While some may feel that the upper path is too elusive to find, or just too hard to tread, the facts say otherwise: the true spiritual path begins right within us, right where we are in the moment when the lower path is no longer tolerable. In other words, the real work of self-transformation begins as we recognize that all our past actions have proven powerless to effect the changes in us for which we long. But we can't begin to recognize a futile action as being such without seeing the self responsible for "selling" us -- guiding us -- into taking those false actions. As we learn to see ourselves as we are, the natural longing for the wisdom we need to act differently, to be different, is spontaneously awakened in us. This awareness is our true guide. It is unfailing. Don't be concerned with how you will or won't succeed. Pay attention instead to where you let yourself invest yourself in what is inherently a dead end.
Question: When I think about all the things that I feel I must do in order to grow spiritually, I start to feel so discouraged. I know from past failures that I'm more likely than not to ever succeed!
Answer: One of the earliest and most important lessons that each of us must embrace (and embrace over and over again) is to learn what it means to work with what is in our power and not be overtaken by trying to deal with what is not in our power. For instance, it is not in your power to make flooding emotions settle down by any form of resistance to them or by wishing them to go away. What is in your power is to recognize that any dark emotion only has the power that you lend to it through not recognizing it for what it is: an impostor self that seeks to draw you into its circle of influence in order to keep you going in circles. Drop all feelings of yourself that seem to tell you discouraging things about yourself. They are not real, and neither is the "you" that would struggle with them.
Question: Some mornings when I sit down for my quiet time to meditate or pray, instead of peace reigning in me, it's a mental pounding that rains down on me. Then I feel powerless or begin blaming myself for not doing it "right." I wind up feeling this great sense of loss, as though I have been cheated by God and I am a hopeless case. What's happening to me?
Answer: This is an important stage of your work. I know it is difficult to understand, but your awareness of all the conflicting thoughts and feelings is your reward for your efforts. The first thing that all of us who are working to become new men and women must remember is that virtually nothing within us is actually interested in this transformation. It is difficult to work against the great and often overpowering inner shadows, such as feeling worthless or powerless whenever we make a new aim for ourselves. But the pressure of negative states such as you have described is often the indication that what we are attempting to do is the right and true course for us. Any interior voices that tell you either how illuminated or dark you are, are part of what must be released, not embraced. Dare to stand alone with your wish for Truth only. It will stand with you when you do this.
Question: How does one know whether their inner condition is actually improving or secretly getting worse?
Answer: Our real progress in the spiritual life is freedom from the need to measure ourselves at all. What we are after with our inner work is release from this comparative thought-self, not to find a way to confirm ourselves with it. And as this understanding grows clearer, it becomes impossible for us to be tricked.
The untold great spiritual secret concerning self-transformation is that we grow in proportion to our awareness of what we can no longer be. Work as best you can to be conscious of what it is like to remain you. This kind of honest inner seeing not only creates true incentive for self-change, but provides the new ground you need in yourself to continue your growth.
For the man or woman who persists with the wish for Truth, for God to be first in life, there really is no such thing as failure. Why? Because every action taken under the auspices of this inner wish purifies the person holding it in his or her heart -- leaving greater clarity and more inward certainty about what forwards the Truth's action and what hinders it.
Keep testing the waters. When we ask for something higher, and we are sincere in this request, that wish cannot be denied.