The spiritual path is beautiful, ugly, profound and ordinary all at once. It comes full of elusive aspirations, emotional dramas, transcendent bliss and everything else in between – and frankly, it can sometimes feel like living in a terrifying hell, or in a pristine heaven, or at other times just simply boring and pointless.
Learning the hard way
Looking back at my younger self, I wish I knew what I know now. It would have been so liberating to be able to give myself a few words of support and guidance on the biggest journey of my life. At that time, I had no idea what was ahead (although I had outrageous expectations and projections, the kind that only come from the fearlessness of a young person). And, like most people, I stumbled through life, falling down, getting up again and learning about life the “hard way”.
The reason I’m writing this is to share some my own experiences of over 13 years of spiritual development and teaching, in the hope that your journey can be as EASY, enjoyable and smooth as possible. It would have been wonderful to go back and meet myself during those years and give myself this article… I wonder how I would have responded – or even if I would have understood or listened?
Of course none of us can go back to guide our younger selves, and I was destined to learn the way I did so I know what I do now. It is my heart-felt intention that you may learn from my ‘mis-takes’ and experiences to enjoy each moment along your unique journey as you open new doors to a more magical existence. I honor and respect you deeply – whoever you are and wherever you are.
What I am about to share with you is a massively condensed version of an epic experience of spiritual evolution (one that I am still in the process of, by the way), and I have done my best to highlight some of the main points. This is by no means a comprehensive account of the journey – I hope you enjoy it and take away some of the lessons that have been priceless to me.
All paths lead to the same place…
Having dealt with large numbers of people and seen them struggle with some of the same problems in their lives that I have, I have come to appreciate that in many, many ways we are all alike. We will experience many of the same things along our journies, no matter where we begin.
This is good news! It means we are NOT alone and we can learn from each others’ experiences. If we can accept a few simple truths about ourselves, life, and the limitations of the ‘ego’, we can make significant spiritual progress in a short amount of time.
On the other hand, I have seen so many people (including myself) make the journey infinitely more challenging than is necessary because of not knowing the process they are likely to go through. Let’s face it, walking blind hurts. Why make things harder than we need to? Once we know the process, we can relax and enjoy the ride. How does that feel?
The simple steps to spiritual growth
Despite our similarities, each of us is guaranteed to have our own unique experience and journey because we are unique beings. But within this variety, I have found there are 5 main steps or chapters we are all very likely to encounter somewhere along the way. By knowing these five steps we will save ourselves a lot of unnecessary struggle — and furthermore, if we can approach these steps in the order mentioned here, we are likely to progress rapidly and with more ease.
Step 0 – The Magic MOMENT!
Before we even begin on our spiritual path (or whatever you want to call it) there is usually a moment where we know deep within ‘something needs to change’. This is the magic moment where a calling deep within inspires us to step away from our lives as they are today and discover something deeper, something grander, richer and more magical. At this point, we often do not know where to look or what to do – but the Intention to change drives us forward and away from the old into an unknown adventure.
The Wake-Up Call: Some people have an accident or near-death experience where they are very suddenly confronted with a new reality. Others have a deep knowing since childhood that something is wrong with the world and want to experience what ‘once was’ or what ‘life is meant to be like’ – but are not sure how until something happens that turns a feeling into a new way of living. This silent knowing of a different way of being, long forgotten, becomes activated. Others have a break up, death or illness that inspires them to search for a new direction; and others still are introduced to new awareness by a friend or family member at the ‘right time’ – and choose to begin the path themselves.
The magical moment signifies the end of the old and the beginning of the new. The door is just opening and the choice has been made to go through and discover what is held on the other side. It is exciting and scary. Do you remember your magic moment? Are you ready to go deeper?
STEP 1 – Understanding a New Reality
After making the decision to find out what is on the other side of the door, the first step towards spiritual growth often involves a thirst for understanding. This often involves a mental understanding of a new paradigm. Here we have the ‘theory’ step.
