What is the goal of the spiritual path?
Spiritual freedom is freedom from suffering caused by the ego. It is freedom from the suffering of the untrained instinctual body we all inhabit. It is the freedom and ability to see reality. It is the freedom to choose how we engage with reality based on the present moment rather than previous unconscious beliefs and associations. It is the freedom that comes from realizing that we and everything in this universe are one.
This spiritual freedom is powerful beyond anything most people can imagine, and it is always right here within us. Yet, people don’t see it or know what it is.
So this blog post is dedicated to explaining what spiritual freedom is and the path that we can take to abide in that pure space.
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Separating the Ideas of Pain and Suffering
A huge problem on the path to freedom from suffering is the confusion many people have about pain and suffering. Most people want pain to be gone too, but pain is part of this world. When it is functioning appropriately, it is a useful physical communication tool. For example, you stub your toe. You feel pain in your toe. That calls your attention to your foot. Now you can address the toe and change your behavior to not hurt it again. Without the pain, you could do a lot of damage to different parts of your body without knowing it.
Suffering is getting upset about stubbing the toe. It is getting angry at yourself, the wall your foot struck, or something else. The response to the stubbed toe is entirely ego determined; it’ll be different depending on the person. But more importantly, the response is entirely chosen. You don’t have to be upset. But most people are upset because they are so enmeshed in their ego that it doesn’t even occur to them that they can choose and that they actually are choosing their responses in those moments, albeit the choice is entirely unconscious.
A First Taste of Spiritual Freedom
For many people, they get a taste of spiritual freedom in the form of some kind of spiritual opening. The first glimpse isn’t usually a spiritual awakening when the inner world starts moving and transforming on its own. That big earthquake tends to be quite rare. Instead, this taste or multiple tastes are like fore-shocks of realizing spiritual freedom, and they can inspire people to investigate the spiritual path. Do they feel good? Sometimes. It depends on what someone discovers and how much of their ego is along for the ride. If a person likes what they discover, they can feel good. But that feeling is still an ego response for the most part. Sometimes, that good feeling is the relief of leaving the ego for awhile. It can be like dropping a heavy backpack that you did not know you were carrying. Eventually, you get used to not carrying it, and so you no longer feel good in the way you once did. In this regard, people normalize into spiritual freedom.
Other times, that first taste is scary. Once again, this has to do with the person’s ego interpretation and reaction to the experience. For example, someone could drop into this space of presence, and that can feel like they are someone else. They suddenly can see their ego thoughts from a place of profound neutrality, and this frightens some people. Or the fright comes after the experience when the ego comes back, saying, “What in creation was that?!” This sense of not being who you thought you were can really freak someone out if they are not prepared for such an experience, and many aren’t. Ultimately, however, there is no danger, no danger to the real you anyway.
Self-inquiry and the Journey Towards Spiritual Freedom
One of the key ways people get serious about realizing spiritual freedom is by doing self-inquiry, and in particular, they learn to question what their egos tell them.
In general, people believe most everything their egos tell them, and so inquiring into thoughts and beliefs is a rather radical shift. So long as a person believes all their thoughts and beliefs are correct, then they are in a trap. Spiritual freedom is not a belief to believed; it is a reality.
But even getting started inquiring into the ego can be tough. The unconscious ego is the ultimate insider. It pulls all the strings for most people for most if not all of their lives. We’re so used to believing our thoughts and the underlying assumptions that we unquestioningly accept just about any and every kind of thought in our heads. This leads people to self-justifying any thought they do have as being correct, and they don’t realize where the self-justifications come from. This effectively keeps people endlessly stuck.
This level of getting to know oneself is very much the start of the spiritual path, and this inquiry is part of cultivating self-knowledge so that one can identify just how trapped in ego and suffering they are. Without some mental understanding of the depths of suffering a person is in, people aren’t very motivated to truly embrace spiritual freedom. And they’ll be looking for reasons to stop their spiritual work.
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Going Beyond Beliefs Into the Heart of the Matter
However, the mind is not the only level of inquiry. People also have to learn to understand their emotions. Any issues that remain in their “emotional body” will continue to dictate how they feel about themselves and what they want. While I am generally speaking of the heart metaphorically, for some reason, people tend to feel a lot of emotions in the actual physical area of the chest. Maybe there are some interesting glands in there that produce certain chemicals that we call emotions. I don’t know. I’m not a physiological expert. I simply know that when it comes to the heart, people tend to have all sorts of emotions come up and out of that region of the body.
As emotions come up, the spiritual path gets even more challenging for people. A lot of people are seeking a way out of pain, but instead, the true spiritual path takes them into it. There are number of reasons for this. One is simply that the untrained mind creates emotional problems by reacting badly. That’s why developing the right mind set is important to be strong enough for the spiritual path. Another reason is that the unconscious is powerful, and it will continue to react in old behavior patterns regardless of what the active thinking mind does. Having the resilience to come back to awareness and allow these old responses to break down is critical. A third reason is that people have unresolved emotional pain that needs to be processed. As someone learns to process old emotions, they have less of that suffering.
