they'll be taken from us one way or another.

And there is value in these pursuits for many people. Achieving those things helps some people to eventually let them go. It helps them in their overall development. So if you're not ready and willing to give them up yet and find a deeper kind of peace and stillness, then at least you better understand what you are seeking and what your spiritual path is currently about.

Deepening Into Stillness and Inner Peace

The Spiritual Path and Safety

Next up, many people are more focused on safety than happiness. Safety can often be seen as finding a community to join with who have shared beliefs. More than a few spiritual seekers are fixated on finding a community/tribe/friends/etc. that give them a sense of safety.

Furthermore, major religions often function on the unsaid pretext that if everyone believes the same things, then they'll get along better, creating better social harmony. Many major religions also often function on the understanding that most people don't want to do serious spiritual self-inquiry to figure out right from wrong. So they give them right and wrong beliefs. Honestly, my experience is that most people don't really want to inquire into themselves of the nature of right and wrong. There is something about true and deep inquiry that is unsettling--unsafe. So, religions absolutely serve a powerful and useful function in giving people something to believe in when they are not ready to go deeper.

Aligning Right and Wrong to the Spiritual Path

However, the problem is that life is inherently NOT safe. There's nothing to be done about that. Building a wall of spiritual beliefs and practices does not protect us from pain, and in some instances, these spiritual systems focusing on safety may try to impose their will on others and cause harm to others (any kind of Holy war is one example, but there are forms of harm like social ostracism).

Additionally, life has a way of defeating beliefs. Any belief that we hold on to can be twisted or shown to be insufficient or untrue by a turn of events in life. When this happens, people may have a crisis of faith. But usually instead of turning inwards, they end up trying to find a new set of beliefs and practices to achieve a sense of safety once more.

To be clear, these paths that try to bring communities together with shared beliefs serve important functions. Most people aren't mature enough to go within, and many simply have no interest in such inquiry. But ultimately, the promise of safety in this life or the afterlife is illusory.

The Spiritual Journey to Heal or Be Free of Pain

For those who feel hurt and wounded, the spiritual journey is specifically about getting rid of pain. That is certainly related to feeling happy and safe. There's a lot of overlap here between these three spiritual paths I've mentioned. However, with the healing path, not hurting is far more important.

To be sure, some very dedicated people come from the healing path. They are often willing to go farther than most others because they are driven by pain. In many respects, pain is their spiritual teacher--at least their first one.

The First Spiritual Teacher for Most People and Going Beyond

So any plant medicine journey, sweat lodge retreat, breathwork, or anything at all that offers relief from pain is sought after.

People seeking healing often find teachers like me who talk about freedom from suffering, but freedom from suffering is different than freedom from pain. A lot of aspect of the spiritual freedom path work well for the person trying to heal wounds because the ego is often the source of the pain. So deep healing has happened and continues to happen for those who run into a teacher that helps them towards freedom from suffering. However, people on the healing spiritual path tend to quit when their pain is gone. Their goal has been achieved, and in all honesty, that's not wrong. For someone who has endured the pain of sexual trauma their whole life, being healed of that finally gives them a chance to live a normal life. And that's a big deal.

Healing Sexual Abuse

The Spiritual Path to Freedom

Lastly, the spiritual path to freedom is probably the least well understood, but it is the one that is most based in reality. It does not seek to find happiness or safety. Both of those arise and pass, and despite our ego attempts to control life, life and our experiences will continue to shift. Healing does arise on this path, but that is a happy by-product of letting go of the ego.

In general, the spiritual path to freedom is about letting go of our ego and all of our ideas about ourselves and life. It is an invitation to be profoundly present in this moment because we are always in this moment no matter what our minds do. It is an invitation to dissolve ego attachments to the past and to allow ourselves to live divinely-inspired by whatever the present gives us.

Sometimes the present moment goes well, and sometimes it is painful. The path to freedom acknowledges that pain is part of this world. As we learn to acknowledge the reality of pain, the more we can be at peace with it. The more at peace we are with such things, the deeper we let go of not just the ego but some of the more basic and powerful animal desires and fears within us. This allows us to be untroubled even when our physical body is troubled by disease or other pains.

This is what is meant by being free of suffering.

And in general, this is what this blog is all about. Spiritual awakening is just a beginning point of ego dissolution. It is not the end of the human journey by any means, and each time we bring our attention back to the present moment, things can shift. Ironically, things shift and flow when we are no longer concerned with developing and shifting things in life. Therein we find a dance between inaction and action as we dissolve into the present moment.

How to Find Spiritual Freedom

Identifying Your Spiritual Path

There are certainly other types of spiritual paths out there. Many psychics are on the path to understand their psychic abilities and how to be with them. That goal often gets enmeshed with the spiritual path too. What is important is to be honest with yourself. Understand what it is you are seeking on the spiritual path and what you are even calling "spiritual" and "spirituality."

I cannot say that you will not find things that you enjoy or finding rewarding in paths other than the path to spiritual freedom. But as I said, anything focused on transitory experiences is liable to bring disappointment if not outright pain. You may find someone you can a soulmate, but s/he will leave you. At some point, every relationship ends. It doesn't mean that the relationship was a failure. Rather, relationships like other experiences are not forever, and appreciating the transitory nature of safety and happiness is key to really living in reality.

