These are my thoughts about the mistakes spiritual aspirants make on their path. Mistakes are probably not the most popular topic, yet I feel that it is relevant at this time, perhaps more than ever. Maybe “mistake” is too harsh, so let’s call it a “misunderstanding”. These misunderstandings often lead to disappointment and confusion. I have observed how people get trapped in their patterns and get locked into their perceptions, with the end result being a loss of interest in their own self development.
There is a plethora of information available on the subject of spiritual studies, including material on self development, energy practices and spiritual disciplines. How do we know which teaching is authentic? How do we know which teaching can lead us to increased spiritual awareness, understanding and wisdom?
In this century most information can be regarded as a tool for sensory entertainment, in other words, it is another way to satisfy our need for constant stimulation. To borrow from Yogic terminology, “Rajasic” tendency is a continuous need for sensory stimulation of the mind and body, a state where the mind is always stimulated and desires arise endlessly. Much of what is taught today is merely an expression of the Rajasic mind. Many people desire quick solutions and believe that more is better where it concerns spiritual information and various techniques and practices. I’ve encountered many individuals on a perpetual quest for more information, yet they never seem to “digest” what they read or practice. They merely collect new techniques, new rules, new systems. Many of them derive their sense of self-worth from the sheer volume of unintegrated knowledge they carry.
Catering to this desire for greater and for greatness, a lot of esoteric and spiritual schools now promote workshops and even daily classes that promise extraordinary abilities and long lasting happiness. How is this approach different from going to a mall and purchasing something new on a daily basis? Sure, it may bring some satisfaction for about an hour, but will it bring happiness? Probably not. If you have ever been to a yoga class, or even a meditation class, you may notice that people come and go, never noticing each other. Their only desire is to fix themselves, to feel better about their lives, often by means of escaping, at least for a time. They may succeed in escaping, but it is not a spiritual practice.
The Spiritual Path
What, then, is true spiritual practice and how does it work? I can only offer my own observations and what I have learned from being in the presence of those who truly walk their talk.
True spiritual path chooses you. You are being guided, and sometimes you have to make very tough choices along the way. Yes, you chose it before you were born and that’s why even the most strenuous situations and conditions can seem like a blessing to some while causing others to leave their path altogether. I have not seen one true Master or Teacher who didn’t encounter obstacles on their path or who could claim that their life was free of suffering and hardships. How can one become compassionate and wise if they never learned to be motivated by something other than their desires? They listened intently to their inner guidance, even when it told them to abandon all comfort and move to a place where there is no certainty or sense of safety.
So how do we get there? First we need to identify our goals. Having clear goals is critical in any endeavor, and will often determine the outcome before we take the first step. What is the goal? Why are we doing this? What is the real reason behind our intention to pursue this particular path? Some schools of thought claim that you will be given enough knowledge and energy to accomplish what you’ve committed to do. In other words, If you truly know what you want and possess a strong intention, all the necessary tools and information will be provided.
You may have noticed that people are very inspired when they are just being introduced to spirituality, but as time goes by, more commitment and perseverance is required, and the ranks grow thinner. The ones that remain have a strong goal that focuses their energy, allowing them to see their purpose amidst chaos. The ones that drop off do not.
Those of us just starting out on the spiritual path require a certain environment that is free from major distractions, from outer and even inner noise. Once the student advances in studies and practice, environment should become secondary and play little role in their inner life. It can be compared to the way we raise our children. At first, we keep them from harm, but at some point we need to trust that they can determine what is right for them. The same approach applies to our spiritual journey, and at some point we have to trust our inner guidance and the wisdom we gained through our practice. At that point we can trust ourselves to maintain our inner focus and openness, even when we encounter unpredictable situations.
Even with a goal, we may find ourselves asking: “What’s next? Why am I meditating and doing my daily practice? When can I really experience something miraculous, something that will prove to me that I am on the correct path?” The answer can be quite disappointing for some and yet is a relief for others.
For some it will be disappointing, because they start spiritual practices as a way to escape their not so “warm and fuzzy” reality. The grass does seem greener on the other side. They don’t realize that in order to be able to enjoy our existence anywhere, be it working on Wall Street or seeking spiritual wisdom and becoming a spiritual practitioner, we still need to face ourselves, our reactions and tendencies. Yes, there are moments of bliss that arise during practice, but going from these moments to a fully awakened life requires courage, self discipline and trust.
On the other hand, those who are genuinely interested in delving into their true nature by paying close attention to their thoughts, emotions, reactions and habits without expectations, those who trust the process and feel the guidance from within might actually enter a state that Yoga calls “Samadhi”, an all pervading awareness and self realization.
I am not suggesting that living a spiritual life is only accessible to a select minority willing to seclude themselves in a remote monastery. As with most things in life, living consciously, with greater awareness will require effort. The benefit is being able to experience everything in your life from the state of joy and wonder, where nothing is ever certain and anything is possible. You can be happy with little and enjoy simple things, including the proverbial flower blooming under your window or bird chirping joyfully on the warm summer’s day. It allows you to see beauty in all things, despite our mind’s effort to polarize and categorize.