How to Start Your Spiritual Journey

spiritual student, spiritual teacher, spiritual awakening, spiritual journey
Today, I am offering a spirituality blog post for those of you just starting out or starting over on your spiritual journeys. 

And let's not under-estimate the importance of starting over, shall we?

Because many people will have been spiritual or religious people their whole lives, and then one day, you realize you don't know a thing.

Not one important thing. 

Suddenly, all the spiritual practices and ideas and clothes and crystals and and tarot cards and spiritual names come crashing down, and you feel like you're naked in a field with nothing to hold onto. This spirituality post is also for you.

When most people start their spiritual journeys, they are oriented externally. What I mean is that they have learned from society that their "answers" are out there. Others aren't looking for something so conceptual. They're looking for experiences. So they attempt to find external stimulus to enjoy as an "awakened," "enlightened," or simply good feeling state. Those that get a taste of a really good feeling spiritual experience are often addicted to it, and they soon compare everything to the original or the latest and greatest spiritual experience they've had while trying to replicate the experience.

In this way, many spiritual beginners are quickly lost even when some feel like they've found a new home. The home you are seeking and the connection you are craving is inside you. It's always inside you and is you.

As such, the first and most important advice I can offer to beginners is to go within.

Going to the Spiritual Path with Sincerity

Starting by going within is what I wrote in 2015, and it's not exactly how I'd phrase it as I make updates to this post in December 2021.

The problem is sincerity. Or rather, the problem is lack of sincerity. 

When people start on the spiritual path, they almost never want the truth or to realize spiritual freedom.


No. What people want boils down to three main things:
  • Happiness
  • Safety
  • Health/healing
If you don't have health in some way, then you really, really want to get it back. And the truth is most of the people I've met on this path are really on the path seeking some form of healing. The promise of a release from ego suffering is often confused as the healing someone wants.

Now there is healing in releasing the ego, but it is not really what people who want to get relief from all kinds of mental, emotional, and physical pains and traumas actually want. Honestly, I sent a lot of people to therapists because of this fact.


So to really start on your spiritual journey, you need to figure out what you actually want and to confront your own insincerity. 

You don't want truth. You don't want to realize spiritual freedom. 

You want [insert your want/wants].

And that's exactly the first attachment you'll have to let go of to truly start down this path.

Turning Inwards for Your Truth

Obviously, figuring out what you want and your level of insincerity/sincerity on this path is a kind of turning inwards, so you're stepping in the right direction now.

However, the ironic aspect of this statement is that we often need external support to find our inner truth. We often need spiritual guidance and teaching to help us learn to discern the difference between ego noise and truth. We often need support being aware of and surrendering to upsetting emotions to learn from them, process them, and allow them to release.


We benefit from spiritual guidance on how to engage with intense physical sensations and all the emotions and memories that are trapped in the body. So it is totally okay to look outside of yourself for help. 

I mean that's why you're reading this blog post, right?

But now, we get into some trouble. When we're most stuck in our ego delusion, that's when we most need help. But when we're most lost in illusions, this is the time when we have the most difficult time listening to truth and choosing people to help us get out of attachments. 

Instead, we tend to choose people that our ego finds familiar and therefore we feel comfortable with them. This tends to keep us stuck in our repeating patterns.

What do you do?

Ask questions.

Developing an Inquiring Mind

One of the most important tools on the spiritual path is to build your self-inquiry practice. This practice is simple enough. You try to understand why you do what you do, think what you think, feel what you feel, and perceive what you perceive. It's not just being skeptical. The intellectual skeptic already believes that they know the truth when they ask their questions. They believe that they are logical and rational.

We don't believe that on this path.

Spiritual skepticism is understanding that almost nothing we do or say is rational. 

But you don't have to believe that statement. Instead, you start to question yourself. Here's an example:

Why do you like the clothes that you like?

Where did you learn that preference? Who taught it to you/showed it to you?

What emotions are attached to your clothes?

What issues and ego objections come up when you think about changing what you wear?

For some of you, those simple questions around clothes will immediately unlock a flood of issues that you can investigate further as you begin to understand yourself. But even if you don't have many attachments to clothes, that style of questioning is what you want to cultivate. Use it on any reaction or thought or feeling you have. Find out what's behind them.

