Everyone has a definition of what it means to be spiritual. For some it’s following the rituals prescribed by the scriptures and doctrine of their faith, for others it’s spending time in nature, and for still others it’s a statement of belief such as- There is no God but God or Jesus Christ is my savior. All faiths and spiritual paths have one goal in mind, however, and that is union with the Higher Power.
Let’s examine four ways in which spiritual evolution might be expressed.
The first of these is the concept of the Higher Power as parental authority, a giver of laws, and the source of reward for good behavior or punishment for undesirable behaviors. This is, perhaps, the most common approach to spirituality. Probably this is because we have copious examples of how authoritative expectation functions in life- from our parents, teachers, employers, spouses, and even our friends. Most connections have a set of expectations (laws) that govern the success or failure of that relationship. When we conform to expectations we receive the reward of being accepted, appreciated, and belonging. If we transgress those expectations we are likely to experience rejection, admonishment, and possible divorcement.
When Divine Spirit is perceived as parental we believe that everything happens because it’s God’s will. Everything happens for a reason and it’s all good. We get a job because spirit wants us to have it. We lose a job because spirit wants us to do something else. Earthquakes, fires, and floods are sent as messages from the Higher Power. We make decisions and hope our spiritual allies will make it all come out right in the end. So, in this phase it’s not unusual to become dogmatic and even rigid in our expectations of ourselves and others on whatever religious or spiritual path we have chosen.
If we make it past the concept that there is only one truth, one way, and one faith we might arrive in the territory of personal empowerment. Personal empowerment is an important psychological development of our personality so that we can make independent and considered decisions, and create our lives in a way that is rewarding and comfortable. However, personal empowerment it is not the goal of spirituality.
When personal empowerment is made into a spiritual goal it often entails the rejection of all established faiths or any group that appears to have a hierarchy. There can be, and often is, a rejection of spiritual teachers as well. Everything of Spirit is already inside of us– I am my own guru. However, how will we learn to access this spirit self or tell the difference between wishful imaginings and true spiritual enlightenment?
Sometimes our relationship with the Higher Power may be measured in how successful we are in attaining prestige, wealth, health, and the “right” relationship. There are, of course, a plethora of self-help, and how-to, books that describe in detail ways to bypass a tutor or spiritual mentor and get what we want from life. Some of this information may actually be helpful on the journey. But let’s consider that if we want to become proficient at any life skill it’s easier if we work with someone who actually knows what they’re doing and have experience in expressing the skills we hope to attain.
Occasionally, personal empowerment becomes a yearning to acquire psychic skills or abilities such as clairvoyance, levitation, channeling, fire-starting, astral traveling, spirit guide acquisition, angelic encounters or visions of being God. Many consider these demonstrations to be evidence of spiritual attainment. We can even find numerous examples of spiritual masters who demonstrated many or even all of these qualities. However, they also exhibited loving-kindness, generosity, equanimity, compassion for all life, and a radiant presence that inspired others to find a way to experience divine fullness for themselves.
The third stage of developmental spirituality can take the form of complacency. We have created a life that works, are engaged in service activities, and comfortable in our psychological understandings of self and spirit. We are willing to explore possibilities of enlightenment but don’t wish to have our concepts and beliefs questioned or upset. Spiritual alignment represents the occasional retreat, workshop, or meetings with a trusted mentor who is supportive of our investigative and experiential relationship with the Higher Power. There is little or no desire to make a major commitment to enlightenment or awakening. No desire to enter the realms of no self. My life works and I don’t want to mess with it.
Someday we will have a profound desire for awakening. When we are committed to removing anything that stands between us and a full, heartfelt, and impassioned relationship with Divine Spirit- we have reached the fourth stage of our spiritual evolution. We awaken to the great being within. This great being accepts life as it is- loss, change, death, old age, and illness. And yet this self knows that we remain woven to the wholeness of all life- that life is really only about loving, sharing, and living enthusiastically for the benefit of others. As long as space and time endure, as long as sentient beings remain-may I too remain to assuage the suffering of the world.
When we have gained skillful means to navigate the difficulties of life- equanimity becomes truly possible. We have true faith. This faith remains even if we lose everything we have acquired- money, property, prestige, fulfillment in our career, and even our loved ones. At the center of our existence there will reside a deep and abiding love and communion with Divine Spirit. We will have merged into the Ocean of Oneness and although waves and storms may rage outwardly, within we are at peace- resting in the tranquil wholeness of Divine Spirit’s grace. This is the path without delusions.