If you are reading this, you are most likely a spiritual seeker. Perhaps like me, you are on a path to find answers to the big existential questions such as the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of God, or the existence of consciousness beyond physical death. If you are beginning your journey, then you are likely in the knowledge-gathering phase. This is a good and natural place to start. The information you gather in the first years of your journey are essential to help develop a positive spiritual perspective. However, whether it occurs a year down the road or a decade or two, a day will come when spiritual knowledge for its own sake will no longer suffice. Sooner or later, we must all look at our growing library of books and wonder – what does all this mean for me and for my life? How can I turn this spiritual knowledge into spiritual practice?
For me, the process of evolving from knowledge seeker to spiritual practitioner has been very slow and fraught with a lot of kicking and screaming. I’m only now beginning to understand the path before me, so I do not come to you today as an expert. I only wish to share my foibles with you, so perhaps if you find yourself going through a similar metamorphosis, you can recognize it for what it is much sooner than I did.
This past year, I have been stumbling around in spiritual darkness, tripping over my own failed expectations. During a year plagued with death, illness, and anxiety, I turned inward to what I assumed to be a well-founded spirituality. I expected comfort and guidance, but found emptiness. I could draw on theories, beliefs, and spiritual evidence a plenty, but none could soothe a broken, grieving heart or calm a mind filled with anxiety. I raised my fist to the sky and demanded spiritual guidance like a child having a temper tantrum. When, predictably, my demands were not indulged, I found myself feeling inexplicably betrayed and abandoned.
After Ann, my closest friend and fellow spiritual seeker, passed away tragically last September, I selfishly expected her to contact me, proving her continued existence in the afterlife and giving me some much-needed advice from her now expanded perspective. This was my ego looking for validation, which is the antithesis of spiritual wisdom. If Ann does exist somewhere, she was wise not to feed into my demands. I should have been humbly looking inward toward my own consciousness instead of expecting Ann to prove herself with parlor tricks and provide easy answers. At the time I could not see beyond my own ridiculous demands, and my spiritual tantrum continued through early summer. That’s when my first revelation hit me like a bolt of lightning.
It sounds so obvious now, I am chagrined that I did not see it earlier. I had expected to reap the rewards of a spiritual practice that I had never actually cultivated. For a decade and a half I had developed a wellspring of intellectual knowledge, but it was never integrated into my life. It was Ann who lived it, not me. Ann was always the sensitive one; the one with the dreams and visions and a deep, lifelong spiritual connection. I just lived vicariously though her experiences, believing that sharing in Ann’s experiences were a suitable substitution for my lack. After Ann died, I realized I could no longer siphon spiritual meaning from her life. My massive library of books; all of the knowledge I had contributed to our partnership; provided little comfort or shelter from the doubt and hopelessness I felt.
Once I realized this, with some embarrassment, I still found myself without direction. How does one live spiritually? I was flummoxed. Walking the path of developing personal spirituality means no religious rituals, no spiritual leaders and no congregation to facilitate a spiritual connection. In fact, I realized with great fascination the tremendous importance of the ritual to religious believers during the lockdown. Besides young people attempting to socialize at underground parties, religious gatherings were the second most common reason why people broke the prohibition against gathering. The ritualistic aspects of religion make up quite a large part of religious participation and some of the most pious felt they could not practice their religion properly without it.
Since there are no rituals defined for a solo spiritual path, I tried to reason out how I could turn the knowledge from various spiritual sources into everyday practice. A primary belief is the separation between body and soul, or mind. When the body dies, the non-physical aspects of the mind/soul/consciousness is believed to survive. Through consciousness, one could attempt to pierce the veil, reach the wisdom of the whole self and perhaps even gain wisdom from guides. The state of one’s consciousness may also affect the afterlife environment. Some sources suggest that the mental worlds of our spiritual home will reflect our state of being, for good or ill. Before I could live spiritually, I decided, I should examine the state of my own mind. Should I survive death, I needed to make sure I was someone I really wanted to live with for all eternity.
I was disappointed by what I found. My mind had become lazy, judgmental, and distracted. I either spent time thinking about all of the terrible things that would happen, or all of the terrible things that had already happened. I spent very little time in the present, where I had the power to actually change my circumstances. My first mission was to become more mindful. To accomplish this, one must find a higher mental perspective where one can observe one’s own thoughts and dismantle any that are disingenuous or defensive. Going into the dark corners of your own mind to identify your worst mental habits is not easy. If you aren’t paying attention, your ego will take control, looking at everything from a victim-perpetrator mentality. One of the most difficult exercises are those where you stop and analyze snap judgements and knee-jerk reactions. Often, you will find them to be somewhat distorted. Also, I try not to multitask in my personal life. When having a conversation with someone, try to be completely present instead of looking at your phone or letting your mind wander. Cooking, eating, reading, working, and playing with the dog or spending time with children are all examples of activities where you can practice being completely present and focused on your primary activity. All this is, of course, an on-going process, but I have already found it rewarding and insightful even if I often have to remind myself to stay focused!
Next, I had to let go of my need for spiritual hand-holding. At times of great uncertainty, I would beg my guides for answers. Often, I would only receive some validation after I had made a decision and not before. I have come to accept that we are masters of our own destiny, for better or worse. Guidance may be available from beings in consciousness in a wider perspective, but they will not divert us toward easier circumstances. As much as we want it to be easy and comfortable, life was never meant to be painless. I was looking for an escape from adversity when I should have been asking for the guidance to build the strength necessary to face the challenges already before me.
Lastly, I need to develop a meditation practice. There is no shortcut to becoming familiar with your own mind other than spending time with it. In silence. Alone. The idea has always scared me. I have spent so much time distracting myself with the constant input of information and stimulus, I was actually afraid to allow myself space to be alone with my own awareness. I have been faltering with meditation, I will admit. However, it has helped me to learn that I do not need to meditate for a long time in the beginning. Five to ten minutes should be sufficient. Also, meditation need not be about clearing one’s mind. I find it far more instructive to observe my thoughts and practice being present, rather than allowing my mind to wander. Meditation doesn’t require sitting in the lotus position or even closing one’s eyes. You can find yourself in a meditative state just by gazing out the window or taking a walk. The important part is becoming attuned to the present moment in a relaxed state. I found this video on meditation by Big Think to be quite helpful as a starting point.
Depending on your spiritual beliefs, there are many more ways that you can incorporate them into your practice. If you are so inclined, I would recommend learning out-of-body techniques, or experimenting with the Monroe Institute’s hemisync technology. Reiki and spiritual healing can be an excellent experience if you find an honest and sincere practitioner. Unfortunately, there is a thriving market for new-age and spiritual trinkets, divination tools, workshops, retreats, coaches and nearly everything else you can think of. I would tread extremely carefully. Most of these try to appeal to our baser desires for material wealth, fame or status. The goal is to release our desire for such things, not to attempt to use spiritual ‘tricks’ to try to obtain them more easily. When in doubt, remember this: there is nothing whatsoever physical needed to turn inward and find peace and spiritual connection. All of the world’s major religions also have a prayerful or meditative component that encourages connection back to the source. All it requires is determination and time.
I found a channel called Awaken Insight a few weeks ago that I have found to provide some excellent practical advice for spiritual seekers. The video below describes that point in your spiritual journey where spiritual knowledge must be turned into spiritual practice in your daily life in order to progress. If you feel that you are in a similar place as I am, perhaps you will find some enlightenment in this video as well.
I wish you all a fulfilling, spiritually-rich new year!