This article contains excerpts from Your Spiritual Journey—A guide to unfolding your divine self by Manisha Melwani
The spiritual journey is not a journey in time and place. It is a movement in consciousness. —Swami Chinmayananda
Your spiritual journey begins when you look for spiritual solutions to your real-world problems. Challenges in relationships, circumstances, health, or a desire to seek a greater fulfillment in life can lead you to the threshold of spirituality.
The spiritual journey is an inner journey to uncovering your innate divine Self. You grow in consciousness by evolving your thoughts, emotions and actions, keeping the spiritual vision of oneness in mind.
3 fundamental values of a spiritual seeker
Moral living is the discipline that lifts one onto the spiritual path.
A desire to improve yourself, gain inner peace and a balanced mind is a sign that you are ready to embark on your spiritual journey. If this is you, there are three values of life that you will find necessary to adopt and practice. They are truthfulness, noninjury, and self-control.
When your words and actions authentically reflect your thoughts and inner convictions, you practice truthfulness. This isn’t easy as our emotions and impulses often dictate our actions, and we compromise with our inner truth. When you remain true in spite of difficulties, delays, obstacles or criticism, you are living truthfulness.
Learning what, when, and how to speak is a skill to be cultivated. The ancient writings of the Bhagavad Gita give us three guidelines for expressing truth through our speech:
i. Speak the truth. Words should not cheat, delude, or confuse others. We must speak without fudging or withholding the facts. Half-truths or exaggerated facts are also untruths.
ii. Speak in a kind or pleasing manner. Words should be spoken with respect, clearly yet softly, so that they are pleasant to hear. Words should bring peace to others as well as to ourselves. When we know speaking the truth may hurt someone, we must express ourselves in a pleasant and kindly manner so as to not hurt the person any more than the truth will.
iii. Speak for the good of others. We must consider the well-being or good of others before speaking. This is because speaking the truth can sometimes do more harm than good. Read What is nobler than the truth?
Non-injury or ahimsa (Sanskrit) is not causing harm or hurt through one’s actions, words, or thoughts. Unexpressed negative thoughts, unkind words, and angry emotional reactions that are expressed physically, or even irritation and annoyance are all expressions of ahimsa. Read How to practice ahimsa in your daily life.
While ahimsa is commonly interpreted as not harming others by our speech and actions, it is actually a discipline for the mind. The principle in ahimsa is: In your mind, do not injure others.
Why the mind? All words and actions arise from the mind. If the mind is trained to uphold the principle of ahimsa, then the words and actions that emerge from it will be likewise.
Another reason why ahimsa is a discipline for the mind is that it cannot be perfectly practiced at the physical level. For example, we inadvertently breathe in living micro-organisms, step on insects as we walk, and harm plants or animals when we eat them.
And so, non-injury is the spirit that should guide our words and actions on our spiritual journey.
Excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures creates a dependency on outer things for our inner happiness. Dependency creates compulsive cravings and makes us slaves to our senses. It weakens us in body and mind. True freedom is built on intelligent self-restraint, says spiritual master, Swami Chinmayananda.
3 habits to cultivate on your spiritual journey
There are three habits that will support your growth on your spiritual journey: keeping spiritual company or satsang (Sanskrit), reflection, and choosing the Path of the Good over the Path of the Pleasant.
1. Spiritual company
You can be in satsang in many ways: When you congregate with others to worship the divine, sing devotional hymns, listen to spiritual discourses, and read from holy books, this is being in satsang.
If this is not your scene, then meeting with a friend or a few like-minded people to discuss spirituality and ways to promote your spiritual growth qualifies as satsang.
On your own, you can partake of satsang by reading spiritual books, magazines, and articles. You can listen to inspirational spiritual speakers or their recordings. The internet is overflowing with videos, audios, and online events that can provide a healthy dose of satsang.
Satsang instills your mind with higher ideals and noble thoughts. This helps develop your sense of discernment in life. It supports your ability to judge between what is right and wrong, good and bad, your ultimate goal and what is only a means toward it, or even a distraction. Satsang is a vital discipline that will help you grow in your spiritual journey.
Taking your mind to satsang is the first important step, but to keep up the learning and inspiration, you must bring the new ideas into your own life. Otherwise, satsang will provide only a temporary inspiration and not create any real change in you.