And additionally, learning to inquire in this way will help you to find out the truth about the spiritual teachers, healers, and other practitioners that you may go to for help. Also, remember to take it slow. There is no rush to find a spiritual teacher. If there's a sense of urgency, then it's not a spiritual teacher you need, or it's just your ego creating a false sense of emergency.

Spiritual Emergencies

Meeting Your Ego for the Very First Time

Lots of people talk about the ego, but they don't really know what they're saying. For the purposes of this blog, this term means:

The identity that you believe to be you which interprets the internal and external experiences you have and consists of a combinations of known and unconscious beliefs, assumptions, feelings, and perceptions.

One of many peoples' first big spiritual experiences is realizing that they are not their active thoughts. This is a big moment!

This is also only the beginning of the work, although many people feel like they're close to the end after the first realization.

The majority of the ego is subconscious and speaks to you in feelings, which many people confuse as intuitions and gut feelings and inner knowing and their true selves talking to them. 

I used to believe the same.

That stuff doesn't go away just because of one or two realizations. 

This is where your use of self-inquiry is critical. You have to want to understand all of that non-verbal subconscious stuff if you want to break free of your ego. Otherwise, your mind may become completely silent, but the vast majority of your ego will go on telling you what you feel, what you are perceiving, and how to live.

And you'll probably also make a spiritual ego in the process, which is a whole other kind of trap.




Building Your Spiritual Practice

We live in a world where there are tons of spiritual practices now available to people thanks to the Internet. It can lead people to create the most bizarre hodge-podge practices that you can imagine. What makes them hodge-podge is that they make no sense. It's like putting together a recipe with all the wrong proportions of the spices and ingredients.

This mess happens when someone is lost trying to improve themselves, get awakened, avoid bad feelings, fix/heal all their problems, or something else goal-oriented. Ego goals are a form of attachment. The aspiration to let go of the ego has to come from a space of non-attachment, otherwise we're attached to the outcome.

Letting go of attachments to future outcomes is a fundamental part of all true spiritual paths.

The spiritual path is actually a very simple one. Ultimately, it's this: be here now. Most of our spiritual work revolves around letting go of our resistance to what Is and attempts to control our futures and fix our pasts.

But let's get to specifics. Again, as I update this post in December 2021, here's what I've seen is most consistently useful to people in terms of spiritual practice:
  • Coming back to awareness/being the witness
  • Conscious breathing (typically slowing the breath down with nasal breathing and doing long, slow exhalations)
  • Regular silent, seated meditation of at least 30 minutes every day
  • Self-inquiry and questioning your beliefs, ideas, perceptions, and feelings
In many posts, I mention journaling because writing down your self-inquiry is often really helpful. The truth tends to hold up well on the page. Ego delusions and false beliefs tend to fall apart when they hit the light of day outside of your head. Or, you'll start to notice that you're writing in circular logic--which isn't logic--justifying what you want to believe and feel rather than questioning it.



Preparing for Big Spiritual Transformation

The changes someone can go through using such simple tools can be radical.

The ego and our attachments to our old stories run deep.

This tends to lead towards a fair amount of emotional upheaval, which can be mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing. In some cases, it causes a lot of sleep disruption, fatigue, apathy, and a whole host of other secondary symptoms that arise when a person has been too stressed for too long. In the worst cases, people have psychological breakdowns and physical collapses.

This path is serious work.

If you are going to be serious about it, then you need to prepare yourself.

Furthermore, there are massive health problems that most people have gotten used to and do not see. The poor health that people reside in is so common that it is invisible in modern society. In short, most Westerners are not
  • Breathing well or breathing particularly clean air,
  • Drinking enough clean, natural water,
  • Nourishing themselves and putting appropriate things into their bodies,
  • Being active appropriately for their physical health, or
  • Sleeping right.
Additionally, all kinds of devices and forms of media are over-stimulating people, and many people don't have much of any kind of community that can really show up for them.

All of these things need to be attended to in preparation for major spiritual transformation. In taking care of these things, people build important levels of mental, emotional, and physical resilience that will help support them through the internal ego issues and intensities that they are likely to face.




