What Is Spiritual Growth?
Journey to where we already are
Let me start by saying that I don’t prefer using the word ‘Spiritual’. It has too many connotations. Each person has their own idea of what spirituality is. The word ‘Growth’ is not appealing either. For it presumes there is a person who becomes better over time.
Nevertheless for the purpose of this article ‘What Is Spiritual Growth?’ is a good title. Because it is easily understood. And one of the hallmarks of good writing is to be able to communicate as simply as possible.
What is Spiritual Growth? How does it happen? How does one ascertain whether one is growing spiritually?
Simply put Spiritual Growth is the process of disidentification with the mind made self. And realizing that there is a Self that is living, conscious, breathing. A Self that exists without the ‘person’ with his stories about the past and projections about the future.
Often spiritual growth is associated with cultivating qualities of compassion, love, kindness, humility, generosity and devotion. While those are worthy endeavors and sometimes inevitable pursuits on the journey of personal growth, spirituality itself is the end of pursuit.
Which makes it a paradox.
If spiritual growth is the end of pursuit then how does one grow? What does one aspire for? It makes spiritual growth an oxymoron. If the culmination of a journey is to reach where we already are, then every step we take with the hope of reaching somewhere takes us away from where we are meant to be. Nowhere. Now. Here.
Some of us want to unravel the mystery of our existence. “Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life?” These people are seekers. Because they are searching for answers. Actually all human beings are seekers, whether they realize it or not. We are all seeking happiness. Only difference is that seekers are looking for something within.
Generally people start by adopting some spiritual practice. Yoga, chanting, prayers, rituals. This process helps in self-purification. Cleansing the mind of egoic tendencies such as lust, greed, anger, jealousy. Some people also undergo different therapeutic processes to heal themselves. To become more conscious.
The person believes he is progressing on the path of spiritual growth. Shedding old patterns, cultivating virtues in alignment with an evolved self. During this period one tends to evaluate one’s growth by comparing it to past or others behavior. If there is a slip up into old egoic patterns there are feelings of guilt, self-judgement or anger.
A time comes when this model of spiritual growth self-destructs. Either we get sick of trying to be virtuous. Or we lose faith in someone we looked up to. Or we experience something that challenges our core beliefs.
Often this is a traumatic period because all that we believed no longer holds together. And we do not know what to believe now? An untimely death of a loved one, may challenge our belief in God. Betrayal by someone close, may challenge our belief in love.
At this point we may take on a new set of beliefs “There is no God.” “This is the work of karma.” “Life is unfair.” And live our life based on those beliefs.
Or we may realize that life can be lived without beliefs.
Which is how life actually is. Alive, conscious, existing, without the need to believe anything.
‘I am so and so’ is a belief. When we dream that ‘so and so’ becomes someone else yet Life is. In sleep that ‘so and so’ disappears yet Life is.
In spiritual parlance this realization is called awakening. We wake up from the dream of living as a character created by thoughts. Since there is no character in reality, only Consciousness, our attention focuses on what is tangible. Life expressing itself, in the moment.
The spiritual growth now becomes deepening our contact with Life happening. There is no longer life happening each moment, because past, present, future are constructs of the mind. There is only Life. This practice may be called no-mind, awareness, mindfulness.
Now the conceptual identity is gasping for breath. It wants to live. So it becomes the seeker of no-mind. A mindfulness practitioner. This is another identity, another pursuit. Because we cannot be aware, Awareness always is. Only the clouds of thoughts cover the sky of Awareness, which is always present.
This is a significant realization.
More I try to be aware, the more I perpetuate the identity of a person wanting to be aware.
Now we realize the fallacy of spiritual growth. Without any room to do anything — be aware, surrender, do nothing — the mind collapses. Life is simply lived as Life itself.
When the old identity comes back, with its habits, there is no desire to get rid of it. It is seen for what it is. As another expression of life. What was a burden earlier, now is enjoyed as an expression of Life taking a human form. In the realization of Oneness we embrace our humanity fully.
Spiritual growth is realizing that never was any growth. Only what was unreal is seen. In that insight what is True, which was always present is uncovered.
There are three key aspects of spiritual growth.
1. Disintegration and Integration
If one were to plot a spiritual growth graph, it would be a series of highs and lows gradually moving upward. The low, is the disintegration of the ego. The high is integration of the ego at a higher level of understanding. After a while that level disintegrates to again integrate at another higher level.
“No mud, no lotus.” says Thich Nhat Hanh. Disintegration is painful but necessary for growth. The process of disintegration and integration continues until there is nothing left in the psyche to disintegrate. There is no more identification with any identity. Emptiness cannot be disintegrated or integrated.
2. Always Moving Forward
Spiritual growth is always a forward movement. Even when disintegration is happening, it is not a movement backward. It is only to propel us to a greater high of integration.
Imagine you are on a train going from Mumbai to Delhi. You are in the first compartment of the train. And you start walking back towards the last compartment of the train. You will still move forward because you are in the train that is moving forward.
Every time we suffer, it is a blessing in disguise to move us towards greater awareness.
3. Subtle and Unseen
Spiritual Growth is not visible. More often than not it happens gradually, without our awareness. Just as we do not notice the changes in our body on a daily basis, spiritual growth is subtle and organic. The mind which looks for tangible and quick results is disappointed.
If we were to equate spiritual growth to getting wet, the mind wants to get wet immediately by getting under the shower. Spiritual growth on the other hand is like walking a few kilometers in the fog. After sometime when we touch our clothes we see that they are soaked and wet. We did not even realize how that happened.
One may take various paths to go to the top of the mountain, but the top of the mountain remains the same. Irrespective of the uniqueness of our journey, the goal is the same. Behind the illusion of separation, we are One.
Spiritual growth is a journey in time to realize the Timeless.