The approach I’m going to take here in discussing spiritual growth follows a number of steps. These steps are equally applicable to the achievement of any other goal and objective in life. It is a simple and logical process which successful people follow.
- Re-statement of the goal and success
- Verify prerequisites
- Make time
- Methods and options
- Measuring success
What is the goal?
If you re-read the section on Enlightenment, we said that attainment of our spiritual goal was to be using our higher brain functions, the executive faculties of the prefrontal cortex, to the fullest extent possible. When we do so, we will:
- Have our physical, emotional and lower mental bodies operating as willing servants of our higher brain. Our higher brain will be engaged in planning and strategising, and this requires a willing body to carry out its instructions for the attainment of its spiritual aspirations.
- Not be addicted to anything. Addictions rule us and waste our time. Addictions mean that the reward centre of the brain is in control; not the CEN.
- Be motivated and energised and enthusiastic, but equally content and contemplative when there are no external things to deal with.
- Operate from a connection to the universal Will, instead of the personal ego.
- Have an intimate awareness of the people and environment around us, and feel a sense of responsibility to take care of it.
- Be happy and joyful.
- Potentially: be capable of entering higher states of consciousness during meditation.
Steps to achieving Goals
The builders of the pyramids of Egypt were able to accomplish a feat that is still regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Nobody is quite sure how they did it; but it does seem most likely that human beings did the work rather than aliens who arrived by UFO from another planet (seems an odd thing for them to do – fly across the galaxy to a primitive planet, make a structure from stone, then fly off again…). These pyramid builders knew what they were doing and they demonstrated a high degree of planning and organisation (clearly the higher brain functions were operating). The knowledge from these leaders were passed down through Hermetic texts to become the teachings of the Freemasons and Rosicrucian’s and Sufi’s and other western mystery schools. A fundamental aspect of their teachings is the accomplishment of goals through a series of steps leading to the achievement of their objectives – the attainment of enlightenment being the ultimate spiritual goal. In fact, there are several preliminary steps that are necessary, and these apply to everything you attempt to do in life.
- Recognition that there is a problem, or a need, or that something is wrong. Until you are convinced that there is a problem or an issue that needs fixing or something that you want, you aren’t going to make any effort to change things. Denial that a problem exists is a major hurdle to overcome, and one that is often used by regulatory and administrative organisations to avoid doing something.
- Decide that you want to do something about it. This is a huge step. Decision. In step one you noticed that there was something that needed to be done; in step two you decide that you are going to do something about it. You may be aware that there are problems in your life and things you should change, but nothing will happen until you decide that you will address it. You need to convince yourself that it is worth fixing.
- Define what your goal or objective is. You aren’t ready to start planning yet. Many people make the mistake of trying to fix their problems without first giving some consideration to options and the practicality of achieving their goal. In step one you noticed that something was wrong, in step two you decided to take action and now you need to clearly define what your objectives are, and before you can do that you need a vision and set of values to live by. This is the same process that many organisations go through every few years to remind themselves why they are there and what they are trying to do. You can do this exercise for anything in life, but nothing is more important than your own life goals. I have provided a sample set of vision, values, goals and objectives in the table below as a starter.
These are only examples. You first need to decide what your ultimate vision is, and if necessary rearrange your life accordingly. If you want to give up everything and become a Buddhist Monk or Nun you can do so, but it does involve some pretty big sacrifices and not everyone can adopt this mode of living. If you are serious on enlightenment I suggest a more practical approach is to dedicate a percentage of time each day or week to it, as you would with any other hobby or interest in life. The rate of progress you make is clearly going to be proportional to the time invested, so if you set aside a couple of hours each Sunday for spiritual practices don’t expect to make progress as fast as the person who did give up everything and become a full time Buddhist Monk/Nun!
If you join a religious or spiritual organisation they will have a set of values for their members to live by, and most of these are common to all organisations. These are the virtues (and vices to avoid), the ten commandments, the “do’s and don’ts”, Yama and Niyama. You need to ensure that their set of rules aligns with your own values. Refer back to the Graves’ vMeme model of thinking types, and make sure that the values of the organisation aligns with yours – if you are a “greenie” type person (#6), you are not going to be well suited to Catholicism (#4).
Then you can get down to specific goals and objectives. The mistake many people make is starting at step 3 with a vague goal, and launching straight into planning activities. “I want to be self-realised” so “I need to meditate” and so you enrol for a course on Buddhism. I don’t want to discourage you from doing it as you would undoubtedly benefit and learn from the experience. But if you spend a bit more time planning and understand that meditation is only one of many things that you need to do (see below), then you may make progress faster.
Ask yourself right now if there is anything wrong in your life. This is step 1. If you are quite happy then there is absolutely no reason for you to make any changes in your life and you have no reason to advance to step 2 or take any further action. In fact, you probably won’t be reading these web pages! If you are reading this and you aren’t happy with your life, then in making the decision in step 2 it comes with commitment – are you prepared to do “whatever it takes“? Like a marriage vow “… for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health“. On the spiritual path the commitment is deeper than a New Years Resolution (which often doesn’t last more than a few days into January!). It is a vow or resolve, also known as Sankalpa. Like the Knights of the Round Table taking an oath to never cease searching for the Holy Grail.
If you are that committed and make it to step 3, gaining clarity on exactly what the ultimate goal is, is very necessary. It is hard to get a good definition or even a concept of “enlightenment” or “self-realisation“. Hence in these web pages I have emphasised the development of the higher brain faculties because when the higher brain is being used it is easier to recognise what these qualities are. This is still a difficult task, but it is something which can be defined and measured, and which I believe is ultimately the same thing as “enlightenment” – the measure of which will depend on how successful you are in using your higher executive functions.