Personal development or spiritual work is not different from learning anything. It’s like playing the piano, cooking, home remodel, or sports. You can make changes in your life that will be more profound and more important than having a decent tennis swing. Both types of work require your time to practice and a teacher to help you get better at what you're studying.
So what is spiritual development?
Spiritual development is something that evolves internally. Subjects like emotional intelligence, energy training, and mental health are not taught in our schools, culture, or consequently our families, and therefore can seem somehow mysterious. Internal work has been outside of society for most of history, left mostly to religious ascetics, priestesses, witches, and monks.
What we have in western culture is the training to go out and get something in the world to be happy. What that training doesn’t tell you is that anything you can acquire outside of yourself may or may not make you happy, and you certainly can lose it. And when we turn our attention to spiritual things embodied by monks, priests, and ascetics living without, we don’t see it as joyful. Perhaps we see it as too arduous a life for a normal person. While there may be some truth to renunciation as a path to freedom, we also see the path as an obedience to a punishing God, not obedience to a God that’s living within us and providing innate knowledge.
Spiritual development is mundane and available to you
When the New-Age movement came around, spiritual work became magical as if we could somehow transcend the bullshit of religion and our physical suffering by believing in the power of attraction. The rise of metaphysical bookshops, crystals and readers were part of that culture. It was all about the magic. There was no teaching about one’s responsibility in the process.
To really begin to work out what you are meant to become in this life, spiritual endeavors must be more approachable, practical, and laid out honestly as it is, instead of selling it as special or easy. In the end, learning to skillfully work with anger shouldn’t be any different than learning to cook Italian food.
We don’t see inner work as having principles and rules as we do with science and physics. Yet, the spiritual world is just as real as the one measured with your five senses. It has its own set of principles and mechanics not measured with our five senses but certainly reflected in every aspect of the tangible seen world. Understanding that what you are perceiving in your world is a reflection of something inside you will allow you to stop focusing on the effect happening on the outside and start to focus on the creative force on the inside.
Self-investigation is the first step in spiritual development
I call the mechanics of the spiritual world, “energy mechanics”. The principles of energy mechanics are just as reliable and predictable as physics, yet will be unknown to you until you begin a self-investigation. Only then can you see clearly that you were the creator of the problem because of how your energy is set up. Whether you are aware of what your inner life is doing doesn’t matter because the energy will do what it is trained to do... until you retrain it.
Doing spiritual work begins by recognizing the beliefs you hold. When you first go to a therapist you start to see that you have a psychology set up internally that isn’t natural or healthy. Changing it is one part recognition and another part energy work. (Which you could also do with a therapist, but it involves getting beneath the mind’s thought into the root of the thought within you.)
A simple example would be if you were abandoned as a young child and now hold the belief that you are not worthy to be loved. This belief, while a thought, is a reflection of a quality or energy within you, magnetically pulling in people to act out the belief that you are not worthy. When someone doesn’t value you, it confirms the belief that you deserve to be abandoned.
We exist on many levels. Physical existence is only one realm. It can be measured easily by our five senses. No one disavows the law of physics, somehow though, when we begin to explore the inner world, some believe it’s not real and therefore has no practical value. Yet, can you agree that you have a mind and emotions even though they are both unseen? While they are invisible you are constantly affected by the state of either. Even beyond the mind and emotion are two more worlds that can’t really be understood by the mind; the energetic and spiritual world.
In my book, A Liberated Life, I share my theory of the four levels of existence; physical, structural, energetic, and spiritual. The physical is everything that can be measured by five senses. The mind is the ruler of the structural realm where you try to organize and improve your security through understanding physics and gaining skill. The energetic world is the space between matter, known through feeling and awareness. It is also where you learn to take the path of least resistance; the one that leads to your destiny. The spiritual level comes to us through our breath. Spirit is where we come from and where we will go when we leave the physical world behind. The life lived starting from the spiritual to the material is what gives life purpose and meaning.
To work on yourself spiritually is to act in your life on purpose through choice. Choice, a truly human characteristic, is what allows you to search for meaning. It is what differentiates you from an animal. To undertake spiritual work sounds grand but if you treat it like learning to play tennis you will have a much more realistic sense of how it works and a greater chance of growing toward what you are truly meant to become.
14 key points to grow your relationship to your energetic and spiritual self
Define Your Goal
What do you want? Why are you out there looking for something? What are you looking for?
We all want the same things like love, peace, courage, trust, meaning, self worth and healing etc.. Look at what is most compelling to you now and that will help you focus on what you need. This clarity will begin magnetizing you toward a practice and a guide. A practice and a guide being the vehicle that will take you to your goal.
Make A Prayer
Prayer is not a religious thing. The purpose of a prayer is to hear truth inside yourself. It is you directing your GPS before you begin your journey.
After you have defined your goals, ask to be led to something appropriate to help you grow. Be open to investigating what turns up subsequently.
Getting started is hard. Starting involves changing your schedule and feeling nervous about something and being a beginner. It is like being a child. It is like jumping into a cold pool.
In the beginning, don’t put your focus on making the right choice. It’s more important to get started. Make what you choose “the right thing”, at least for now. One step will lead you to the next thing.
Start When You Find Your thing, it's time to get a teacher
When you feel you have found the right activity, it’s time to make a commitment and study more deeply. At this point find a teacher.
Teaching yourself to change might sound like taking responsibility but it can just as easily be the arrogance of thinking you have to do it all by yourself. Sometimes avoiding getting a teacher is the avoidance of seeing what isn’t working. It’s the fear of criticism. Other times you don’t want to get a teacher because you don’t want to be vulnerable with another person or give your power away.
