The Biggest Mistake Most of Us Make
on the Spiritual Path
By Craig Hamilton
Many of us today are engaging in a tremendous amount of spiritual work on ourselves. We're meditating, praying, and attending workshops, seminars, and retreats. And yet the vast majority of us are making the same mistake. We tend to put far too much significance on the need to work out our personal psychological issues as part of our spiritual path.
It's important to recognize that this isn't our fault. This tendency grew out of our psychotherapeutic culture, which basically told us that we were all messed up by our childhood and that we have "inner wounds" that need to be healed in order to become happy and fulfilled as adults. And, as the great enlightenment teachings have been imported to the West, this psychotherapeutic worldview has gradually become superimposed onto the spiritual path.
The way this plays out practically is as follows: Let's say that I take up a spiritual practice in earnest, and I notice in the course of that practice that I'm deeply defended against life and intimacy. I won't let other people see me. I always wear a social mask that actually hides a lot of insecurity. Well, upon discovering this, as a psychologically informed modern person, my tendency is going to be to withdraw inward, to go back to my past, to start plumbing the depths of my psyche to try to find and uproot the personal causes of this fear and insecurity and tendency to hide myself from life.
But in an authentic spiritual context, we would point out that this "personal problem" you've discovered is in fact simply one of the basic, ordinary manifestations of ego. And, rather than sending you on an endless and pointless archaeological dig into your psyche, we'd simply encourage you to face directly into the Truth of what you were seeing, to see the psychological tendency clearly, and the motivations that are driving it in the present. Most importantly, we'd encourage you to make direct effort in the opposite direction of your habitual response. So, in this example, when you see yourself preparing to put on a good face, we would encourage you to instead take the frightening leap to be transparent and vulnerable.
Upon reading this, many psychologically informed experts will protest, asserting that, if it were that easy to change, everyone would have already changed and there would be no need for . . . well, no need for psychotherapy . . . And this is a perfectly reasonable response from someone who has had no experience engaging in the kind of spiritual practice I'm describing.
But what happens when we let go of this compulsion to work out our problems, and instead begin to directly engage in a path of active transformation like the one I encourage, is that we find suddenly that we have access to a part of our self that is already free from our ego's limitations and issues. It's a part of our self that was never wounded or traumatized, that doesn't need to be healed, that is already whole and complete, and has access to boundless energy, creativity, and positivity, and is completely ready to participate in life fully, boldly, passionately, holding nothing back. And, in this, we feel instantly connected to the heart of the spiritual thrust behind the cosmos.
Miraculously, what we find in doing this work is that when people awaken to and begin to act from this deeper, truer part of the self, then all of the psychological issues, blocks, wounds, complexes, and neuroses that would have taken years to work through suddenly seem to dissolve. Now, the truth is that they haven't dissolved. They can still be reactivated if we step back into the perspective of the ego. But in light of this newfound, higher potential, and the profound sense of purpose and meaning that comes with it, we discover a powerful reason to no longer fall prey to our "issues." Simply put, they are no longer interesting to us, and in that, they lose their power over our psyche. And that seems to make all the difference in the world. In this, we begin to discover the real meaning of freedom from the ego. And we learn that this freedom is not something we have to wait for. It can happen now if we're willing to give our heart and soul to it.
Reprinted by Permission from IntegralEnlightenment.com.
Craig Hamilton is the founder of Integral Enlightenment and a member of Deepak Chopra’s Evolutionary Leaders Forum, is a pioneer in the emerging field of evolutionary spirituality. He integrates decades of intensive spiritual practice with insights gleaned during his eight years as senior editor of What Is Enlightenment? magazine and 13 years with the EnlightenNext spiritual community. In his current work, he is helping to articulate an authentic evolutionary spirituality—an “integral enlightenment” which illuminates the vital relationship between individual transformation and collective evolution.