It's not difficult but we make it so.
The pathway to spiritual growth unfolds naturally.
It is the path of letting go. In the last blog, What Is Faith? I made the point that faith is the Divinely-given capacity to let go - to live in uncertainty, to give up control. The ego in you will almost always deceives you by creating the feeling within that, if you let go, life will unravel...you'll lose control...even great and terrible things could occur. Be stoic. Be certain. Which is why, when you meet someone who rigidly "believes" a certain way - dogmatically asserting, "This is 'truth' - this is the way and only way you must believe! I know...I'm right!" and so they make great and lofty pronouncements, dictating what everyone must believe and then hiding further still behind a default clause - "Well, the Bible says it...so I just believe the Bible...that settles everything!"
It actually settles nothing, however. What it does do is reveal a lot about the lack of faith...what really is the driven-ness of fear within that person who mistakenly thinks they are being faithful when all they're really doing is disguising their fear with platitudes that sound faithful. The truth is, they are terrified within that, if they should let go...if they were to acknowledge or, worse, accept the uncertainty of all things...even their belief system...even the beliefs their religious system say are infallible...they fear they will come apart at the seams. That their faith will unravel, too.
But, the wonderful irony is, it is only when you give in and give up, life, instead of unraveling, is sewn together by the very faith, and beliefs, you release. In other words, when you give up control you are actually in greater control...and, you are more at peace, too.
Now this truth applies everywhere - it's one of those laws of life that I speak about across the country.
For example, sales people are vastly more effectively at selling when they get to that place where they say, "I want to win. I just don't have to." Ponder this.
And, the same is true of your advancement along the spiritual path - what you might refer to as your growth in Christ...or, your increasing consciousness.
Mark Nepo tells the ancient Chinese story of how monkeys were once caught in the wild. A small cage with an even smaller opening would be set up in the forest by trappers. Inside the cage a small bowl of rice would be placed. Soon enough, a monkey would smell the rice and reach inside to retrieve the bowl. Once fisting the bowl of rice, however, the monkey would discover its hand would no longer fit back through the opening. Consequently, the monkeys that were trapped were those monkeys who would not let go of the bowl of rice.
Letting go is the key to advancement. And, letting go is not something you do once and then you're done with it. No, you will discover that growing in spiritual consciousness is mastering the art of letting go...and letting go again.
"Letting go of what?" you ask.
Whatever it is you're thinking about right now. You know what it is you must release in order to advance. Part of the Divine gift of faith in you is the natural capacity to know what it is you need to release in order to advance on the spiritual path.
Might it be...
- A habit or practice that is inhibiting you? - A behavior that is destructive to you and those around you? - An attitude toward someone else that infects you with negativity toward them and yourself? - A secret you work hard at keeping hidden from everyone, except yourself?
Too bad you cannot hide from yourself.
It could be almost anything, however. As long as you maintain a grip on whatever that Still, Small Voice within reminds you to release, you will remain a prisoner inside the cell of your own making.
Mark Nepo writes: "The trap worked because the monkey's hunger was the master of its reach. The lesson for us is profound. We need to always ask ourselves, 'What is our rice and what is keeping us from opening our grip and letting it go'?" (from The Book of Awakening, by Mark Nepo).
Want to advance on the pathway to spiritual enlightenment? Then, do these four things...
1. Name the bowl of rice you're currently gripping?
2. Ask yourself, "Why do I cling to this bowl of rice? What in me believes what it will feed me is better for me than what clinging to it is doing to me?"
3. Will I let it go now?
4. Am I ready to let it go again?
Remember this: It is as simple as following your natural impulse within - the impulse to let go. It is complex enough, however, to take a lifetime to master. Which is why Saint Paul said, "The things you've seen me do, practice yourself"(Phil. 4:9). Practice. Get in control of the practice of releasing control. "But that's contradictory!" you object. Is it? Or, could it be one of life's grandest mysteries. That what seems like hard work...like great sacrifice...even arduous discipline is really quiet natural...quite simple. With practice, that is. Seee what letting go might do for putting you more "in control" on the pathway toward... YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, "I love all religions; but I'm IN LOVE with my own." Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Ever.