“The world’s offerings are not bad. By and large they are good. Some of them are good enough to command our enthusiasm for many lifetimes. Eventually, however, every human being comes to realize…that everything that is good in this world is finite, limited, wears out…When this point is reached, one finds oneself asking even of the best this world can offer, ‘Is this all?'” – Huston Smith
Walking in Spirals
The Spiritual Path is the road to soul fulfillment. The choice of soul over self here is deliberate. I believe that we each have incarnated in our current life to work on various soul lessons and to bring our soul’s gifts and contributions into the world.
Walking the Spiritual Path is often associated with various practices such as ‘energy’ work or psychic experiences, but these are auxiliary skills and, while helpful for navigating the path, are not necessary to walk it.
In contrast, the Spiritual Path is not a skill, but rather a transformative inner process that will require use of many different types of skills over time. Ultimately, the goal of the spiritual path is unity of being or the integration of all aspects of the self into a composite whole; mind / body / spirit / heart.
Connection to God or the Universe has been seen as an end goal in some spiritual work, but I have found this to be one step along the way and not the end result. Annemarie Schimmel’s research on the Sufi path seems to corroborate this when she points to a stage after union where, “man is resuscitated out of the nothingness, completely transformed into an absolute Self.” (1) Carl Jung’s research and philosophy agrees, “The labours of the doctor as well as the quest of the patient are directed towards that hidden and as yet unmanifest ‘whole’ man” (2)
Why Walk the Spiritual Path?
Many seek out the spiritual path because they are looking for something ‘more’ in life and for those who pursue this inner yearning travelling ‘the way’ will certainly be an adventure like nothing that came before.
Joseph Campbell puts it well when he says, “…destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.”(3) People who are at this point in life usually have two choices; they can answer ‘the call’ or succumb to depression. In that sense, walking the spiritual path becomes almost a necessity, but there are benefits too.
Venturing into the core of your being will help you come to greater understanding of your self; it will help you purge destructive behaviors and cultivate new ones that will promote a happier, more peaceful, and more loving interaction between you and the world. The Spiritual Path does not require you to shun the world, on the contrary – anyone can go live on a mountain, divested from all of life’s temptations, and be ‘spiritual.’ It is engagement with the world that makes this work so challenging and rewarding. This evolution of your being will enrich your life, your relationships, your work, and your soul in ways that cannot be explained sufficiently in words. The world becomes a treasure trove of purpose and meaning with challenges to face and opportunities waxing at every juncture. You may have been following your life up to this point, when you walk the path you can Lead it.
So how do you “get on” the Spiritual Path?
The good news is that there are many ways to ‘get on’ the spiritual path if you are not already ‘actively’ walking it. These fall loosely into two groups; you can sign up with an existing mystical tradition or you can go it ‘alone.’ Like all things in life, there are costs and benefits on both sides. Signing up with an existing tradition is the right move for people seeking to walk in the footsteps of an established authority. These groups usually offer community and support around their work and some have been around for centuries which may instill some confidence in the novice practitioner. Assuming this is a tradition you carefully selected, the prescribed imagery (such as Jesus, Mary, Muhammad, or Buddha) may be helpful. If you are not fully vested in the mythology, however, the imagery can actually get in the way of your development. As another consideration, these groups sometimes have a ‘your money or your life’ mentality and often require copious amounts of both. In addition, power can corrupt and even a group that started out with good motives can be led the wrong way if a charismatic leader silently succumbs over time to their own ego-based fears and desires.
The advantage of the go-it-‘alone’ path is that you can progress at your own pace. Instead of surrendering to an outside authority and following a standardized set of steps, you are the owner of your own experience; making your own decisions about what to let go and keep in your life. A further benefit of this method is that it requires adherence to no particular mythology making it relatively easy to continue whatever community or mainstream religion you already participate in. Along those lines, a traditional vein of mysticism often selects a few ‘sacred’ texts from which it garners knowledge, the go-it-‘alone’ path is open to receiving wisdom from all or whichever ones might be useful to help the walker progress to the next stage of development. On the other hand, without a supportive community of like-minded adherents, it can be difficult to compare notes and going it ‘alone’ carries with it a minor but serous risk of becoming delusional. Strategies I have found useful for avoiding this are described in my essay “Sink or Swim”. It is important to note that following an already established tradition does not make you immune to this risk.
If you are interested in walking a more traditional path, I recommend checking out the following traditions and seeing which one seems the best fit; Sufism (Islam), Buddhism, Christian Gnosticism, and Qabalah (I personally have never done anything with Qabalah, but there are many passionate adherents out there who swear by it). Please always make sure to research a particular group and make sure you feel genuinely comfortable with the energy and practices of the group before joining.
If you are interested in the initiating process for following the Spiritual Path in the go-it-‘alone’ style similar to what I have been doing, I recommend checking out my essay – You Are Here -as a starting point. This blog, over time, will be a catalog of my various experiences along the path so feel free to check it out and see if something somewhere resonates.
1 – Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill c:1975
2 – Jung, C.J. Psychology and Alchemy from Collected Works v12. Princeton c:1968
3 – Campbell, Joseph. Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton / Bollingen c: 1949