Living the Spiritual Life
The Wisdom defines the objective of the human soul as growing and developing in awareness and consciousness - ideally to the point where it reaches complete oneness with the divine.
This growth in consciousness can only be achieved through acceptance of certain spiritual disciplines and practices, which are defined in every religion, but always in a form appropriate to the time and place when the teachingwas recorded. Despite the variation from religion to religion, there are certain key tenets in one form or another, in nearly every religion and spiritual path. We are here discussing the teaching that underpins all universal beliefs as expressed in the Wisdom.
In discussing the necessary discipline for leading a spiritual life, there is a tendency to see it as harsh, cold and detached – a life that can only be lived in a monastery. This is a misguided concept. The spiritual journey is a joyous one and, if followed with diligence every step of the way, it brings its own fulfilment and reward. Whilst letting go of some material delights may be necessary, the reward outweighs any possible disadvantages as has been testified by many.
Having looked at an outline of the teaching of the eternal Wisdom, we will here explore how this applies to every day actions in the material world. There is only space for a simple outline of this vast subject, but it is essential for an understanding of what is to follow.
We are here defining the so-called ‘rules’ to follow on the spiritual path. Conforming exactly to these requirements is difficult, but the very act of having them as objectives, is a way of ensuring progress.
For the sake of simplicity, they are listed in alphabetical order that in no way implies an order of importance of preference.
The divine is unlimited. There is enough for all, and there is no shortage of anything. This abundance is released through positive and vivid thoughts, directed towards the un-manifest energy of the etheric plane, which is capable of generating limitless material wealth and artefacts. Thoughts of lack, shortage and poverty consciousness act to ensure that abundance does not flow. We all have a responsibility to use our skills, talents and intuition to create the abundance that is appropriate for the community in which we live.
Living a spiritual life requires a delicate balance between ‘being’ and ‘acting’. Being is necessary in order to attune with the cosmos and receive the spiritual energy and guidance that is available. Being on its own is not enough – the fruits of being need to be realised in Action in the World for the benefit of all.
A fundamental law, flowing from the Wisdom and found in all religions and faiths, is that of attraction. Like attracts like. Positive thoughts produce positive results. Negative thoughts produce the opposite. By holding a positive view of life, the individual draws into her life positive factors. This very basic rule applies to all material and spiritual activities.
Achieving balance is the essence of the spiritual life. In everyday life, we are confronted on all sides with passionately held views, often diametrically opposed. This dichotomy or paradox occurs everywhere be it socialists versus conservatives, fracking enthusiasts versus anti-frackers, global warming enthusiasts or global warming deniers. The list is endless. Each opposing party tends to hold that they are correct and everyone who does not agree with them is not only wrong, but also a danger to society.
Very much the same occurs when we listen to gossip. We are told lurid tales of what one person has done to another and how the victim has suffered, but when we talk to the ‘perpetrator’ of this ‘villainous’ act, we hear a very different story.
The task of the spiritually aware is to remain firmly centred and to listen with an open mind to all views. A more balanced understanding can only be reached when all views have been heard. From this position of balance, it is possible to calmly observe the scene, help where appropriate, and at all times restrain from any form of judgement.
This is a crucial quality for all on the path. Whilst we would not be really human or alive without our emotions, we do need to be aware lest they turn destructive and obsessive, leading to jealousy, envy, greed, possessiveness, rage, to mention a few. This is where the ability to detach is vital. We also need to be on our guard against desires that may subtly present themselves in a way that initially appears to be spiritual, but might easily turn into what might be called ‘selfish desires’. Below are some typical examples of these phenomena.
To see results - Having set out on a task, it is natural to wish to see the object of the task achieved. But what was first perceived as being the end spiritual goal, may turn out to be only a stepping-stone towards something different or greater. Whilst this might initially feel like a disappointing result, we need to accept that this may be an important step towards the achievement on much larger objective. It is necessary to be detached from the actual outcome in the knowledge that the divine will has been served. Thus, there is no such thing as failure.
