The Evolutionary Path of Spiritual Practice
When you engage with your next spiritual practice, remember you are entering into a sacred, tantric relationship. Turn yourself over to it completely.
Every spiritual practice shares an essential evolutionary journey. The practice waits patiently for the serious practitioner to arrive, praying for an individual who will “take up” with it and walk the journey to completion. Although thousands of individuals begin a new spiritual practice every day, rarely are those prayers answered.
Why do people get disillusioned with a spiritual practice and walk away? Too often individuals believe that the practice promised a fast track out of discomfort and into nirvana; a quick drive-through trip to awakening. When in fact what is promised is a long-term relationship of evolution. These practices ask us to sit down and stay with them, so they have a chance to truly fill our hunger. The expectation of instant happiness leaves spiritual seekers disillusioned, as they walk away from the practice too soon in search of the next best thing.
Deep, sustainable spiritual practices do not promise an immediate end to your discomfort—to take you out of your confusion, misgivings, judgments, preconceptions, reactivity, or pain and suffering. Rather they promise to take you INTO what you most want to transcend. And while in the deep, to train you into stability so you can remain open, fully experiencing your discomfort, learning while in it, getting unstuck, and thus evolving. These practices train you to abide, to not run away from anything, and to recognize that the ultimate “acquisition” (whatever you believe you need) is already in everything, including yourself.
In the beginning of a new spiritual practice, you may enjoy a release from some dissatisfaction or agitation, even a sense of shifting into new wakefulness. However, the real fruit of any practice—a sustained shift in awareness or change in perceptions— only arrives when the practitioner makes a commitment to the entire journey and, in devotion, dances with it.
Each spiritual practice shares an archetypal journey, with pins on the map (signs along the way). The signs are there to help the practitioner know he is not alone or abandoned, offering to dispel doubt and disappointment. “It’s okay, you are right on track.” You may have experienced some of these signs already, even more than once.
Right now, take a moment to recall a practice you have undertaken in your own life. Hold that memory in your mind and body-awareness as we review the journey below. Feel how your own experience relates to the shifts in awareness. Likely they will feel familiar. Are you ready?
Each of the above shifts in awareness carries its own awakenings, with decision points built in along the way. Some shifts in awareness may arise simultaneously, dependent upon the practitioner’s commitment. But a predetermined path leaves no room for both paradox and magic, which are essential to spiritual awakening. Therefore, the above is not meant to be dogmatic, but known to be alive with mystery.
In fact, forthright spiritual teachers remind their students to let go of desired outcomes or thoughts about what is “supposed” to happen next. Instead these teachers encourage students to enter a spiritual practice without believing they need to get anywhere; but rather learn to relax into every moment and simply explore, “What am I experiencing now? What am I realizing now about myself?” For realization, through direct experience, is the primary goal.
When you engage with your next practice (or reengage with an existing practice), remember you are entering into a sacred, tantric relationship. Turn yourself over to it completely. Let the relationship, and the journey, keep you naked of old rigid patterns. When you return to innocence in your practice, you can allow yourself to fall in love. And all along the way, the practice will reflect back to you that it is myself I am falling in love with, and thus falling in love with the World.Students of the Nine Gates Mystery School are diligently trained into this path of service.
Finally, when you arrive at the realization that my practice is not another thing to “do” but rather that practicing is “what” I am… on the cushion and off the cushion are experienced as one. The journey disappears into every undertaking. And you recognize life as the greatest spiritual practice of all!
An audio version of this article is available here.
Deborah Jones is the Executive Director of Nine Gates Programs, Inc., serving as the spiritual leader and primary teacher of the Mystery Schools and other Graduate Programs. She is also the Founder of Nine Gates Graduate program, the Esoteric School. Deborah has worked intensely with wisdom keepers from around the world, practicing the healing arts, shamanism, the integrative application of the Hindu and Buddhist tantric paths, tribal trance dance, the transpersonal psychology of spiritual awakening through the energy and emotional bodies, and other ancient arts of the wisdom tradition schools. When students ask Deborah, “What will the spiritual practice journey ask of me?” She always says, “Everything. And would you ask anything less of yourself?”