The whole spiritual life, when honestly examined, boils down to Awareness. As you study spiritual traditions the world over, this is the one common factor that occurs over and over again.
A famous dying Zen Master, was besought by her disciples for her final words of wise teaching to them. She replied “Awareness!” Those were the only words she would reply, despite repeated attempts to persuade her to say more. That word, awareness, was the summary of her entire teaching.
Hence, it is much easier to cut through all the confusion and contradictions, if you are willing to bear this simple point in mind. Awareness is at the heart of Enlightenment and ultimately leads to it. That is why the Buddha and others stressed the importance of mindfulness practices; being aware of your breathing, of your eating, of your walking, of everything that you do at all times.
We are a mystery unto ourselves. We act, and do not know why we acted as we did. We wish to improve ourselves, and yet cannot understand the seemingly infinite inertia that holds us firmly in our habitual places. The secret to spiritual growth is Awareness – at all times and in all places.
It is through the simplest practices of Awareness that you can advance; slowly and imperceptibly at times like an unfolding flower; rapidly and dramatically at others, like a crashing wave washing away seaweed and debris lying on the beach-side. The major problem that most of us face is balancing our urge for inner growth with the practical difficulties of living in modern society with its myriad demands on our time and energy. Here are a few ideas to ease that problem:
(1) Remember that there is no division between spiritual life and mundane existence; that every practical occurrence can be used as an opportunity for spiritual and personal growth. Take it on yourself to see where the personal growth lessons lie in every daily experience or problem you encounter.
(2) Schedule several brief but regular “time out” sessions in the day, where you can close your eyes, breath slowly and regularly, and just center yourself. If you can find a place of silence and solitude to do so, then so much the better.
(3) Learn to trust yourself and your insights more. Remember that outer teachers and spiritual traditions exist only to point you to the ultimate teacher: the Higher Self within. Cultivate Awareness of your inner prompting and be willing to follow them more.
(4) Keep a journal of your discoveries. This serves as a powerful feedback process. No lesson you learn is ever forgotten, and every lesson feeds back into your awareness.
(5) Remain persistent, determined and encouraged. It is very easy to become discouraged in personal work and feel you are getting nowhere. No work on inner growth is ever wasted. Make no comparisons with others, and have no expectations. Let your growth proceed as it must… at it’s own pace. Each person’s needs are individual, as is the rate of each person’s growth. All that is required is persistence and commitment to heightened awareness.
Remember that you can cultivate Awareness, and increase self-understanding in so many situations. Contemplating the clouds. Watching two work colleagues interact. Inwardly observing your emotions and reactions in situations and interactions. Through meditation. By using your journal.
Let your spiritual growth be light and playful; not heavy and “deep” to the point of being a weight around your neck. You don’t need bells and incense. You don’t need “channeled” teachings from someone else. And you don’t need tons of self-help tapes, books and seminars. All you need is you, and your willingness to grow and develop.
A teacher can help you greatly (and is even necessary at a certain stage), and a spiritual tradition can serve to ground you in established wisdom. However, don’t let all this get you down, or make the whole thing worrisome. There is so much you can do with the practice of simple Awareness and inner observation.
By simply doing this, you can make so much advancement on the path to enlightenment and liberation from suffering. Moreover, the good news is that you can remain in this world; centered and at peace in the midst of all circumstances, free of fear and inner suffering. Awareness. Cultivate it – and let it cultivate you.
Copyright Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.