Part 1

By Suzanne E. Harrill            

Curiosity started me on the spiritual journey. I had no idea that this trait would draw to me information, books, people, and experiences that would transform my life. I did not even know I was on a journey for a good while. Now I understand from experience what people mean when they say they are "on the Path." What exactly is the spiritual journey? What is the difference between one who is not on this journey yet and one who has started? How does it get started? What can you expect once on the journey?

Let us start by looking at some of the differences between religion and spirituality. Someone who is religious may or may not be spiritually oriented. From my observation most religious people have the best of intentions to be "good" and follow the teachings of their church, temple, or mosque to worship God. Religions are based on a set of beliefs, usually written down, which have degrees of universal truth. They may have started out with universal truths of a spiritually evolved teacher. Many spiritual truths are lost, however, when people try to concretize the teachings when the original teacher dies. Religion becomes an interpretation of a spiritual teaching and many times becomes dogmatic to the point of believing there is only one "right" way to God. A religion that does not include all of humanity and have tolerance and love for people choosing different paths is not practicing high spiritual truths. As you observe different religions, notice the degree of inclusiveness and universal thinking.

Spirituality is inclusive and based on universal truths; for example, all paths lead to the same place, to the same God. There is not an agreed upon set of rules that must be adhered to in order to know God. It is not based on belief systems; however, many people start this way, until personal experience proves or disproves them. Spirituality is a personal unfolding of Truth, leading to a personal relationship with the Source with a progression of greater understanding and realization of Life, God, the Universe, and Creation. The spiritual journey is much bigger than being a religious person. Again, a spiritual person may or may not be religious. Religion impacts one from outside of oneself, whereas spirituality opens one through direct experience from within oneself.

The Path Is Subtle

The spiritual path can easily be missed because it is so subtle. It is a path to higher consciousness, with fuller awareness, and one realization after another. One learns a whole new language from the everyday, linear, factual, logical thinking. Upon entering the spiritual path, one begins changing perceptions and sees new interpretations of reality. One learns to heal oneself from the conditioning of childhood, societal mores, and traditional thinking. One moves from being unaware and unconsciousness to becoming an empowered, conscious, loving, holistic, and fully-functioning person. One learns to take the next step and then the next to initiate oneself into greater understanding of the mysteries of Life. As awareness expands one realizes such things as there is only one of us. Who I am expands to include all of life. Knowing and feeling connected to this full Self unfolds in stages, as there are degrees of truth along the way to Truth. It is a continual process of exploring self and others, participating in relationships and groups, and learning to know and experience your inner self.

Beginners on the path do a lot of talking about themselves and the process of changing and healing themselves, as I did. I assumed what I was learning was for everyone, and I could not wait for my loved ones, especially, to experience what I was exploring and experiencing. Finally, I learned, after much pain and confusion, that the spiritual journey is an inner journey that cannot be totally shared with anyone.

Wholeness is a secret that requires much silence.

 Starting the Journey

How do people get started on the spiritual journey?  Many times it begins with a personal crisis that starts an inner desire to look beneath the surface of what is happening to find richer meaning and purpose. One may be asking questions such as

"Who am I outside of my roles and conditioning? Why am I here? What would give my life more meaning and purpose? Why is this happening to me?  How can I help myself?  Why would God allow this to happen to me? If there were a God, this wouldn't have happened. Is there a God? What do I think about the things that my parents, teachers, religion, and society taught me about life? How can I heal my dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors?  How can I change my life so that I like my life?"

These questions and others must be answered, so a search begins which moves a person onto a deeper quest. Life is always answering our inner questions by bringing us answers through new experiences. Teachers may be family members, or may come to us through books, television, or religious teachings. You may have heard that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. In actuality, the answers and teachers were always right in front of your nose.  However, you have to be ready to see, feel, and hear the insights.

