“Spiritual” is one of those words that causes a reaction.
For years it made me almost wince, thanks to my upbringing by a very religious mother. Many associate the word with religion, but for no good reason. For me, the concept of “being spiritual” has nothing to do with religion, or anything others say or do. This is the path that leads me within. This is about being real and authentic.
Here are a 10 steps I recognise from my own path, which has of course been informed by studying masters before me. Everyone walks their own path so, just consider this a light-hearted insight into some of the key elements I recall from my ever continuing quest.
- Recognise what the spiritual path is (and is not)
Spirituality is to acquaint yourself with your spirit, the animating force within that makes you, you. It is simply about BEING REAL. It is that simple. It has nothing to do with religion. In fact, you could argue that it is the opposite to some religions, in that some belief systems endorse following a pre-existing path, whereas spirituality by my definition is to follow a wholly unique path that leads you within. Spirituality is about your truth, and as the late philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti famously said: “Truth is a pathless land”.
- Spend time alone
Although we may pretend otherwise, our journey through life is a personal and individual one. Time spent with friends and family is precious and spiritual group experiences can be very powerful. But balancing this with time alone allows us to gain deeper self-awareness. Space and stillness comes from being alone, and it is only within the space that we create for ourselves can we emerge from the shadows we have been hiding. An imbalance of time spent in company can lead to a lack of self-knowledge, and a reliance on others that leaves us fragile and lonely when we step our of the social matrix. Time alone can acquaint us with a sense of self that is not generated by the opinions or perception of others: an authentic perception.
- Become aware of the conditioned programmes in your mind
Do you know what programmes are mostly deeply wired into your consciousness? Unless you spent your childhood living in isolation from the world, you have been conditioned. Don’t worry about this. We are creatures of conditioning and we live in a society that bombards us.
Freedom comes through the awareness of your conditioning, from where you can choose whether a programme serves you or does not. Some of the programmes I have noticed replaying in my consciousness over and over are the fear of not being good enough, the desire for security (possessions, house, money etc), the need for certainty and scientific facts, and the need to look/act a certain way.
Just remember, becoming aware of them is the key. You can not strike off the chains that bind you if you do not know where they are. (NB: a tribe called the Kogi do actually raise certain children in isolation from the world so that when they emerge at the age of 18, they are free from conditioning and can see the world how it really is. Watch the documentary, Aluna. It is amazing.)
- Become aware of attachments and learn the Middle Way
As Siddhartha Gautama (aka, the Buddha) taught, suffering is borne of attachment. His theory goes that if you can rid yourself of attachment, you will end your suffering. I think he was onto something. To what do you cling? What do you crave? This is not about self-judgement. I assume you, like me have a strong attachment to all, or some of these things: coffee, intimacy, wine, surfing, chocolate, fun, hugs, great conversation, cheese, pats on the back, massage. No one is suggesting that the spiritual path must involve removing such pleasures from our life.
Siddartha Gautama taught one concept that is often forgotten, but which I believe really sums him up: The Middle Way. To walk the Middle Way requires one quality that will keep on coming up on everyones path to full potential: AWARENESS. We need this awareness to walk along the middle path, in a culture that is so extreme, and prone to ignoring the vast middle ground in favour of polarities and black and white simplifications.
By gaining awareness of what we are attached to, we can continue to liberate our minds, make conscious choices and walk out of the fog of the unaware life.
- Change what you feed your consciousness
When you start to make conscious choices, and gain awareness of conditioning and attachments, you will feel the desire to cultivate the quality of your consciousness. “You are what you eat” is the perfect way to look at your consumption of all things your mind feeds on. The equivalent of gorging on super sized slurpees, candy floss, and deep fried mars bars is to gorge your mind with gossip, tabloid newspapers, and reality TV shows.
Sitting down for a few hours to watch reality TV and the news, interspersed with adverts seems akin to (pardon the image), allowing offensive strangers to defecate in your consciousness. There is an abundance of mind-expanding, consciousness raising documentaries, movies, books, people, talks out there, and as lucky beneficiaries of the internet, we can access it all! Taking responsibility for what enters your consciousness is a vital step on the path to freedom.
