Choosing the Right Spiritual Path

So long as we believe a spiritual path and practice is necessary, then a spiritual path and practice will be necessary. Thus, for most of us – certainly for me – it is essential to find something that is helpfully resonant and clarifying. It will undo itself in time – and we will see the silliness of ever believing there was anything to do or anywhere to go (in a spiritual sense, a religious sense) – but still. Until we are there, we are here, and so it is here to which we give attention.

What is the right path? It is a question of resonance. It is like falling in love: there is an element of mystery to it. It will challenge you, succor you, and inspire you. You will know, and you will also resist knowing, so some discernment is called for. We have to be intelligent and willing; we have to roll with the bumps. We have to be mature: we can’t be like kids spitting out the kale because it doesn’t taste like ice cream. The path arises – appears – and so we walk it, and give attention to our walking.

At some point, the helpfulness (or lack thereof) of the chosen path will be clear. We will perceive the way in which it is meeting your perceived needs: to be loved, to be at peace, to live a meaningful and productive life, and so forth. Often at that point, the path will no longer be perfect. Its twists and turns and thorns will be obvious, perhaps frustratingly so. But it’s okay. At that point, we are no longer in the honeymoon phase but the marriage. We are ready to make the commitment. It doesn’t have to be perfect because we are ready to learn about the love that transcends the shallow level of ideals (happy feelings, preferential outcomes, etc.).

How long does all this take? This finding the path, and walking the path, and learning whether it is a helpful path, and committing to the path? It depends. There may be a lot of stops and starts. We may go quite far along one trail before discovering a truer one. For me, there were several serious relationships before A Course in Miracles arrived and asked for my attention. All of those prior relationships were helpful in their way, until they weren’t. Seeing this, I gave my attention elsewhere. I was able to say “yes” to A Course in Miracles. It was on that path that I saw at last there is no path, and was able at last to rest in the natural grace of what is.

There is a real risk that we will find ourselves wanting to move on from this or that path not because it no longer serves but because it is serving us too well. Before awakening becomes fluid and peaceful it is often rocky and challenging: it brings us into deep and sustained contact with all aspects of the self, not just those that we like to share publicly. So again, discernment is needed. Am I moving on because the going has gotten too hard? Or am I genuinely being called to this new path?

None of these questions are easy, and none of them can be answered by anyone else but ourselves. Friends and fellow travelers abound but they can’t walk that lonesome valley for us. It is helpful to see and accept this, and to become responsible for it.

There is no such thing as an objectively right way to awaken from the dream of separation. There are subjectively right ways, but not objectively right ways. It is imperative to give attention to our own experience, to be grateful for those who travel with us – briefly or otherwise, intimately or otherwise – and to be as patient and nonjudgmental as possible with all our brothers and sisters. Awakening to oneness is really a matter of becoming responsible for awakening – our own, not everyone else’s.

I want everyone to be happy in a natural and serious way. I want everyone to feel creatively united to everyone else. Those are just words, and words are always a pale substitute for love, but we have to try. Loneliness and guilt, fear and anger, emptiness and regret are not inevitable. It is possible to leave their pernicious effects behind, and to dwell in a calm and quiet gracefulness. To that end, sustained and gentle attention given to the particular form of our spiritual search is always helpful. The answer wants to be found: even now it whispers our shared and precious name.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Sean Reagan February 26, 2015, 10:50 am

    This post arose in response to a question a reader had about moving on from A Course in Miracles to another path. It is a good and important question, and never far from my mind. What works? What is most helpful? Are we moving on because a given path is too hard or too challenging? Or is there really a better (read: more helpful) option for us? What does it mean to be spiritually mature (such a silly phrase!)? And so forth.

    I am just thinking out loud here . . . I am a student of ACIM because that is where I was when the light went on and – for all its problems, which are legion – the course remains for me the most viable and resonant language with which to talk about awakening.

    I can’t say enough that the specific path (ACIM, Catholicism, Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, etc.) is really irrelevant – what counts is our presence on it, our full and unconditional presence upon it. Unconditional presence, in this instance, is tantamount to attention. The gift of our attention will always lead us to the next insight, until we reach a space in which insight is no longer necessary. The external path always dissolves.

    But until then, make use of the path – walk it, study it, share it, play on it. There is no wrong way to learn that there is nothing to learn.

  • sean L February 26, 2015, 11:30 am

    welcome back Sean ive missed you

  • Annie February 27, 2015, 11:08 am

  • Eric March 8, 2015, 12:18 pm

    Hi Sean,

    Interesting that I came upon this. I’ve been questioning my relationship to ACIM, but I am not sure if it is ACIM itself that I am questioning. I think it has a lot to do with what surrounds it ( a lot of “teachers” towing the line, repeating what is popular in many course circles ) that is kind of turning me away from ACIM a little bit.

    There seems to be an overabundance of negating life at the relative level for the idea that one is somehow enlightened or that it is spiritual wisdom, because they simply accept something they read in a book about the world being an illusion.

