You see a lot of promises out there about the benefits of a spiritual path.
“Discover your true essence.”
“Improve your concentration and awareness.”
“Find peace of mind and a better life.”
“Establish and deepen your relationship with God/Being/Spirit.”
“And those fabulous mystical experiences!!”
These are all quite possible. At the start however, it helps many to let go of many assumptions about yourself and spirituality. As you develop spiritually, you will be surprised as you discover levels and levels of false assumptions you have used to run your life. Our beliefs about ourselves and the world can cloud our ability to connect with our innate spiritual nature.
Many people see suffering, or other habitual ways of interacting with the world, as their very identity and they cannot even consider letting go of them. Likewise there are those deeply attached to the idea that this world is hopelessly terrible, as well as those who look forward to spiritual experiences as a kind of Disneyland, with loads of thrills and flashes of exciting visions.
Take some time to investigate your expectations of spirituality. Be prepared to discover that spirituality is neither in your brain nor in fantasy land. It is a matter of heart. Don’t just jump into a week-long meditation retreat. Curb your enthusiasm; start slowly.
If you’re have decided to go further in you exploration of spirituality, why not try a few small experiments to start out, it certainly won’t hurt. Have you ever tried sitting in a warm bath and watching your breath for five minutes? Have you tried making it a practice as you walk out the door to notice the beauty of the sky? Can you stop your stream of thoughts for a full two minutes? You can make up your own experiments—anything that takes out of your normal swirl of thoughts and emotions. Are you able to be, even briefly, totally available to the present moment?
Listen to a few spiritual podcasts perhaps, or get away from electronic screens if you can and check and out some classic spiritual books. Choose content in line with your spiritual inclinations. Since spirituality is the core of all religions, there are great Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist books that are available. Atheism too can have its spiritual dimensions. Here are some suggestions:
Jewish: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Gershom Scholem
Christian: Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous
Muslim Sufism: Garden of Truth, translated by Robert Darr
Hindu: Bhagavad Gita translated by Eknath Easwaran or Stephen Mitchell
Buddhism: Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield
Taoism: Tao Te Ching, translated by Victor Mair
For those who have no attachment to religion–and even those with an aversion to it, here are two suggestions that are easily found on the internet. First are the articles on the practice of mindfulness. Though originally based on Buddhism, mindfulness is a non-religious introduction to meditation and it is backed by solid research on its positive effects.
Second, you can read the poems of Rumi, an Islamic Sufi, which have been translated by two humanistic poets, Coleman Barks (Rumi: the Book of Love) and Robert Bly (Rumi; Bridge to the soul). Neither of the authors are mystics, but their best-selling translations introduce mysticism from the perspective of love, a topic more widely accepted than religion.
As you try out these suggestions, Talk to friends you trust about their spiritual explorations. How did they get started? What are they doing now? What kinds of effects have they experienced?
Don’t expect yourself to systematically march through these ideas. Most likely your interest will be in and out and up and down, before you begin a serious practice. And you will make mistakes. A common one is to think you ‘have arrived’ when you have had a powerful experience.
And don’t be afraid to visit some spiritual groups recommended by friends. However, you do need to consider the possible dangers in your search for the right spiritual path for you. (Next blog)