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Signs of Spiritual Progress
One of the most common mistakes on the spiritual path is to equate progress with psychic phenomena of various kinds. Visions, voices, and other mental or psychic phenomena are no sign in themselves of genuine exaltation of consciousness.
The basis of all true progress is right attitude. If you are becoming more kind, more self-giving, more calm, you may be sure that you are progressing whether you see visions or not.
If you are succeeding in relinquishing your likes and dislikes, and are learning to accept even-mindedly whatever experiences life sends you, then you have much cause for rejoicing. If you find that you have fewer and fewer desires for the things of this world, know that you are truly finding freedom.
And more important still, if your love for God is growing ever deeper, know that you are fast approaching Him. And if through all the trials of life you always feel joy inwardly, a joy that nothing can shake, know that you have Him already to a wonderful degree.
Yes, samadhi is a wonderful thing, ardently to be desired. But once one’s attitude is right everything else will fall into place automatically. On the other hand, because of some imperfection in their attitude saints have been known to fall even from a state of samadhi. (But not from the highest degree of samadhi. In nirbikalpa samadhi the ego becomes totally merged in God.)
But remember, right spiritual attitudes cannot come merely by affirmations and positive thinking. They are a natural by-product of divine contact in meditation, of divine grace.
“But my attitude seems to be improving,” you may argue, “and I certainly can’t boast about my ‘divine contacts’ in meditation!”
How do you know that you have had no divine contacts in meditation? The very fact that your attitude is improving is sign enough that something is happening. What then have you been expecting? Lightning? Thunder? Parting curtains, and a chorus line of angels?
Jesus Christ said that God comes “like a thief in the night.” Greater things than what you now experience will surely come to you in time, but know that one’s very love for God in meditation is already a sign of His presence. That’s just His way: He likes to steal in by the back door.
One of the most difficult things for people to do, so doctors tell us, is correctly to diagnose their own illnesses. How much more difficult is it to assess correctly one’s own spiritual delusions!
The gains are very rarely evident from one day to another, but become felt rather over periods of months, even of years. Do not allow yourself to become overly impressed when someone says to you, “I attended this spiritual gathering yesterday, and the inner growth I experienced was fantastic!”
Life’s peak experiences must be balanced against the subsequent troughs before a true assessment can be made. Sometimes there are days, even moments of sudden growth, but it isn’t usual, and even when it occurs it is usually because the ground has been long and carefully prepared beforehand.
Much time is wasted in any case, as I said earlier, in analyzing one’s degree of spiritual progress — time that might have been better spent in meditating and advancing still further. The most important thing to bear in mind is that what truly matters is not what God is giving you, in terms of visions and consolations, but rather what you are willing of yourself to give Him.
Often it happens that a weak and worldly soul, more in need of encouragement, is given more experiences than one who is purely self-giving. In any case, don’t seek experiences for their own sake. I don’t mean not to be grateful when they are given to you, for a grateful heart is one of the best signs of right attitude. I mean only not to seek such experiences, not to be attached to them. As Master said, “The path to God is not a circus!”
Above all, never compare yourself with another, lest you fall into either discouragement or pride. God, who is infinite, can come to the soul in an infinity of ways — as exquisite smells, as a thousand sweet tastes crushed into one, as divine instruction, as the purest divine merriment, as the tenderest imaginable forgiveness. Each soul’s relationship with the Infinite is unique.
Compare yourself not with others, but only with your own self: Do you love God more now than you used to? Are you developing even-mindedness? Are you more inwardly contented and joyful — or at least happy? Are you renouncing self-will? Do you want to serve and please only God?
If your answer to these questions is Yes, and if you can add to your answer the wish to grow daily in these sublime virtues, know that God and Guru must be well pleased with you. Offer yourself into their arms. They will bear you surely and swiftly to the Divine Shores!