This is where it begins: The really satisfying, and really challenging, task of making the concepts something real and useful in your life. To gain your soul and spirit, you will have to bring lofty spiritual ideas and inspiration down into the world of your ordinary experience.
Gaining an understanding of the reality of spiritual life and its relevance to our day-to-day concerns is a vital and necessary first step. But the second, more consuming and embracing step is to bring this wisdom into the world through action. Words, and even noble emotion, will not suffice. It is in the labour of the body--its engagement with the world--that spiritual life will gradually find a way to blossom and vitalise us and all around.
Now this task truly is monumental, and as for most other significant undertakings, needs to be approached in a pragmatic way. So, much of ordinary commonsense can be applied to the process of inner unfoldment. These pages on practical spirituality will offer you a broad coverage of what needs to be done in general--from lifestyle to nutrition to friends. And at the same time they will deeply focus on the single most important key to success. That key, is, freeing the mind from unconscious blocks and distortions.
To begin with, consider the following metaphor which provides a useful image that can help place these tasks in perspective. In this image, the wind, or breeze, stands for the useful and good habits that we need to garden and cultivate. For instance, finding regular time for meditation and living a reasonably balanced lifestyle with not too many "wicked" vices. And in the image, unconscious blocks are characterised by anchors--heavy weights that slow, or halt, progress.
Picture a sailboat just off the coast of an island. It is just outside dangerous reefs and aiming to sail out to sea toward other lands. However, the skipper has a little problem. Although she's got a strong steady following breeze that should be scooting her craft along out and away from the reefs, her boat is barely inching forward. And more alarmingly, the tide has turned and is starting to take the boat back toward the reef! What's wrong?
Well, on closer inspection the skipper finds that,
unbeknownst to her, the anchors have all been dropped. No wonder the boat is going nowhere.
Now in this image, the nearby island represents this life that we live in while the boat and skipper are our body and heartmind. The coral reefs stand for the difficulties that are inherent in this level of existence and the changing tide bodes the passage of time--with old age, death and disease akin to being dragged back to the reefs. In the context of all this, the boat's following breeze is much like spiritual practice. Meditation, yoga, service, energy work and right living are all good and proper means to build up a head of psychic and psychological breeze towards spirit--the BREEZE. But, the anchors! Well, you probably have the idea by now, the anchors represent our unconscious mind and all the psychological gunk that gets in the way of our smooth sailing. And that gunk applies to smooth sailing toward the regular needs and desires of this life as well as the goal and wish for spiritual development.
In the metaphysical Kahuna system of the ancient Hawaiians, it was taught that human consciousness consisted of three parts--conscious, unconscious and superconscious. And most importantly, those wise sages said that the unconscious is the gatekeeper to, and guardian of, the superconscious. That is, to reach spirit, we necessarily have to plough through the forest of the unconscious.
So, back to the sailboat. The skipper being a wise lady, has her crew pull in the anchors, and, hoorah, the boat, thanks to its strong following trade wind, easily and smoothly glides forth out from the reefs and into the ocean on its way. The boat and crew are in harmony with their island home, the weather, the islands they may visit and the spirit of the sea.
This simple picture is really very powerful. It turns out that this metaphor appears to be the best model for how to actually progress spiritually. That is, although one can simply work at spiritual practices, the anchors of past conditioning ( early age, birth, pre-birth and even past life [if you believe in that] ) will inevitably distort the purest intents. A more reliable way forward is to include personal psychotherapy along with spiritual practice.
Classically all major spiritual disciplines tried to address this need to meet and align with the unconscious mind. For instance, in the raja yoga tradition, the first two steps of an eight-step formula to achieve spiritual realisation, consist of personal and social ethics. However, a major contribution of western civilisation to the great spiritual and metaphysical traditions is its insight into the unconscious mind. And more importantly, its understanding of how to support and evolve this level of mind through psychotherapy.
So, although the traditional approaches have much in their favour, it now appears that a more certain, powerful and direct way to work with this unconscious aspect of spiritual practice is through psychotherapy. From, many decades of experience, it is well established that years of solid effort are needed before a person can truly and adequately re-experience and develop her or his unconscious processes. Even the very best therapy can take five or more years of steady, methodical work to achieve useful results.
Thus, working with both traditional spiritual practices, such as meditation, and psychotherapy in parallel seems to be the best and steadiest way to proceed along the spiritual path. There are several contemporary traditions that generally embrace this understanding. For instance, the works of A. H. Almaas and much of current transpersonal psychology.
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