The Surprising Nature Of The Spiritual Path
I’m best known as an inspirational, philosophical self-help author and speaker; a professional development attitude trainer; and a life-coach, marriage coach, and parenting coach. But what I really have been is what I really wanted to be for as long as I can remember, even before I understood what it was to be one: a spiritual teacher.
There are many shocks and surprises along the spiritual path. The first one that I recall happened when I was 3. I encountered a shock that surprised me with the sudden, stark realization of my utter lack of knowing what to do. I found myself feeling lost, abandoned and confused, as if God had neglected to provide me with the Earth-Life Instruction Manual that everyone around me seemed to possess.
From around the age of 6 my father began taking me to see Broadway musicals. There would inevitably be moments in the play – I began expecting them and looking forward to them - when some dramatic moment of ecstatic stillness would suddenly seize my spirit. It would happen during a soliloquacious song or monologue, igniting a desire in me to remain in that stunning, magical, electric energy forever.
Later, in my teenage years, I awoke to beauty and inspiration in music, literature and art, stoking that early spark of inspiration in me. By the age of 18 I awoke to my passion for writing and knew that my life must be about conveying my inspiration through creating literature of my own. Around that time I awoke to a passionate calling to be an inspiring orator, having been particularly influenced in this direction by the songs of Bob Dylan and the speeches of M.L.K.
At the age of 21 the idea of making spiritual teaching my actual full-time career achieved full clarity, as it combined my passion for inspiring writing and speaking, and the topic of spiritually uplifting wisdom filled my heart with hope. It happened when I met and began working with my first spiritual teacher, who himself did this kind of work on a full-time basis.
It took me around 40 years to realize with surprise that this was not really what I wanted.
The Spiritual Path Is Full Of Surprises
The spiritual path is full of surprises. My stark awakening at the age of 3 was just the beginning.
For instance, for most of my full-time career as a spiritual teacher and author, which began at the age of 28, I believed that I knew what I was talking and writing about. This carried on for decades, until I was surprised to realize that I was in darkness, following a false path and innocently encouraging others to join me! The false path I was proponing was about understanding our creative powers and how to use them to create the life conditions we desire.
Here is another surprise. I had entered the spiritual path expecting to find the truth in the form of a crystal clear, solid concept of what is really going on and what is right to do about it. But then, after sticking with the quest for truth earnestly over the course of 4 decades, I had to admit my discovery that holding onto any idea about reality prevents one from knowing reality.
On the heels of this came the surprising realization that being completely honest with myself meant admitting to myself that I really don’t have a clue about what is going on. It took me over 40 years to discover that in my sixth decade of life I was exactly where I had found myself in my third year of life in terms of my cluelessness about what life is and how to live it!
There have been many smaller but still quite significant surprises. For instance, like you, from time to time I find myself seeing this or that individual as “negative”. Then one day I sufficiently awoke in my self-awareness to suddenly realize that my perception or judgment of another as “negative” expresses my own negativity!
Another surprise came with the dawning of a new understanding regarding life’s uncomfortable conditions and difficult situations, including any event that triggers emotional pain or discomfort. I came to understand how a certain kind of acceptance of my troubles delivers the key to the liberation of greater joy, love and powerful inner peace within me, which completely dissolves the problem. It comes down to a matter of knowing how to work with our difficulties instead of against them.
Here’s another surprise that came to me. While I had believed that the more intent I am on achieving a goal or improving a condition the better off I will be, the surprising realization occurred one day that this approach to living is the cause of my suffering, and the stronger I struggle for achievement and improvement the more intense my suffering.
Just to be clear, what the spiritual path means to me is the uncompromising quest for truth. One might call this the philosophic path or even the scientific path. It is also the path of the true artist.
When I started out on this path, and for most of my journey along it, I consciously or unconsciously expected my quest to lead to an intellectual finish line. In other words, I thought I would achieve a complete mental grasp of reality.
I was recently surprised to discover this to be a common form of self-delusion as I saw that truth is an experience, not a concept. Many people have concepts about reality but very, very few actually experience reality consciously. They experience their imaginary vision of reality without realizing it.
Reality or truth is an experience of glorious feeling and knowing that is beyond verbalization and intellectualization. I can use words and ideas to point toward it, but I must abandon words and ideas to experience it as fully as I can.
This came with another surprise. I had been looking for someone to tell me the truth, either in person or through a book. I thought that the truth was something one can learn. Then I realized that fruitful truth seeking is exclusively an inside job involving honestly and directly looking at our ideas, beliefs, and theories until we see through them in the realization of their purely groundless basis. Truth-seeking is a process of un-knowing rather than of knowing, as we come to know that we do not know.
The experience of not-knowing might seem frightening or disconcerting when you think about it, but you might be surprised to discover that it feels quite cleansing and freeing when it touches you. It frees me from the strain of making effort to hold onto ideas and mental constructs. It brings a deep sense of relief and relaxation, a sense of an illimitable, ungraspable expanse of harmonious being.
Here is another wonderful surprise. I found that much of my suffering comes from the craving for a sense of self-significance. I saw how I hold onto my suffering because of the sense of significance I can derive from that. I saw how my desire to be treated and perceived as significant causes deep emotional strife. Losing the false need to be significant brings peace.
Another big surprise came with the realization that all suffering is false suffering. Your real self never suffers in any way. Your body may be in pain, but you are not your body, though you relate to your body as if it is your true self. You may witness a state of emotional suffering that you seem to be going through, but your true self is the serene observer of that emotional condition, and the one undergoing it is entirely imaginary. Realization of this dissolves the experience of sufferig.
All We Really Want
The quest for truth reveals that all we really want is a feeling. Many mistakenly presume that freedom from emotional suffering means the loss or numbing of feeling, but what it really leads to are immeasurable, indescribable feelings of overwhelming satisfaction, joy, love, bliss, that others can feel as healing, peaceful, loving kindness. I have experienced glimpses, flickers and flashes of this.
I have also discovered, to my surprise, that any effort to achieve this state actually works against its attainment, for it is through the conscious relaxation of effort and utter surrender to the truth we can experience that delivers this state.
I used to seek enlightenment to be successful at my job of spiritual teacher, the way a carpenter seeks mastery of his tools to earn a living. I was utterly surprised to discover that the role, job or function of a teacher is no longer my aim; my true and completely fearless surrender to truth has dissolved this.
Flickers, Glimmers and Flashes
I occasionally experience flickers, glimmers and flashes of being awareness, of truth or reality being under the Perfect control of God, Divine Love and Infinite Intelligence, of Divine Being as my True Self.
So where have I come after a lifetime quest for truth? At the age of 3 I knew I didn’t know. It took me 6 decades to learn that I didn’t need to know. What a surprise!