Spirituality is sometimes sold as a kind of well-worn track walked by the countless seekers before us. All we have to do is follow—go the way that is prescribed—and we will reach the same destination that the “great ones” reached. It’s not like that. I thought it was like that. I really did. But it’s not.
I was first attracted to the spiritual path when I met others who had attained some level of spiritual awakening. “I want what they have,” I thought. I wanted them to simply show me what they did and allow me to follow along behind them. It wasn’t that easy.
What I discovered was that there is a path, but it’s not like a footpath. It’s not like a trail blazed through a dense jungle. It is more like the path that a bird flies through the air or a course that a ship takes across an ocean. It’s a course. It’s a way. We cannot fall asleep and trust that the guard rails will keep us on track. It’s true; we are not the first to walk a path, not by a long shot. People have been setting out on the spiritual path as long as people have been around. But we cannot follow in their footsteps because, like the ship in the water, there are no solid tracks left behind. The best we can do is to see the general direction.
The General Direction
When we speak about spiritual progress, it is a very individual thing, but there is a general direction that everyone moves in. You could say that we are all going from a state of contraction to a state of expansion. We are moving from a state of bondage to a state of freedom. We are moving from a state of unconsciousness to consciousness.
To go any further down this road we must first speak about the soul, original sin, and the process of spiritual awakening. There are two different basic views on human nature that are important to understand here. In one view—let’s call it the Western view—says that human nature is rotten. Based on the idea of original sin, it looks at humans as sinners at the core. If human nature goes unchecked, we default to greedy, self-serving, vicious people. In this view, spiritual work or religious progress is about being good and not giving into our deeper, wicked tendencies. The job becomes “keeping the devil in the hole,” so to speak. Our core is rotten, but if we’re really good and really disciplined and really vigilant and virtuous, we can seal off the wicked nature and attain holiness.
In the other view, let’s call it the Eastern view, the human soul is deeply good—in fact, the soul is divine. In Sanskrit they say Atman is Brahman, which essentially means the human soul is like a little spark of God itself. In this view, our essence is good, powerful, free, and deeply loving and wise. Spiritual work in this paradigm, which is my paradigm, is not about fighting with our inner wickedness, but rather learning to connect with and live from our inner greatness. I call this inner greatness Soul Power. You discover the truth of this in deep meditation. In deep meditation, you go beneath the layers of your life experience, the experience of your physical body, and your mind, and you start to tap into that core. You experience the deep peace that is beneath the tumult of your mind.
The problem with most of us at the beginning is that we live totally attached to the outer, surface experience. We base our sense of well-being on what’s happening around us, or on our physical condition, or on the quality of our thoughts and feelings. We have no awareness of what is deeper in us. We only know the gross and have no ability to sense the subtle. Eventually, we will learn that our outer life has its roots and origin in our inner life. Eventually we will have our soul and its power as a guiding light and constant source of strength. Once we have that—once we have that deep connection to our Soul Power—we’re on the path. But first we need to wake up.
Spiritual awakening is a term you hear batted around quite a bit. I use the term often as well as terms like “awakened,” as in “awakened living.’ Sometimes people, especially Buddhists, will use the term “awakened” to mean enlightened. I don’t want to go there right now. That’s not what I mean.
The easiest way to think about this is to think about the way that your foot falls asleep when you sit with your legs crossed. There is a part of you that senses your soul—the ancient yogis called this power kundalini. The word kundalini means coiled up, and it is represented as a snake sleeping in a coil. Its length is a mystery; its strength is only a potential while it sleeps. It’s like your foot that has fallen asleep and hasn’t been used for a long time. Like your foot, this spiritual part of you seems to have lost its ability to function.
In this spiritually sleeping state, we often live in a miserable way. When we’re asleep and out of touch with soul, we are guided completely from outer forces. When we don’t have access to inner power, we live from a place of weakness. We make decisions based on fear. We surround ourselves with people that are also asleep spiritually. We work in jobs that kill our spirit. We stay in relationships that don’t nurture our hearts. We collect unhealthy and unhappy habits that reinforce our unhappiness and feelings of powerlessness. We snooze the years away distracted and drugged. We watch other people living their full-throttle lives on TV. We watch porn and play video games and wait for the weekend. We can live for years like this. Many people spend their whole lives like this.
Then we wake up.
This awakening happens sometimes when you’re around other people who are awake. Sometimes it happens when you’re in a spiritually charged environment or in the midst of some spiritual practice. Sometimes people wake up when they are traumatized. Others wake up under the influence of certain drugs. However it happens, it happens. A fire is kindled within. Where there was only darkness, a light dawns. Something stirs. Then, like that asleep foot, your spiritual intelligence starts coming back to life. You start to really feel your life.
I want to tell you this is all wonderful, but it often isn’t. When we awaken, yes, we have a new access to our inner power. Often we have a fresh and vivid connection to Spirit that we didn’t have before. But when we’re awake we’re awake, and we have to face our life. We feel our life. Yes, we may have a new appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us, but we also have a new awareness of the ways in which we are off course, off track, and out of alignment with our truth.
Tomorrow you’ll see what you’ve broken and torn tonight, thrashing in the dark.
It’s like the pins and needles you feel when your foot is waking back up. In spiritual awakening, we gain access to a whole new inner realm, like a whole other body we never knew we had. It can produce discomfort too. But the rewards and the abilities we gain far outweigh any pain we have to endure. As we awaken, we gain access to a whole new world.
Our initial awakening could be thought of as an in initiation. Initiation is an ignition. It’s like a fire is kindled inside, giving you a flame to illuminate your inner workings, shed light on the monsters and the beauty that already exists in us, and our hearts begin to melt. At the point of initiation, our soul fire is kindled and we are on the threshold of transformation. Who we think we are and how we think we should be and what we believe are concepts that ignite and burn away like dry grass or leaves.
The way to follow the path is to stay close to these inner transformations and learn to tend them. Stay connected to your Soul Power, and start to make decisions from this new inner place. Like a pebble in a pond, your new vibration will ripple out and affect every aspect of your life.
© 2013 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies