Spirituality: Moving from External to Internal
It seems everywhere we turn these days we are exposed to spiritually-oriented businesses and information. Whether it is yoga classes, corporate mindfulness training, tai chi in the park, alternative healing methods, studies proving the beneficial effects of meditation, self-help videos, or other businesses or material that cater to our inner longing for something more, we continue to find spirituality coming to us from our external world. This is a good thing, as our external world is reflective of our inner world and the proliferation of these businesses indicates that collectively, as a society, we are beginning to look more deeply within.
In many cases, the above-mentioned businesses are the first stepping stone toward something more profound. We can feel more healthy and energized practicing yoga or tai chi. We can feel more peaceful with an ongoing meditation practice. We can be more confident and secure in our physical form as we heal it through any means that succeeds, including alternative healing methods. Whatever the practice, these businesses can help bring us to a space where we can be more present to be able to look within and take the next step for our own spirituality.
Often, spiritual seekers find solace in enthusiastically studying spirituality. I too was one of these seekers. I read countless books on topics that encompassed energy healing, meditation, religion, philosophy, reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, tai chi and martial arts, etc. Pretty much anything that could be considered even somewhat spiritual I exposed myself to. Now, decades later, what I found was that even though I had a substantial interest in and knowledge of this spiritually-based information, I was holding it external to myself. It was in my head and not in my heart. I knew it but I didn’t feel it, at least not to the extent I would have liked.
As I began more intensely practicing my spirituality through some of these arts such as tai chi, energy healing, and meditation, the true capability of my knowledge began to seep downward into my heart. It took years, and it continues to be an ongoing process, but through feeling and internally, abstractly knowing through my entire being, I’ve felt the expanded lightness of this spiritual growth, which has come with a deeper and broader understanding of what I thought I knew previously.
Knowledge can provide some spiritual growth, as I found, but it has to be personally lived for real, substantial growth to be realized. A “spiritual” business that focuses on mental steps may not bring the added dimension of feeling. For example, some may have found this true with yoga classes. One teacher may take us through all the postures mechanically, even dictating how we should breathe, but he or she may not encourage an internal awareness or sense of peace. Another yoga teacher may take us through the postures and encourage the connection with our heart and the flow of life around us. Both may leave us feeling physically refreshed, but one fosters a greater appreciation of life and inspires deeper internal growth over the other.
Some apparently spiritually-oriented businesses don’t make the connection from knowledge to being or living. They perceive spirituality as something outside of us, something separate. But spirituality cannot be boxed, shrink-wrapped, placed on a shelf, and sold in a store. It must be realized personally on a level beyond the mind.
Everything can provide a spiritual benefit but to truly understand something on a deeper level we need to feel it and know it. “Spiritual” businesses often fail at encouraging this because they come from a business mindset rather than a spiritual mindset.
So, what is spiritual growth and how can we go about growing spiritually?
I define spiritual growth as the increasing shedding of the ego personality to reveal the divine within. The ego fights tooth and nail against spiritual growth because it believes, and makes us believe, that we will die if we lose even a tiny amount of our personality. When we shed an old issue, a part of the ego does die but the ego finds many more issues to continue to remind us to be in fear more than in peace. That is its agenda for self-preservation and it will never stop bringing up old hurts, fears, dramas, and traumas to keep us fearful of “dying,” thus hampering our ability to look more deeply within. But it is exactly that inner reflection that helps us on our spiritual path. Taking a good, hard, and honest look at who we are and why we make the choices we make begins to uncover the underlying drivers of the issues that infuse our personality. As we become conscious of the memories, emotions, and mechanisms that influence how we think, we can then make choices with more clarity, seeing that past decisions may have been rooted more in subconscious, dysfunctional patterns than in conscious, balanced, and clear decision-making. A good psychotherapist can help with identifying these old, influencing mechanisms and provide tools with which to begin releasing them.
Anything that stimulates the desire for greater peace, awareness, and personal growth can help us on our spiritual path. Personal growth, in fact, is spiritual growth because it increases our awareness of ourselves. So even businesses that offer spiritually-themed services or products that appear external to us can help us move forward by broadening our experience, which gives us a more comprehensive context from which we can learn and grow. But note that we must take it into our being and live it to feel the full effects of what it can provide for us. External factors can play a role in bringing us to the point of looking within, but they can only take it so far.
For substantial personal/spiritual growth, we want to stimulate and motivate the internal processing and willful release of old, fearful issues to help us uncover our inherent divinity through the shedding of the layers of our ego personality. That is what we are here for and that is what we all will do, in this lifetime or a future one.