But if you really are ready for seeing the truth, then the spiritual path to freedom is the true path for you. It won't show you anything you necessarily have to believe in. It will simply show you what is, and then you go from there.


  1. A post filled with wisdom. It reminded me of The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy follows the yellow brick road and goes through tests and ordeals, but at the end, Glenda the good witch tells her that she had the power all along to go home any time she wanted. I was also reminded of a book title by Jack Kornfield "After the Ecstacy, the Laundry." Great post!

  2. I was reading "Sacred Contracts" by Caroline Myss this afternoon in which she quotes a Zen saying: "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water."
    Point being that we continue the same way before AND after enlightenment.

    Your post conveyed this beautifully, and I wanted to say thanks. I love resonating with something only to find it saying hello to me again a little while later in another forum. What a wonderful confirmation. I will share this with my peers. Nice work!

  3. Thanks to you both for your comments. Galen--We definitely all have the power. All of our light and beauty is already withint us. Spiritualsatori--It's great to have that reinforcement of a lesson. Thanks for sharing the blog with your peers. It's greatly appreciated. Let me know if there's anything I can do for you.

  4. An inspiring post....Thanks for sharing.
    God bless.

  5. Funny, somehow I missed the Zen quote in your post. You gotta love Spirit's confirmations, huh? :)

  6. Jim,

    Thank you for your time and attention in maintaining this blog; it has been very helpful to me as I come upon this new discovery of a thing called a spiritual path. I'm very confused about something, though.

    My basic question is, you say at many points in this blog that one shouldn't seek a spiritual awakening for healing purposes because ego wounds need to be dealt with separately, and in fact a spiritual awakening sheds a bright light on those ego issues. (One image from one of your posts is seared in my brain, that after a spiritual awakening if deep wounds haven't been healed the ego "cries out" and could lead to a YEARS long dark night of the soul.) But at other points you say a spiritual awakening occurs when the last ego issue falls away, like a pear falls from the tree. How do you square those two?

    Basically, I'm very new to this and know I have major issues of self hate, fear, etc., and I've basically never felt a feeling before. I also fear the lack of security and familiarity and perhaps giving up my loving relationships and steady job, as you say the spiritual path entails. That being said, I seem to be restless just going after a relaxing family life and steady job and being of a little service to others. So it's almost like I feel I *have* to start down the spiritual path, but I'm also terrified I'll bring on a premature awakening and won't be able to handle it given the deep wounds (primarily, that I'm not worthy) that I know exist and I have no idea how to heal (and psychologists aren't really trained in that, either).

    Do you have any thoughts on this? How does one begin the spiritual path when she knows she has much to heal and is worried about going too fast? Any response would be much appreciated.

    Thank you.

    1. Hello! Thanks for the comment.

      I'd have to know what you've read in regards to the pear tree comment. I can say that my way of talking about awakening has gradually changed through the years, so not everything I said in 2011 will be perfectly squared with how I write in 2019. That's just a sign that I've been growing. :)

      I would say that therapists are a great first step to working on issues that you know about.

      I recommend picking one or two spiritual tools work with and one or two ego issues to work on first.

      I'd also point you to my starting out sections to answer more of your questions on how to start and do inner work as well as my ebook:

      Starting Out Section

      Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening

    2. Jim,

      I'm the person who commented about the pear tree. Thank you so much for your response; it was a nice reminder that I can start right where I am.

      I apologize for the pear tree comment - it seems I can't find it on your blog post, as I must have read it somewhere else. I've read so many spiritual blogs and books the ideas are starting to merge and become so confusing.

      Perhaps the impetus of my question can be summed up by a Tibetan meditation master who once gave a talk to a bunch of people new to the spiritual path. He told them, "My suggestion to you is that you go home. It is a lot more difficult than you know when you begin. Once you start, it is also difficult to stop. So my suggestion to you is not to begin. Best not to start at all. But if you do start, then it is best to finish."

      This sentiment underlies a lot of your blog posts. I feel like I've come to realize that I will not be saved by worldly success or relationships, and I'm feeling so much loss and apathy but am not yet prepared for the spiritual path to find out who I am- I've read so much about hallucinations and insomnia and body convulsions and demons. I just do not think I can handle that, as I'm still too afraid to let my parents know I'm a vegan because I'm afraid they'll think I'm weird. I'm just trying to decide what to make a commitment to.

      Thanks to your response and post here (https://www.spiritualawakeningprocess.com/2015/09/how-to-start-your-spiritual-journey.html) I think I need to spend some time away from reading spiritual blogs and books and try to figure out what my inner voice is guiding me to do.

      Do you think this is correct thinking on my part?

      Again, thank you for all you do here!

    3. Dear friend,

      In response to this sentence, "am not yet prepared for the spiritual path to find out who I am"--the ego is never ready. I wouldn't worry too much about the hallunicinations and what not. There's a lot of nonsense out there on the web. The spiritual path is generally a very quiet and slow path. The big moments are just what people talk about, and as I just said, some of it is nonsense.

      I would encourage you to focus on your spiritual practice more than reading. You don't need a ton of ideas.

      You can start by developing a daily silent meditation practice and working your way up to 30 minutes for a sitting.

      I also recommend practicing staying as awareness:

      Staying as Awareness Video


Post a Comment

Popular Posts