I'm sure many of us question our spiritual path at times. In spite of much effort there isn't always that much to show for. Or so it seems. In times of doubt, I've had to go back in time to the moment I had my own personal "revelation"which lead to a lot of research into esotericism and soul searching. The revelation was just an insight, nothing very spectacular. I recently watched some episodes of the iconic TV series "Kung Fu" from 1973, the one that made me cry buckets because the perfect use of the body and the disciplined mind in synergy was something that I really wanted for myself. I wanted to do Kung Fu but knew my back problem wouldn't allow it. Well, in the end I did it anyway; I did a first part and received the first belt. It was incredibly hard work, more than I was physically capable of, and it cured my desire for more. I got it out of my system - fortunately, because I wouldn't have been able to go onto the next stage because of my back problem being more obviously in the way.
So now I have revisited the TV series, but this time it just made me sad that my life is far removed from the ideals presented there. Rocked by emotions, temper and judgmental thought, and at the mercy of physical ailments I am... while desperately trying to raise the level of chi and trying to fit in some creative work into the day, I become aware of all the strife involved in the pursuits of a better life or way of being. Illness can force you onto your knees, as managing yourself and your attitudes becomes oh so much harder. It's easy enough to be positive and generous towards life and other beings when you're well and strong. Doubt about yourself and others creep in more easily when you're weak and tired. There are many challenges to face on a daily basis. There is very little time for all the things I should do in order to keep fit, to balance the energy level, to raise chi and to purify the mind through meditation practice, work with emotions, mindfulness, and simply talking sense to myself. Of course, if you believe in reincarnation then you will have faith that this was meant to be, that these collectively hard times are helping you grow as well. As someone recently comforted me, it isn't the weakest students that get the hardest lessons..
Ironically, the challenges are sometimes quite the opposite to what we think they are supposed to be. For instance, positive thinking is not an end in itself, because that would just be a way of denying the negative that is intrinsic to a polarised attitude. You can't become an unconditionally loving person just by willing it, because you will be a fake and you will simply be suppressing negative tendencies. Sooner or later it will become apparent. The process is much trickier, as you must gradually work your way through the inner bullshit and find a way out of false or fake attitudes. Meanwhile, trying not to be so hard on yourself as you recognize that a judgemental attitude towards the self is just as detrimental as it is towards others. Does this sound familiar? Then you are no doubt a spiritual person. You're such a person because you care about these things. You want to get it right. And you may not even know exactly why. Perhaps you had some deep mystical experience that helped you in this direction, maybe not. It's not important. What matters is the way you feel about the purpose of your life when you are being really honest.
There are people who engage in spiritual or religious activities for a while but then turn their back on them in disillusionment. If you don't feel the calling of spirit that persists through adversity and set backs, then it's not your path. Sometimes I wish I could turn my back on all of it, as it creates much trouble in my life! Sometimes I think I have actually done just that, because momentarily I don't feel the compulsion to bring spirituality into something I'm doing or working on. I wonder though if maybe it's a healthy way of being, as not only do you need to give yourself some respite, but you also need to take stock of life on a practical level and all the elements that make up our day-to-day reality. Sometimes a bit of "normality" can be very restful. But it may also allow you to look at spirituality in a new light, and discover how it's intrinsic to all these elements and that your compulsive attention is not always required. If spirituality is your path, the spirituality will be there regardless of your efforts to engage in it. I think in life we need a balance between ordinary life and the grand spiritual ideals, otherwise we might become obsessed and out of sync with the way things really are. The fact that someone is doing meditation three hours a day is no guarantee that their life is any more spiritual than that of someone who just lives life mindfully regardless what comes along.
Then, to finish this off, there is the issue of mystical experiences. Remember, that as long as they have a beginning and an end, they are part of illusory reality. Some people have them, others don't. I don't think that is a measure of spiritual success. I think it just depends what kind of life you have chosen to live (since I believe there is a path of destiny). I know that people who seem genuinely psychic can seem intimidating, as if they have gained some great spiritual wisdom that you are not ready for yet. But this is just an assumption on your part, and may not be true at all. Being psychic can be just as much a challenge to deal with as anything else in life. It's easy enough to beat yourself up because you don't have them like some other people, or allow yourself to feel inferior. Well, maybe that's your spiritual challenge!
Artwork: "Forgotten Heart", digital abstract photograph, all rights reserved 2011.