Dr. Stewart Bitkoff, Contributor
The sight of someone eating will not appease your hunger.
The spiritual experiences of others cannot satisfy your yearning.
Q: Daily, I pray, regularly give to charity, do good works and always try to be a good person, yet spiritual experience eludes me. O I am so frustrated. Please, how do I go about having spiritual experiences?
Additionally, I feel unless I have these, I will remain incomplete. O how I yearn to draw closer to God. I thought by following my birth religion and the Path, spiritual experience would be natural outcomes?
A: The answer to this question, like so many others on the spiritual path cannot be thought out or answered by ordinary reasoning (ego). The answers must be experienced or perceived through another mode of consciousness; intuition or Higher Knowledge must provide a personal answer. The Secret Protects Itself.
In this situation, mind questions so heart might respond. Or stated another way;
Imagination blocks you like a bolt on a door,
Burn that bar. –– Rumi
Substitute for the word imagination, expectations, ordinary thoughts, emotions and comparison with others.
The task of the spiritual traveler is to learn to ask the question in one mode of thought, and listen too or experience the answer in another. Like pre-setting the stations on your radio; Station #1 presents the inquiry-where are my spiritual experiences? Click to Station #2, spiritual awareness; which answers the question: spiritual experiences are natural outgrowths of a higher state of consciousness. They present at their own time. This higher state of consciousness is Love of God and a heart that is empty of all else. Again, The Secret Protects Itself.
Remember while the every day consciousness (ego) may be filled with all kinds of concerns, the traveler must learn to still them, for a time, so the heart- that burns for God- might come forward.
In this example, presetting the device for spiritual awareness, often with the help of a teacher, facilitates the change of station.
You must learn to listen to the quiet whisperings of your heart to perceive these answers and have these experiences. Often this training is supplied through right study, with right people, and in the right place. It usually involves freeing oneself of expectations and strong emotions.
Second, seeking spiritual experience is different than seeking God. Our teacher used to say: ‘When you come to me, come to me about God. Do not come here for anything else.’ Often this deception, in the spiritual search, about outcome is buried so deep that it requires continual work to offset its effect. The Secret Protects Itself.
Expectations and Emotions
Each spiritual traveler is born into a world of expectation. Daily behaviors and societal standards are presented by family, friends, co-workers, country, religion and self.
Overtime, these expectations form our operating system and world view. We want to go and do based upon what we have been taught and what we desire for self and others; expectations set standards for behavior that have attached to them a whole series of emotions. For example, joy at accomplishing our goal or sadness as we fail.
This set of personal expectation or goals, in time, can entrap and bind- yet serves an essential function for society as a whole; and is often the basis for our daily behaviors.
For the spiritual traveler, these are the chains that must be temporarily broken- for the Higher Consciousness to work. Cognitively and emotionally they are a door that blocks the inner awareness.
As indicated above, attached to expectations are emotions: both enrich our lives and help make us human. However, in a spiritual quest, they fill our consciousness and must be stilled temporarily so the Higher Impulse can be perceived and heard. Emotions and expectations are ‘a noise’ in our consciousness: blocking other things from happening.
In a spiritual quest, typical expectation sets run something like this. Many times, spiritual travelers are unaware, because these expectations are hidden, that it is precisely these sub-conscious thoughts, along with their emotional attachments, that are blocking spiritual progress.
- I have been meditating for five years and surely something should have happened by now. Or I cannot meditate for more than 2 minutes and surely this inability must be holding me back.
- Everyone knows, ‘we have been given enough for the journey;’ therefore I can pick and choose what I like from different paths. This technique has worked for me in so many areas of my life (i.e., picking a vocation, car and companion).
- When performing spiritual exercises, praying, or doing good works we all have an expectation about how we will be rewarded; for example, this activity will make me a good person, I will gain in good works and I feel good helping others. When the spiritual traveler has these often hidden feelings; these feelings become their reward and they do not travel further. This mind set is a form of ‘spiritual greed’ and must be disarmed by a neutral mental posture.
- When I reach a high level of spirituality, my life will be perfect and complete. Spiritual knowledge is one aspect of a healthy life; spiritual awareness serves as a catalyst to enable other things to happen.
- I love to meditate and pray; it makes me feel so peaceful and I am one with everything. Or I feel so good when I work at the soup kitchen, helping the homeless. Think about the emotional attachment.
In order to maximize spiritual potential, the traveler must learn to recognize when their expectation set is operating. Also the traveler must learn to differentiate between an emotional and a spiritual experience. While expectations and emotions are an important part of healthy living, for many, because they have not been disarmed- both become an obstacle to spiritual experience. The Secret Protects Itself.
We are the means of reaching the goal. It is necessary that seekers should cut themselves away from us and think only of the goal. –– Bahauddin Naqshband
If love manifests itself within you, it has its origin in beauty. You are nothing but a mirror in which beauty is reflected. Because beauty and its reflection are both from that one source, it is both treasure and treasure-house. –– Jami
About the Author
Dr. Stewart Bitkoff, spiritual traveler, poet, is a student of Sufi Mysticism and the perennial philosophy. Professionally specializing in the healing applications of therapeutic recreation, psychiatric rehabilitation and mental health treatment; he holds a doctorate in education and served on the faculties of multiple colleges and universities.
Stewart is also the author of Sufism for the Western Seeker, published in 2011, was nominated by ‘Foreword Magazine’ for Adult Non Fiction Religious Book of Year Book of the Year Award, placing 4th (honorable mention) and is a must read, as well as The Ferryman’s Dream. Both books are also in Kindle format and available on Amazon.com or local bookstore.
Register for an upcoming retreat weekend with Dr. Steward Bitkoff atop Bangor Mountain, in the beautiful Pocono Mountains, Kirkridge Retreat Center on Sufism & Enlightenment, May 30- June I, 2014. For information is available here: http://kirkridge.org/programs/upcoming-programs/ – click on Detailed Information for full program highlights.
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