You Are What You Seek

Attention spiritual shoppers: enlightenment is not something you acquire. How to avoid common pitfalls of the seeker.

From "The Book of Secrets" by Deepak Chopra. Copyrightc 2004 by Deepak Chopra. Excerpted by permission of Harmony Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

Seeking is a word often applied to the spiritual path, and many people are proud to call themselves seekers. Often, they are the same people who once chased too hard after money, sex, alcohol, or work. With the same addictive intensity they now hope to find God, the soul, the higher self. The problem is that seeking begins with a false assumption. I don't mean the assumption that materialism is corrupt and spirituality is pure. Yes, materialism can become all-consuming, but that's not the really important point. Seeking is doomed because it is a chase that takes you outside yourself.

Whether the object is God or money makes no real difference. Productive seeking requires that you throw out all assumptions that there is a prize to be won. This means acting without hope of rising to some ideal self, hope being a wish that you'll get somewhere better than the place you started from. You are starting from yourself, and it's the self that contains all the answers. So you have to give up on the idea that you must go from A to B. There is no linear path when the goal isn't somewhere else. You must also discard fixed judgments about high and low, good and evil, holy and profane. The one reality includes everything in its tangle of experiences, and what we are trying to find is the experiencer who is present no matter what experience you are having.

Looking at the people who race around trying to be models of goodness, someone coined the apt phrase "spiritual materialism," the transfer of values that work in the material world over to the spiritual world.

Spiritual Materialism

Pitfalls of the Seeker:

Knowing where you're going.


Struggling to get there.


Using someone else's map.


Working to improve yourself.


Setting a timetable.


Waiting for a miracle.



There's no better way to be a genuine seeker than to avoid these pitfalls.


  • Don't know where you're going. Spiritual growth is spontaneous. The big events come along unexpectedly, and so do the small ones. A single word can open your heart; a single glance can tell you who you really are. Awakening doesn't happen according to the plan. It's much more like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without knowing the finished picture in advance. The Buddhists have a saying, "If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him," which means if you're following a spiritual script written in advance, bury it. All you can imagine in advance are images, and images are never the same as the goal.
  • Don't struggle to get there. If there were a spiritual payoff at the end of the trail, like a pot of gold or the key to heaven, everyone would work as hard as possible for the reward. Any struggle would be worth it. But does it help a two-year-old to struggle to become three? No, because the process of child development unfolds from within. You don't get a paycheck; you turn into a new person. The same is true for spiritual unfolding. It happens just as naturally as childhood development, but on the plane of awareness rather than in the realm of physiology.
  • Don't follow someone else's map. There was a time when I was certain that deep meditation using one specific mantra for the rest of my life was the key to reaching enlightenment. I was following a map laid down thousands of years ago by venerable sages who belonged to India's greatest spiritual tradition. But caution is always required: If you follow someone else's map, you could be training yourself in a fixed way of thinking. Fixed ways, even those devoted to spirit, are not the same as being free. You should glean teachings from all directions, keeping true to those that bring progress yet remaining open to changes in yourself.
  • Don't make this a self-improvement project. Self-improvement is real. People get stuck in bad places that they can learn to get out of. Depression, loneliness, and insecurity are tangible experiences that can be improved. But if you seek to reach God or enlightenment because you want to stop being depressed or anxious, if you want greater self-esteem or less loneliness, your search may never end. This area of understanding isn't cut-and-dried. Some people feel tremendously self-improved as their awareness expands; but it takes a strong sense of self to confront the many obstacles and challenges that lie on the path. If you feel weak or fragile, you may feel weaker and more fragile when you confront the shadow energies within. Expanded awareness comes at a price-you have to give up your limitations-and for anyone who feels victimized, that limitation is often so stubborn that spiritual progress becomes very slow. To the extent that you feel any deep conflict inside yourself, a large hurdle stands before you on the path. The wise thing is to seek help at the level where the problem exists.
  • Don't set yourself a timetable. I've met countless people who gave up on spirituality because they didn't reach their goals fast enough. "I gave it ten years. What can I do? Life is only so long. I'm moving on." More likely they devoted just one year or a month to being on the path, and then the weekend warriors fell away, discouraged by lack of results. The best way to avoid disappointment is not to set a deadline in the first place, although many people find this difficult to do without losing motivation. But motivation was never going to get them there in the first place. Discipline is involved, no doubt, in remembering to meditate regularly, to keep up Yoga class, to read inspiring texts, and to keep your vision before you. Getting into the spiritual habit requires a sense of dedication. But unless the vision is unfolding every day, you will inevitably get distracted. Rather than a timetable, give yourself support for spiritual growth. This can be in the form of a personal teacher, a discussion group, a partner who shares the path with you, regular retreats, and keeping a daily journal. You will be much less likely to fall prey to disappointment.
  • Don't wait for a miracle. It really doesn't matter how you define miracle-whether it is the sudden appearance of perfect love, a cure for a life-threatening disease, anointment from a great spiritual leader, or permanent and everlasting bliss. A miracle is letting God do all the work; it separates the supernatural world from this world, with the expectation that one day the supernatural world will notice you. Since there is only one reality, your task is to break through boundaries of division and separation. Watching and waiting for a miracle keeps the boundaries up. You are ever at a remove from God, connected to him by wishful thinking.
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    Deepak Chopra
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