In reflection, you repeatedly churn over the concepts and teachings gained through satsang, doing your best to assimilate the ideas into your head and heart. This is how those life lessons will transform you.
Take a few minutes every morning before you start your daily duties to read something uplifting, inspirational, or requiring deep thought.
The morning is the best time for this because that’s when the mind is quiet and receptive. Whatever you think about at that time will sink into your subconscious mind and color your thoughts and actions throughout your day.
Try to get up a few minutes earlier to give yourself some private time for daily reflection.
3. Path of the Good and the Path of the Pleasant
You can support your new habits of satsang and reflection by making the right choices throughout the day. When meeting a situation, you can choose between the Path of the Good and the Path of the Pleasant.
The Path of the Good may be difficult, unpleasant, or inconvenient. It requires making a sacrifice now but brings you happiness in the long run. The Path of the Pleasant is the easy path. It is attractive and convenient and brings you instant gratification, but sorrow in the long run.
You can think of them as two paths on a hillside. The Path of the Pleasant is an easy, wide, and downhill path, lined with colorful flowers. Most travelers happily take this path, only to be frustrated to find that it ends at a dark and dreary cave. On the other hand, the Path of the Good is a narrow, uphill path that is rocky and challenging to climb. But the few, strong travelers who take it are rewarded by a spectacular view of the surroundings.
The Path of the Good is the path of spiritual evolution. It brings lasting peace and builds integrity of character. It is the consistent choice you must make on your spiritual journey. On the other hand, following the Path of the Pleasant brings immediate joy but weakens your resolve and keeps you attached to your body and worldly pleasures.
Do your duties with the right attitude to grow spiritually
There is a secret of action that you must know on your spiritual journey. It is how to perform your daily actions so that you can can convert them into a means to grow spiritually. It’s called karma yoga.
Karma simply means “action,” and yoga is a means to grow spiritually. Karma yoga is the art of doing the right actions with the right attitude.
What are the right actions?
From the lowest to the highest, there are three broad categories of actions: prohibited actions, desire-prompted actions, and obligatory duties.
1. Prohibited actions: These actions harm others physically or emotionally. Examples are lying, cheating, stealing, and killing to protect one’s own interests or for personal gain.
2. Desire-prompted actions: These are actions that we do for personal pleasure and entertainment such as indulging in our favorite foods, hobbies, traveling, watching sports, and so on.
Spiritual masters caution us to strictly avoid prohibited actions, and to thoughtfully and gradually reduce our desire-prompted actions. They are dangers and detours on our spiritual journey.
3. Obligatory duties: Obligatory duties are the right actions to do. Duties come to us as part and parcel of our roles and relationships with others such as being a parent, an employer or employee, resident in a community, or citizen of a nation.
Duties are done to benefit others or for the common good of all. They advance our spiritual growth if they are done with the right attitude.
In Karma yoga we do our duties without attachment—neither to the work nor to the anticipated results.
Attachment to the work means doing it with a sense of ego and allowing what we do and how we do it to be driven by our personal likes and dislikes.
Attachment to the anticipated results is an insistence that we get the results that you want. When practicing karma yoga, we give up the anxiety for the results of our actions.
Think of it as an altar at which you mentally offer your actions.
Your motivating factor could be the people you serve, the service you provide, or a cause that you work for.
Having an altar of dedication that you love makes you feel that the work itself is your reward. No task feels like a burden or inconvenience no matter how small or routine it may be. Then, no matter what results come, you accept them readily with an even mind.
In summary, here are the principles of karma yoga:
- Always do your duties
- Do them readily, cheerfully, and to the best of your ability.
- Work without attachment. This means working without ego, personal likes and dislikes, and insistence on any particular results.
- Dedicate your actions to a higher altar, and stay focused on the work at hand.
- No matter what results you get, accept them graciously without complaint.
Working in this way will bring you happiness in your day-to-day life and efficiency in action. Importantly, it will help you grow in your spiritual journey.
Cultivate your heart through the path of devotion
Developing your heart is an integral discipline on your spiritual journey. The Path of Devotion or Bhakti yoga is the discipline of maintaining a steady stream of love-filled thoughts toward the supreme cause of creation or, for simplicity, I’ll use ‘God’.
Practicing devotion reduces the restlessness of the mind and purifies it. This happens because the loving remembrance of God uplifts the mind and removes negative thoughts and emotions.
