As plants grow toward the sun’s light, so too do our souls reach up toward the light of God. At first our inner growth may seem slow and hesitant, but gradually, as the yearning in our heart grows stronger, our movement towards the light gains momentum. Eventually, and this is true for everyone, the magnetism of God’s presence within us becomes such a powerful force that we fairly rush to embrace it.
Recently I began thinking about various phases on the spiritual path that, though challenging, are all necessary to reach the journey’s end: Self-realization. Here are some of the steps we take as we move from the little “self” to the big “Self.”
Often when we begin our journey we can get a little full of ourselves, and entertain thoughts like: “I’m practicing yoga and meditation, so I’m different, perhaps even a bit better than most people—more insightful, more aware.” This attitude is self-defeating, because it reinforces our sense of separation from others. True spiritual growth should awaken within us a sense of kinship with others, based on the understanding that all people—from the best to the worst—are parts of our own self.
Eventually, as we continue on the spiritual path and are confronted with karma’s inevitable tests, awareness dawns that maybe we aren’t quite so “elevated” as we may once have thought. Gradually we awaken from complacency to the understanding that we have a lot of work to do on ourselves. We realize that our ego has misled us into imagining the source of our problems to be outside of us, rather than within our own consciousness.
And so we begin to look within and see what attitudes and behaviors need to be changed—and changed now! As we clear the field of our consciousness with the plow of self-honesty, we begin to feel a sense of purpose which leads us to the next step:
In many ways this is the most important step on our journey. It’s the starting point from which we can begin to work positively with the specific karmic challenges that we face. Self-acceptance enables us to stand on the firm ground of the reality of who we are right now. From that point, we can see where we want and need to go next, and how to get there. Self-acceptance also leads to the important step of:
Self-forgetfulness is the steppingstone to inner freedom and joy. In the grand scheme of things, none of us is really all that important. Once a college friend of Swami Kriyananda’s was complaining to his mother that no one appreciated his true worth. She gave him a good answer, though a tough one to hear: “Son, you’re actually not important enough for people to spend a lot of time considering you, one way or the other.”
This is true for all of us, and is actually cause not for lamenting but rejoicing. To lose oneself in the contemplation of the vast beauties of nature, or in the profound wisdom of a sage, or the sweetness of a mother tending her baby, or the unconditional love of God is to take a big spiritual step forward. In fact, self-forgetfulness is such an advanced stage of spiritual development that it leads us to the final step on the journey:
Paramhansa Yogananda said, “When this ‘I’ shall die, then shall I know who am I.” Finding God is not entering uncharted territory: It is a journey that has been made by dedicated men and women down through the ages. It is your journey, it is mine. With devotion, determination, and the grace of the guru, we can ascend these five steps to find the ultimate fulfillment we are all seeking.