When most people think of spiritual evolution they tend to think in positive terms like love, peace, joy, etc. But each of these and many of their nearest cousins are the products of an awakened mind, not the path to one. The process of true spiritual development is a destructive one to be sure. Ideas, beliefs and understandings that for most of us have been cornerstones of our existence end up obliterated in the process. There is nothing comfortable about it and at many points along the way, it can be downright terrifying. It is one thing to change your mind about something, yet another entirely to uproot a core belief or value and shred it as you would a weed in your garden (which in fact it is). This is the territory where beliefs that are seemingly inextricably tied to your identity fight and struggle mightily for their own preservation. It is also the territory where most who don’t make it turn back. It is the valley of destruction.
So, what is it exactly that gets destroyed? The truth is, just about everything but the most powerful resistance will come from the ego. It is the part of you that convinces you that you need this thing or that thing to be happy; that you are separate from God, the universe, your fellow man and nature; that material wealth and outward achievement bring lasting happiness; that you are right and others are wrong; that you are superior or inferior to someone else, that the material world is final reality and not simply a veil, that love has conditions. These beliefs are so deeply entrenched in our consciousness that when we begin to dismantle them our entire identity feels at risk of collapse. Guess what? It is. If you have that sense, you’re likely headed in the right direction.
Adyashanti once wrote, “Make no mistake about it, enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense and the complete eradication of most everything we imagined to be true.”
Everyone wants to be happy, it’s universal in the longing spirit of man. But that longing must be directed at divine spirit. The ego has other plans entirely. It directs it’s need for gratification at everything BUT the divine and the results are self-evident in the violence, poverty, cruelty, greed, war, starvation, fear and hopelessness that are so pervasive in our world. There is but one path to deliverance and that path follows straight away through the valley of destruction. King David pointed directly to this truth when he stated, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” The way to the top of the mountain always leads through the valley but the climb is rendered exponentially less difficult when the baggage of illusion and ego have been set ablaze and left far, far behind.
What would you say is the most valuable commodity in the world? gold? diamonds? a big house? the perfect job? the perfect partner? world travel? a huge bank balance? Those are the things that come to mind first for most people, especially westerners. Over the years my mother always told me something that it took me a while to realize was absolutely true. The greatest commodity in the world is this – peace of mind. Think about it, what would your life be like if you had it? I mean real peace of mind, not just fleeting glimpses of it – sustained peace and freedom from the near constant worry that plagues most of us most of the time. We constantly worry and in most cases, we worry about things and events that NEVER come to pass. The vast majority simply never materialize so in essence, we are poisoning the the only moment we have, the one we are in, with some dark imagining about the future that never happens. It’s a VERY high price to pay to trade the moment you have for some dreaded future that likely won’t arrive at all.
We worry that we don’t have enough money, time, health or things. When we do have enough of all that, we worry that it will disappear or be taken away. It speaks to the old saying, “There are two great tragedies in life, not getting what you want, and getting what you want.” We worry either way. If we aren’t worrying about things, we are incessantly worrying about what other people think of us. We worry that those who have less than we do resent us and that those who have more than we do look down on us. It’s a no win situation. We worry no matter what. But here’s the good news. it doesn’t have to be like this - it really doesn’t.
Following are some ways that we can begin to short circuit the worry machine and foster the kind of thinking that can set us free…
Find compassion for someone who hurt you instead of wallowing in bitterness which will make it easier to forgive them and set yourself free. As the Buddha once said, “If you are grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone, it is you who is getting burned.”
Enjoy the good things about the present instead of scheming to create a better future. The moment you are in is the only one you have. Don’t sell it to some imagined future.
Make a list of things you love about yourself instead of dwelling on how you wish you were different. Loving and appreciating yourself is where it all starts.
Focus on what you appreciate about the people in your life instead of wishing they would change (assuming you’re in healthy relationships).
