Once you embark on the spiritual path and begin to practice it regularly, there will come a time - it may be a few months or perhaps even a few years - but there will come a time when you realize nothing is as it once was and there is no going back.
No going back?
Why would you? Once the realization begins to dawn that nothing will ever be quite the same, at one-and-the-same time, you know everything to be infinitely better than it ever was.
You know yourself to be the wonderful creation you are; you know everyone else to be the wonderful creation they are.
When you know this, you could never ever imagine harming another; and, in this sense, you sense the futility of all wars on a large scale, even disagreements and arguments on a smaller scale.
You see beauty in everyone and in everything. A kind of sacredness within all things is observed by you. You are more at peace...more inwardly content...even joyful in ways only those experiencing something similar could ever understand.
Why would you ever go back? The thought is unimaginable.
The spiritual path follows various stages of development. It helps to know what they are so as to recognize them when they unfold. There are four stages of development along the spiritual path...
1. Know what...no, WHO, the desire is...
This is the greatest "proof," if proof is ever really needed, for divine intelligence, or what I'm inclined to refer to as "God." But that's only a title...a name...and, as such, means nothing. It is that toward which it points that is the reality beyond all names, distinctions, and descriptions.
Why would you seek God if that desire were not given to you by God already? In the Bible, "grace" is that which God is to you and me without any qualifying on our part.
It is the same with grace. With God.
I believe the desire for God is written into your very DNA. In fact, I'll go one step further. I even believe the "desire" for God IS God. Which, if this is true, renders all human seeking after God rather silly. Why would you seek for that which you are? That's the proverbial fish in the sea in search of the ocean.
Follow the feeling. Give your attention to the desire. But give up the belief there is anything you must do in order to know God. This is where religion has failed many. Even in Christianity or, more accurately, the thirty thousand-plus versions of Christianity that have developed throughout the centuries, there has been, and continues to be, a gross failure. Go into almost any church, for example, express your "desire" to know God and see if there are not a catalogue of things you must do, expectations you must meet.
"God helps those who help themselves." If you'll pray, God will hear you." "Be obedient and God will..."
God will do what, if I do what?
Shall I say more? Give me a break. It's blasphemy. It's unbiblical. And, it is anything but grace.
Depending on the denomination, I assure you there is in most churches a step by step process you must follow in order to know God.
It's not so, my friend. Desire is enough. Desire IS
Follow the desire. See what happens.
2. Find a spiritual mentor...
This is what I do, actually even for a living. I mentor people on the spiritual path. Oh, sure, I coach people who come to me seeking balance in life, or help sorting through a monumental decision they have to make, or to think through strategies for becoming more successful in their lives and in their living.
What many of these do not know, however, is that there really is a spiritual solution to almost every problem. I did not say a religion to solve their challenges. But a spiritual solution. There is a difference. The balanced life, for example, is not a compartmentalized life. Which IS the way most people live. It is instead a life where mind, body and spirit - the three entities that make up who you are - are in sync or harmony with each other. When they are not, your life feels out of balance. Your capacity to make decisions becomes clouded and more difficult.
So we seek a mentor. And, we should.
Everyone needs a mentor. Even the mentor needs a mentor.
When you get serious about your sacred journey, this is one of the first felt needs you will have - the feeling of resourcelessness when it comes to the journey. The need for a mentor. Without it, you'll feel like a seeker in a forest with no flashlight.
For the last two weeks, for example, I've been trying to fulfill my civic duty and serve as a juror. I'm fifty-seven years old and, until recently, have never been summoned to appear. I came to this service grumbling the first day for its interruption of my routine. As it has turned out, however, I was not here long before I became intrigued by how our justice system works. I discovered, too, that most of my time here has been free...just sitting...and waiting to be called. Consequently, it has turned out to be quite productive. In fact, I was asked by a fellow juror, "Well, what do you think?"
"I've gotten so much work done while waiting," I responded, "I'm thinking about moving my office to the jury pool."
About forty of us were called today from the pool of jurors to be interviewed by both the prosecuting attorneys and the defense attorneys in an effort to select a twelve-person jury. In the course of their questioning, the judge, attorneys and the other jurors learned I was once a minister. In fact, in response to one of the prosecuting attorney's questions, I responded, "I'm a recovering Baptist preacher."
The room erupted into laughter. I really wasn't trying to be funny as I almost always answer the question of what I do in that way. I'm not sure if that's what disqualified me from serving, but I was not selected to serve as one of the twelve jurors.
During our lunch break, however, and before any of us knew who would be called, I walked down the street to a pizza stand and ordered a slice of pepperoni pizza. I sat down when a man approached me and said, "May I join you?"