I remember when I had my magical moment after retuning from Africa. I felt depressed and disillusioned with life and was ready for something new. I wanted to know what was behind the door and became interested in discovering what was going on. It was at this point that I was first introduced to spiritual concepts and the door was opened. Imbued with a new thirst for truth and delighted with the possibility and hope that this knowledge contained, I felt enlightened. As I learned of the Soul, The Divine, Karma etc. it felt as if I had discovered a whole new world in my backyard. I was excited with a new kind of excitement – a soul excitement I have never experienced before. It was yummy! Simply becoming aware that there was a different way of seeing, a new way of being, and advanced states of consciousness I had something to aspire to. It was a wonderful high…and kept me hungry for more and more understanding.
However, along with the mental exhilaration, one of the biggest pitfalls I personally experienced was wrongly assuming that knowing was the same as being. Knowledge was only the first step on my journey. Unbeknownst to my naive awareness, having knowledge didn’t mean I had imbibed or embodied any of the concepts I had become aware of intellectually at all! In fact, looking back knowledge at best serves as a map.
Caution: the map is NOT the territory!
One of my biggest and most severe pitfalls on the journey was assuming the map is the territory. Just looking at a map, I had no real idea what I was going to experience until I got there in person – but unconsciously, I had some strange idea that I was there just because I had seen where I wanted to go! It’s amazing how easy it is to be in this trap.
In my case it wasn’t until about two years into my spiritual practice that I realized at last that everything I thought I had attained (intellectually) was all in my head and had neither deeply reached my heart nor my life. Seeing this clearly hurt my ‘spiritual ego’ but this wisdom and newly gained humility combined, allowed me to progress to the second step.
STEP 2 – Acceptance
Once I recognized that the map is NOT the territory, I moved slowly to acceptance of where I actually was, right there and then.
Stop for a moment: Do you know where you are on your path right now? How do you know?
In my case, during the first step of comprehending high ideals and principles, I was led to appreciate the possibilities life held. The second step in many ways is equivalent to the first physical step forward. Acceptance means to truly acknowledge in a deeply grounded way where I am right now. If I’m on the very first step, I need to accept I am on the first step. If I’m on the 10th step I need to accept I’m on the 10th step. If I’m nowhere near the staircase and I don’t even know where I am at all – I need to accept I have no idea where I am at all! It’s OK.
This again is a humbling process that enables us to make realistic shifts in our practical, grounded in day-to-day life in order to move forward rather than being deluded and hallucinating we are somewhere else. Sadly, just like me, it seems a lot of spiritual aspirants have common blindness and lack of acceptance of where they are at right now. Why?
I feel the reason for this spiritual blindness is because when we aspire to being on the hundredth step and we have read all about the final step, it is hard for us to accept that we are maybe on the first or second step! It seems so far away and we don’t like it. We want it to be easy – like fast food or turning on a light.
We are impatient beings. Our ego is lazy; our spiritual ego is inflated with ‘higher than thou’ notions. It’s hard to accept our weaknesses and see things as they are – rather than as WE are – or we would like them to be.
Even if we don’t admit it to ourselves, deep down we have a knowing about where we are. Because of this subtle knowing, the vast gap between the second step and hundredth step often creates psychic, emotional wounds in our hearts leaving so many of us in a state of depression, unworthiness, anxiety and hopelessness. It hurts to be so far away from the goal – and this spiritual despair is the result of a lack of acceptance of ourselves and the depth of the spiritual journey.
The Power of Acceptance: After much denial and fantasy about where I was on my journey, at last (after a good beating and humbling process) I deeply accepted that in fact I do have all kinds of strange, negative, dysfunctional, needy, arrogant, selfish, ‘human’ parts of myself and I am NOT anywhere near the 100th step. Acknowledging this was a HUGE relief. I could stop pretending to be perfect and really relax and be me – as I am now.
A beautiful expression that affected my life was ‘Whatever you are, however you are, you belong to Me’. It almost brings me to tears each time I think about it.
