The spiritual backslide is when we return to an old habit, lifestyle, social circle, job, or something else that no longer serves us. It can happen with food. It can happen with relationships. It can happen with jobs. It can happen with pretty much anything. The main thing is that you are done with this old thing, but a part of you is still attached to the idea of it.
The spiritual backslide is a great teaching moment because you get to see what you’re attached to, why, and how things really are. That last part is important, and the less aware you are, the more likely you are to try and explain away a situation that doesn’t resonate with you. The more aware you are, the more likely you are to say, “Yes, this has served its purpose in my life” or “This never supported me at all.”
Regardless of the conclusions that arise for you, we are human beings. So more than a few backslides can happen as we grow as spiritual people. There’s no need for judgment around it. Obviously, at the level of higher truth, there is no possible way to backslide, but always remember that higher truth embraces all pain and joy. So do not be too quick to try and intellectualize something away. You know when something does not resonate for you and no longer serves you.
On that note, let’s talk about the spiritual backslide and how it can manifest in your life.
You probably don’t need to be on any kind of overt spiritual path to have had the relationship backslide before. You know this person isn’t good for you, yet you keep going back to him/her. Obviously, there is an attachment here, but attachment to what? As I’ve already mentioned, the spiritual backslide is a great tool for learning. If you truly had no attachment to this old relationship be it a lover, friend, business partner, or someone else, then you wouldn’t have gotten back into it. Depending on where you are in your evolution, you may realize that the world is full of 7 billion people. There’s no need to focus so narrowly on one person. So why are you back here?
In the realm of relationship, the spiritual backslide can show you a lot of things about desire and the fear of being alone. These two issues are gateway issues into bigger issues, but as always, it’s important to play the process. You have to trace these roots back to understand how you personally are manifesting these issues and what they’re rooted in. A lot of unskillful people on the spiritual path seem to think they can overcome these issues by ignoring them or just powering forward to something else. But my experience is that without really engaging with them and understanding your unconscious commitment to them (and you are committed to them if you feel them inside), they’ll just keep showing up in new forms again and again.
The Work Backslide
The work backslide is much like what you’d think it would be. It’s when you go back to an old job or a similar type of work that you are now finished with. You’ve gotten what you needed from it. Now it’s time to move on to a new kind of career. But what’s alluring about past work is usually a sense of safety. Safety is another big learning lesson from the spiritual backslide. The familiarity of the old often draws us back into old ways of living that do not serve us, and oftentimes, they may never have really supported us. It’s interesting what you may notice if you are in the midst of a work backslide. Perhaps you’ve just got hired on at a job doing similar work as before. There’s usually a momentary feeling or relief or maybe elation because part of the instinct in us says that we’re now safe and provided for. But then that feeling melts away, and we see what we’ve returned to. The honeymoon period is over, and we’re remembering all the reasons that we stopped doing this work in the first place.
But those reasons aren’t necessarily as interesting as the reasons that got you to return here. With work, it tends to tie into core survival fears as money is a means to survival. Where we believe we’ll have the easiest time making money is where we tend to think we should go with our careers. This often leads us to follow in our family’s footsteps. It’s either that or whoever the strongest influences in our lives are during our formative years, and we tend to go with what we see and believe is possible. At the deeper level is the fear that we won’t survive if we do something differently, and failure in a new job or area of work often triggers that fear quite acutely. It may get worse if you are a parent. Then additional instinctual fears are being triggered, but as I said, it’s important for you to do the self-inquiry to understand these deeper triggers so that you can defuse them.
The Spiritual Path Backslide
I’m separating the spiritual path backslide from the title of the blog as I’m specifying when people decide they are done with the spiritual path. At this point, someone thinks they’ve gone far enough. They’re aware enough. Or they’ve run up against some new hard issue, and now they’ve had enough. Depending on what’s going on, they may give up part or all of the spiritual path. While this to me is ultimately impossible since I view all of life as spiritual, you certainly can give up the overt spiritual path. You can stop your spiritual practices. You can leave your spiritual teacher or healer. You can stop talking to people in your spiritual community. Then find out what happens. Maybe nothing. Maybe you feel awful. Maybe you feel lost. Maybe you feel relieved. Who knows? As I always say, no one drags you down the spiritual path. It’s self-chosen. It is also rarely the easiest of paths, at least at first. The ease that we find in going with the flow is internal. The external world may continue to get more difficult for us as follow our spiritual journeys. As such, the lure of old comforts and the attachment to an easier life can and does call many away from the spiritual path.
And this is fine. There is no judgment about this either. But for some of you, trying to let all this go will create an enormous hole inside you. Or rather, you will feel the hollowness and shallowness of all the other things and people around you. If this is you, you will really be confronted by the spiritual path backslide. You will either have to continue back deeper into the darkness of ignorance to forget what deep connection feels like, what community feels like, what support from a teacher feels like, and so forth, or you will have to let go of the attachment to these old “seeming” comforts and return with renewed purpose and dedication to your spiritual work.
A Deepening of Understanding and Commitment
For those who backslide and return, I find that it offers an enormous possibility for a deepened commitment. It can metamorphosize into a point of no return. After returning to those unhealthy friendships, you come back, and say, “Yes, I really am done.” The illusion in your mind that you’d “lost” something is released further. The idea that you can return to something in your past is further dissolved. You step further onto your spiritual path and into the unknown.
And make no mistake about it, the spiritual path will continue to take you into the unknown. Because this is the truth. Life is always evolving and shifting, which makes it continually unknown to us. Whenever we are trying to predict the future, we are getting caught up in the arrogance of the ego. Certainly, there are currents in life, and the more sensitive we are, the more easily we can see where those currents are going. But truthfully, we don’t really know how any of those currents are going to play out amidst the rocks, mud, and debris of life. Similarly, we don’t really know how we’re going to evolve or change, but committing further to the unknown does make it that much easier to deal with whatever is arising in the present. In being mindful and fully engaged, we process life’s ups and downs more easily. We don’t hold onto new painful moments. We are less likely to react to things and cause pain to others. The karma that we’d been caught up in creating and spreading is breaking down, and the spiritual backslide has helped us further our paths because of the perspective we gained and probably had needed.
The Continued Burning Up of Karma and Pain
On this blog, I use the word “karma” to simply mean life lessons, attachments, old pain, and old painful habits. The more we understand how much pain we’ve been living in our whole lives, the more we tend to embrace the spiritual path with all of its rigors. But most of those rigors are simply releasing all this internal debris. It’s finally paying the bills that are due and have been piling up on your internal desk. Is this fun? Not usually. Although from time to time, there’s some old joy that you didn’t allow yourself to have, and now you can enjoy it and giggle away for an hour or two. However, I find that what’s been stuck in the kitchen sink for years is pain, and that’s usually the bill that’s got to be paid, the issue that’s got to be healed.
The spiritual backslide, as I said earlier, happens. But each time it happens, I want you to ask yourself what you think you’re going back to. What are you getting? What is drawing you back to something? Then see what the truth is. Really, really bring a lot of awareness to this backslide. Sometimes you will notice some beauty that you couldn’t receive from a person, job, or situation when you return. But don’t narrow your focus. Look at the whole picture in front of you. Is something or someone really meant to journey with you? If so, they will evolve to meet you where you are. You don’t need to become small and hide your truth, your love, and your awareness. They’ll want to meet you as you are now in your spiritual growth.
After awhile, any idea of going back to old things naturally goes away because we find so much joy in being as we are. We find so much joy in the natural inner expansiveness that doesn’t need anyone or anything, and at that point, we can’t backslide because going in any direction and connecting with anyone is simply a joy to do so.