Great uncertainty surrounds the whole idea of self-realization. When it comes to the possibility of being in conscious relationship with what is divine—of discovering your immortal Self—what everyone wants to know is “how?” From that point it seems the confusion boils down to this question: Is there or is there not a plan of some kind? Are there organized lessons of some order that one can follow all the way to everlasting freedom?
The answer is no and yes. And, in the end, the only person who succeeds in realizing the truth of Self is the one who will struggle to understand what only seems to be an irreconcilable contradiction.
St. Theophan the Recluse said that divine grace will not act within us if we don’t make efforts to obtain it, but to this idea he also added that human efforts alone are incapable of producing anything spiritually stable or permanent within us. Therefore, he goes on to say, that the divine result, the fulfillment of our realization, is “to be obtained by a combination of effort and grace.” Here’s what this means to those seeking the Kingdom of the Divine:
Effort—any kind of “plan”—without grace is useless. Grace—unattended by effort and its inherent humiliation—produces illusion. Just as there must be a marriage between the aspiring soul and the timeless Spirit that gives it life, so must there be a union between spiritual sweat, sacrifice, and the fruit of what that interior work reveals.
To understand this requirement of self-realization is to recognize the absolute necessity of an authentic teacher and wisdom school. Without the new insights and access to the higher self-knowledge thus provided, the willing aspirant has no viable tools with which to work, nor does he or she receive the vital reminders—and encouragements—that are needed in order to renew the specialized work required to become self-realized.
Without the spirit that governs the dissemination and directed application of these specialized tools, they prove useless, not unlike giving a book on calculus to a child who still plays with a ruler, imagining it as a seesaw. No one finds the true upper way without true guidance. And yet, on the other hand, seemingly in direct opposition to all stated above, we have this beautiful fact of life: Within the lowly acorn resides the “plan” for the great oak tree it is destined to become; in a manner of speaking, one could say that the oak tree is the acorn realized, assuming it’s given the conditions it needs to succeed in fulfilling its plan. Which leads us to this highly encouraging fact as concerns life in all kingdoms, above and below: in every seed resides a living plan placed within it at the same moment of its creation.
This means that hidden in the center of you is the seed of self-realization—the possibility of discovering that who you really are is part of a divine plan.
If you can remember the first time you fell in love, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you didn’t run around asking others, “What’s the plan?” Love itself was your guide, and the actions she prescribed moment to moment flowed into and through you; they were provided by a love that wanted nothing more from you than your willingness to be its instrument. The rest was literally done for you, and there was never a question of how this love would turn out. No future fears clouded your original contentment; it was enough just to love and to be loved. That doesn’t mean there weren’t difficulties, but they were recognized as being a necessary part in the play of love perfecting itself.
Think of some great artist, any master you admire past or present, then consider, carefully, what it took for that individual to realize and then embody such an immense gift. Let me summarize the process of such perfection: love, sweat, sacrifice, revelation, and its enactment.
So, is there a plan for self-realization?
The answer is … yes and no. And it all depends on you.