When we step onto the metaphoric "spiritual path," with hopes to lead a life of greater fulfillment, it is like entering a new relationship.
Excited by fresh inspiration, a desire to spend time together and hope for what it will bring to our lives, we tend to set lofty goals for our practice of daily prayer, meditation, mantra repetition or chanting. Maybe we hope to feel more at peace or have a greater sense of our true self, or maybe we expect to gain an understanding of the meaning of life.
Whatever the catalyst may be that begins our quest, the initial phase is characterized by reading widely, asking others about their beliefs, taking classes, and seeking inspiration from a variety of sources. This is the dating phase.
For a while we enjoy the exploration as we get to know the divine, in our own unique way. Certain teachings may ring true to our innermost being. We are uplifted by surges of recognition, or we have an "aha moment" from reading a particular blog or book, or participating in a spiritual seminar or retreat.
A particular teaching or teacher can capture our admiration for a while and we follow them enthusiastically. Experimentation serves a necessary purpose at the beginning of our journey. Like dating it helps us clarify what we truly need and want, what practices resonate with our core values and inner guidance. This is the honeymoon phase.
As with many relationships however, over time spiritual pursuits can leave us disillusioned or disappointed when we see the fallibility of a teacher or the limitations of intellectual concepts. When things get tough, the allure is to quickly replace our old practices with the latest and greatest new rituals, or to follow a fresh and convincing persona in the spiritual self-help sphere. Taken to an extreme, changeability becomes an endless distraction for the mind. This is the temptation phase.
Like serial dating without the willingness to commit, after a certain point "spiritual dating" becomes counterproductive. We cannot jump about in our practices or philosophies if we hope to enter into a deep and lasting relationship with the divine.
Being the creatures of habit we are, we also might just continue doing the same thing day after day, without experiencing any profound breakthroughs. If we are just going through the motions without feeling the love, our practice may start to feel stagnant, lacking in passion or without real purpose. This is the spiritual plateau.
To move beyond a spiritual plateau to the deepest connection with the divine that your soul can access, keep these four things in mind:
1. Self surrender is necessary.
If we stay diligent with daily practice, we will inevitably have days when we just do not feel like being there. But if we show up anyway, in loving dedication, we learn to move beyond our ego and expand our awareness beyond our fleeting personal needs and desires. This surrender of individual self is required in order to experience the Spiritual Self. This is in fact the essence of the spiritual journey.
2. Trust the voice of intuition within.
Sometimes, even after a long period of time in practice, a teaching or teacher can really start to feel out of sync with our truth. It is important to listen to our intuition within and assess whether or not it is our bored ego who's doing the talking, or our wise soul calling us to a change of practice or ideology. We can be grateful that there are many ways to access universal consciousness, and should give any new practice at least a few months of steady effort to determine its effects and value before moving on.
3. Persistence pays off.
As in a committed relationship, when we choose to stay with a practice beyond the frustrations that inevitably arise, we develop spiritual endurance. When results are slow in coming, we must have faith in the process. Persistent effort over time will bring us more peace, with a greater understanding and a more expansive view of reality. Commitment creates a container of safety and acceptance in which we can blossom into our best selves.
4. Deepest devotion yields love.
When we find the techniques and tradition that work best for us, then it is time to dig the deep spiritual well through consistency of practice and devotional love. This will provide the clearest, most nourishing water to our soul. Dabbling in shallow pools will never offer the same rejuvenation. The divine awaits at great depths within.