My intention with these articles is to offer practical tips and helpful perspective to spiritual seekers. My own path is A Course in Miracles, but I hope my guidance is useful to readers no matter what path they are on.
When we commit ourselves to a spiritual path that emphasizes cultivating an internal relationship with the Spirit and an undoing of our ego, we might experience a honeymoon period. It feels great to invite the Holy Spirit or angels or Reiki or some undefined Higher Power that knows our way into our lives, to practice witnessing our frantic minds without engaging, to meditate, to fill our minds with inspirational scripture, stories, or other content.
Our days have more meaning and purpose now, a sharp contrast from the relentless pointlessness we may have been drowning in before. We feel lighter and have hope.
We need this contrast experience and the rest it brings us.
But almost always, we find ourselves back in conflict at some point, and our practice that had been giving us a lift doesn't seem like it works anymore. What's worse -- our anxieties, anger, fear, and conflict may feel even more intense than before.
It helps to know that everyone can experience these "dry" periods. It is also really helpful to have a spiritual community of friends with whom you can connect when you are in this phase. (And this phase can be repeated many times.)
If you feel your progress is dishearteningly slow or that your spiritual efforts are suddenly "not working," here's a short discussion about why it appears that way, how to think about it, and what to do.
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The essence of a true spiritual path is subtraction.
We are learning to take responsibility for our projections. In the midst of whatever is happening, we learn to step back and view our internal condition without reacting. We witness all the energies, interpretations, and conflict within us. We find the convoluted thinker, manipulator, seducer, planner, fixer, accuser, victim/victimizer, story-teller...they all reside within us. All our favorite moves are exposed when we get triggered. By witnessing faithfully and honestly, we develop a distaste for them and the chaos they cause, which is an important but uncomfortable process.
Each time we do not judge ourself or others for our negative thoughts and feelings, or we do not turn to that voice inside of us that tells us what to do and how to interpret what's happening, we are remembering we have a choice. That's key.
In fact, we've always had a choice. But the ego wants to keep us believing we have no choice and that we are victims of the world, what people say and do, my emotions, the past, etc. It will try to control/manipulate, tell stories about itself and others, and judge everything and everyone. And when we do not fall for these old patterns, it/the ego is being weakened.
But the ego doesn't just fade quietly. It does what it always does -- it attacks. It will scare us back to itself for protection, and it is very effective because at first, and for a very long time usually, we think it IS us.
Thus, we seem to fail, repeatedly, in our aspirations to live a spiritually-directed life. This one-step-forward-two-steps-back feeling can plague us, on and off, for years. We find ourselves practicing without believing any progress being made. Or we can even feel we're sliding backwards.
If this sounds familiar at all, you are in good company. Many like me have been on this path for 25 years or more. Here are a few tips to help you keep your faith:
1. Your study and practice are required and important for future mastery, just as they would be if you were learning a new trade or how to play an instrument.
We are learning a "craft"; it's like we are apprentices to the Spirit. Apprentices are not masters. Their contribution to the learning process is their willingness to learn and be corrected.
Our work summoning up the willingness needed to be wrong about our judgments and to forgive the world for what it could not do to us is radically opposed to the world's teaching. These efforts, as well as our study, are key to our future mastery. But as with artists, we can not control when that occurs.
The many years I put into practice and study were important, even though I often doubted I was making progress and sometimes wondered if I was nuts.
My life is radically different than before, but not necessarily in its forms. Many people may not notice the change because I am in the same roles. The change is noticeable mostly from what is absent.
Eventually, you will have this hindsight, too.
2. All practice is having effects -- A) some you cannot see, and B) some your ego quickly dismisses.
Learning in the world has always led us to model ourselves after our parents, teachers, authorities in our lives. But the images we hold of spiritual progress -- those portraits of teachers, gurus, saints, successful people, etc. -- make the perfect setup for our ego. It would have us expect imagined outcomes of our efforts, compare ourselves with others, and happily pounce on us when appearances don't match the images and expectations.
Dear Friend...your choice for the Holy Spirit is always having an effect. Even your imperfect practice and muddled goals do not stop progress.
The ego will chide you...you are still in the boring job, there is a lack of money, your relationships still have conflict, you still have anxiety, you sometimes eat too much, you see world problems, etc. Again, it will point to the externals and criticize you for their existence. But this is just a distraction.
Rest assured you are saving time. And you are being saved from experiences that your old trajectory would have required you to play out. (Another painful relationship, more sickness, more anger, etc.) Remember we can't quantify the bad things that don't happen as a result of the healing of our mind, and we don't need to.
On the other hand, many legitimate effects of spiritual learning are happening that we can count, but we often easily dismiss them. We ignore the moments of peace, the gratitude or happy encounters with others, the answers to problems or needs that come effortlessly, the synchronicities, the spontaneous answers, the decrease in drama in our lives....
The ego might write them off as a random fluke or dumb luck or even the outcome of an astrological event. It might say inner peace is pretty worthless... because what is it good for when the rent comes due?
Are you seeing that your ego will love to stay in charge of measuring our progress if we allow it?
As for measuring true progress -- notice you get triggered for shorter periods of time and with longer intervals between episodes. An uneven, jagged progression is par for the course! Learn to just behold the unfoldment of life around you. Your peace is enough, and you can't fail once it is what you want.
Live your life, and do not be a copy.
3. When we are practicing faithfully, the ego is on red alert.
Each time you choose for the Holy Spirit, your ego is made defensive. Knowing this, we can get really good at smiling instead of cursing when our calm is interrupted by a new "forgiveness opportunity"...hey, we must be doing something right!
Sometimes this "ego backlash" will show up as new surprise problems ("just when we were feeling good!" we lament....) that trigger the fear or hate. Many times it will haunt our quiet moments with a nagging, berating voice of self loathing and doubt.
Unconscious guilt is coming up, and that's okay. In fact, that's the point. Our egos are losing steam, and will seem to fight us. Just don't fight back....smile at it and even laugh a bit.
Laughter and taking ourselves lightly is a fast track!
4. Do not resist your resistance. Instead, take a break! We do ourselves a favor if we don't try to force ourselves into readiness we don't possess.
Make a good effort, then let go. Maybe I'll feel ready tomorrow, and maybe not. Be open.
If you can't seem to feel the Holy Spirit anymore, and if your calls for help seem to go unanswered, forget about your spiritual pursuits for a while. When this happens, there's a lot of noise/fear in our minds. We don't have to fix it. Trying to fix it might actually just backfire. If we play tug-of-war with our resistance, we end up feeding it. It's better to drop the whole thing for a while.
Dear Friend, when you are ready, the Holy Spirit will be found again. Help is still Here, and your learnings can never be lost. Actually, when you return -- tomorrow or ten years from now -- you may find you come back to see things totally fresh and from a much higher perspective.
We can't know our path. In fact, some of our biggest leaps forward happen when it looks like we're in retreat. Again, we really can't judge anything at all, but we can Trust.
Trust this -- Your path is certain.
A happy outcome to all things is sure.
God’s promises make no exceptions. And He guarantees that only joy can be the final outcome found for everything. Yet it is up to us when this is reached; how long we let an alien will appear to be opposing His. And while we think this will is real, we will not find the end He has appointed as the outcome of all problems we perceive, all trials we see, and every situation that we meet. Yet is the ending certain. For God’s Will is done in earth and Heaven. We will seek and we will find according to His Will, which guarantees that our will is done.
A Course in Miracles - Lesson 292