“A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep. In dreams you will lose your heartaches – whatever you wish for you keep. Hold tight to your dream and someday a rainbow will come shining through. No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true” – Walt Disney’s Cinderella
This opening song in the Disney movie Cinderella illustrates two things. One, inspiration can be found anywhere, even an animated, corporate cartoon and two, that even a child can be expected to understand the connection between the heart and achieving fulfillment.
However basic this idea seems on the surface, most children and many adults do not actively seek to achieve the wishes their hearts make. Instead, they mentally file them away in a box labeled “impractical” and pull them out in melancholy moments to accentuate what their life is missing rather than spur them to take an active role in their own spiritual development.
You have an advantage over many if you have recognized that there must be something more to life, something beyond the day to day experience of “surviving” or “getting by” whatever your economic situation may be.
Joseph Campbell speaks most succinctly to this feeling by terming this stage of life’s journey as “The Call.” The stirring in the heart, the feeling of restlessness and dissatisfaction with your life (however busy it may actually be) is actually a call from your heart to engage, to develop, to experience life in a deeper and more meaningful way.
The simplicity of this idea is deceptive. Responding to “The Call” is not merely recognizing it and taking action by reading relevant books, engaging in activities such as yoga or Tai-Chi, or attending a meditation or self-help seminar.
Progressing beyond this preliminary stage and starting your own internal journey is actually the first few steps on a very long path.
At a high level, this stage is characterized by an opening of a dialogue between the conscious mind and the subconscious, between the self and the higher self, between one’s being and the universe. It is all of these at the same time and the effort can only come from within.
The first step is hearing and recognizing this call to action, the second step is signaling a willingness to begin the journey, and the third step, the hardest step, is listening to, understanding, and acting on the response from the universe. Only when one has taken all three steps has the spiritual journey really begun.
Even the first step, the initial ‘call’ from one’s inner being is, unfortunately, all too easy to ignore. After all, our western, capitalist culture does not encourage finding fulfillment without entering into the market behavior of vending and consuming.
In response to our quest for deeper meaning, society and tradition push us into mainstream religions that often offer the comfort and celebration of community at the expense of individual spiritual development.
The looming church of whatever religion can sometimes make us feel that there is no room for a growth and exploration of individual belief; one must accept the mandated beliefs (or profess to) and keep deeply hidden any personal reservations or differences of opinion.
This is nothing new or unique to our particular place and time. For centuries wars have been fought and people murdered as ‘heretics’ for the very act of believing something different from church doctrine; it still happens today in some places.
It is perhaps this violent history, however remote from our present experience, which has led many of us to feel extremely uncomfortable with discussions of our personal faith and, in the same vein, our personal spiritual development in public and sometimes even among close friends and family. Discomfort such as this can only increase one’s feeling of ‘separation.’
Although seeking to develop further spiritually on an individual level will not necessarily resolve these conflicts and can actually increase one’s feeling of ‘apartness,’ there is some good news.
Walking your own spiritual path does not actually require you to commit to any particular religious belief or swear allegiance to any particular system; it can dovetail quite reasonably with whatever social religious practice you currently follow.
The challenge spiritual development presents instead is to thoroughly examine one’s own life and engagement with both the concrete and metaphysical world. There should be no surprise if this causes the individual to both challenge old belief systems and develop new ones, but this will happen in its own time and through one’s own efforts rather than according to any prescribed dogma.
Additionally, seeking to develop and understand the self better can help the individual navigate his or her own life with more intent. Although the feeling of “separation” from others may increase, often the feeling of communion with the self and the divine will intensify to such a degree that the absence of that feeling of “belongingness” from the community is no longer a cause of concern.
Seemingly in opposition with the conclusion just drawn, relationships with loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers are likely to improve as one proceeds on this inner and outer journey.
As you understand yourself better, you will gain new insight into your own behavior and attitudes towards others as well as understanding their interaction with you. This will allow you to express, recognize, and respond to love and other emotions in your interpersonal relationships on a new and deeper level.
