There are many myths about spiritual practice in modern life. Many of these myths promote rather than reduce our suffering. It is essential that we learn how to distinguish between what is helpful and what is harmful. These are my top three ideas I’ve discovered in my own practice, and for sure from my own pride and mistakes, that have really helped me. When we’re willing to get “real real”, then our practice can truly help set us free.
Willingness To Truly Begin the Journey Is Spiritually Cutting the Crap
At some point, the universe will broadcast this one to you loud and clear. Stop deluding yourself. Stop running from your pain. Stop blaming everyone else for your problems and choices. Stop giving yourself away and stop selling yourself to the highest bidder. Stop justifying stupid behavior with spiritual psychobabble. Stop devaluing your gifts. In essence. . .
Stop hurting yourself.
Stop causing yourself pain.
Stop hurting others.
Stop causing others pain.
Never worry if you don’t get the first message, karma will lovingly make sure that you repeat it in a more exaggerated way. At some point, you’ll realize it’s time to cut the crap. It’s time to stop talking about being spiritual and how spiritual you are. It’s time to stop using spiritual ideas to put others down. It’s time to stop talking about higher or lower consciousness (I’ve never seen anyone talk about levels of consciousness who thinks they’re in lower consciousness.) It’s time to stop feeling superior because you went to India once or read The Yoga Sutras. It’s time to put that all down. It’s time to stop using spirituality as another vehicle to escape. It’s time to symbolically leave the Garden at Gethsemane.
It’s time to stop and face what we have been running from. It’s time to buckle down and get to work. And as you become more honest with yourself, you become freer. As you become freer, you become powerful. And as you become powerful, you become whole. As you become whole, you remember all of what you are. As you remember all of what you are, you remember the natural joy that permeates the nature of your being. As you remember this joy, you remember that you are love. As you remember that you are love, you remember everyone else is love.
Then something really odd happens. You just live your life. You talk to your neighbors, you go get groceries, and you brush your teeth. You find yourself more and more human and more loving. You realize we’re all the same thing and all part of an intricate web that ties together life in ways in which we can never truly understand. We see we are not special and that everyone is what we are. We understand we don’t need the spiritual trappings because we are spirit. We live in spirit because all is what we call spirit. We no longer need to prove anything or escape anything or feel superior or inferior. We just are.
Spiritual Growth Involves Risk
While as we progress down the spiritual path we do find much deeper happiness, we also realize this progression is comprised of deeper and deeper risks. We must risk doing things differently according to our internal evolution.
These spiritual risks come in many forms. Sometimes we must risk being misunderstood as we honor our authenticity. Sometimes we must risk letting go of an unhealthy relationship that is imprisoning us with no guarantee another one will come along. Sometimes we must risk delving into our inner world to heal a stormy inner ocean. Sometimes we must risk not being liked in order to love ourselves. Sometimes we must risk surrendering to life with no assurance we’ll get what we want. Sometimes we need to risk shifting our lives in ways that are immediately scary but deeply healing in the long term.
Spiritual risk is the name of the game. If you want to sit down at the table, you’ve got to be willing to risk. And you have to be willing to risk with no promise that the risk will pay off. You risk you won’t fall into a black abyss, but into a system that has your back in ways you can’t even imagine. You know you can take this risk because countless others before you have and it paid off. This is the essence of what I call educated faith. It is faith that is backed up by prior knowledge and experience of others. We know others have risked and been just fine and that we are no different from them. Our ego structures love to think we’re the special exception to the rule, but we are not. If others did it, so can we.
Enlightenment Will Almost Certainly Disappoint You (But will be a major relief!)
When I teach or coach, I can see in many of my students a specific look that is unique to spiritual practice. This look says, “If only I can get it, the pain will stop. If only I can become ‘enlightened’, then I can rest.”
I really hate to but love to pour cold water on this. . .
Recognizing who you are doesn’t necessarily mean the pain will stop nor does it mean you stop being a fallible human being. It doesn’t mean you stop needing to emotionally mature or learn how to stop causing pain to yourself and others. It doesn't mean you're done evolving, learning, and growing. Enlightenment is a process rather than a destination. Even when you have the most profound recognition of the true nature of consciousness and reality, you still have to get up the next day and empty the dishwasher. You may put the dishes away with a different inner vantage point, and certainly much of the secondary “narrative” suffering is reduced or eliminated. In other words, we don’t buy all the stuff we tell ourselves anymore because we see it for what it is. However, the kids still need to go to school, the trash needs to go out, and the coffee needs to be made. Life goes on.
You still have to be a functional human being. You came here to be a human being. You can be a human and divine being at the same time. That’s really what you are. Life isn’t an illusion and neither are you. It’s just that the surface level of life isn’t the whole story and who you think you are isn’t the whole of who you are. Francis Bennett, a Christian mystic and author I deeply respect, describes the process of waking up as going up into realization and then coming down and integrating that realization into the context of everyday life. This is what the yogis call “Kaivalya” or integrating the results of true yoga, the union of the individual and the universal, into our lives. We cannot live in a state of altered consciousness.
Altering consciousness can be useful when done safely (and you should always study with a teacher to learn how to do this and NEVER do it unsupervised through substances.) I do it sometimes to do my work, but it is not the point of the practices. Being able to perceive more broadly, to alter and expand your consciousness, or open to the bigger energy field are skills that are useful and have their place, but at the end of the day they are just spiritual party tricks kind of like the spiritual equivalent of “look mom no hands!” They are a result of practice but not the end goal.
Remember that the Buddha did every practice he could think of and studied with every teacher he could before he realized that he was still left with his problem of suffering. It wasn’t altering his consciousness that solved the riddle for him, it was recognizing who he was and facing himself that opened him to what we call his “waking up.” The great cosmic joke is that on this massive search, there is nothing to find. What you are looking for is always right there. It’s always been there and it will always be there. It is who you are. What is looking is what it is.
When you see this, you’ll laugh like you’ve never laughed in your life.
And then you’ll empty the dishwasher and make the coffee.