The pitfalls along the upper path leading to the realization of the immortal Self are well marked by the aspiring souls who have gone before us. Their legacy of spiritual insights and revelations serves as signposts along the way for all who wish to awaken their sleeping divinity.
In this instance, all traditions in the East and West point out three distinct stages of realization through which the aspirant must pass. Each stage is unique in its character, and none may be skipped; much like a seed gives rise to a flower and from that flower is born its fruit, all three stages are required or nothing real can grow.
Stage one: When first stumbling upon the true upper path, most aspiring souls are highly motivated; they share a single positive sentiment: “Watch out, world, I’m coming through! Nothing is impossible for me.” This stage is called false certainty. The newly fledged seeker cannot yet see that his or her budding confidence is the byproduct of self-flattering images and their attending pleasures; the aspirant is fully identified with the promise of imagined powers just ahead. Filled with the sensation of standing in this false light, success feels certain. It only seems logical to think, “Very soon now, whatever I wish to manifest shall come to pass; money, power, and people will be mine to use as I please. And, as soon as God acknowledges my greatness, everyone else will, as well. No one and nothing will ever stand in my way again.” This is the first stage.
Stage two is marked by an ever-increasing sense of doubt. This is the stage of uncertainty. Many of the earlier illusions have been crushed, and even small successes have proven themselves to be painfully incomplete. What was once believed to be strength or resilience—their best qualities—show themselves as being either unavailable when needed most or, worse, nonexistent. The aspirant enters into a dark place; none of his or her imagined powers have any real light to offer. It seems like there is no way out of the darkness. So the aspirant now thinks, “This path—my life—is impossible! Virtually nothing I’ve done to awaken has changed anything, save for showing me how asleep I am!” Now the aspirant feels lost, like a ship adrift at sea with holes in its hull! Slowly a conviction grows that either the Divine has abandoned him or that her whole journey was never anything but a spiritual pipe dream; it’s at this point that the aspirant enters into the “dark night of the soul” … which, if walked through, brings them to the third stage of their journey.
Stage three: If we go through the first stage of ego-induced dreams born of what amounts to an imagined divinity—where all seems possible—and then stay the course through the next necessary stage of ego-shattering shocks—where all seems impossible because we now imagine ourselves to be the lowest creature on earth—then we reach the third stage. Here we gradually come to realize that both our former “great” self and our “terrible” self are secretly one nature, a level of consciousness that sleeps in a world of its own dreams. In the light of this revelation—that these two seemingly separate selves are secretly one—we come to a divine realization:
Who we really are, our true self, is neither one of these false identities. The whole illusion collapses before our interior eyes. We are moved effortlessly from a world of dreams—ruled by illusions—into the reality of a conscious relationship with our immortal Self. The three stages are complete. We realize their culmination and receive their divine gift of real certainty.