    The irony I find in this, is all of the effort using “non-existent” pencils, books, blogs, seminars, etc. for “non-existent” people to convey to other “non-existent” people this idea.

    I’m reminded of this Youtube cartoon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KXidr0z1RY

    For me, this negation is but a step in the spiritual path, but it seems to be a prevalent idea that this is not a step, but the ends, and with it comes a lot of spiritual pretending, with a neo-advaitic, spiritual bypassing attitude.

    I don’t feel that I am choosing a different spiritual path, but I am setting aside reading ACIM for now. I am currently reading some books by Sri Aurobindo. I wouldn’t call this my new path, but I think that what he is saying is where I am at right at the moment. Though he isn’t an easy read.

    Of course there is my “spiritual” practice of Qigong and meditation/prayer.

    Good to see you’re still writing. You’re one of the few students/teachers of the course I enjoy reading.

    Eric

    • Sean Reagan March 10, 2015, 3:55 pm

      Hi Eric,

      It’s great to hear from you. Thank you for writing. Every now and then I sit down to write to you but it feels like starting a Pauline epistle and I end up staring out the window.

      Really important question: has your baby been born yet?

      Okay . . .

      That video was hilarious, and dead on to the point of discomfort. I have been that pain-in-the-ass on more than one occasion, unfortunately. I showed it to Chrisoula and we got a laugh. About three months after I fell seriously into ACIM I started talking the talk and it was infuriating for her.

      So, you know, I am learning but slowly . . .

      I, too, am feeling somewhat at odds with ACIM. I think it is a lovely expression of nonduality, and a well-organized method by which to begin to see what is true and what is not. But I can’t escape the sense that it is simply a map to awareness, and that once you arrive at that place, then you move on. Done with the map, done with the compass, as Emily Dickinson said.

      I think there is a sense in which we learn the language of something – ACIM, nonduality – and assume that we’ve got it. It seems to me that a lot of the neo-advaitists are onto it, but there is the curious issue of needing to teach it. And the teaching so often feels like a projection – the one who gets it vs. the one who does not – which is, as Tara Singh pointed out over and over – a form of lovelessness too many teachers are practiced in.

      I have been writing lately that the luminosity of life is most visible at life’s most ordinary – walking the dog, making pancakes for the kids, playing guitar with friends. I think the expression of our living matters – not because it matters in the ultimate or absolute sense – but because it is a reflection of the divinity/peace/love inherent in life. It is possible to just be simply quietly happy.

      I don’t mean to preach to you, of course. You have been tracking this nonduality/ACIM thing longer than I have. You have always been a big help to me.

      I have been reading a lot of naturalists and Husserlians lately. I realize that one of the benefits of my crazy reading habits is that I see similar insights expressed in many many contexts. After a while, nonduality and awareness/attention stop seeming magical or even spiritual and just sort of natural. The language we use to share and explore them shifts, but that’s just a question of flavor.

      I really admire Sri Aurobindo but he is a crazy intense read. More and more I am simply in a space John Sherman would probably recognize: giving attention, being aware, not making a huge deal of it. It works. Well, for now it does.

      Again, it is wonderful to hear from you. I know speaking by phone is not feasible, but if that ever changes, let me know. The whole “brother” thing gets used too much, but I feel a real kinships with you in terms of these questions/explorations.

      I hope you and your wife are well and, if you have a daughter(yes? daughter?), then I hope she is well, too.

      Thanks again, Eric.

      Sean

  • Eric March 18, 2015, 9:37 am

    Hi Sean,
    I wish I had more time to write, but my world right now is revolving around my little daughter. We are all doing well. Her name is Hana, which means flower in Japanese. She is definitely my little flower.

    When I look into her eyes, I get the sense that I am looking into the eyes of who will be my greatest teacher yet. It also brings a sense of just how true the words are when the course says that it is simply a beginning and not an end. ​Sri Aurobindo is back on the bookshelf for now, It just simply takes too much energy and concentration to read him, for which I have neither at the moment.

    Yeah, I like that cartoon, It’s entertaining, but it is also very on point. It’s funny to speak with someone at this level, because they swear that they “get it” and you’re just stuck in the dream of duality. Well sometimes, it’s irritating, but for the most part, amusing. It’s kind of like a child telling an adult, whats what, with the adult knowing in the back of their mind that they have been there and done that.

    Maybe someday we will somehow get together, break out the acoustic guitars and jam. 🙂 Until then, take care and keep on writing.

    Eric

    • Sean Reagan March 18, 2015, 10:58 am

      Congratulations, Eric. I’m so happy to hear that! For a long time I wanted to be a priest or a monk and never really understood why it didn’t happen that way. When my kids were born, I realized why it had happened that way. They are amazing teachers – from day one and onward. She is a lucky little girl to have such a thoughtful & loving father as yourself. What a gift in all ways!

      Yes, I will keep writing, and one day we will meet and play some music and talk about whatever needs talking about. In the interim, peace and love right back to you!

      ~ Sean

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