Recognize if you’re judging yourself in your head with phrases like I should have done X” or “I shouldn’t have done Y.” Replace those thoughts with, “I will do the best I possibly can and my best is good enough. I will learn and I will grow every day.” Remember there is no such thing as failure unless you fail to learn the lesson being given to you..
If you put these ideas into practice, you will exponentially increase your holdings of the most valuable commodity in the world, your peace of mind.
Yesterday I was looking back across my spiritual evolution to this point and taking a bit of an inventory. I discovered something I’d like to share since I am certain many of you will find parallels in your own journey. What I came to understand was much of my effort thus far has been in overcoming beliefs, concepts, ideas and principles that I now understand to be spiritually damaging, not only personally, but to all people and the earth’s collective consciousness. The unfortunate truth is virtually all of these are cornerstones of western thought, both philosophic and religious. They are as follows -
1. You are separate – separate from God, separate from other beings, both human and non-human, and separate from creation which includes the whole of the universe.
2. There is only one “right” path to the Divine, necessitating that all other paths are wrong and there is some group of people, somewhere, who solely posses the real truth.
3. Material wealth and outward achievement are the measures of success.
4. Matter is the basis of all things.
5. Race, nationality, religion, financial status, etc. are your identity.
6. Happiness is extrinsic.
7. Life is a pass / fail test and you only get one go at it.
8. Conflict = entertainment (take note of any news show or most movies and TV episodes)
9. You need the approval or understanding of others (parents, friends, associates).
10. More is better.
Take a few minutes to consider how these ideas have affected you both in thought and in action. If you are able to strip away ego, even momentarily, you will perhaps have an eye-opening and perhaps even an epiphanic experience.
In my upcoming posts, I will examine each of the 10 in detail, inclusive of their effects on soul. Additionally, we will look at their antithetical counterparts and what they offer to an evolving spirituality.
- Take a 10-30 minute walk every day. And while you walk, smile. It is the ultimate anti-depressant.
- Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
- Buy a DVR and tape your late night shows and get more sleep.
- When you wake up in the morning complete the following statement, ‘My purpose is to __________ today.’
- Live with the 3 E’s — Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy.
- Play more games and read more books than you did in 2007.
- Make time to practice meditation, and prayer. They provide us with daily fuel for our busy lives.
- Spend time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of 6.
- Dream more while you are awake.
- Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.
- Drink green tea and plenty of water. Eat blueberries, wild Alaskan salmon, broccoli, almonds & walnuts.
- Try to make at least three people smile each day.
- Clear clutter from your house, your car, your desk and let new and flowing energy into your life.
- Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip, OR issues of the past, negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
- Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
- Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a college kid with a maxed out charge card.
- Smile and laugh more. It will keep the nagative blues away.
- Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
- Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
- You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
- Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil the present.
- Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
- No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
- Frame every so-called disaster with these words: ‘In five years, will this matter?’
- Forgive everyone for everything.
- What other people think of you is none of your business.
- Remember God heals everything.
- However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
- Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
- Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
- Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
- The best is yet to come.
- No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
- Do the right thing!
- Call your family often.
- Each night before you go to bed complete the following statements: I am thankful for _______. Today I accomplished ____.
- Remember that you are too blessed to be stressed.
- Enjoy the ride. Remember this is not Disney World and you certainly don’t want a fast pass. You only have one ride through life so make the most of it and enjoy the ride.
- Laugh when you can, apologize when you should, and let go of what you can’t change.
A spiritual journey is just that, a journey. While history certainly has record of those who “woke up” in a momentous instant, the truth is that in almost every case there was a very long path leading to that place. It’s a another example of the “overnight success” that really took years. As Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, it usually takes about 10,000 hours to get really good at something. There simply are no shortcuts.
The last couple of days for me have been an effective reminder of this truth. I have allowed certain circumstances to overwhelm and obscure my walk and cloud my knowing. It took no small amount of pulling myself up by my bootstraps to regain some degree of clarity. The following things that I reminded myself of set me back on the illuminated path. I hope they will help you as well…
1. Everything happens for a reason and a purpose, exactly as it has to.
2. Everything in your life, ALL circumstances, are there because you drew them to you in order to learn a lesson that your soul requires.