Recognition - Having carried out a task that appears to have been effective, it is understandable to feel a desire for this wonderful piece of work to be acknowledged and praised. But very often, the best and most productive work is done anonymously. One tends to achieve more, by quietly influencing events, rather than standing up and trumpeting about what is to be done.
Premature sharing - The desire for recognition, as a wise and spiritual being, may lead to the temptation to share thoughts and plans with others at a very early stage. Premature revelations are nearly always counter-productive. Whilst they may produce some initial support, negative attacks are almost certain to follow, which will only serve to undermine the will and enthusiasm for the project. It is wiser to work quietly at the new project until it begins to develop a real life of its own. Only then, is it appropriate to share the idea with others.
Even though the initial work has been arduous, it may never be acknowledged. Accepting this gracefully is part of treading carefully on the path.
To be liked - This desire can cause all sorts of problems. Certain necessary actions, which are part of the divine plan, may lead to misunderstandings with others, how ever carefully handled. Wherever possible, any action should be harmless and compassionate, but reality has to be faced, and sometimes the action needed may result in confusion and hurt feelings. It is important not to mind being disliked, when the task in question feels spiritually correct.
The Wisdom clearly defines the need for discipline. This includes living simply, abstaining from alcohol and other drugs, maintaining a regular and disciplined life, simplicity of living and bodily cleanliness. We should aim at making this discipline an integral part of our life.
We need to understand that everything is in a process of transition. The only un-changing one is the divine and the only eternal part of the individual is the soul. We need discrimination to stay grounded in this eternal Wisdom, particularly when surrounded by the activities and emotional disturbances of the ever-changing material world. Discrimination is also needed in deciding the role of service and in guarding against the ever-present desire to control people and events.
Distraction could almost be called one of the seven deadly sins. The everyday life of the individual is surrounded by endless distractions from family, friends and individual desires. It takes a considerable effort to set priorities in putting aside sufficient time for the meditation, contemplation, silence, peace and one-ness with nature that are necessary in order to maintain true attunement with the word of the spirit.
To start upon a spiritual path, we need to believe that the world of spirit exists and is well worth exploring further. Without this faith, it is not possible to take even the first step. It could be explained as a kind of knowing which cannot really be conveyed or proved to somebody else.
There is a need to continue to befaithful to the intuition and guidance, in spite of the inevitable desert periods and ‘Dark Nights of the Soul’.
We need to listen to the intuitive guidance we receive and accept that the task that has been given may subtly change as it develops. Listening to these mysterious hints, and making changes as new circumstances dictate, is a necessary part of working in this particular way.
A helpful way of attuning with the divine is to show gratitude for all that is flowing into our life. This enhances a positive approach to life, even when we experience illness and adverse conditions.
Inspiration and guidance is always available through the developed intuition. This is an important subject and we will deal with in a separate section.
This is not really the same thing as meekness. It implies a willingness to serve without seeking personal recognition or acclaim. Pride in achievement is a very natural and understandable human emotion but it can take over, and if it turns into pride in spiritual prowess, it becomes one of the greatest dangers on the spiritual path. Humility is also the ability to stand back and detach from feelings of pride. We often learn through experiencing a disastrous failure in an area where we have invested too much pride.
The very essence of the philosophy is that the cosmos is held together and created through the power of divine love - a wise, compassionate, detached love and quite different to the over emotional, selfish and possessive love that goes under this name in human affairs. Developing a sense of universal compassion and unattached love for all beings is one of the key tasks of the journey.
It is essential to have a sense of purpose in life. Whatever the purpose, it is vital that the individual is moving in a positive direction. It may be growing closer to the divine, serving in the community or building a bridge. It is the motive behind the purpose that matters.
An essential condition for progress on the spiritual path, is service in the world. This does not necessarily mean a life of action - a committed monastic life is equally effective. The concept of selfless service implies serving the divine plan, as the individual understands it even if the task does not feel very appealing. The call is:
‘Service without any return save that of serving the Plan’.
This may sound difficult, painful and unattractive, but in practice such service leads to satisfaction, fulfilment and contentment - difficult to achieve by any other means.
