The spiritual path is the gradual unfoldment of our being from finite to infinite, from partial to complete, from separation to ultimate unity. It has specific stages, defined mainly by the degree and nature of our engagement with it and by how we relate to the ultimate, supreme destination.
In this series of articles we will aim to understand these different stages and to thus become aware of where exactly are we right now in this journey.
Stage 0 – The Spiritual Socializer
Most of us start on the spiritual path by having no real interest in spirituality. We don’t really care about spiritual transformation, but it might happen that we get to know people who do have such an interest and we feel attracted to them. They might appear nicer to us, more detached or more free, and we start liking them, wanting to be more around them. We also notice that the spiritual communities these people belong to seem more accepting and embracing, and that appeals to us, because we always want to belong, to integrate, to feel we are a part of a bigger family. So we start attending spiritual events, knowing that in this way we can fit into a social structure.
We can call this stage zero, that of social spirituality. It’s a compromise we make – even though we’re not interested in spirituality as such, we do like these people, so we start attending the spiritual events they are attending, pretending that we’re also interested. At this stage we are like a seed wrapped in plastic foil. We enter the soil, but we don’t sprout. We can be in the most fertile ground, with the best rain, with the best sun yet nothing will grow from the seed, because the seed is carefully covered in plastic. We can be in the greatest spiritual school ever, surrounded by the most illuminated beings, but none of that will impact us. In such a condition we can sit next to Buddha for years and nothing will happen, because nothing will penetrate us. We don’t really care about the teachings, we’re only there to enjoy the social context and that’s the only thing that keeps us there.
Stage 1 – The Spiritual Tourist
But as we know, even plastic decays at some point, and that will finally allow the seed to sprout. If we manage to stay connected to the social world of spirituality for long enough, sooner or later something will click within us and spiritual perspectives will begin to make sense. It might all start from a deep discussion with a spiritual friend. Or perhaps we come across a teaching, a quote from a master or we attend a group meditation that somehow speaks to us for the very first time. Or it might also be – like many experience – that a life crisis hits us and lead us searching for answers within the wisdom of spirituality. In any case, something will happen that leads us to develop a genuine interest for self-knowledge or spiritual development, and we start learning about it from whatever sources we come across. We check various traditions, various practices and opinions, starting to have a bit of knowledge and a bit of practice, but in a scattered, incoherent way. This is the stage of the spiritual tourist. Now the seed, no longer wrapped in foil, is in the wind, flying around, not yet sure which ground to sprout and grow in.
An important part of spiritual tourism is exploring the “spiritual market” with its multitude of options like yoga, sufism, tantra, kabbalah, or other forms of mysticism, etc. We move from one spiritual school to the other, switching from one technique or tradition to the other, traveling to different places, embracing everything but just for a short moment. At this stage we don’t go deep, we just pause for brief moments here and there. The wind blows the seed.
At this stage we are at risk of being stuck as a spiritual tourist for life. The only way to for us to continue our journey on the spiritual path is to find a spiritual school that we love. This should continuously be our goal as spiritual tourist. Once we find our path, it’s like the seed is finally planted in the ground where it will sprout. When this happens, when we commit to a path, and transform from spiritual tourists to spiritual devotees. A spiritual tourist was a customer of spirituality whereas a spiritual devotee has complete devotion to spirituality.
Do you recognise these stages in your own spiritual journey?