I began my spiritual path somewhat reluctantly. In fact I always joke that I got bitch-slapped into it by the universe. Five years ago I had a particularly messy break up, followed by a period of partying that added more chaos and confusion into my life but did nothing to ease the pain. Then I had a health scare and had to have an operation. When I came to from the operation (admittedly whilst high on morphine) I decided it was time I shook my life up, in a healthy way. My goal was to feel happier and find some kind of inner peace that I was desperately lacking.
I started off with self-help books and seminars and meditation. I began the painful process of unravelling my ego and understanding how and why I had created a reality that I didn't want in many areas of my life. I started to take responsibility and to change. It has been, and continues to be, a difficult and often painful process which has required immense internal work. However as I have healed internally my life has healed and improved externally. Don't get me wrong, life is far from perfect. In fact, it is perfectly imperfect with continual new challenges that force me to change and grow. But now I embrace the challenges and no longer feel like I am trying to swim against a stream and perhaps as a result I am happier than I have ever been.
Since embarking on my journey I have read a wide range of literature from different spiritual leaders and schools of thought. I have attended lectures and courses led by different organisations. I am curious by nature and love to learn from different sources and to garner new perspectives. I have met some fascinating and frankly bonkers people along the path, some of whom have become life long friends. I have also had some truly mystical, inexplicable experiences that have cemented my faith that there is so much more to our world and our existences than first meets the eye and then we will probably ever really know. But it hasn't all been peace and love. As I have navigated my own path I have also noted the dark side of spirituality and witnessed first hand how seeking such a path can actually have a negative impact upon the spiritual seeker. Below is a summary of just a few of the lessons I have learnt on my path. As always, as a work in progress, I am sure there will be many more lessons as my journey continues.
1) My way or the highway. Many spiritual organisations can be absolutely zealous that their particular method/spiritual path is the only way or the best way. Frankly this is bullshit. As the saying goes there are several different ways to skin a cat and the same applies to the path of enlightenment - there are several different ways and journeys for each person. What works for one person doesn't work for another and vice versa. And a truly spiritual person or organisation will not pressure or coerce anyone into committing to their path. Frankly some of the happiest and most enlightened people I know are those who learn from numerous sources and use a variety of different teachings and tools on their path.
2) Beware the spiritual sheep. Similar to the my way or the highway crew there are people on a spiritual path who are zealous, almost fanatical in their beliefs. They have found their guru, their church, their group, whatever it is and they simply can't help but bang on about it to all and sundry. They are easy to spot as they tend to repeat verbatim and almost robotically what their teacher/preacher/guru espouses. Interestingly I have found that the spiritual sheep are the people who change the least, whose lives improve the least and who contribute the least to wider society. They are normally too busy preaching. Parallels can even be drawn between spiritual sheep and religious zealots. Steer clear and be wary of becoming one yourself.
3) Pedestals are dangerous. It is easy through gratitude and excitement to place a spiritual leader, mentor or teacher on a pedestal. They've helped you. You are grateful. You feel that they hold the key to your happiness and answers to your problems. Don't do it. It is unfair, unhealthy and dangerous. If they are less than honourable (and yes it happens, even with in spirituality) then they could take advantage of you. And even if honourable and enlightened, they are people just like the rest of us. They will make mistakes, say or do the 'wrong' thing and will come tumbling down off the pedestal. This could then negate the valuable lessons you have learnt from them and impact upon your future interaction which wouldn't be the case if you hadn't put them on a pedestal in the first place. If you want to put anyone on a pedestal put yourself up there. You are the most important person in your life and you are equipped to be the creator of your own life. All the people on the path are simply there to assist you to be able to be your own guru.
4) Things do not change. We change. Life through our own distorted lens can seem unfair at times. It can seem that some people experience great miracles and blessings in their lives whereas others don't. But we only see half the picture. We often have no idea of the internal struggles and journeys that other people go on and what was truly going on behind the scenes and internally for their external lives to change for the better. We all have desires and aspirations, professional and personal. But if we don't change internally we cannot receive what is meant for us. Even if we did miraculously receive it, it is likely that it would all go a bit tits up because without internal change we wouldn't be best placed to be able to handle our heart's desires. Getting the right thing at the wrong time can end in tears. They say be careful what you wish for. I say stop wishing for things and start working. On yourself. And your life WILL change for the better at the right time.
5) Balance is key. All the navel gazing and hard work that comes with a spiritual path can lead to a very serious demeanour. But if you are in it for long haul (and I think that anyone that commits to leading a truly spiritual life needs to accept that it is a life long journey) then that is a long time. It is as important to have fun, be silly, do the things that make you happy - they may not be changing the world, they may not be changing your life or your character in that moment but don't let that detract from their importance in providing much needed balance in your life.
6)Sickly sweet does not necessarily equate to being spiritual. I always scratch my head at the people who embark upon a spiritual path and feel they have to be sickly sweet to all and sundry to prove how spiritual they are. I'm not saying that a kind good mannered attitude isn't a preferred modus operandi and call me a grumpy stubborn cow (many have) but I think there is a degree of dis-ingenuity that comes with affected sweetness. Syrupy sweetness does not make you a better or more spiritual person if you aren't changing the specific things that you need to for your own personal growth.
7) Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. I don't think being spiritual means losing your personality and the essence of what makes you the unique person you are. I have seen too many people change the essence of themselves in a bad way, to fit in with what they think is the spiritual version of themselves only to then be miserable. Become a better version of yourself sure, but hold onto who you are.
8) Things often get worse before they get better. True spirituality, in my humble view, is not about a quick fix or feeling good the whole time. It involves taking a hard, often painful look at oneself and deep internal change. My experience has been that things often get harder before they get better and that as you uncover the layers of spiritual garbage in your life a whole heap of other crap gets brought to the surface. This is painful and far from the zen state that we all seek but by working through it you will find a release from the past and a form of tranquility.