Where’s your spiritual path going?
If you’re following an educational curriculum or career track, you have a pretty good idea of where you hope to end up: with a degree, a job, or a promotion.
On a spiritual path, the end result is not so clear.
There can be a tendency to think of oneself as “spiritual” without really knowing what this condition means or how one’s life may change as a result. Over time this uncertainty can lead to a vague spaciness or even forgetfulness of what spirituality is really about: profound and continuous positive change in our hearts and minds.
The seven Directions of Spiritual Growth outlined below are drawn from the experience of my personal search as well as more than two decades of professional research into spiritual experience. They illuminate a path that can be generally described as the progression from ego through soul to spirit.
The exact difference between soul and spirit has been the cause of much theological hairsplitting, and I’m not about to add another volume of speculation to the discussion. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m identifying spirit as the ineffable source of mystical inspiration that draws us out of self-absorption—the normal state of the ego—toward heaven (also called enlightenment, or wholeness).
Soul is where ego and spirit get mixed up: where pure, disembodied inspiration meets impure, embodied egocentrism.
Thus, I would say that souls can be troubled but spirit cannot. And while we may often experience our soul as a battleground between good and evil, this battle is really a learning process that’s gradually leading us from the everyday misery of the lonely ego into the eternal selflessness of spirit. Most of the time we find ourselves somewhere between these extremes, living in the realm of the soul.
So the spiritual journey is really about learning to get over ourselves, how to surrender what we have been in favor of what we can become. I believe that this drive to transform ourselves is a fundamental human instinct. We see it not just in religion, but in many kinds of self-improvement disciplines—from the intellectual rigors of academia, to athletic training, to military boot-camp indoctrination. But a spiritual path is the whole enchilada: the transformation of the human being on all fronts.
If you look first at the center column entitled Soul, you can read seven qualities of being that are universal in human experience:
suffering, anger, judgment, curiosity, bargaining, sorrow or happiness, and community.
These qualities characterize the world as we know it—we feel or express these qualities on a regular basis.
In the left column you’ll find the immature or unrealized qualities of the Ego, all of which we have probably experienced more than we would like:
despair, rage, blame/guilt, apathy, loneliness, bitterness and selfishness.
The more time we spend in such states, the more it will seem that life on earth is little more than a living hell.
Finally, the right column lists the mature potentials of Spirit:
transcendence, responsibility, forgiveness, purpose, love, joy and the ultimate experience of God.
These spiritual potentials are seldom fully realized in our lives for any length of time, but that doesn’t mean they are unreachable. And they will all be experienced with increasing frequency as we progress toward wholeness. Each time we do realize one or more of these qualities in our lives, even if only for a moment, we know what heaven feels like.
In upcoming editions of this blog, I’ll discuss each of the seven Directions of Spiritual Growth in detail. Stay attuned!
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger
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