There is a very old Indian text describing the laws of right living. The book is a kind of do’s and don’ts for life and one of its many, many points is, “Always protect your spiritual progress.”
I found that in general we tend to protect two things: our security and our comfort. First, we spend most of our time, effort, money and thought into how we are going to be more protected, more secure. The majority of the activities we undertake in our every-day life are based on this. Once this security is somehow taken care of (and in our Western culture, security is something we often take for granted), we think of comfort, of how we can feel a little bit better, what we can do to get some more pleasure. Whatever activity we undertake that is not about security, it is most probably about looking for comfort or pleasure.
This way, security and comfort become our main concerns. Although we imagine ourselves very complex beings, at least compared to animals and plants, all our complexity boils down to what we like or don’t like from the point of view of our security and comfort, and all this complexity is used in trying to attract what we like and avoid what we don’t.
But the book I was referring to says: “Protect your spiritual progress.” What does this mean?
Without a doubt this is a huge issue, and whole books could be written (and have been written) about it. But, from a single point of view and in this small context, protecting our spiritual progress could be thought of in two parts:
A) Create a space of silence in our mind,
B) Allowing some profound questions to emerge.
A) Generally, we live our lives based on our likes and dislikes. We compete, make efforts, fight, push, etc., in order to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want. We want comfort and security and don’t want the opposite, and this constant run to get what I want and avoid what I don’t creates a very agitated mind. To create a space of silence in our mind means to step out of this polarizing field of like/dislike into a zone of presence, of awareness, of acceptance of what is. This shift needs discipline—a time in our day where we can encourage the building of that silent space—like a daily meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, a class like Yogilates, etc—not because we like or dislike it, but because we know that there must be something more than just this rat race over security and comfort. This kind of discipline creates a space, a silence, a quietness in the mind where some questions may arise.
B) Once this openness is there, the mind, together with the heart, may be able to look, first at its own life and then at the whole of life with enough depth to allow some basic questions to emerge, questions like: What is the meaning of my life? What is the meaning of life!? Is there a creator? If there is one, why is there so much suffering? What is suffering? What is truth? What is eternity? Is death the end of everything? Who am I really? Etc, etc, etc.
Although, in general, these questions do not appear before an inner space is created, sometimes it happens that they do. But without this inner space, these questions will not have a place to grow and will not have any real power other than to disturb and confuse, something quite common between so-called spiritual people.
To ask this kind of questions is actually quite rare. We are often so busy in our minds that these questions never come up or, if they do, they don’t have any staying power. The questions that generally come up, and have some power are more along the lines of: How can I make it in life? How can I make more money? How can I find the perfect partner? How can I get more recognition? How can I travel more? How can I look younger…for longer? How can I have more? Etc.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with the questions in themselves, other than the fact that their source is none other than the search for security and pleasure.
But to “keep our spiritual progress” means, first of all, to allow these profound questions to appear, by creating an inner space.
Then, we need to keep these questions alive, unanswered (don’t let easy, comforting answers satisfy you), for longer and longer periods of time, and finally, to allow them to create a movement in the mind, shifting the priorities away from the need for security and pleasure towards a need to answers these questions.
This does not mean we should forget about security and pleasure, but simply not to allow them to be our only driving force in life.
From this point of view, protecting my spiritual progress means allowing these deeper questions to be part of my every day life and creating a state of mind where, with time and progress, the need to find the answers becomes so profound, so important, that there will be nothing that I will do, think or feel that will be separated from my need to understand, to discover and to live these questions.
…And then, the spiritual progress continues…