I speak about spirituality in two key ways. One way is from the perspective of non-duality. In non-duality, all is one. The other way is from the perspective of duality. In duality, there is separation. There is a “me,” and there is a “you.” While ultimately that separation is a fiction, clearly we have to live and operate in a world based on separation. Thus, I often blend together these two perspectives because despite being paradoxical, they are also both true.
In terms of becoming more spiritually conscious, I’m speaking from the space of duality. Clearly, plenty of people do harm to themselves and others and are not spiritually conscious. Are they still part of the whole of consciousness? Yes. They’re like ice cubes floating on the water. The water molecule is the innate oneness. It’s throughout all of the different states and structures water can be in. The path of becoming more spiritually conscious is giving up that hard, icy ego self and learning to melt into the water of oneness as much as is humanly possible. Ultimately, the deepest dissolution is death when we leave our bodies, but obviously, there’s quite a bit we can do to dissolve our ego selves and become more conscious while we are living. If there weren’t, there’d be no reason for us to be here on this spiritual blog together, would there? 🙂
With that in mind, let’s talk about what it means to commit to the spiritual path and to become more conscious. As always, the most important place to start is becoming aware of ourselves.
Our unconscious ego is kind of like a mean writer-director that is always telling us how to behave in life. It has a script, and you have to follow that script. Plus, you have to cast other people in your life to play out certain roles. If they don’t play the roles right, then you probably don’t keep them in your life. It’s quite a dramatic little tyranny, and it’s all playing out in between your ears.
Thus, to become more spiritually conscious of yourself, you have to learn to notice yourself. You have to start to observe your thoughts and actions, and you have to shine a light on them. Many of our deepest beliefs and issues are hidden, or we generally don’t want to see them for one reason or another. But we cannot be lax in our inner work to dig them out. Plenty of our core issues are happy to remain hidden or just get a new set of cast members to act out basically the same play. But a tragedy is a tragedy, and most of the ego’s unconsciousness creates an undo amount of fear and anxiety in people. It can also lead to full-blown real life tragedies where people take actions that are completely needless. Someone can be so unconscious about their beliefs and choices that they think they have to commit suicide, attack another human being, take drugs, or do something else to resolve whatever issue that has come up.
As I often suggest, journaling is a great way to write down your beliefs and start to look at them. Therapists are wonderful people to help you understand yourself, and some of your close friends can certainly offer you outside perspectives on beliefs you may have that you don’t realize you have.
Going Deeper After Getting Stuck in the Intellect
For some of you, this discussion thus far has been rudimentary, so let me jump further along. Many of you are very good at being an intellectual, and you can conceptualize and discuss different issues you have. But this intellectual ego too must be understood. It cannot simply be understood as a product of your upbringing. Most egos–intellectual or otherwise–are chosen to protect us from things, and discovering what you may be protecting should be part of your inquiry. Oftentimes, intellectuals are completely terrified of their hearts, and they’ll use pride, drugs, work, and every other tool they can to avoid dealing with the messiness of their emotions. This is one way that tons of Westerners are getting stuck on their spiritual paths.
It gets worse because the intellectual is so good at justifying beliefs that they will assume that they “understand” themselves fully when they have a new set of beliefs. There is a lack of humility in these instances, and while it’s not exactly true that we always have more to learn about ourselves, humility has this beautiful way of guiding us towards what we don’t see and what we don’t want to see. Thus those spiritual people who are stuck in their minds need to return to the space of “I don’t know.” The more scary this is, the more important it is. A lot of fear gets hidden by the intellectual mind, and it needs to come up. Strangely enough, the intellectual needs this fear too because most of his/her beliefs are built on it. Without these fears, many of their ideas fall apart. This falling apart of ideas and beliefs is actually a great gift, but the intellectual deeply believe that s/he needs to know who he/she is. Because if s/he no longer knows who they are, they suddenly are in an extremely vulnerable place that feels threatening.
Stay in that sacred vulnerability, and breathe into the emotions that are arising. This is the start of going deeper and getting out of the intellectual mind.
Lost in Your Emotions
Another common sticking point for people is in their hearts. For the intellectual and many others, they get stuck because their hearts are closed. For others, they are over-run by emotions. The emotional seas seem dangerous and impossible to navigate. It all feels like too much.