It was in this gentle, accepting place, that I began to really move forward on my spiritual journey. Before that realization I had what is often termed ‘spiritual ego’. I was under the impression that because I was aware of these wonderful higher states of consciousness, and other people were not aware of them, that I was actually at a higher state of consciousness than other people.
Hmmm… Have you ever seen ‘spiritual people’ doing things so far removed from what they know and teach it’s shocking? Have you ever noticed those wonderful ‘ordinary’ happy and amazing beings that don’t engage in formal spiritual practice and yet are so lovable and beautiful?
I have come to appreciate that many people who have ‘no idea about spiritual things’ at all, can actually have far higher states of consciousness, spiritual life and values than many staunch spiritual aspirants. They just live it – rather than talk about it. The spiritual ego is based on form being ‘right’ or ‘better’ – not on the soul, the heart, the intention and motivation.
Yet again, this humbling realization of where we are NOW allows us to move on to the third step. We all have this ‘spiritual ego’ to some degree… let us be aware and release it.
STEP 3 – Self Love and Healing
I have found the third step is deeply connected to the second step. Step 3 is all about self-love and healing. It surprises me how many people on a spiritual path hate themselves and seem to dedicate very little time to their own healing.
In many ways, all spiritual work is healing work: Think about it. We are healing the soul, the spirit. In order to heal the soul we need to understand what the soul is (the first step), then accept where we are right now (step 2). Finally we can have a good look at how wounded we are. Then by developing compassion for ourselves we can begin the healing process. Gentle, gentle, gentle.
Sadly, the vast majority of spiritual paths involve so much discipline and such high standards that the healing work doesn’t really get much attention. Attention often goes to what is wrong, what is not good enough, what needs to be changed. Discipline, Discipline, Discipline and all along the wounded soul just needs gentle, healing compassion. When we are wounded, we need the stick to help us move, not to bash us around the head when we fall down!
For me, simply accepting that I am on the first step and that in order to go to the second step I need to choose to allow the process to be as gentle and calm as possible, has enabled a tremendous amount of healing to occur. Gentle, gentle, gentle. Sleep well. Relax. My aim was to take things easy, relax, move slowly and calmly, understand and learn, take things at my own pace and be happy with myself as I am. The process of doing less, feeling into things, being subtle and gentle in all ways… baths, extra rest, walks in nature, comfort, taking time to read, speaking kindly to myself… Ahhh…. Mmm…
Doesn’t that sound lovely?
When I have accepted deeply that I am not the 100th step, I am at the first step — then I can appreciate and love myself for being at the first step and move to the next steps. Little by little, appreciating each small change, giving credit and appreciation for each new progression. Not expecting anything, just calmly moving ahead.
This gentleness takes so much pressure and pain out of the journey, because it is genuine, it is real and it is sustainable. Starting from an intense 100m sprint, we move away from the race mindset and choose to go on a beautiful, soft journey into the misty mountains… enjoying the scenes and smelling the flowers along the way. This sustainable attitude allows the path to unfold in a graceful and beautiful way rather than in a forced and unnatural way. I know so many people who came to a spiritual path, gave up all their hobbies, music collection, clothes… only to freak out years later and get it all back again – and feel guilty about it.
Once we have accepted and learned to love ourselves as we are, what we are and where we are, then we can move on to the fourth step.
STEP 4 – Doing what is Good for the Soul: Gaining Power
In the fourth step we bring our awareness back to the enticing first step where we learned about higher states of consciousness and the new ways of being.
Having a foundation of gentle growth and progression, we can calmly and realistically absorb more of the spiritual practices and begin to apply and experience the meditations, the contemplations and other practices in a real, integrated and meaningful way. If we try to bypass the previous steps, while we may be sitting for meditation, in reality we are just fighting with our minds and trying to look good most the time. The meditation is not enjoyable or satisfying and empowering.
In the fourth step, meditation is a JOY and brings tremendous nourishment and power. We do it all the time, especially in our private moments – we have no need for show or force.
Having done the previous three steps we are now in a position to start moving up the staircase with focus, dedication, and self-love. At this point we have gathered our energy, have taken stock of where things are and what is really going on. This is the place where things can start setting in very deeply and significant progress can be made over weeks, months and years.
