Why do we seek a path?
The impulse or drive to grow, motivating us to seek a path of personal or spiritual development, comes from the deepest level of our beings and is the very same drive that expresses itself in a child's curiosity or, in its most basic form, in the sprouting of a seed. As we age, that drive expresses itself in a multitude of ways, including the desire for self-understanding and wisdom, the yearning for knowledge and personal fulfillment, the urges to discover and to create, the wish to help others, the pursuit of spiritual awareness, and the search for answers about life and its purpose.
The impulse to grow may lead a person in a variety of directions, some helpful, others not so helpful. How do we choose a path that will facilitate our growth rather than one which offers comfort but in the end leaves us exactly where we first began? Some people sample a variety of disciplines during their lives but are not interested in choosing one path to follow for any length of time. Others say they are following their own path and question the need to have a teacher to guide them.
What does it mean to walk a path?
Walking a path is a way of discovering and developing oneself and one's spirituality. Specifically, it helps us become aware of our relationship to everything around us. In our journey of self-discovery, we are guided by a teacher who is often, herself, a student of the path. Walking a path involves learning what it means to be of service and being willing to labour in the pursuit of growth and learning. This pursuit is not a self-centred one; it is never undertaken for the sake of personal gain.
There is not a big difference between being spiritual and taking the first steps along a path. As we've seen, spirituality involves acting consciously and taking responsibility for our behaviour and our thoughts, as well as our relations with others. Both entail an awareness of the way in which we lead our lives. Both can be taught, although the lessons of spirituality are frequently passed on by a parent or through the teachings of a religion. Some people ask if it is possible to walk a path without a teacher. This is like asking whether we can sail the ocean without a compass. Some people say they can.
How do paths differ from one another?
While there are many different paths of spiritual growth, they all have one thing in common, and that is following a discipline. Some paths are based upon a religion and involve worship or prayer. Others may teach through such disciplines as meditative exercises, chanting, physical movements or postures. Still others use labour or some other service as a vehicle for learning. Many paths combine all of these elements. There are some paths, however, that lead not to growth and awareness, but to disappointment and intolerance. These are the ones that make promises or require us to accept a dogma without question.
What do we bring of ourself to a path?
Sometimes the path we choose to walk is less important than the way in which we walk it. Is it something we do every waking moment, or just one or two hours a week? Do we make acommitment to follow one particular path for a period of time, or do we shift from one to another, always feeling dissatisfied? Do we bring something to the path we walk, or do we only expect things from it?
As we follow the path, we should always be questioning, or else our minds will not be open and receptive. Learning can happen at any moment along the way. When we walk a path, we should walk with the teacher, not behind her. This way, rather than merely following in her footsteps, we will be making our own. If we expect to be taught or lectured to, we are not walking a path but following a doctrine. How far we walk will depend upon our eagerness, not our impatience, to experience and learn for ourselves.
What are the goals of a path?
Many people ask about the goals of a path. But if we walk a path with a particular goal in mind, spiritual enlightenment for example, or knowledge, we will be walking for the wrong reason. We should not so much seek to acquire knowledge, as to become. If we adopt tunnel vision, we miss out on the opportunity to make discoveries along the way. We keep our psyches closed, in effect.
Although reaching a specific end point should not be our purpose in walking a path, it is important that we make some forward progress. Some people have followed spiritual disciplines for many years but have never actually completed one full step along a path. Imagine the different paths as spokes on a wheel, each one leading from thehub to the rim. Some people want to explore many of the spokes but spend only enough time to get a sample of each. They dilly-dally around the hub, accumulating a lot of superficial knowledge about each spiritual discipline, but never seriously embark on any one path.
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Read an excerpt: DON'T WATER THE STICK