That means it’s time to drop anchor.
Meditation helps you to watch your emotions and to pay attention to the beliefs and physical sensations that are producing them. Never underestimate the power of your own biochemistry. In my opinion, emotions are basically labels for different neurotransmitters and hormones, and it has been my experience that focused breathing and witnessing of emotions are powerful ways to consciously shift that inner chemistry.
Breathing and sitting when emotions are tumultuous are deeply empowering tools because there is so much power to be found in our physical bodies and energy. The more you can watch how your body, thoughts, and emotions feed on each other, the more conscious you become of how you work. This is no small thing. A lot of times people think they understand how their bodies and emotions work, but most people don’t have a clue. We just hopped into the car and never looked at the user manual…boy it sure would have been nice to have a user manual for this body! Well, you can start to develop one through your breath and meditation. The great thing about breathing is you do it all the time, so you can find times throughout your day to focus on mindful breathing, which can help you find your footing when emotions get intense.
Reading Spiritual Texts and Other Sources of Spiritual Support
Clearly, reading spiritual texts and listening to spiritual teachers can be useful in developing your consciousness. But the key thing here is to learn to listen from your intuitive self, not your ego self. This is almost a chicken and the egg scenario where you have to be conscious enough to be able to listen from your intuitive self. All I can do is encourage you to be sincere and trust yourself with what feels true. You will get better at using your intuition the more you practice.
There’s a lot of garbage on the Internet as well as a lot of misinformation from under-developed spiritual people. But that doesn’t matter the more you can listen from your intuition. Your intuition can see a stack of golden knowledge in front of you as well as a stack of shit. It also doesn’t conform to your ego story. That’s why when you listen intuitively you’ll sometimes notice that your ego doesn’t want to hear something. Any time your ego starts to object, that’s a time to listen a little more closely. Pay attention to what the ego objection is inside. Does the knowledge you’re listening to scare you? If so, why? Where do you feel the fear in your body? The body is very honest and old wounds and emotions seem to get stored in different areas.
By drawing your attention back to yourself any time you hear something you don’t want to hear, you can find hidden issues. If you don’t do this, then blaming the external source of the information will keep you unconscious or take you deeper into unconsciousness. And since we can become more conscious, we also have the capacity to become less conscious too.
Unconsciousness: Going in the Opposite Direction
I think people like to believe that we can always progress in healthy ways, but I’ve not seen that to be the case. I believe we have the autonomy to go in any direction we choose. But to help clarify a little more what it means to become more spiritually conscious, let’s take a look at a couple of characteristics. Signs of someone becoming more conscious are things like:
- Greater clarity about life
- Fewer inner attachments
- Deeper compassion and a sense of love
- Less blaming of the external world for what it is and does
- A stronger sense of inner peace
- An expanding sense of humility, courage, and strength
There are others, but those give you a sense of the maturation that arises for someone who is sincerely working through their issues and looking at spiritual truth. It probably can help you to also see the reverse. You see it all the time, and some of you are very adept at seeing it in others. But it is always easier to point out others’ flaws than our own. So some things to consider in yourself and whether you are becoming more unconscious include:
- Clinging to things more (spiritual teachers, drugs, addictions, relationships, and other things can be attached to greater extents as we become more unconscious)
- Avoiding more situations and people
- Blaming others for their problems or for making you feel a certain way
- Creating more beliefs to build or re-build an identity for yourself (This tends to lead to needing to justify yourself and your actions in a variety of ways.)
- Becoming violent emotionally, verbally, and/or physically
- Criticizing others for not being “spiritual” or “conscious”
There are plenty more of these signs of unconsciousness, but this should give you a flavor of the difference between the two sides.
At any point, we can choose to become more unconscious. Usually, this is a sign that a deeper core issue or wound has come up. If you ever find yourself teetering on the edge of blaming others, needing to cling to something to find safety, and so forth, this is a good time to sit, breathe, and investigate what is coming up before making your next move.
