One of the more common illusions of the spiritual path is that it will get easier as one progresses on it.
The belief that the spiritual path is about transcendence means that people often create subsequent beliefs that if only they tried hard enough, or were spiritual enough, that their lives would be perfect and they would never have to experience suffering ever again.
That if only they were spiritual enough they would not feel, would not think, or grieve, or deal with the inevitable cycle of ups and downs that the physical form and life has to offer.
This creates a life-long battle in which the person never is able to live up to notions of societal and personal goodness, can never be perfect enough (creating imposter syndrome), and must be doing something wrong or must not be “spiritual” enough if they have issues or are still struggling with mental fracturing or the effects of physical or mental-emotional trauma.
This also means that those who are struggling with life-long imbalances are told that they are not being spiritual enough, or that if they just work hard enough that whatever they are having struggling with will one day disappear or be healed.
This then creates a loop in which a person continually believes that one day they will be whole enough, good enough, or perfected enough… except that day never comes.
Except that investment in this belief perpetuates illusion and harm; it creates evolution towards an end goal that may never appear. It takes people out of the present moment, and romanticizes the spiritual path in a way that is inaccurate and unhelpful to those actually traversing it.
If we take on this belief, we live in the future, projecting and hoping to attain a degree of perfection that we can never attain. That idea of perfection is sold and marketed by those who have bought into it as well, creating a loop of teacher or guru and student, all acting out the falsehood of being beyond the human experience.
Illusion will always be more popular because it is formed from our psychological projections, our own private bubble, what is unhealed within us creating paradigms and scenarios that can never be met in reality. It is by questioning our reality, questioning ourselves and what we believe and what aspect of us wishes to believe this that we can move beyond such illusions, and the purveyors of such illusions.
There are many things that can be healed, many things that can be shifted on the spiritual path. There can be liberation from the things that create harm in you, that create strife, and this is not by coming to a state of perfection, but by attaining a state of acceptance… even with the parts of you that deeply suffer, that are in pain, that are imperfect.
Awakening means accepting who you are now, what you are now, and the parts of you that are in pain, that are definitely not perfected, that are not healed or whole. The parts of you that will never be okay by societal terms, the parts of you that are hidden and dark and outliers in this world.
This also means rectifying and working with the shadows of light: the joy, artistry, and enthusiasm for life that may have been stifled along the way.
That accepting who we are at the deepest levels means letting go of the illusory belief that one day all will be perfect.
That it is by our own evolution and participating consciously in our process over many years that we can awaken; but paradoxically this allows one to awaken to the understanding that we can always grow, we can always progress, we can always become more… but to free oneself of the belief of becoming.
In becoming more deeply authentic, in becoming more conscious, the blind emotive reactions cease. This is a big deal. We move beyond basic human self-obsession and are able to look beyond ourselves, and are no longer creating chaos in our worlds, and seeing through the eyes of traumatized inner children.
But in many ways it is a path of reconciling that while within the human form, that none of us are perfected. That truly becoming human: feeling, experiencing, allowing, and most of all accepting all aspects of ourselves, is how we become “awake” or “enlightened”.
Over the years I have also had a curious amount of clients who have been told by spiritual teachers that spiritual means that their lives should get easier; with a heavy amount of blame if the person is suffering, or has had a difficult life or path.
This really shows a great deal of ignorance about really any type of spiritual figure or realistic account of religious and spiritual paths, which outside of a bubble of popularized spirituality will always talk about how difficult the spiritual path is, and how the lives of people who feel called to spirit are filled with external as well as internal struggle.
Such struggle is not to be romanticized, either, but it takes great courage as well as personal responsibility to traverse a spiritual path of any depth, and those called to the spiritual path rarely have easy existences, and frequently find themselves, in more ways than one, “Others” in the world.
One of the popular modern terms Dark Night of the Soul was coined by St. John of the Cross, who found illumination while imprisoned for his beliefs. The specific term did not mean any feeling of existential depression, or trauma-based emotional depression, but a realization of what happens when one goes into states of the highest consciousness–ecstasy, bliss, pulsation, liberation– and then crashes out of them again.
Any path towards the light happens by examining and unearthing the dark. Those who go to the ocean floor are those who need to. Such efforts and unearthings are incredibly courageous. They are also incredibly difficult, and require personal fortitude as well as willingness to see what isn’t working, where one isn’t connected, and where one is not meeting the world or the people in it well.
Seeing where we lack clarity is always difficult. It is much easier on a superficial level to create illusion and projection out of pain. But looking at that pain directly means understanding it and healing it, while illusion never does. Illusion and trauma separates, it doesn’t heal.
Any awakening happens by deeply going within. By deeply feeling, by reconciling what is unhealed. It is only then that the mind clears, the emotions lessen, and a perspective occurs in which the person does not consider themselves as separate from the world emerges.
If we start with a bubble around us that only allows for us to consider ourselves, the awakening process would be that bubble widening and expanding. This allows for us to see other people, to see the world. To eventually meet the world and the people in it as they are, not how we wish them to be. To be in an adult state of consciousness, greater balance, with an improved ability to connect to everything around us.
This allows for an understanding of oneness: the ability to see the world and the people in it, and to recognize that an aspect of them reflects an aspect of you. This allows you to feel deep compassion for people, to feel connected to them, and to meet them where they are (not where you would like for them to be).