Sometimes it is not even a conscious thought that begins the journey. It could be that one has a problem or habit that one wants to change, or a relationship that is not working.  At this point one might enter a 12-step group, counseling, or family therapy to improve the situation. Many times, the group or therapy opens the door for a deeper search. Some people respond when there is too much pain and suffering after a catastrophic event like an illness, divorce, loss of a job, or death of a family member. These experiences force people outside of their frame-of-reference. Many times when people are confused, hurt, or angry, they are open to new ideas.

Another way one moves on to the spiritual path is to be with a partner on this journey, who is constantly changing and growing, introducing new ideas, and catalyzing the relationship. When one stays in the relationship when their partner evolves, s/he is also on the path or s/he would not be attracted to stay in the relationship. People stay with partners in a similar range of consciousness. If one partner increases their vibration and the other partner is not ready to do so, then the two will probably not stay together for long.

For some, a mystical experience changes them forever.  This is where an expansion of consciousness, greater than everyday life, is experienced. Here the veil is lifted and the individual understands in an instant the meaning of life, releases all fear, understands that Love is the underlying principal of the universe, and is changed forever. The same goes for those having a near-death experience. Most people, however, go through a longer process where insights and revelations about themselves and the Universe are experienced gradually.

 The Circle and the Spiral

Let us look at two different people, one living a "normal" life and one who is awakening and on the spiritual journey. For clarity, suppose Jonie lives her life in a line that goes from point A to point B, eventually making a circle from birth until death. She is born into a family that expects her to follow in their footsteps with the family's values and belief system, handed down from one generation to the next. Jonie easily stays within the comfort of her conditioning.

 If Jonie does shift out of the family footsteps, it would probably be in reaction to extreme situations. She may jump to another point and have the tendency to over-correct and, therefore, act out the opposite side of the coin. Jonie may look like she is thinking for herself and acting differently; however, at first she is still dealing with the same coin, and is conditioned to stay within the boundaries of the circle. Time will tell if she returns to the traditions or truly moves into higher consciousness. I want to note here that many who find the spiritual path do go back to traditional religion; they just experience it with new and deeper understanding.

Now we will look at person number two. Jon looks at the boundaries in the circle and is not satisfied, wanting more from life than following the line from point A to point B. This calls forth a deeper process. By any number of ways, some mentioned earlier, Jon moves out of the circle. The circle now becomes a new configuration, a spiral. The circle represents a closed system, repeating what has been modeled and taught. It is very difficult for new information to get into this system. The person entering the spiral makes a shift upward and moves into a new dimension, an open system, full of information not known in the circle.

To further illustrate, we will use a mountain. The first person lives at the bottom of the mountain and is very familiar with everything there. If this were you, then you may have learned, for example, that you are an extension of your parents, family, or church, and you need to conform to the roles and rules of these groups. You may respond to the media telling you to that you are your body and that physical beauty, strength, and youth are what counts in life. Or you may believe that your possessions make you who you are. Then as you age or do not have your possessions, you feel unworthy. Others of you thought you were ahead of the class because you have a high IQ, did well in school, have made a lot of money, and seem to "have it all." That is all well and good, except true happiness and a connection to your inner self, other people, and God is missing. It is a trick or illusion that one is doing well in life by simply tallying up the outer-world possessions, traits, or achievements. Finally, some of you believed you were your roles as mothers and fathers and that what matters in life is how well your children do. You thought mistakenly that they were an extension of you.

If these beliefs and roles led you to a point of crisis, that could be good. This point of crisis may actually catapult you out of the circle at the bottom of the mountain onto the spiral where you will find your true Self.  You are ready to walk up the mountain and find the hidden path to higher realizations. It may be uncomfortable at first and your rational mind may try to talk you into going back down to the circle for safety and familiarity. As you climb, you find people who want to share with you and who can answer a few of your questions. You may find a spiritual teacher.

You now have some ideas to ponder about what the spiritual journey is. We looked at the difference between a person on the journey and one who is not, with the analogy of a circle and a spiral illustrating these two positions. There are many experiences and thinking patterns that can initiate the spiritual journey. Next issue we will continue with a discussion about spiritual teachers and how to use caution, as well as what things you might expect to encounter as you climb the mountain of higher awareness.





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