Each individual must internally weigh these and other concerns against perceived benefits, but the fundamental fact is that there is really no great risk in taking that first step; hearing the call and making some effort to heed it.
At this point on the journey, your worldview is not likely to have changed so dramatically that any “damage” done cannot be undone. Like the first flicker of eyelids in the morning; one might wake up, hop out of bed, and start the day or merely glance groggily at the clock and return to slumber.
Weeks or even days after reading an inspirational book or finding oneself moved by a conference or seminar or maybe even a particular worship service, we find ourselves slipping back into our old routines, our old concerns, focusing on the external and neglecting the internal.
In such a case, our eyes have only flickered. In turn, this is why a more direct signal to the self and the universe is required to truly engage in the kind of meaningful dialogue that will start you on your journey.
If deep down you know this is only a spark to be quickly extinguished, the subconscious mind, too, will remain in slumber; hidden deep below the surface of your awareness. Similarly, the higher self and the universe will be even more remote and difficult to access.
When and if you decide you are ready to take more deliberate and intentional action, you are ready for the second step on the path. This is a direct signal of intent to the subconscious mind, higher self, and universe that one is ready to begin their journey.
One should not expect that merely spending twenty minutes or even a week in daily meditation will result in a response. The timing from the first recognition and heeding of the call to the response from the universe will vary from person to person.
Ironically, like the seemingly “unfair” story of the prodigal son, a complete beginner may receive a response more clearly and quickly than a person who has dabbled in yoga, meditation, and exploratory reading for some time. This may be because the more experienced spiritual student has signaled fickle interest often enough that it will take a sustained, deliberate effort to communicate commitment.
Another possibility is that the more awake and experienced student may have come to accept certain feelings and signals as second nature due to their own spiritual activities, and thus may be taking no particular notice of them now.
I recently experienced this in a meditation class. Even though I have been walking my own spiritual path for the last fifteen years, when my meditation teacher recently asked me if I could feel my own energy body, I found myself shaking my head in a confused manner and answering, “I’m not sure.”
However, when she led our class through a meditation to feel our energy body and described the sort of techniques we should use to “feel” it, I recall thinking of course, I feel this all the time, I just didn’t think of it in those terms. Students who have dabbled in spiritual development before need to be especially attentive to subtle signals they may be receiving.
However discouraging this “waiting” period may feel to your conscious mind, it is not without its own value. The opportunity, here, is to begin to “clean out” one’s conscious (and sometimes borderline subconscious) mind and observe oneself from the outside looking in.
It is worth keeping in mind that the ultimate goal of this opening salvo is to communicate not only your desire to be more whole, but your commitment to pursue this endeavor with serious and determined intent.
As far as “sending” the signal itself, truthfully, the only way I have found this to really work is through meditation. To be fair, meditation can take many forms; drumming, yoga, tai-chi, silent reflection, prayer, journaling, mindful living, etc. However, the most striking results I have seen include at least some form of focused silent meditation either alone or in combination with other forms listed above. The very act of sitting and clearing out the mind offers an opportunity to both observe the mind and communicate directly with it.
The signal must be clear, intentional, and serious. By “clear” I mean uncluttered with fears or hidden motivations such as conforming to other’s perceptions or a desire to “confirm” one’s own skepticism.
Because of the inherent connotations, I cringe a little at using the word “serious” to describe communication with the subconscious mind, self, and universe. Often this communication can be characterized by a jubilant feeling of “connection” and peace, an experience of exploring and engaging with your existence on a new and exciting level.
I would not deny this whimsical part of the spiritual journey by labeling communication “serious.” Rather, I refer to the definition of serious that dictionary.com lists as, “being in earnest, sincere, not trifling” as well as “requiring thought, concentration, or application.” Even when approaching meditation with joy and wonder, your communication should represent the aspects of seriousness listed above.
