How Can I Begin My Spiritual Path?
ON THE PATH
One of the most essential spiritual lessons we can learn is how to differentiate between the situations we actually experience and our mental commentary about those experiences.
The thoughts about a situation and the situation itself are sometimes difficult to separate; we see them as one and the same. Most of us do not even realize that there is a distinction. Or maybe we do but we don’t question it.
During this past year of uncertainty, our internal self-talk may tell us how awful and unacceptable the situation is, which can trigger anger, depression and even fear.
Many of us have experienced the conversations in our heads about how bad it is now and how bad it may become as we sort out and begin to truly experience the repercussions of the pandemic. We may question when the economy will turn around, whether we or a family member will become ill, when we’ll get vaccinated and a whole host of other worries.
If your mind is telling you it’s going to get worse, your mind already believes it’s worse.
So what do we do?
First, we can start by practicing becoming aware of the difference between the situation and the internal commentary of the situation at hand in every circumstance of our life.
Notice. When you feel unhappy or worried and your mind goes into commentary about it, notice your internal self-talk as well as the conversations you are having with others. As an experiment, ask yourself how you would envision this situation playing out if no one around you (including yourself) added any unnecessary thoughts or interpretations.
This is actually the first step of your path to spiritual awakening: noticing.
What you may notice is that the commentary is negative. The name for it is actually negativity bias. The mind loves to latch onto a difficult situation so it can begin telling you a story about it.
To interrupt this story, ask yourself, “How can I handle this situation without unnecessary thought?”
Many of us don’t realize our thoughts are making us unhappy, because we never learn how to differentiate between our circumstances and our internal narrative. Some of us stay stuck in this narrative for years or even our entire lives. It’s hard to live with a mind that continually creates unhappy or unpleasant narratives.
What if instead we take a different approach?
What if we refrain from interpretation?
What if we refrain from judging a situation good or bad?
You may begin to notice that when you stop long enough to ask these questions, it automatically brings you back to the present moment.
The practice of noticing, pausing, and refraining from the internal dialog actually leads you to experience the present moment. As you practice more and more, you may notice that adding that internal dialog is normally an unconscious process of your mind. Without it, there’s nothing else. You’ve dropped the narrative and all you’re left with is the bare present moment.
You may realize that you’ve been habitually carrying around the weight of unconscious and reactive thinking while your mind created unhappy narratives. These stories then reflected back to you in the form of negative emotions. For some of us, when we notice this, we may look back on certain situations or events from our past and actually begin to realize that we have created a narrative around a certain situation that might not even be the reality of what actually happened.
THE PRACTICE OF MEDITATION
Another great practice to help you notice your internal dialog and how it contributes to the choices and decisions you make is through the practice of meditation.
Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not about trying not to think. Instead, the main objective of meditation is to notice that you are thinking.
It’s only when you actually notice that your mind has strayed from the present moment that you can practice bringing yourself back to the present moment over and over again. The practice of meditation helps you to create a new habit of noticing when you’ve slipped into listening to your internal narrative and left the present moment.
Meditation is one of the most fundamental spiritual practices to separate your internal dialog from the situation you are experiencing. Doing so allows you to let go of the narrative and just be present with this moment as it is.
This moment is all there ever is.
Your entire life unfolds in this moment.
It’s not in the past or the future. Your life is right now.
WHEN LIFE CHALLENGES US
We all need to be challenged by life in order to find the present moment. Most of us do not wake up when things are going well.
What’s been happening over the past year or so with the pandemic is that collectively, we’ve completely identified with the thinking mind; with the fear, the uncertainty, death, the economic hardships we face. We need to realize that there’s another dimension in our consciousness that’s still here but is being overlooked.
This dimension of awareness is consciousness without thought.
What we may not have understood until now is that this dimension is available to us at any moment in which we can remain present in the moment long enough to question our internal dialog.
This awareness is a deeper identity. It ultimately frees you from the limited, conditioned, mind-made sense of self. That deeper identity within each of us is unconditioned consciousness itself.
Awareness is a higher level of consciousness than the activity of thought.
Every thought is also a form that consciousness takes. But underneath that is a vast ocean of consciousness.
It’s not difficult for us to access. But humans need the challenge to be driven or given some good reason to search for and find it.
In some ways, we need to have our backs up against a wall in order to search for meaning and purpose in our lives.
It may not seem so but what we’re going through right now is potentially very helpful to our collective awakening.
CONSCIOUS DAILY PRACTICE
As your own self-induced wake-up call, whenever you feel unhappy, depressed, resentful, a sense of self-pity or whatever it might be, ask yourself this question:
How is this feeling of unhappiness coming about? How does it arise?
The answer will help you become aware of your thinking mind.
Wake up to your deeper identity by realizing the fundamental difference between what is and what your mind has to say about it. Make this a conscious daily practice.
The more you are able to experience each situation that presents itself with the power of your presence, instead of being reactive and complaining about whatever you are experiencing, you will be in touch instead with your true intelligence.
A lot of complaining about life, about other people, about the unfairness of it all, the politicians, or whatever it is, is simply an internal dialog.
When we make someone wrong or the whole situation wrong, or say “this should not be happening,” we’re really only creating an internal dialog in our minds. Yet, if we catch ourselves in that moment, we will be able to face each situation as it arises in the present moment instead of buying the story.
As you are able to let go of the narrative, you automatically become present to what is. This is where the power lies.
With practice, you will better be able to ascertain whether an action can or needs to be taken, and then you take it or you rise above whatever situation presents itself. Ultimately, you are no longer at the mercy of the conditions of what is happening around you.
Life isn’t here to make you happy. The world isn’t here to make you happy.
The world is here to awaken you by challenging you.
And the world will constantly challenge you to awaken.