- Develop your focus and powers of attention through mindfulness and meditation
If you have not started already, it’s a great idea to begin a meditation practice. Jon has written a great simple guide to how you can begin a practice here and I have written about why people meditate here. If you want more info just ask. I’ll keep this very simple. It works.
Science says it works. The ancient dudes say it works. Everyone says it works. Meditation has stuck around for thousands of years because it works.
There is no possible escape from the conclusion that meditation works, in that it produces positive affects for our minds and bodies.
There are countless studies that have proven the mental and physical health benefits. This is no longer a “maybe”, or a “might” or a “it works for him, but I’m different”.
If you are in denial, you are running away from the truth. I’m giving you a 100%, iron-clad, “I’ll bet my house on it”, guarantee that if you stick with it, it works.
I know its hard! I know your mind keeps on racing. I know there are a million things you think are a better way to spend you time. But you are wrong on that last one.
Think about it. There is a war going on for your attention, and in this battle your attention span takes a battering. It is pulled this way and that by a million distractions. All those thoughts we have. The 90,000 a day. What % do you choose? What % serve you well? What % did you have yesterday? About half.
Obviously technology and screens are not going away, so we have to evolve and develop the ability to thrive and use technology rather than be used by it. I believe it is up to us to step up and proactively beef up our powers of focus and concentration. Mindfulness and meditation is the best way to do this. Look out for upcoming articles about blending meditation and technology.
- Develop your own rituals
Rituals have played an important part in human evolution. Our society seems to be quite light on rituals but we all have the choice to bring whatever we want into our personal lives. I have a friend who when the clock hits 11.11, will stop and reflect on someone in his life he appreciates. Simple and beautiful. The ritual of pausing to draw our attention inward before eating is another one we can reclaim or borrow from religion. The pre-meal prayer is a chance to reflect and be grateful for what we have.
I am particularly fond of early morning and evening rituals, and I have found that the times in my life that I have felt most in flow, have been when I have been dedicated to my early morning meditation and movement ritual and my evening journaling and reflection rituals. Rituals serve to focus our attention on what serves us, and what we place our attention on, is what we attract into our lives. Read more about this concept here.
- Meditate on your death
I know this sounds morbid and depressing, but let me explain how this practice can be liberating and lead to greater joy and flow in your life. Dying is living. Living is dying. The duality of life, the Yin and the Yang. You can’t have one without the other. Death is the only certainty in our life, and in a world of uncertainty, the infallible certainty of our coming death is a wonderfully solid fact from which we can decide how we wish to live.
It can be a launchpad to our greatness. When we learn to embrace death we can get busy with living. Do you choose to put off for later what you know deep down you should be building your life around now? Well my friend, death is just around the corner, so seize the day! Do it now.
How to meditate on death? I will go into this in detail in another post, but for now just think about it from the perspective I mention. In a culture that fears death, puts makeup on dead people and inserts silicon bags into calves, buttocks and boobs in a futile effort to stop time, this is a radical perspective and one that can lead you to great freedom.
- Spend time in nature
Take yourself to forests, rivers, streams, mountains. Sit by or in the ocean. Listen. Really listen.
Tune in to the energetic frequency of nature. Compare the energy you feel in the middle of a city in rush hour to the energy you feel standing amidst ancient trees deep in a forest. What is that energetic difference? The same difference between a dolphin imprisoned in a pool and a dolphin swimming free and wild. The earth gives of an electro magnetic frequency and tuning into nature is a powerful way to re-acquaint yourself with the joyous, unbound nature within you.
Also, in nature you can find silence, and from silence emerges wisdom.. wisdom from within. I believe that in nature is all the wisdom we need to live our true potential. Be with the trees, observe the ants, feel the change in seasons and let the lessons be learned.
Now Go Forth and Be Real
So there you have it. 10 steps to take, that can be part of your spiritual path. I would love to hear about other steps or your opinions on this. You will notice there is a lot here about AWARENESS. The word keeps coming up, as awareness is essentially the gateway to enlightenment. The light of awareness is what allows you to consciously choose and decide your path.
As an action step, you could look to see what steps you have already taken and which steps you would like to add to your life. If you would like a deeper insight into any of these steps, please just comment below or consider joining our Flowstate Collective community, opening next year (waiting list is growing and full of awesome people!).