For many years, I considered spiritual seeking to be my principal avocation. I love ideas and spiritual practice so I tried many things but my mind, eyes, and heart have been opened through studying the works of Paramhansa Yogananda, Father Thomas Keating, and others. What I found through my many explorations and experiences was the idea that all paths seem to start at the base of the metaphorical mountain from different points, then work their way up to a common summit and pinnacle where their fundamental similarities converge and cannot be mistaken. The common threads, I suppose, have always been in the grounding elements of meditation, contemplation, and compassionate service through which one’s mind and consciousness can be examined and expanded.
In Pursuit of a Path
Years ago a neighbor stopped by my workshop. I could tell by his level of agitation that he needed to talk about something but was having trouble bringing it up. After several failed attempts at small talk, he revealed the source of his concern. The following day he was heading to his first experience at a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat and was worried because he did not know what to expect. He was inexplicably drawn to attend but was very anxious about it. Would he lose his mind? Would he cease being the successful ophthalmologist he had spent his life becoming and suddenly leave hearth and home to live off-grid at an ashram somewhere? Would he still retain his love for his wife and continue to be a good father to his two sons? In essence, what he was asking was if he would stop being who he was.
The answer was yes. And no.
There is no doubt that an in-depth meditation of the type he was undertaking would change him. It was the way it would change him that was relevant. You see, depth meditation will not change who you truly are, but it will clear a path through the mind for who you truly are to express that Self clearly. For me, meditation is an emptying, a way to undo the conditioning of family, culture, media, and countless other subtle influences downloaded into our thinking machinery every day. In that clearing away, our life purpose and fundamental natures emerge so that we can present a more authentic Self to the world. This process seems to be true of all evolutionary spiritual paths. The very practice of moving yourself along a path appears to clear a space for your true essence to express itself. This is essentially the answer to why you would want to embark upon a spiritual path in the first place.
How do you find a spiritual path for becoming more fully yourself?
It may be useful to consider that every single thing in the universe is idiosyncratically unique. The universe has become more and more complex, creating ever more interesting and unique phenomena since the moment of the Big Bang. In all of that evolutionary complexity, here you are at the culmination of creation, being pulled forward to express the novelty that is your true Self. The path you seek is not one pushing you from behind. It is a magnet drawing you forward, and just as every other thing in the manifested universe is drawn to express its uniqueness, so are you.
Here you are at the culmination of creation, being pulled forward…
The How of that can be observed in what you are drawn to – in what resonates with you on a visceral level and in what you love. Unfortunately, love is a loaded word that has itself become muddled. It might be helpful to think of love in this instance as harmony. Those things you are drawn to — whether an inspirational message, a practice, teacher, song or poem, etc.—represents a door or window onto a place within where you experience harmony in yourself and your world.
What if I cannot find anything that instills harmony?
This may be a question that comes up for you and if so, it will be all the more critical for you to empty out some personal mental clutter. I’ve found that the best approach is to test what has traditionally proven to be effective. Meditation has been around for millennia and has quite a proven record of helping people mentally declutter. Other options people investigate might include isolation float tanks, ice baths, Qi Gong, intense physical activities, etc. These may also have some levels of success for you because they serve to remove some of the debris you may have mentally stored up over time. You do not know what you do not know – so start somewhere and experiment.
I can offer, from my own experiences, the proven shortcut – meditation. It is a perfect starting point. Meditation or any aspects of the ancient yoga science are long perfected and designed to free your mind and deliver you to an unprecedented awareness of self, self-direction and, frankly, of everything else. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose but your clutter!
As you navigate through various experiences and experiment, pay attention to how you feel. Does the teaching or practice you are exploring strike a chord with you? Does it calm your mind, soothe your soul and expand your consciousness? Ask yourself what you like and dislike about what you experience. If what you like draws you into harmony with others and you feel aligned and at peace with that environment, then follow that path, discipline, or teacher. Traditional disciplines like Kriya Yoga and Zen are structured in such a way that you have a framework to operate with as you move further into awareness. Conversely, if you find yourself uneasy about a situation or practice – if you become agitated, angry, compromised or fearful— evaluate whether that path or practice is for you.