Once the nature of the task, becomes clearer, none of the usual arguments will have any effect in dissuading the individual from this task. As with every step on the spiritual path, the individual needs to honour the truth that she is given, and is holding in her heart, regardless of what others may think. It is the spiritual motive for the action that is all-important, and not the action itself.
In our present exploration, we are looking at the positive impact of leading a spiritual life can have on our practical, daily, mundane experience. As in almost every aspect of spirituality, balance is essential. A helpful expression of this balance is given in the ‘Serenity Prayer’:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
There is a deep truth in this prayer. Worrying about things that one cannot change, dissipates a great deal of effort and emotion. The task is to put energy, drive and enthusiasm into changing what can be changed, and to do this with relentless energy.
One other facet of serenity is the ability to remain calm and unperturbed in the midst of the most dramatic and frightening situations. This requires detachment from any perceived disastrous results that might be the result of the perils we are in. If we remain focussed on serving the divine, we learn to calmly accept all situations that arise. There is the classic description
‘The master is never perturbed.’
It is doubtful whether we will succeed in becoming masters, so it is unlikely that we will never be perturbed! However, perturbation is not a disaster if we have done our very best to face the arising difficulties bravely and firmly.
We need to keep going in the face of all adversity. Regardless of the pitfalls and obstructions that come our way, there is a need to keep steadily moving forward with the task we have taken on. Perhaps, patience should also be added here. Continuing in the face of all problems and difficulties is of the essence, even if it requires years of work. There will come a time when it becomes clear that the project may be brought into full realisation or that the original project has been changed. Nonetheless, tenacity is required to keep going until such clarity emerges.
The Wisdom states that
‘Energy follows Thought’ - as you think so shall you be’.
We have mentioned before that a thought held with a sense of purpose leads to direct material results. We will look at this in more detail later.
The Wisdom holds that there is one eternal divine truth, which is not easily accessed, and that there are many promoters of facets of the truth that may, or may not, be true. It is said over and over again that
‘Only that which echoes in your heart, is true for you’.
If a book or teaching arouses in the individual’s heart, a feeling of truth and resonance, it is true for that individual, although it may not be acceptable to others.
The concept is that the individual needs to be transformed from the original earth-bound physical being into a new form of spiritually aware being. This transformative process takes place by the conscientious following of the spiritual tenets of the path. Many religions talk about the need to be ‘born again’ or to ‘be reborn’. This means leaving the old, material way of life behind and start anew - a life with emphasis on the needs of the spirit.
We need to find a way that ‘stills’ the ever-active mind and allows the quiet spiritual energy to flow. The most appropriate method depends on the individual. There are a number of practical methods that include being somewhere in nature, sacred dancing, praying in private, or being in a quiet place that has been hallowed by prayer such as a country church or sacred spring.
In addition some form of regular spiritual practice is necessary. This is a disciplined method of contacting the divine be it prayer, contemplation, meditation or one of many other practices.
One of the most widely recommended practices is that of meditation. There is nothing mysterious about meditation. It simply means sitting comfortably in stillness in a quiet place for 20 or 30 minutes and using some method to still what the Hindus call the ever active ‘monkey mind’. There are many methods but the most common ones are watching the breath or saying a mantra. A mantra is a repeated phrase or word, which may or may not have a meaning, used as a method of centring and stilling the thoughts. This practice is wide spread throughout the Eastern religions and is well recognised in the Jesus prayer used, by the Orthodox Eastern Christian Church – ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, has mercy on me’.
In recent years, the teaching of meditation has become widespread throughout the West and is now being taught in schools and businesses. In these latter cases, it is thought of as bringing peace, calm and stability to the individual. In today’s paradigm, it is thought best not to mention the idea that meditation might be in some way leading to contact with the divine !
Development and use of the individual will is another vital ingredient on the path. The will is used to discipline the thoughts and to focus upon the objects of the path. Various practices are described for the perfection and development of the will.
It is inevitable that in trying to list the qualities that are held to be necessary on the spiritual path, much of the love, warmth and fulfilment, which are part of the path, will be lost in the cold listing of facts. Nonetheless, some definition of the spiritual journey has been necessary if we are to understand how this impacts upon our activities in the everyday material world.