3. There is no such thing as failure, as long as you learn the lesson.
4. Everything that is not spiritual in nature is Maya or illusion. The only truth is spiritual truth.
5. Gratitude for what we have and where we are right now is the basis of all happiness.
6. Attachment to impermanent things causes suffering and all “things” are impermanent.
7. Presence and mindfulness in the moment are the cornerstones of happiness.
8. Time is a persistent illusion. There is only the infinite now.
9. Preoccupation with the past or the future robs us of the precious moment we are in.
10. We are all one, all connected at the most elemental level. Harm or ill will toward one is harm and ill will to all.
11. True peace is only found in service to others.
12. Carrying past percieved hurts or wrongs done to us only serves to further damage us.
13. We create our reality with our thoughts. Want to change your reality? Change your thoughts.
14. Words have astonishing power. Both the words we speak to ourselves as well as others. Be gentle.
15. You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it come true.The key is consistent, inspired action.
16. Everything that holds us down is some form of fear and fear simply cannot exist in the same space as love.
17.Every single day is a new gift, pregnant with possibilities including the possibility to change anything you wish.
18. Happiness is a choice. It is something you DO not something you find.
19. Judging is a waste of time.
20. Expectations destroy relationships. Accept people for who and where they are right now. They too are on their path.
This list of 20 managed to right my course. Every one of them you already know. As a matter of fact, you already know everything you need to know to be happy, helpful, truthful, kind and loving. It’s just that sometimes we all need a reminder. I know I did.
Most of us take words for granted. We use them largely without too much thought as a means to communicate. We learn language very early and it quickly becomes something akin to breathing. It’s a GREAT tool to be sure and is one of the key differences between humans and other species. Words, however, have far more impact on our lives than most of us tend to realize. In my study of linguistics I came to realize just how much more. While it is true that words, in their most elemental form, are simply a series of phonetic sounds represented in written form by symbols, they also carry meaning and connotation and this is where the power lies. It is because of this that words can be and are causal in nature. In other words, words cause things. Things like feelings, emotions, actions, reactions, events and more. And yet, given this power of words, we often use them with little consideration.
I’d like to briefly examine how different it can be when we begin to use words more consciously. In order to do that, we need to have a look at some of the effects, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that words are capable of producing. When directed outward toward others, the impact of words is one of the most powerful forces on earth. The meaning can be something as benign (but useful) as, “Please pass me the salt.” The meaning can have immense positive impact. For example -
” I love you”
“I appreciate you”
“Congratulations, you just won the lottery!”
Or dreadfully negative impact from words like -
“I hate you.”,
“You make me sick.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“You’re wrong and I am right.”
Words have been responsible for some of the greatest messages ever conveyed as well as some of the most destructive. Contrast the words used by Jesus and Hitler. Both used words to produce massive results yet those results were vastly different.
The impact of the words we choose is not only external. The words we choose to communicate with ourselves internally are equally as powerful. When we use negative words like -
“I don’t deserve this.””
I’m not good, tall, pretty, outgoing, smart enough.”
“I’m so stupid.”
we place ourselves in negative emotional states and engage the law of attraction which, in turn, begins attracting exactly the things required to make those statements true. Our energy is vibrating on a negative frequency thus attracting the things that are on the same or a similar frequency. It’s simple particle physics.
Conversely, when we use words like -
“Life is beautiful.”
“Today will be a great day.”
“I am worthy.”
we position our emotional states and our energy in such a way that we attract the same. The universe is a great mirror that simply gives back to us what we show it. Think of days when it seemed like everything that could go wrong did. And days when everything you did turned out right. What was the difference? Your thoughts – the words you were using to communicate with yourself. If you examine it closely, you will find, without exception, that this was the case.
