How do we make the shift from “trying Oh so hard” to “just being”? In one common group counseling session, I noticed a recurring theme during the question-answer sessions, and it’s the same in all such group sessions. People ask: “please help me overcome anger", and “in spite of resolving not to mind my wife’s nagging, I lose my temper after listening to her for some time,” and “I feel good for a few days after I attend your session and try to be joyful and happy, but I can’t keep it up for long”.
“The great awareness comes slowly, piece by piece. The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning.” ~ Anon
Does the above story from my counselling sessions sound familiar?
Usually in a moment of rare insight (or weakness), most of us often resolve to shun anger, envy, selfishness and henceforth be compassionate, loving and so on. When the higher calling beckons, we congratulate ourselves and decide to overflow with the milk of human kindness. For a while, we smile at everything and everybody, count to ten instead of blowing up, take deep breaths in times of stress, see the good side of people, and turn the other cheek when slapped. And most often, instead of acknowledgment and reciprocation of our goodness, we find that we are taken for granted and worse, taken advantage of.
It gets harder and harder to keep up the good act, and we reach break-point sooner or later. We then promptly slip back into our original, normal, sometimes nasty selves. Until we attend another of those counseling sessions, to start the game all over again. In the process, we are likely to end up feeling resentful, guilty, useless and unfit to pursue our spiritual goals.
Is it really so hard to be good?
Is it an occupational hazard of being a human being? Are we condemned to go through innumerable lifetimes making the same mistakes, to slip back easily into habitual behavior, incapable of taking up the challenge that evolution throws at us? Shall we ever be able to negotiate the enormous chasm between trying oh so hard and just being?
Oh so many dilemmas, but no easy answers. Since spiritual growth is the only agenda on the menu of human life, we have no choice but to embark on this journey. We need to take charge and do it right, though, sooner rather than later. Just like we consult a map to track the optimum route before embarking on a physical journey, we need to do the same with the spiritual journey as well.
Study the path taken by enlightened souls, internalize the teachings of spiritual masters and listen to our own conscience with sincerity. And take stock of the advantages and limitations of this journey, and how it can be accomplished well in the least possible time.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step, and you have taken it. You’ve realized that you need improvement! The very fact that you are aware that you are not perfect puts you far, far ahead of other beings in the path of evolution. It triggers the right process in you. You have decided to do something about your inadequacy – the next step is set it in motion. Somewhere you feel a discontent about life and ask yourself ‘what next?’
You have read and heard about the compassion of great spiritual beings, and you resonate with them. You yearn for that spiritual strength. You clamor to emulate their teachings, and do succeed to a certain extent. It might be only for a week, a day, or an hour, but you have already started earning brownie points! Your sheer willingness to change is your greatest strength. You are now firmly on the right path.
Oh, what pitfalls the journey has! The road, you realize, is anything but a super-duper highway on which you can zip across at 120 km/h. Why is it that the day you resolve to be patient with your child, she does something which is calculated to raise your temper? Or the day you decide to diet, your mom bakes the most delicious cake embedded with chocolate chips and nuts?
The smallest thing that you encounter seems to challenge you to break your resolve and retract totally. You need to literally grin and bear it to the limits of endurance to progress even a centimeter on the right path. Why? Because we are straining against a lifetime of conditioning, of putting ourselves first, of indulging our senses, of doing the easy thing. Great spiritual Teachers have called spiritual growth swimming against the current. It is difficult because it goes against our conditioned habitual instincts.
Liberation, Enlightenment, cresting the cycle of birth and death, total transformation, unleashing your highest potential.
The journey is hard but the opportunities priceless: the greatest prize of human life and the sole reason for our existence. No less! It’s worth all the pain and agonizing uncertainty of the journey? A million times over. So do not despair and Keep at it. It’s worth it when you reach journey’s end and experience that state of total happiness and freedom.
Imagine a state of peace and tranquility even if it is raining bankruptcies, tsunamis, accidents or job loss. Imagine being in a state of unconditional love towards one and all. Imagine giving and giving and giving – without wanting anything at all because you are so completely and totally fulfilled. Imagine total freedom from suffering – zero fear, anger, rage, hate, worry, doubt, resistances, inhibitions and so on. Imagine being free of the human condition-negativity.
You will no doubt be tested to your limit, and you’ll get knocked about mercilessly but in the end all that knocking will make you emerge as a diamond….a shiny priceless well sculpted diamond.
All of us are born to be in heaven by default, and it is open, for eternity! So book your place and level right now and get going. It might be useful, though, to carry a handy guide with tips for the spiritual trip.
A guide for the spiritual trip
1. Never say never again
Never buy vegetables from the roadside vendors – they always cheat with the weights; Never be lenient with your servants – they’ll take you for granted. This is how an average mind thinks; and if you listen to it, it will not let you pursue your spiritual goals either.
It’s necessary to be worldly-wise, but not to the point of disillusionment. You may be compelled to retract from your good intentions once, twice, maybe a hundred times – but The Divine trusts you, has given you a million chances so far to help you realize your divinity – so Never say never again.
2. Drop Those expectations
…of others, as well as yourself. You may be a paragon of virtue, but of course your neighbor will still dump his garbage in your backyard. Spiritual Growth is all about the change in your response to situations, not change in situations themselves. Each situation and person in your life is put there to help you introspect and grow.
3. Love yourself
Be kind to yourself too, it’s not easy to change a lifetime of habitual behavior. That’s why spiritual masters insist on keeping the company of good people and good thoughts as aids that will not let you forget your ultimate purpose in life, and put you back on the path again and again. Reading elevating books for at least 15 minutes before going to bed every night is a great habit to inculcate. They help raise energy levels.
Man proposes and God disposes. The trying is left to us, and being happens by grace, and grace alone. But grace descends on one who is well and truly ready for it, and not a moment earlier. The yearning for spiritual growth needs to be as intense as the desperate yearning for air itself.
So, the path you have chosen for yourself may not be a cup of tea. That is why you need to recognize from which point you operate best – body, heart, or mind – and the Divine will help you reach itself from that point.
To kick start the process of spiritual growth, do good deeds. You might not feel the shift at first. But as outward deeds get gradually purified, the attitude will percolate into words and thoughts as well. Because only in the trying oh so hard will the just being eventually materialize. Meanwhile, don’t get so engrossed in reaching the destination that you forget to enjoy the journey.
She is the founder and writer of Positive Provocations, which features writing on positive thinking through healing the Mind, Body, Heart & Soul. She holds degrees in, and practices counseling psychology, motivational psychology, spiritual counseling, motivational speaking, holistic health and naturopathic medicine. Zeenat Merchant Syal is a spiritual traveler by passion, an eternal student and researcher in the school of life and all of its realities, including the fields of metaphysics and New Age thinking.