"Sure," I said, not recognizing him as one of those from the pool of potential jurors. I really had planned to do a little work and, frankly, didn't want him there. But, as the same moment I had that feeling, I also had the thought, "Be present...be engaged...be kind."
I quickly discovered he sought me out on purpose. He had heard me make the comment about being a "recovering Baptist minister" and wanted to know more.
Because he was looking for a mentor. He didn't know to call it that. But, deep within, he felt drawn to talk to someone about the desire he'd been feeling to take up the spiritual path. Since he wasn't interested in "organized religion," as he called it, perhaps a "recovering minister," or so he thought, "would have some unbiased advice to give him."
We spent the hour talking together and getting to know each other. It really was wonderful. I enjoyed the pizza far more than I would have, too.
I offered him few suggestions along with the promise of a complimentary copy of my book on spirituality: The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God. "This book has guided thousands of readers," I told him. "It'll guide you, too."
He talked and laughed and shared some more and later returned to the jury pool.
Everyone needs a mentor.
Why would you make this all-important journey alone, especially when it isn't necessary? Many have traveled this path before you. Their wisdom will guide you. Write me, if you need some good recommended reading, some good lights to illumine your path.
3. Question everything you've been taught to believe...
Just before we returned to the jury pool, my new friend asked, "What's the most important thing for me to remember as I take up this sacred journey?"
"And, furthermore," he continued before I could answer, "I have two children...what should I do to help them on their journey?"
"In both instances," I replied, "question all that you've heard and most of what you think."
"Most of what you and I think is wrong. Further, until you question your faith, you have no faith. At best, you hold someone else's beliefs and, when you do, you almost always will confuse those beliefs for authentic faith. But it's not the same."
Faith not forged in the crucible of your own questions isn't faith at all...it's just a collection of beliefs you carry around, like school kids carry backpacks. Those beliefs will become about as burdensome, too.
Because they're not your own. You must examine all the things you've been taught to believe...and, remember, the greatest gift you could give to your children is permission to question the belief system you're following."
Your responsibility as a parent isn't to walk a spiritual path for your children but to walk your own path, allowing them to observe you...to question you...but, ultimately, they must walk their own path. Just dragging your kids to church every Sunday in hopes that, by osmosis, they'll pick up what their "supposed" to believe is nonsense. There is nothing they're "supposed" to believe. Instead, they're supposed to be given permission to believe as their heart dictates.
You concern yourself with your own journey. Let them observe the transformation they see taking place in you. They'll learn by observation...contemplation...questions...and the like which path to undertake.
4. Cultivate the art of meditating
You can call it prayer if you're a Christian. I choose not to because the word prayer, although popularly used by my fellow Christians, is too laden with words. And, most praying is empty of words.
How do I know this?
Consider the prayer life of Jesus. He was frequently withdrawing from the crowd in order to pray. Meditate more likely. I doubt he said many things. In fact, the most enriching experience of prayer is when you reach that place where words are not necessary...that place where your mind is empty of noise-making, which is just the stringing together of words, ideas, concepts, memories and anticipations.
This is not easy. In fact, because we've been taught in this western culture that value is found in busyness and that "an idle mind is the devil's playground," we think it smart...even wise...to fill our minds, as well as our lives, with a lot of busyness.
It's silly. It's not right. And, it is just the opposite of what virtually every spiritual tradition teaches. An idle mind is not the devil's playground. The devil's real playground, which soon turns into a battleground, is the busy mind.
So, you have much practice to do...much discipline you'll likely have to bring to this field in order to master the art of meditation. If you will stay with it, however, the day will come, just as in everything related to the sacred journey, when you will experience the sheer bliss associated with the freedom from thought...the quieting of the mind...the interruption, even if only briefly, in the incessant stream of thinking that is your mind and mine.
When you have begun experiencing even slightly the joy of meditation, you will begin to see real changes in how you live.
You will be less bothered by those things that used to irritate you endlessly.
You'll feel much more at peace...inwardly...much more content, too.
You'll recognize the presence of stress more quickly and take mental steps to slow down the body and the mind.
You'll be kinder to others, and to yourself, more in tune with those you love, and they, too, will see the positive changes in you.
You'll be more aware of your surroundings, more present with what is - more connected to now, not the past or future.
You'll be happier, too. Infinitely happier, more content, and aware of a sacred...even Divine presence in everything.
You won't be perfect, however. Just more forgiving...of yourself. And, when you've forgiven yourself, you are able to forgive others. Of everything.
Are you beginning to see the value in the sacred journey?
Of course you do. You would not have read this much of the article if the sacred journey had not started in you already?
You, my friend, have chosen...
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, "I love all religions; but I'm IN LOVE with my own." Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Ever.