It has long been understood by both linguists and psychologists that words have a dramatic impact on the nervous system; both that of the speaker as well as the listener. Whether those words are part of our internal dialog or spoken aloud, the effect remains. Words have an effect on our heart rate, blood pressure, and as was demonstrated in the famous water experiments conducted by Dr. Masura Emoto, even on the cells and molecules of our bodies. In these experiments, words were taped to the exterior of containers containing water molecules. Words like, “Thank you” and “I love you”. The crystals were then frozen and produced spectacular, beautiful crystals displaying cohesive patterns. Conversely, when negative words such as “I hate you” and “You make me sick” were attached to the containers, the frozen water molecules displayed incoherent patterns that were anything but beautiful and geometric. Considering that our bodies are made up of over 70% water, imagine the impact words have on our physiology.
So as you go through each day, be constantly aware of the words you use, both internally and externally. You can choose words that support and encourage or words that denigrate and hurt. The choice is always yours and choosing wisely will make all the difference.
Many people have asked me a deceptively simple question over the years, “What is a spiritual journey?” So let’s see if we can shed some light here. For most people a spiritual journey begins when we finally not only realize, but become willing to admit to ourselves that we are not happy. This is the first step and it is a huge one. Given the mass proliferation of external distractions that our modern world and its technology have supplied us with, it is easier than ever before to mask any unhappiness. But the time will inevitably come when the masking is simply no longer effective. The truth finds its way to the front of the room and can no longer be ignored or pacified. That’s when the journey begins. Often times it is some pernicious event or realization that precipitates this fork in the road – perhaps a divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, an addiction, etc. – but not always. There are some who, for reasons they cannot yet fully understand, begin to feel compelled to seek another way, a better way.
Once the seeking begins in earnest, it usually follows a fairly predictable trajectory. First we start reading – a lot. We hear about a book recommended by a friend or maybe we saw it on Oprah. That book leads to another, and another until we have ingested a large quantity of information. Our intellects are entertained and engaged, we are having “a-ha” experiences, it’s all new and fun, BUT, the novelty wears off and many people simply abandon the path and settle back into familiar patterns. The group that chooses to push on finally realizes that all the new found knowledge is great but they also know they still aren’t truly happy. They know that in order to truly move forward, they must begin to integrate the new learnings through practice. They begin to incorporate their chosen path into their lives. They begin a daily meditation or prayer practice, perhaps yoga, maybe church, synagogue, workshops, or frequent walks in nature. All of these activities help to further the budding spiritual growth but eventually, routine sets in and they still are not satisfied that they “there” yet. They have traded in being book junkies to being experience junkies but real happiness is still coy and elusive.
If they are to ever move past the first two stages, a profound realization must occur which is, they are seeking spirituality from without, from the external. There they will not find it, ever. The focus must turn inward. While everything that had led them to this point is very valuable, the real work begins here. This is where the practice of meditation, contemplation or prayer begins to reveal, in glimpses at first, the real truths of spirit. This is where we begin to understand that transcendence is the only path. We begin to understand intuitively, not intellectually, that we must transcend our identity of separateness which is an ego based illusion. We begin to learn that everything we seek is within us. That God lives within us. That we are neither separate from God nor the universe nor one another. Eventually the greatest of truths will reveal itself in a way that we understand directly, experientially, intuitively and completely – There is ONLY God (I am that I am). There exists no separation. In our understanding of this all pervasive truth, our actions are directed not by our self-serving ego, but by the only creative force in the universe. We no longer have need to overcome the ego, it has fallen away in the blinding light of love and truth.
Is it an easy path? Not by a long shot. Is it quick? Less so even. Is it attainable? Not only yes, it is inevitable. All souls will eventually find their way home through the lessons learned in “earth school.” Meditation, contemplation, prayer, the stilling of the mind are the conduits to ultimate spirituality. It is a journey all will make eventually and a journey some are ready to make now. The choice is, of course, yours but only the choice of when to begin, not if.