I’ve personally tried to do this step without doing the other two steps and wasted years in denial and spiritual ego land.
This part of our journey is where most of our time is spent and, unlike the other steps, I have found in step four meaningful discipline, concentration, and determination. These things have been totally critical and have kept me going. If I am feeling tired, I may still take a rest rather than forcing myself to stay up all night for meditation – however, at this stage, regular, consistent and sustainable practice is essential.
In the previous steps, I have learned that force and doing things for the wrong reasons does not lead to successful results. I have also learned that understanding life holistically, taking care of my body, businesses, relationships and interests allows the whole system of life to function smoothly.
To be sustainably moving forward we have to account for all aspects of life, not ONLY the spiritual aspect.
Sadly, again, a lot of people somehow ignore every other aspect of their life except the spiritual part, and therefore those other aspects end up sabotaging their ability to do their spiritual practice. How many spiritual people do you know who are broke, ill, or totally out of balance in one or another area of their lives?
Like many things in life, the spiritual path is often counter-intuitive. Therefore, approaching the path from the point of view of a gentle gradual upgrade tends to inspire rapid progress. On the other hand, the forced 100m-sprint mentality tends to lead to burn-out, punctured progress and hopelessness.
Once we are steady in our progress, once we deeply feel we are ascending in our level consciousness, once things have become stable and meaningful, then we are ready for the final step.
STEP 5 – Coming home
The final step is to abandon the idea that there are any steps at all. To recognize that the person we consider to be on a spiritual journey is not real and giving up the quest for enlightenment altogether knowing who you are and where you come from.
This step is by far the most beautiful. I have found that as I let go, and find myself in this beautiful place of constant and endless profound peace, everything makes total sense and I realize there is no person, no theories and no spiritual path, there is just I, the soul, a beautiful being of the light witnessing the wonder of life unfolding in its magnificence.
At this point in the journey we see the perfection of each moment and the beauty that was there all along. At this point we realize that all identification with the body, with the person in the mirror and with all the stories was just part of a wonderful game: it was all good and we can see life from a place of sweet amusement. Wonderful, sweet and benevolent life – I am amazed!
Having moved through the steps gracefully, this final step is only seconds away and even if we continue to chop wood and carry water, we do so with joy and we are at peace with ourselves and our world.
At last we have come home…
Each of us will have our own unique experience of life. I wish you well on your personal wonderful journey and hope these simple words may inspire you on a graceful, loving adventure into new levels of wonder.
Please don’t try too hard. Learn to love yourself as you are, knowing that you are always a wonderful, beautiful being no matter what’s going on and your home is always a thought away.
What do you think? Do these steps resonate with you? Have you experienced “skipping” steps – what did you learn? Which step feels the most difficult and why? How do you honor your spiritual practice in balance with other elements of your life? I’d love to hear any thoughts or feelings you have about your own spiritual path. You are invited to share a comment below.
And as a final note, here is the most powerful piece I was ever given:
“Try to enjoy every part of your journey, no matter if its pain or pleasure, enjoy it ALL.”
Call to action
1. Relax. Trying too hard is counter-productive. Pace yourself for a long journey, not a 100m sprint.
2. Accept yourself as you are TODAY. Your future will change – but enjoy life as it is right now. From this attitude, your days will be more fun and your future will be drawn to you automatically.
3. Remember the 2 most important things: 1. You are an eternal being of peace. 2. You have an eternal relationship with the Ocean of Love – and you are worth of love no matter what.
4. Be compassionate. Accept and bless others regardless of all their shortcomings. If you want to change yourself – PLEASE be loving and accepting to others ; )
5. Talk to yourself softly, sweetly and gently. Take the time to enjoy a loving heart to heart conversation with yourself each day and remind yourself of all the goodness you have within you. Let yourself know you are there for YOU no matter what.
6. Smile and don’t be so serious! : ) Life is a game.
I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts and feelings on this topic. Please leave a comment!