Two Phases on the Spiritual Journey
There are two phases to the spiritual path. The first is what I call the psychological phase. It involves working on the psychological ego. This means dealing with issues from childhood, self esteem, finding a way to make a living, dealing with relationship issues and so on. It is what we normally deal with in therapy. It’s what Richard Rose referred to as “getting your house in order.” It is about becoming a mature adult in the usual sense. And the characteristics of a mature adult are: Responsible for oneself physically(if possible) and emotionally, is able to manage their feelings, takes a somewhat objective view of things, includes others in the picture, confident without arrogance, self-composed, reliable, steady, behaves responsibly, is open to feedback, has consideration for others.
The second phase is what I call the spiritual phase. It’s about looking at issues from the point of view of The Self, The Absolute or God, or The Ultimate. Like the first phase, it is about questioning assumptions and expectations and beliefs you hold in relation to your True Nature. Hearing teachings such as: you are not who you think you are, you are not the limited, separate, perishable creature you have been led to believe you are, and “You are not who you are advertised to be” as Douglas Harding used to say, opened my eyes to this second phase of the path.
I began to entertain the notion that what the great teachings were saying could be applied to my own experience and in doing that I found that a new perspective opened up. A new orientation to how I interpreted teachings arrived. It was more like allowing for a new possibility than having any understanding at the time. It meant having a trust in the teachings to the extent that I tried them on, so to speak. This was a different orientation from simply trying to understand them intellectually.
With hindsight I’d say it was a letting to of intellect or dependence on it.
This is how I see the link between the two phases, and about how to make the changeover from the psychological to the spiritual investigation happened for me. I had read that St. Teresa of Avila, who as well as being recognised as an enlightened one was a spiritual director for most of her life had said that the biggest obstacle to progress on the spiritual path was in getting over self esteem . My interpretation of this was that until we know where our self esteem comes from we are stuck in it. This started me doing an investigation into where my self esteem comes from. I made a list of the traits by which I judged myself. They included such qualities as: material success; academic achievement; looks; musical talent, social skills and so on. On doing this I looked to see how I had arrived at my assessment of myself in each of these traits. I found they came from how I felt others had judged me. If teachers had judged me above average at Maths then I accepted this as so. If my friends thought me to be funny then I accepted that. In other words, every quality I could find in myself had came from outside of myself. It came from the world. Having received the clue from St. Teresa that there is another way to define myself, I began to look for it. This is when I began to interpret the various teachings from a different perspective, the spiritual angle.
Around this time I remembered that as a child my mother used to say that she considered all her children to be gifts from God. I began to consider that perhaps my true value comes not from what I seem to be in the world but from what I am made of. One day I was looking at some jewellery—a ring, a bracelet and a brooch—when I realised that their value came from the fact they are all made of gold. Maybe I really am a child of God – golden or spiritual by nature! This thought, and the willingness to entertain it, opened me to the second phase of the journey home to The Self.
I mention the first phase because I think that it is necessary to have attained a certain degree of maturity, self-responsibility and detachment from the ego before one is able to take on the second phase.