Four Types of Spiritual People
I wanted to offer a couple examples of spiritual people as a means to suggest ways to get unstuck. A lot of people don’t necessarily become more unconscious, but plenty do get stuck on their spiritual paths. The ego has all kinds of ways that it likes to grow only so far, and then you hit a limit on what the ego is willing to see, surrender, or allow. Most of the time, that wall is fear, and in becoming more conscious, we have to face our fears again and again.
Let’s take a look at four examples of spiritual people. I would add that most people have elements of the first three. I’m making some broad generalizations, but hopefully, these examples will help you.
The Spiritual Intellectual
As I mentioned earlier, spiritual intellectuals primarily want ideas. They think that understanding is merely a function of gathering more information, and that it’ll bring them some kind of safety. They go to great lengths to study spiritual traditions to which they are drawn. The intellectual often operates in the right-wrong paradigm where there are right answers and wrong answers. Even those spiritual intellectuals who believe there is no right or wrong are kinda of espousing a hidden belief that that’s a right belief. The path to continuing to become more spiritually conscious almost always is a surrendering of the intellectual mind and learning how to be at peace not knowing or needing to know intellectually.
The Feel-good Fanatic
The feel-good fanatic loves spiritual experiences that make their body feel good. While I’m using “fanatic” mainly for alliterative purposes, this individual seeks out places, activities, and spaces that are enjoyable. They usually will avoid anything that doesn’t feel good or otherwise triggers issues. The more issues this individual has hidden, the more avoidant they will be of any difficult situation that may arise. Because this individual often thrives through doing things that feel good, sitting and being is often the necessary tool to continue to become more spiritually conscious. By sitting (and you don’t even have to meditate), the person is forced to confront him/herself and whatever they’ve been trying to mask through feel-good experiences.
The Heart-based Lover
The heart-based lover lives through his/her heart. This individual is all about emotions. They can be very similar to the feel-good fanatic (and as I said earlier, there’s plenty of overlap; we’re people, not archetypes). So this is the person that may most actively look for a soulmate and other ways to connect to people to experience enjoyable emotions. While the feel-good spiritual person may be focused on body sensations, the lover loves emotions. They are most likely to get lost in their emotions, including the upsetting ones. The lover in this example lacks grounding in their own emotions, and thus, to become more conscious of what is going on and to stabilize the heart space, they need to practice witnessing their emotions rather than indulging in them. The more they practice witnessing, the more things they can discover about hidden beliefs at work that are pulling the strings of their emotions. Through regular practice, the lover can learn to see that their emotions do not come from other people but from themselves.
The Awakened Non-spiritual Person
More than a few people awaken that do not have any interest in being spiritual. The inner shifts that arise are unwanted, and the person absolutely wants to get off this spiritual train. To become more conscious for this person starts with accepting what has arisen. Until an awakened person accepts their spiritual awakening, they are in resistance. That resistance is a product of unconsciousness. It’s a denial of what is. If the person can come to some level of acceptance of the shifts that are arising, then they have to learn to accept the pain and the growth that are emerging. For the awakened non-spiritual person, acceptance and surrender to what is moving inside them are the keys to getting out of unconsciousness.
There are certainly plenty of other types of spiritual people, but hopefully this gives you some ideas to play with about how you may get stuck and how to get back on track.
Continuing Towards Greater Consciousness Through Humility
Becoming spiritually conscious isn’t about arriving at an end point. It really is more about sincerity and humility that lead us to seeing ourselves and life as they are and loving them as they are.
As you grow and discover more about yourself, you will continue to realize how little you know about yourself in the midst of discovering so much. This tends to fuel cycles of humility, and through this humility, you learn to listen to yourself and the subtler energy flows inside of you. That divine inner flow is the most intelligent energy you can connect to, and that is the best teacher and guide towards greater spiritual consciousness. It/you know exactly how you should grow and evolve. Thus, humility is a kind of surrender to this inner river. The more you surrender, the more you can also learn how to paddle in this inner river. The more deeply you surrender and paddle, the more the two become one. And paddling and flowing can become the same thing all thanks to the beautiful doorway of humility.
I would add that humility is not subservience, allowing others to step on you, or being out of control. It is a very intelligent trait, and it is one that I fervently encourage you to cultivate in your own space. Through genuine humility, the doorway to a lot of spiritual growth and consciousness can open for you, and all you have to then do is walk through that door.