Delving into the Body and Subtle Energies
There are a lot of levels to this work, and as someone progresses in their abilities to understand their mind and heart, the body and subtle energies become more accessible. A lot of stuff is stored in those spaces, and there are more hidden attachments in those spaces, which are powerful. Actually, some of the attachments are the most obvious. They can include a person’s desire to survive. This one is hidden in plain sight, but it impacts everything. Ironically, when something is so common, it effectively becomes hidden. It’s like living in a water at a certain temperature. You’re so used to that temperature that you don’t realize how hot or cold it is.
With subtle energies, they’re usually not the first order of the day. There’s typically so much more for people to work on. Additionally, sometimes, people try to jump ahead, and then they get involved in things that they are not prepared for. It’s best to work with the mind first and then the heart and then the body. Is this written in stone? No. Is there a lot of overlap? Yes. Are there lots of acceptable orders of doing inner work and infinite spiritual paths? Certainly. But when it comes to energy, a lot of things sort themselves out when a person attends to the other three first
Realizing Awareness and the Comfortable Cage
The beauty of awareness, which is another term for spiritual freedom, is that it is always here. It is the perceiver of all of life. It IS. It is never chained to the ego, and it is not restricted in how it can respond to life even as freaked out as the human body can get. It simply sees. It is this spiritual freedom to which everyone has access. There’s no technique or belief that is needed to get there because it is always here.
The simplicity of this reality tends to be too much for a lot of unconscious egos. In fact, complexity is part of how the ego keeps itself around. It uses complexity to keep people enslaved to it and the beliefs the ego maintains. It also uses coercion, fear, bartering, threats, and a whole host of other nasty defense mechanisms to keep people mired in their unconscious selves. But none of them help a person to realize spiritual freedom. They simply keep a person locked up in suffering, including comfortable suffering.
This last comment about comfortable suffering will probably surprise a lot of you, but those of you who have done enough inner work know that we can live comfortable lives and still suffer. We can suffer from illusions that cause us to respond to life poorly. We can suffer in the cage of having everything we could ever desire, but there is no vitality to our lives. Every external world joy or happiness dissipates, and many pleasures lose their enjoyable qualities in time.
People in these comfortable cages know this truth on some level, yet they get stuck chasing after sex, money, drugs, adrenaline highs, and so much more because that’s all their egos understand. These people can feel the suffering, but since it isn’t painful enough, they don’t think there is anything truly wrong. And they try to keep using all the old stuff that is supposed to make them happy even though a lot of it continues to become more bland and lifeless. All the while, they stay in the cage.
Isn’t There a Conflict with Surrender and Inner Work?
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You’re like, “Jim, you just spent part of this post talking about inner work and self-inquiry, but then you said that there’s no technique to arrive at freedom.”
Yes. I did.
And both are true.
Here’s the reality. People get up in the morning, and they put on their ego every day. They put that costume on so quickly and so habitually that they don’t know they have a choice. They also don’t know how much energy it takes to maintain this illusion.
So there is already effort being exerted. Spiritual freedom requires no effort, but often times in order to overcome this inner momentum, we do inner work to create a counter effort to the ego.
It’s like if you’re building a house every day. Then you set up scaffolding to help tear it down. The spiritual inner work is the scaffolding. It’s a temporary structure to help reverse your tendencies to keep building the house–the ego. As you learn to surrender the house-building more, you need less inner work, and the inner work you do is more effective. So you stop rebuilding the attic, and your inner work helps to dissolve that floor. When that level is gone, you no longer need the scaffolding at that level. You tear it down, and you use scaffolding to work on the next floor down.
For instance, if you have worked on journaling about an issue with your ex-girlfriend and are mentally at peace with it, then you don’t need to keep journaling. The journaling has helped you to surrender. Now, you need spiritual tools to help you release more of the emotions attached to your ex.
Such is the way inner work and self-inquiry should be used; they are temporary tools to help reverse some of the ego tendencies to rebuild itself. As those tendencies go, the more you rest in spiritual freedom in the here now.
Enduring Ego Reactions and Inner Friction
The drive to break out of the cage–comfortable or not–has to be sufficiently strong for the person to be willing to face the discomfort living inside themselves. In general, there’s a kind of inner friction of stepping away from beliefs and learning to be in the place of true freedom. This sloughing off is not enjoyable. It is necessary, however, and it can take years for many people.
To be clear, that friction is not from awareness. The friction is from the ego demanding more energy to be given back to it. It’s like a fan that’s been spinning for your whole life. When you unplug it, however, it keeps spinning. As it slows down, it starts to grind and smoke because it wants the energy back. It starts up a beautifully obnoxious high-pitched whine. It’s awful, and people just want it to stop grinding, smoking, and whining. However, if someone put energy back into the fan, it calms down, but they’re back in the trap of the ego. If they let the energy run out of it, they realize freedom.
