“Embarking on the spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat and setting out on the ocean to search for unknown lands.” ~ Pema Chodron
For some the spiritual journey begins as quest for something more meaningful or to answer life’s big questions. However, there are many of us who were propelled onto the spiritual path after painful experiences and were finally ready to look for another way.
It is at this time when desperately looking for a way out can lead to a desire for an immediate quick fix, or for someone to save you. As I have come to find out, this isn’t how it works.
Spiritual growth is a process that requires time and commitment.
Here are ten things I wish I had known earlier that would have made some parts of the journey easier to navigate:
1. Meditation and spiritual practice can easily be used to suppress and avoid feelings or to escape from difficult areas of our lives. “Our sorrows are hard to touch. Many people resist the personal and psychological roots of their suffering; there is so much pain in truly experiencing our bodies, our personal histories, our limitations. It can even be harder than facing the universal suffering that surfaces in sitting. We fear the personal and its sorrow because we have not learned how it can serve as our practice and open our hearts. We need to look at our whole life and ask ourselves. "Where am I awake, and what am I avoiding? Do I use my practice to hide? In what areas am I conscious, and where am I fearful, caught, or unfree?" I can remember a period after having read many books on spirituality that I was becoming “spiritually arrogant”. I thought I had it all figured out and that there was no need to look deeper into myself. As I overlooked the importance of a maintaining a beginner’s mind, I quickly realized I was highly mistaken. Stay open to growth by remaining humble. There is something to learn from everyone.
2. Meditation is not a quick fix. When I first began to meditate, I desperately wanted a quick fix. About six months into it, I remember thinking, “I’ve been meditating every day for six months. Why isn’t my life different?!” However, meditation is not meant to help us avoid problems or run away from difficulties. “It is meant to allow positive healing to take place. To meditate is to learn how to stop - to stop being carried away by our regrets about the past, our anger or despair in the present, or our worries about the future.” Meditation is a practice that helps “you” get out of your own way to stay present, calm and open no matter what is happening around you.
3. It is truly a journey of self-discovery. The journey of self-discovery will reveal the darkest and most radiant parts of yourself; it will bring to light what you authentically stand for, what you will or will not allow in your life, what and who you value, and what gifts you are here to share with the world. Earlier this year, my oldest son who was 13 years-old at the time, came home from school with a heavy look on his face. I asked if everything was okay at school. He responded, “I don’t know why, but my life just seems like a series of extreme ups and downs.” I laughed and said, “Welcome to the club.” This journey of the highs and lows, disappointments and triumphs is for our expansion, our growth and our healing.
4. Forgiveness is unavoidable. At some point you will inevitably face having to forgive someone or to be forgiven by someone, there’s no way around it. Forgiveness is vital to move beyond victim consciousness and blame. When you have been deeply hurt or betrayed, you may want to blame the other person and continue to feel angry. However, forgiveness is not for them. It’s for you, so you can let go of all the negative emotions surrounding the hurt that you’re (literally) holding inside of your body. These emotions are energy which will eventually manifest into physical illness if not released. I know it’s not easy, I’ve been there; but it is necessary. “The willingness to forgive is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. It is one of the great virtues to which we all should aspire. Imagine a world filled with individuals willing both to apologize and to accept an apology. Is there any problem that could not be solved among people who possessed the humility and largeness of spirit and soul to do either -- or both -- when needed?”
5. It’s not happening to you, it’s happening for you. When you change your mindset from a victim consciousness that says “everything is happening to me”, you will be ready to fully embrace responsibility for every aspect and choice in your life. This is your life. You are responsible for everything. This can be incredibly empowering as it enables you to release everyone you’ve held responsible for your perceived limitations or inadequacies.
6. You will have to change your perspective. You will not be able to change anyone other than yourself. We are all on different schedules for our life lessons and some take longer than others. Situations in life can function more harmoniously when we accept that others have reasons for the things they do. We don’t need to understand every aspect. We simply need to accept them as they are, or move on if we won’t.
7. You will be emotionally triggered. Emotional discomfort is important because it points you in the direction of where you can release and heal. A few months ago, I had interactions with someone who was angry, frustrated and short tempered. This really bothered me (my emotional trigger). I had to take a bit of time and be honest with myself to ask, “Where do I exhibit these same behaviors of anger and frustration?” The angry person in front of me served as a “mirror” of the unhealed parts of myself. This also served as an opportunity for me to be responsible for my response, and my healing. This interaction was yet another reminder that there is a difference between walking the path and reading about the path.
8. A spiritual community can support you along the way. One of the best things you can do when you are vulnerable is to surround yourself with individuals who support your growth and what you’re trying to do. It can be very helpful, insightful and encouraging to be amongst individuals who have been where you are or who have moved farther along. Don’t think you have to do anything alone because no one will understand. Surround yourself with those who are interested in self-introspection and remain in integrity with themselves.
9. Courage is essential. Every day you will have small choices to make that will lead you closer to your path or farther away from it. Allow yourself to cultivate the courage to be in the midst of the unknown when you have no idea what the outcome will be. At some point you will have come too far to turn back and you will see you either believe this stuff, or you don’t.
10. Remember to surrender. “In our culture the notion of surrendering has a negative connotation to it. It means you’ve been defeated and that you’re powerless. But if you look to the world’s wisdom traditions you’ll find that the idea of surrendering is a courageous act that creates more insight and freedom from the unnecessary mental struggles of life.” There is power in powerlessness. Once you realize you can’t control everything, your wish becomes an intention that situation manifests the highest good for everyone involved…whatever that may be.
“If a person is in a rut long enough, they will ultimately say, “You know what? This isn't working. Let me try something else.” And the moment of that receptivity, you know the old statement: when the student is ready the teacher will appear; hence the opening up of the spiritual journey.
“Pain pushes until the vision pulls. Pain pushes us; it compels us to keep looking for an answer, to find a way out of pain. And pain pushes until we have a vision. Once you have a vision, and you begin to consciously walk in the direction of that vision, you no longer need pain to push you.”
What is now pulling you is inspiration, and your awareness of a larger vision for your life. This is the spiritual journey, a journey of discovery back to yourself.
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