If this path appeals to you, your goal would be to cultivate an unflinching faith in, and an intense longing for God. Love for God has to be cultivated through some special means. All religions teach various methods, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned from the Hindu epic poem the Ramayana.
The following techniques are not unique to Hinduism, and you’ll be able to find similar ideas in other faiths.
- Be in the company of noble souls.
- Listen to the stories of God.
- Humbly serve your true guru.
- Sing the praises of God with no selfish motive.
- Chant the holy name of God with unwavering faith.
- Control the senses and live a clean, chaste life.
- See God in all.
- Be content in life and never point out the faults of others.
- Be honest and straightforward in your dealings with others and have firm faith in God at all times.
Meditate and grow in your spiritual journey
Meditation is a core practice that will help you grow in your spiritual journey. Here are a few easy-to-follow steps:
Seat and posture: Make a relatively comfortable seat for your practice; one that is not too soft or too hard. A folded blanket or cushion on the floor or a chair works well.
Sit with your head, neck and back in a straight line. Gently close your eyes and keep your body relaxed but very still. The body and mind are interconnected, and you will find that when you keep your body still, the mind becomes still.
Close your eyes and gently turn your inner gaze to the tip of your nose without straining your eyes in any way.
Inner resolve: Mentally give up all your roles and concerns and see yourself solely as a seeker of peace or truth. Resolve that you will keep your body very still and not allow anything to distract your attention. Tell yourself that there is nothing more important right now than your meditation practice.
Breathing: Next, begin by bringing your attention to your breathing. Take slow deep breaths, mentally watching the incoming and outgoing breaths.
As soon as your mind starts wandering, gently bring your attention back to your breath and still body. Keep doing this over and over again.
Be the observer: As you relax your body, you will notice that your mind is much quieter. When this happens, there is a tendency to verbalize the experience—“Oh wow, my mind is so quiet,” “This feels good,” or “I love this silence.”
These types of thoughts will disturb the peace that you have just created. Stay silent and simply identify as being the observer of the thoughts.
When you shift the focus to yourself, the thoughts rise up and die away on their own.
Mentally chant: If this observing is difficult, mentally repeat a chant, mantra or a divine name from any faith. For instance, you could chant Om or Amen. Or if you prefer, you could use words such as peace, relax, or release.
Synchronize your chosen word with your breathing. For example, if you are using “Om,” breathe in and say “O . . .”; breathe out and say “mmm.” Use the other words in the same way: “A-men,” “pe-eace,” “re-lax,” and “re-lease.” Gradually increase the space between the chants.
Stay with the silence: Finally, taper off the mental chanting so there is only silence. Keep your mind there as long as you can. Strive to increase the depth of your silence. It will increase as you practice, until staying there will become effortless. Finally, this is when you will “be” in meditation.
Duration: When you first start your meditation practice, you can sit down for about five to ten minutes. You can then gradually build up your practice to about thirty minutes per day. Your goal is not to lengthen the time of your practice but to increase the depth of silence in the mind.
Frequency Resolve to sit for meditation daily. If you can’t manage this, then start with just the weekends, then three times a week, then five times, and finally, every day. Arrange your schedule around this important discipline. Regularity is the key to your success.
Don’t let the difficulty in quieting your mind discourage you or make you give up. Consciously taking the mind away from its usual concerns even for a few minutes can help recharge and revitalize it. Meditation is a must on your spiritual journey
No real pitfalls on your spiritual journey
Growing spiritually is hard work and requires self-discipline and often sacrificing things that you enjoy. But it’s well worth the time and energy because the inner gains far outweigh any outer pleasures, successes and gains. There are many rewards along the way…
Conflicts within your own mind will taper off as you gain more clarity and ability to stay centered on your values and priorities. Things that used to bother you won’t disturb you as much. It’ll become easier to let things go and move on.
Positive qualities that lie within you will begin to blossom. Your concentration will be enhanced, and with that, a greater ability to focus on achieving your everyday goals. You’ll depend less on things, circumstances, and people for your sense of well-being.
In short, you’ll become happier and more peaceful in life..
When you embark on your spiritual journey, you are surely on the right path. In fact, there are no real pitfalls. Every attempt brings you closer to unfolding the beauty of your divine self.
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