But a teacher can cut down the length of the journey and make your practice time efficient and valuable.
Don't turn your teacher into your parents
Your teacher isn’t a parent. Don’t project the expectation of perfection that they will heal your wounds with your birth parents. Don’t put that on yourself either. Just do the work and ask questions. Whatever arises in you is yours.
Be responsible for your choices when the shit is hitting the fan
At some point, you will reach some obstacles with your practice or teacher. You won’t feel trust or safety. When this happens you are starting to grow and you will have to make a decision as to what the trouble is about and who is responsible.
Are you touching the wound where all of life’s limitations have arisen from, or is the environment, teacher, or practice simply not a safe or right place to be?
Are you able to accurately judge whether the teachers hold space or correctly and understand what is going on in your personal development? Move slowly here because your perception could very well be part of your pattern.
When the wounds of the past are finally arising for healing, most people make a mistake in their perception. It’s natural that when we feel emotion our perception tends to shift away from the indisputable facts. This is the main obstacle that keeps people from truly transforming themselves. If you have unconsciously set your teacher up to be your parent, when you are metaphorically in the ‘high school’ of your development you will blame all of your limitations on your teacher.
When trouble arises don’t gossip to other people or silently judge and then leave. Communicate directly to your teacher! Take a risk and speak your true feelings and experience because you're in a relationship with a human being no matter the formality of the relationship. Communicating is a way to get more information and make better choices in the future. Your teacher has a point of view as well, and you would be smart to know what it is even if it's unpleasant to hear. Ultimately, when you are learning from someone, it is still two human beings living life in the same space at the same time.
Risk being in conflict by communicating. It doesn’t have to be perfectly organized. Listen to the feedback you get from the other side after you speak. If you are being gaslit or ignored then it’s simply time to go, but if you see that you are touching something of your past and maybe it’s yours, then own it. At that moment your growth is starting to take shape.
Go when it's time to go
If you have lost trust in your teacher’s insight then it’s time to go. Many stay and get angry, blame, or begin to act in fear of the teachers anger. If you don’t trust your teacher it will be impossible for either of you to be successful at your respective tasks. Make a decision to stay or go. If you stay, do the work on your wound and focus on yourself and accept the feedback and guidance your teacher gives you. If you go, leave respectfully and learn what you can in the process of leaving.
Change is not linear
You don’t grow in a straight line. You can jump to a new level quickly at the beginning then it might slow down and feel like nothing’s changing. Unlike physics, spiritual growth is not linear. The timing is different for everyone. You can plateau for quite awhile. Conversely, there could be sudden unexpected manifestations.
Anything can happen.
It’s not important to know in advance where you’re going or how you should take the journey later. Learning about yourself isn’t about getting the right answer in advance. It is about gaining wisdom through immersing yourself in your experiences. Don’t set up ideas or expectations for how you should grow. Sometimes the deepening of your process happens while you're taking a nap.
Watch out for false assumptions and expectations
Think of personal development like a bathroom remodel where you are both the contractor and the homeowner. You have a vision for what you want and then you are quoted a price and timeline. You start and open up the wall, discovering termites and chewed up electrical. Now there are new plans, more costs, and more work.
Working on yourself never happens the way you expect it will because your expectations are part of why your life was in limitation in the first place.
You will flourish when you create your own structure by having a daily practice. The daily practice keeps the work alive and working on you. It is the teacher when your teacher isn’t around. Daily practice is learning to become your own spiritual teacher. Each day you practice you are reminding yourself on every level of your awareness that you are training to be better.
Many people simply rely on classes and teachers not realizing how much structure they are relying on created by others. Creating a daily practice is learning to rely on yourself.
Daily practice is one of the powerful influences on your growth. When you create a daily practice you are learning how to support yourself. You are learning to create the structure yourself.
Practice, practice, practice
The most important thing of all is to practice. So many talented, deep, soulful, intelligent people don’t practice and end up not fulfilling their potential.
You cannot get better at anything without practice.
Immerse every once in a while
For the advanced aspirant: immerse on your own, and/or with a teacher.
Go on retreat by yourself. Skip all outside influence, especially screens. If your teacher is someone who invites you to immerse with them privately, take the opportunity. I have lived with more than one of my teachers. People have laughed at how many times I have gone to China for 5 days just to spend 3 days with my teacher. Hours with a master of something will accelerate your growth. It’s a guarantee.
Getting in deep with your teacher (if they offer private immersion) is neither the class nor the daily practice. It’s being in a way of life, different from your way of being. By getting into an energy stream that belongs to the teacher, you will begin to absorb and change by osmosis.
You can also immerse by yourself when your practice is already consistent and rooted. Stepping away from daily secular living helps you to deepen your relationship to your inner world. Success in your life begins with the spiritual, so going within first brings you back to clear desire, intention, and thought.
Everything is Everything
Don t give up. It’s your life. Once you start working on yourself there is no end. Eventually, everything you have learned can be applied to everything you do. Therefore, all activities can be a spiritual practice.
For example, if you play golf, you use your mind to project a ball into a hole that is far from you. After aligning internally you get in physical position and lastly hit the ball. You work to line up your mind with your mechanics from the most internal to the most external so the ball will go where you want it to. Taiji practice teaches the very same thing. The force of your hand has to come from the force of your mind. Your intention and mechanics need to line up so the energy can go through. Then if you apply this to your life you might think “If I want something then I must line up my intention, move my energy and focus everything about my life to get it”.
You might fail but you can always learn.
Your Life Is In Your Hands
In the end, your life is your practice. Why not get better? And when you do, get a teacher and practice.