The clarity and intent of your signal can be made more concrete by journaling about what thoughts, images, and questions come out of dreams, meditation sessions, and simple mindful reflections. Making the added commitment of putting pen to paper to record impressions and allow yourself to digest them can be a direct signal to your subconscious mind, higher self, and the universe that you are “listening.”
If you don’t feel comfortable with your writing, journaling does not specifically have to take the form of the written word. Drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, song, music, or making collages by clipping relevant words, thoughts, and pictures from magazines or newspapers are perfectly acceptable ways to bring your meditative reflections into the corporeal world. One of the fastest and easiest ways to journal is by using a personal voice recorder to tape your meditation sessions, dreams, and reflections.
Regardless of what medium you choose, always remember that the primary goal of this exercise is not to produce great art, but to signal to the universe that you are ready to engage; your goal is to actively pursue your life’s destiny.
If one has signaled clearly a genuine and sustained interest, the subconscious mind will open to the observer. An opportunity will present itself, a door will appear, a signal will be sent in response; the universe will communicate, “I hear.”
At first, this is likely to be quite startling, and despite the inherent joy in such a moment, one is likely to be internally conflicted. The student may question; is this a response? Or have I been wishing so much for a response that I’ll convince myself anything out of the ordinary is a response?
Chances are that your first instinct is correct, but it is good to remember that communication from these meta-entities, rather than a singular shot in the dark, is often a series of encounters or experiences that taken independently seem like coincidence and only have meaning when considered together; a theme that either instantly rings so true you cannot doubt it or, if ignored, repeats itself and becomes more obvious and clear the more you meditate.
A response can come in many forms. For one it may be a particularly relevant and meaningful dream or succession of them. For another it may be the experience of overhearing a co-worker talking about a book they read that affected them deeply and then coming across that same book or author oneself in a seemingly random and independent way only to begin reading it and find just the answer or message one was seeking.
Some may find they feel a new spark of interest in an activity that blends spirit with physical movement like drumming, yoga, or Tai-Chi only to suddenly stumble upon an open workshop or see a flyer in a strange place advertising the very thing they were interested in.
Recently I received a call to action from the universe via the combination of a dream, a television show theme, and a church sermon all within the space of a week.
In the case where an individual is not yet very attuned to him or herself, a situation not altogether uncommon in complete beginners to meditation and spiritual development, he or she may actually not recognize a response or may completely misinterpret one.
In other cases, we may deliberately ignore a response or pretend we don’t hear it because we don’t like the message. If many weeks go by without any seeming “response” or with a perceived response that seems confusing or in contrast with core ethical beliefs, it can be beneficial to seek direct counsel.
Ask an understanding and compassionate family member, friend, classmate, or teacher’s advice regarding your confusion and trouble. If that does not help you bring clarity to the situation, there may be cause to seek more definite guidance from a psychic or through one’s own direct dialoguing process.
Most often, the struggle in the third step is not so much with hearing the response, but with understanding, accepting, and acting on it. We may not feel ‘ready’ to take on the personal challenge our subconscious or higher self presents to us.
Challenges from one’s higher self and the universe will almost always be very personal and reach to the very heart and core of our being. Perhaps the images presented to us while meditating are frightening because they remind us of our imperfections and weaknesses or they expose deep seated fears that are negatively impacting the way we live our lives.
Additionally, perhaps we feel we are being asked to do things we are not ready to do; open our hearts to people we are not ready to forgive, confess a transgression to someone who may not forgive us, or face parts of ourselves we are afraid of.
From a practical perspective, it is most important to have patience with yourself during this period. It is not unlikely that progressing beyond this beginning stage may take from six months to a year depending on one’s level of dedication, quality of reflection, and timing of action in response to communication from the subconscious mind.
When faced with such deep internal fears, we do best to remember that all heroes throughout time have had to face great challenges. In stories, as in life, these are often internal fears and conflicts made manifest in the external world either through our own projections or as messengers from the universe.
Rather than be discouraged, know that the practice of spiritual development is rewarding mostly because it is so challenging. We are presented with opportunities to better understand ourselves, others, and the world we live in; to grow.