Tracks of Spiritual Exploration

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

I’ve been giving some thought to the different tracks or stages in our spiritual exploration and development. We often think of this process as searching for and finding “it”—whatever “it” is—but after reading two different and completely unrelated posts, my mind in spinning in new directions.

One Twitter post by @LiminalEarth was on cryptids as spiritual entities, which led me to ponder how differences in such phenomena are perhaps simply different stages in certain creature evolutions. Who would guess the butterfly would come from the caterpillar unless you saw it or knew it? The other inspiration came from observing a post from a passing acquaintance vehemently doing what folks are calling “spiritual gatekeeping” these days.

While I don’t think it’s a linear spiritual evolution with one universal end goal in mind that fits everyone—as we each start in different places and end, due to the shortness of life, in different places—there do seem to be common themes many people go through. Some seem to go in the reverse order of others, but the themes persist.

We go through periods of philosophizing about things, and then actually putting them into action with some sort of practice. We go through various stages of optimism, pessimism, and even nihilism, as we explore concepts of dualism, holism, and multiplicity.

Experiences can form the hard rules of Dogma or the soft rules of custom and tradition, and for many, the non-rules of the mystical experience and a level of spiritual anarchism.

Our educational mode can move through stages of learning and reading everything, to regurgitating everything we have read and heard, often with little understanding and great authority. We can know nothing and not know it, or no nothing and know we know nothing. Or we can think we know everything, and all evidence to the contrary does not penetrate. Our teacup is too full. Nothing new can go into it.

Some put books down, for a while or for good, and pursue direct experiences. Eventually we must synthesize all this knowledge into our own path, regardless of the groups and traditions we already belong to.

We go through various phases of spiritual control, at times seeking to control others and control situations, at others learning to control ourselves and our reactions. We work alone. We work in groups. We lead groups. We leave groups and work alone again.

The stages of control teach us about power, exerting power, and inherent power, and how those who exert the most strongly are often the least in touch with inner power. We learn when to surrender and went to act. Some only learn to express power against, in rebellion, a flip side to the “power over” dynamic. Some learn power with, and others only learn power alone.

We explore wounding, and we often unconsciously, though sometimes consciously, end up wounding others in trying to understand our own wounds. We recognize our wounds and hopefully go through stages of healing those wounds and healing again.

We do all this doing, and end up in a place of being, where we are still doing, but with a better recognition of the being doing the doing.

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