Many people naively view the spiritual journey as a means to euphoria, a type of drug-like high, and a magic carpet ride to bliss. However, this is not a realistic expectation. The spiritual journey involves the purification of the unconscious; therefore it is an exercise in letting go of the false self, the programmed self, and the self who is climbing the ladder to false happiness. The spiritual journey is a humbling process, because it requires letting go of the self that we know and identify with. When we step onto the spiritual path, we are called to change how we respond to life circumstances and how we choose to be in every aspect of our lives.
The distractions of life are powerful, and it’s all too easy to be consumed by the tasks, responsibilities, and desires that arise, causing us to stray from our spiritual center. When we embark on a spiritual journey, we need guidance and support to help us stay on course. Contemplative prayer is a simple, accessible means to cultivate the discipline that the spiritual journey requires.
As a secular Franciscan, I practice the recitation of the Jesus prayer as a centering prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In the silent repetition of this prayer, I experience the presence of God within me, and am receptive to God’s intention for me. Although this particular tradition is Christian, many other world theologies share a similar practice in invoking the name of God to find the quiet, still space within where God can be directly experienced.
We must have guidance on our spiritual journey. We must read the Gospels or other holy scriptures and live by the virtues bestowed to us through the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, in the pursuit of holiness we can be mislead. St. Paul warned us of this by saying “What I want to do, I don’t do. And what I don’t want to do I find myself doing.”
We must humbly surrender to the presence of God. My sincere intention is to live in His presence and be filled with Divine Love at all times. In this way, I am turning my life totally over to God; for it is He alone whom I trust. My agreement with the Divine therapist is to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to me the truth about myself. As the scripture says, “The truth will set you free.” And Jesus says, “He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to nothing for my sake discovers who he is.” (MT. 10:38) To bring oneself to nothing–NO THING–is to cease to identify with the tyranny of our emotional programs for happiness and the limitations of our cultural conditioning.
It is not our feelings that are the problem, nor the emotional self. Feelings cannot be repressed or ignored. What is important is how we deal with those feelings. They must be confronted with reason and faith. This is what makes us human and divine at the same time. This is why the Holy Spirit dwells within us.
Sometimes a sense of failure or disappointment is a great means to true humility, which is what God looks for in us. I realize this is not the language of success, but we have oversubscribed to that language. If something negative or tragic has occurred in our lives, the experience can draw us closer to God, if we allow it, and it can be spiritually beneficial. We need to respond in a Godly way—the way Jesus calls us to. I have felt the interior freedom that comes through participation in the suffering of Christ, the symbol of God’s love for everyone on earth.
All of us need to be free to manifest God through our own uniqueness. I am compelled to heal, to create union, harmony, understanding, respect and love for all. In a sense, to be one is to be everyone. I must share in God’s Divine Love, and so must you. I want to live out “the Word of God” in my life. I want to manifest God and not the false self. When you are liberated from self you are free to be in a space that is both empty of self and full of God. This is where we experience unconditional love. If we have not experienced ourselves as unconditional love, we have not lived, because that is who we really are. Our hearts need to sing the melody of the deep music within. That is the true spiritual journey.