We are asked sometimes what practices we recommend to seekers who are new to the spiritual path, or to seekers whose progress seems to themselves to be sluggish or otherwise not rewarding. (Before proceeding, if you have not already done so, please read our definition of the word seeker itself by clicking here. Then, to return here, click your browser's BACK button, or the BACK button at the top of this page.)
The answer to that question depends almost entirely on who is asking it. That is, the spiritual process is by definition the most intimate and personal undertaking any of us will undertake. How and where we begin is unavoidably a factor of who and where we are at the start.
The safest and most reliable solution is to find — or be found by — a Teacher or a Guru, and then follow his or her instructions. (On the general subject of Teachers and Gurus, please consider reading our essay here.)
However, in the apparent absence of that condition (apparent because a seeker may very well be — almost certainly is — in the custody of a Teacher, and not aware of it, as the awakening of spritiual interest is in itself evidence of a Teacher’s influence), at TZF we are generally inclined to suggest the path we took at the outset, precisely because it is the only path we know from personal, successful experience.
First, truly to succeed as a seeker — or, for that matter, in any other human endeavor — one needs to make a firm and indelible commitment to the process. We need to affirm to ourselves and to God (in whatever Form or Formlessness we understand that word to mean at the moment, fully and comfortably aware that our understanding of it will grow, change, and mature over the months and years ahead) that our commitment to the spiritual undertaking overrides and supersedes everything else in our life. Just so, in the Gospels, Jesus commands, “First seek the Kingdom of God”. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna instructs, “Fix your mind on Me”. Similar injunctions can be found in virtually all traditions.
What that means to us is that we need to see ourselves first as a seeker, and then as a husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, banker, farmer, airline pilot, bus driver, postman, dress maker, and so on. In other words, everything else we do in life, every other role we play, must be put into the context of our spiritual search, and be relegated to a place below it. Now, this is not to suggest that we should become less enthusiastic in our role as husband or wife, dress maker or airline pilot, or whatever; indeed, quite the contrary is likely to be the case. However, what it does mean, in the very beginning at least, is that now the Supreme, and our relationship with the Supreme, has entered into and tempered every relationship and role in our life.
Why is this commitment so important? As we at TZF understand the Universe, our lives are a manifestation or expression of ourselves. In effect, what each of us sees and feels and experiences “out there” is nothing more (or less) than what we are within. This is what we mean in the book Take Off Your Shoes by the expression, “the universe is plutonic”. In geology, the term plutonic describes a formation whose shape and nature are determined by what is taking place beneath the surface. That is, inner activity creates and shapes and determines the outer formation. Our lives are precisely like that. Everything that happens “to” us is a direct and perfect reflection of something within. So if we wish to change our outer lives, if we wish our lives to reflect and reward our spiritual search, we must first make the change on the inner; we must decide and express our new spiritual intent. If we wish to progress along the spiritual path consistently and successfully, we must absolutely commit ourselves on the inner to that undertaking. Otherwise our progress will be uneven. In other words, if we are “sort of” committed to the spiritual path, then our lives will unfold “sort of” successfully. The outer follows the lead of the inner.
The mechanics of making such a commitment will vary with every seeker. We recommend a ceremony of some kind to which God is invited. In this ceremony, seekers are urged to explain to God what it is they think they are doing, and what it is they expect in return. In effect, execute a contract, a contract which we recommend be in writing. A simple, single sheet of paper will do, an exchange of vows between ourselves and God: we promising our attention and obedience as seekers, God promising encouragement, instruction, and love. A few words will do, something like, “From this day forward, I consider myself first and foremost a seeker, and I promise to devote my life to that role, so that whatever else I may be or do, will be in that context. In return, I expect You to guide me, teach me, protect me, and awaken me, and to love and nourish me.”
Now, having written it, sign it. And read it. In the early days, read it frequently. You want this document, both its letter and its spirit, to become firmly anchored within you.
With that done, the rest will surely follow. Opportunities will arise, books will become available to us, we may discover new websites, meet new people, learn about workshops or conferences, and so on, all of which will in some way relate to our spiritual commitment. In effect, we will have enrolled in a new course, entered a new classroom, and the curriculum will begin to unfold — naturally and on its own.
That said, to those new seekers who are in the process of making a firm commitment to the path but whose path does not seem to them to have taken shape yet, we are generally inclined to recommend that they undertake to complete the exercises in the Workbook for Students volume which is part of A Course in Miracles. The Workbook for Students consists of 365 daily exercises which are intended to be done one a day every day for a year. We urge seekers to do those exercises precisely as they are presented in the book, without attempting to analyze them or even understand them. That is, simply do them. At first, they almost certainly will seem confusing, even silly, but our experience has been that at the end of a year, an aspiring seeker will not regret having done it. (For more about our view of A Course in Miracles, please direct your browser to our essay on that subject.)
The reason we suggest the Workbook for Students to new seekers is that, besides its other considerable merits, it provides an excellent means of learning discipline and obedience, two characteristics which virtually every tradition demands. There are, of course, lots of other spiritual tools and vehicles which offer the very same. Here again, which of these will work best for a new seeker depends upon who and where he or she is at the moment of beginning. What is important, in our view, is that a seeker find a method that demands attention and rewards commitment. In our experience, the Workbook for Students volume of A Course in Miracles is that.
Finally, if you have not already done so, please read our essay The Simple Way and Guru Who? as well as the other essays at Consider This! and the other material throughout The Zoo Fence, all of which we hope will provide information, guidance, and encouragement to seekers wherever they are along their path. And if you have questions you would like to ask of other seekers, or if you would simply like to be in the company of other seekers, you may wish to visit TZF's Open Forum. (Update: Our forum has been closed. However, the material there has been archived for reading only, and some of it is very good stuff.)
Whatever route you choose to take, have no fear. The moment you decide to discover the Truth — of yourself, of the Universe, of God — wheels are set into motion. You will be guided. Your eventual success is certain.
Give up, and you will succeed.
Therefore I say again that work is only the first step. It can never be the goal of life. Devote yourself to spiritual practice and go forward. Through practice you will advance more and more in the path of God. At last you will come to know that God alone is real and all else is illusory, and that the goal of life is the attainment of God.
The Gospel of Thomas Q
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