What Every Spiritual Beginner Should Know

If there's anything that any spiritual beginner absolutely should know, it's this:

Take it one breath at a time. 

And then keep coming back to your breath. The breath keeps you in the here and now. Your breath is always in the present moment. It can never be anywhere else, and you cannot wait to breathe. If you do, then you die.

The more deeply and evenly you can breathe, the more your body stays relaxed. The more relaxed you are, the more you can figure out how to handle any situation--easy or difficult. You are also less likely to hold onto pain or difficult moments that trigger you. Through your breathing, you can learn to better understand how you get triggered and what that trigger is really all about. 

Again, this is part of developing the inquiry mindset.

An argument with your girlfriend may seem like the cause of your upset, but it isn't. Your ego choose to get upset. The inquiry mindset asks question like why you got upset, what you want from your girlfriend, etc. 

And again, the breath is a key component to getting out of the upset feelings and back into the mindset that will further get you out of these unconscious reactions to potentially no longer have them.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Slow it down.

There's nowhere to go.


The Path to Nowhere

What is the point of this path?

It's late in this post and I probably should have put it at the top. But it's better late than never.

The point of the spiritual path to freedom is let go of all of our attachments because all attachments cause suffering.

This includes ego attachments, but also our primal attachments.

Primal attachments are simple, but powerful. They're attachments to comfort and our avoidance of pain. They're attachments to being alive and avoiding dying. They're attachments to our sex drive and, if you have children, protecting your children. The ego we start work on is built on that stuff.


But don't get ahead of yourself. 

Some people try to skip ahead to work on these basic attachments as a faster way through all this.

Stop.

Be here now.

You ARE here now.

And despite all this inner work I'm discussing, you will be just as here now after 10, 20, or 30 years of it.

So why do any of this if there is nowhere to go?

Because spiritual freedom allows you the freedom to stay stuck in your ego cycles. Human beings are creatures of patterns, and therefore, so is the ego. And if you don't go within to unlearn these things, then you'll continue to suffer in the same ways after 10, 20, and 30 years.

As the ego dissolves, you find there isn't much to do beyond taking care of your body, and there really is nowhere to go--nowhere = now here.


Practicing Patience

After saying that there is nowhere to go, it's a funny thing to talk about patience.

But the unlearning of our ego and its resistance to being just here now strangely takes time.

It's one of many paradoxes we learn to accept as we understand that a paradox (a seeming conflict between two things) is not a problem with reality; a paradox is a problem with our language and our limited understanding of reality.

Again, it's one breath at a time. 

Keep looking inwards. 

Do your self-inquiry. 

Meditate. 

Watch your thoughts from awareness rather than participate with them. 

Be patient, and if you are sincere in wanting to know yourself, you'll see things. You'll realize things.


The Start of Releasing Attachments

When we start really looking at ourselves, we open to a much bigger and longer process than we could have imagined. Some initial releases help to encourage us and show us that letting go of attachments is possible. But people tend to over-estimate their progress and under-estimate the help they need.

At the center of this spiritual path is this:

Surrender to what Is.

Surrender means to see and accept where you are. 

Sometimes that means seeing that you're overweight. So what kind of help do you need? 

You need a health practitioner.

Sometimes that means seeing you have serious trauma. What kind of help do you need? 

A trained trauma specialist.

Sometimes surrender means seeing that you are in a terrible relationship. What kind of help do you need? 

A divorce lawyer.

Sometimes surrender means seeing you have no idea what the spiritual path is after thinking you did. What kind of help do you need? 

Probably a good spiritual teacher.

You'll notice that my answer to the above questions isn't always a spiritual teacher. We have our role, and others need to fill their roles.

And you need to surrender to your current life situation and accept the steps you practically need to take. In so doing, your spiritual journey unfolds in its own way with its own twists, turns, surprises, and revelations. 

Trust it, and you will discover the truth and be able to realize spiritual freedom.




(Updated 12/6/2021)

For those new to me, please check out my ebook to help you begin your spiritual journey:

Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening

You may also want to consider coming to one of my online classes:

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