Okay, in many ways that title is an oxymoron.
The spiritual path isn’t something we travel along because we specifically want to make progress or get anywhere in particular.
However, taking a moment to look at our lives, and seeing the ways we have changed and transformed, is important.
There are always challenges.
It doesn’t matter how much we have changed, grown or accomplished up to this point, there are always the challenges of today.
That is why we must pause once in a while and look back at the challenges of our past, so we can see what a courageous job we have done on our own spiritual journey.
The spiritual path is bumpy. It is an up and down, one step forward, one step back type of jig.
One moment we can feel like we are just moments away from being the next Buddha as our awareness and kindness shine through, and the next we can feel like we don’t deserve to exist, due to our awful, judgmental thoughts.
That is why we need to look at a bigger picture than how we feel in any individual moment in order to get a sense for how our spiritual journey is progressing.
Here are some signs to look for:
1) Spontaneous Gratitude.
As we start to clear out our own anger at and judgement of ourselves and the world around us, we start to see that there are so many nice things happening in our midst, and that we are actually thankful for it. Even if we are feeling sick or depressed, we simultaneously find ourselves looking out the window and finding it hard to believe we get to live in such a beautiful world. Or we hear a friend’s voice and feel amazed that we have the grace to know this beautiful person. There isn’t any type of forced head space occurring. We aren’t making ourselves list off positive things in our life to forcefully chase out the negative. This is simply the organic arising of seeing the beautiful truth of the moment, and letting it move effortlessly through our system.
When spontaneous gratitude starts arising, we know we can thank ourselves for the spiritual wisdom we have cultivated.
2) Becoming Unable to Blame.
This one is a good news story, but also kind of a bummer. Blaming other people or situations for our own discomfort is the easiest thing in the world. It is many people’s go-to when things don’t feel right. But as we move along the spiritual path, we start to see that we ourselves are responsible for everything going on around us. This can hurt. One day, something yucky happens in our life, and we go to blame someone else for the big mess, but we can’t. Immediately we realize the soreness and tenderness of the mess is stemming inside of us. This usually feels awful. It kind of tears us up and makes us feel like we can’t go on. But then we figure out what needs to change in ourselves, and we move along.
This is true transformation and progress. The moment we can’t blame others anymore is a moment to celebrate.
3) Putting Ourself First Becomes Effortless.
Oh man, I remember the days when putting myself first wasn’t only difficult, it was impossible. I just didn’t do it. And I was often miserable. In many ways, putting ourselves first doesn’t sound spiritual at all. It kind of sounds selfish, in fact. But here is the truth: if we are miserable, then the people who have to be around us will feel miserable, too. So, there is no point living in a way that makes us miserable. As we travel along our self-healing journey a ways, it becomes easier to naturally make a choice that feels aligned with who we are and how we want to feel.
Feeling more at ease with our choices for self-care is a great indicator that we are doing beautiful, healing work in the world.
4) Flying Off the Handle Less with the Ups and Downs.
There are times in our life when things go well, and we feel crazy with excitement, and times when things go badly, and we sink as low as we can go and are sure we can’t possibly go on. Pema Chodron describes this as standing in the ocean as the waves come and pummel us, and falling to the bottom of the sea and getting sand in our nose and sand in our mouths. However, as we practice meditation and work with our own mind and consciousness, we become firmer on our feet. The waves still come, and we may sway this way and that, but we don’t sink to the bottom, and our noses and mouths stay sand-free. It might feel as we progress along the spiritual path that life has become easier than before, but it hasn’t.
All the challenges and excitements are still there; we just have an understanding of their impermanence now.
5) We Stop Caring about Making Progress.
As we learn more about the spiritual concepts of the human journey, training our minds and becoming more aware of our consciousness, we start to see that there is nowhere to get. I always tell my meditation students that we don’t meditate to become good meditators. I actually tell them that they will never be good meditators—that it is impossible. Instead, we will always be training with our meditation practice, always just having an experience. It is the same with our lives. We will never be “good” at living the human life.
We will always be just having an experience, and any sense of needing to do a good job falls away as we progress along the spiritual path.
Author: Ruth Lera
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Kevin Young/Unsplash