Warning! Warning! Proceed with Caution
The mechanism of the mind is crafty. It protects itself. All of the conditioning, you at one time or another, have adopted to help you navigate through your world wants to remain in place. These behaviors are stratified by years of repetition and even if they are debilitating, they are intimately familiar to you — perhaps even beloved by you – and can be intractable and challenging to change.
You will need to be brutally honest with yourself. Are you merely reacting negatively to change, or are you genuinely in the wrong place for you? Removing mind clutter can be ominous and devastating. One term often used to describe this fear of change is Terror of the Threshold. Such a menacing fear is nearly universal at some point among those starting out. This is where a trusted teacher or codified discipline is necessary and most beneficial.
In the beginning, exactly what is going on with yourself is not always easy to see clearly. You cannot see your own eyes without a mirror. A good teacher and a tested tried and true discipline can become mirrors reflecting the patterns and content of your mind so you can see them clearly. Once you recognize the patterns, you can manage or change them, let them go, or modify them so that they are no longer restrictive or limiting.
When the moment and opportunity comes that you find a practice or discipline that promotes and nurtures harmony within you, it behooves you to focus your energy and attention, and to formalize your practice. If you are gaining clarity, keep going with it. Dedication to genuine expression is key. Read the teachings, attend the classes and speak with those further along in that specific path. Ask questions. Perform the disciplines, practices, and/or rituals.
This is how you follow the path you have chosen. As you deepen your practices and gain greater clarity, you will find that your awareness will telescope to give you understanding that is ever more inclusive and insightful.
I remember once having a conversation with an elderly Aunt. She was a lifelong fundamentalist Christian. Well into her nineties she was always in prayer, dedicated to her church and to service to the surrounding community. She was an avid gardener and grew the most wonderful flowers and vegetables. One day while sitting on the porch, she told me she felt that Jesus lived in her garden and in all living things. She was certain of it, in fact. Her expanded awareness was non-doctrinal and the product of years of contemplation and dedication to her chosen path. Nobody told her that. Nobody had to. After years of practice, she could just see the inclusiveness of Spirit in all things.
My Neighbor’s Experience
The neighbor and friend I mentioned at the start of this article went to his meditation retreat and did, indeed, return changed. He came back calmer, more loving and far more patient than he had previously been. Before long, he reported that his relationships with his wife and children were much improved and his ability to be fully present with his Ophthalmology patients had opened a new chapter in his professional life as his ability to embrace equanimity and calmly listen to others was radically improved. In this way, his worst fears when embarking upon the experience gave way, making an opening for his greatest benefit.
Change in this life is inevitable. My friend wisely precipitated a constructive change by taking the first, tentative steps to find his spiritual path. That was 20 years ago. I spoke with him briefly the other day as he was joyfully on his way home to attend an online Vipassana meditation session.
We may stumble along the way but our path will make itself known to us if we open ourselves to the possibilities of it. Once we are drawn forward, we realize that the path was seeking us the entire time. In our dedication to following our inner yearnings and paths, we are becoming our truest selves and can bring those unique expressions into the world. In so doing, we become of valuable and serviceable benefit to the world and to ourselves.
Paul Bowersox is a lifelong seeker, meditator, professional ghostwriter, and co-author of Seeing In the Dark: Claim Your Own Shamanic Power Now and In the Coming Age (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2009). His teachers have included Curanderos and line cooks, gardeners, Gurus, Shamans, and nature itself. Paul has written everything from cookbooks to YA fiction, with his primary writing focus being spirituality and awareness practice. His popular blog series Thought Cabinet can be found on social media. Paul has a degree in Biomedical Engineering from Purdue University and owns and runs, when he is not writing, a small manufacturing company, The Naturals, which makes twig wreaths and other curiosities for the floral and craft industries.
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