More Tastes of Spiritual Freedom and Harder Attachments
Again and again, I want to emphasize that true spiritual freedom is always here. Continue to go to that space that silently observes within yourself. But then see how long you stay there. How long before you leave? How long is it before you are caught up in a body sensation? Or playing with an old thought? See what happens when your mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or your child comes home bloodied from a fist fight she lost. See what happens then and how quickly you give up freedom for another set of beliefs and a host of unconscious actions.
To be sure, life is not going to play nice, and it never really was nice. It simply is life. But when it is particularly triggering, those difficulties reveal where your attachments are still clinging the hardest and where you need to do more inner work. Those are the moments when you really need to come back to awareness to endure your ego reactions. If you do return to freedom in the most triggering moments, breakthroughs occur. Something lets go deeper, and more tastes of freedom arise.
Realizing More Oneness and Feeling Less Free
Then something interesting happens in all of this; you realize that oneness isn’t a one-step program. Actually, it’s path filled of thousands of little steps. And ultimately, there is no steps at all.
I can hear you sighing heavily.
Yes, I’m talking in paradoxes again. This is how spiritual truth is. There are no steps to freedom, and there are many. As human beings, we give up our attachments begrudgingly. We don’t give up everything at once. But when let go of one little attachment, that experience shows us some more of the truth. We feel more free. This typically inspires us to continue, and we generally need a lot of inspiration, particularly early on the spiritual path.
For example, becoming a little more free is like being slowly thawed out. Your right hand is unfrozen, but the rest of your body is still locked in ice. To feel the freedom of the left hand and have that perspective about how stuck the rest of you is can be maddening. But this is how it goes, and usually, we want more of the freedom that our right hand is now experiencing. So keep persevering. Dedication and discipline are critical here.
Giving Up More and Getting Less
To truly transform and realize spiritual freedom means giving up everything. It’s not the things and relationships that matter as much as the illusions and attachments that are surrendered. Many people who come to this blog have given up relationships and jobs, but very few have given up the attachments to having relationships and jobs. In this way, their surrender is incomplete. They need to give up more. If you are lucky and have a powerful awakening, perhaps the Divine will stay insistent that you give them up. Perhaps, God’s boot heel will step down hard enough to break through your resistance. In those moments, people don’t realize how much grace has come, particularly those who thought the spiritual path would free them from all pain.
In return, you get less. The further you go, the less ego there is as well as fewer beliefs, fears, and desires. You don’t necessarily even get more realizations. You usually better understand the ones you’ve discovered earlier. In fact, those realizations tend to matter less and less to the present moment. What more needs to be realized than that you are here now? The unconscious ego self thinks that a bunch of ideas and experiences will get you what you want, but it knows nothing. And it’s what is being given up. So you will have much less ego than before. This lessening of the load, however, is a true gift. It reveals the freedom that was already within you.
Going Within Again and Again
The human being and body are trained to look externally for support. This is actually quite biological. The body needs external resources to survive. It needs food, water, and air. This is fundamental to the body, and the ego is a slave to the body. Never forget that the ego is just a pile of neurons and synapses layered on to the most primitive of instincts. Human instincts focus on individual survival and species survival, and therefore, the ego is focused on those two main goals. Going within illuminates this reality…eventually.
Initially, most people have not delved through all their ego issues to see how they tie in to the survival goals of the primitive body. That’s yet another reason people have to do self-inquiry and inner work. The longer someone observes themselves and how they work from the inside, the more they see this reality.
Again and again, people have to want to see that reality. They have to want to be with the discomfort that they unconsciously cause themselves through fears, desires, and other illusions. They have to want to deal with the often physical pain of transforming the body and breaking primal instincts that seek outside oneself for support. They have to truly want to be free because the human body and the unconscious ego will not transform themselves. The inertia of millennia of body evolution and the inertia of the ego inhibit transformation. Even with an awakening pushing someone, this inertia is profoundly powerful and difficult to fully overcome.
But it can be fully overcome.
The 2 Pillars of the Ego and Human Animal Body
Realizing Total Spiritual Freedom and Oneness
It is truly a rare being who comes to total spiritual freedom. I don’t talk much about it because it sounds like a goal rather than a reality people rest in. Yes, we are always in true spiritual freedom and oneness. It’s always here. But for the human being to fully transmute all unconscious patterns and be totally unattached to body sensations, emotions, thoughts, illusions, and energetic connections…that is a profound undertaking. It is rare to find someone resting in that space, but don’t be fooled by the idea of rareness. Don’t take it to mean you won’t rest there one day. Don’t take it to mean that you can’t rest there today. If the whole of humanity’s one goal was to embrace oneness, then this state of total non-attachment would probably be realized by thousands or millions of people.
So when I say rare, think, “Most people don’t even try.” Think, “Most people don’t even know this is possible.” But now you know if you did not already. And if you are reading this post today, you are being guided inward back to that space of pure freedom that is always within you. It is tasteless, soundless, changeless, and totally present all the time. Go there, and let that awareness inspire you to create a funeral pyre to burn up all ego and all attachments so that you can be totally, spiritually free.
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For some more thoughts about spiritual freedom, please enjoy this video.