In others we can see our former selves, we can see the aspects of ourselves that are or were in pain, we can see the aspects of who we hope to be. By connecting deeply to the world, and to the people in it, we can do the type of true shadow work where we see what or who in the world is causing significant reaction, and know that that shows where something within lies unhealed or unresolved.
It is by looking at the world and the people in it this way that the most horrific experiences and chaotic unhealed individuals can be thanked, as they showed you something within yourself that was disconnected, that was unhealed.
The spiritual path is one of immense hardship, and for many, equating it to the path of Sisyphus– who was required to push a boulder up the hill only for it to roll back down, and for him to repeat the process for all eternity– is quite apt.
There is an immense sense of spiritual fatigue that happens somewhere around the 8-10 year mark for many people. They have worked with their inner children hundreds if not thousands of times, know what their ancestral patterns are, what their past lives are, and the basics of how societal forces have shaped them.
In many ways with this much effort causes our lives to become quite a bit easier. At the beginning of the path we are filled with noise: inner children, unhealed ancestors, past lives, and all of our personal history. This is like an orchestra with many discordant instruments, and when we begin to heal the instruments begin to quiet down.
One of the common mistakes that people at the beginning of their path make is to say that they are somehow done with their personal history. That they have healed their inner six year old, or their inner infant, through a healing session or two. Unless that six year old or inner infant had rather superficial needs or a minimal amount of trauma, healing is very much a spiral. We go back again and again to the parts of ourselves that are unhealed at different points in our personal history because we can look at them differently.
We are a different person. We have different consciousness, and it is by spiraling again and again that we can consider both the superficial considerations of what our inner six year old may need as well as what that six year old may need at the bottom of that ocean, and all of the layers of that ocean in between.
This means that you may return to that same six year old hundreds of times, if not thousands, if there is a large trauma that occurred, or if you become more conscious.
When we become more conscious we can consider things at a different level, and from a different vantage point. The spiritual path then first becomes about becoming distinctly more adult in consciousness; recognizing the parts of ourselves that are not adult and how they are creating our reality for us out of their traumas and subsuquent beliefs that have emerged out of those traumas.
This is why I suggest a method of personal healing and self-inquiry, such as The Body Deva, along with visiting healers. We have so much that is unhealed within us, and so much of that is defining and restricting our reality to such an immense degree that it requires our own participation to evolve into adult consciousness.
But what happens on the spiritual path is that you can work your way beyond personal healing. This is not truly beyond– there are still many things to work on– but it may be a group of five instruments, instead of a thousand. It is enough to have perspective, or to “witness”, rather than be immersed in the chaos one was once involved in. This means the capacity to step back from the fleeting chaos, projections, and woundings to a clearer, more consciously adult state. Being willing to recognize the personal work we need to do is part of the path. It is incredibly easy to come to a superficial place, or to do one piece of healing work, and to announce mastery.
Individuals who have moved beyond illusory mentalities often have a great deal of pain at taking personal responsibility for themselves when others seemingly do not need to, or anger at those who use spirituality as a way to distance themselves from their inner states… or because they are in deeper waters when the bell curve of society only acknowledges or popularizes the dipping your toes in the water, if such waters are entered into at all. Illusion is always more popular than reality for a reason, as is ignorance when it comes to spiritual matters.
Working through this phase allows for compassion as well as realization of the second phase of the spiritual path: working with social constructs and the grids.
At a certain point you can begin to work on grids, or the societal and cultural constructs and constraints that inform and create us. This is really the second phase of the spiritual path, and only happens if we are not immersed in personal history to the extent that we can navigate beyond it. Plenty of people wish to jump to this point, but unless we heal our personal history (including our past lives, familial line, and ancestry) we have too much noise, too many restricted beliefs, and lack clarity to such an extent that we are still seeing through the eyes of trauma.
When you work your way into this phase it is not like personal history no longer needs to be worked on, but that you have greater perspective and clarity to see the other forces that create us personally and societally.
What is resistant within us is what is unhealed, what is unclear in us is what is unhealed; we only really have the ability and willingness to truly evolve on our path once we can develop the ability to look straight at what isn’t working in our lives.
We dislike seeing the flaws in our logic, we hold on so tightly to what we believe because it is untrue. The path of Sisyphus is then someone who is willing to, again and again, look directly at what is creating difficulty, what has skewed their perspective to a large degree, and to reconcile it. This takes a lot of courage, and a lot of willingness to surrender the sort of egoic superiority complexes and illusions our minds have created to keep us exactly what and who we are right now.
What happens when you work so hard on yourself is that in many ways the path does get easier. Your mind gets quieter, you can direct the course of your life to a greater degree. You have healed and have perspective from personal history, you have gone through a process of deconditioning or reconciling how you interact with societal and other programming. This creates an immense amount of freedom, and there is a point in the path where it does not feel like a huge slog.
But it doesn’t make things easier, it just means that you are now dealing with the bottom of the ocean, instead of the waves or mid-ocean. In many ways, the spiritual path gets quite a bit harder, as you are staring directly at the parts of you that are atavistic, wild, that seek harm, the personal and ancestral karma of the perpetrator. The reptilian brain, the caveman, the parts of ourselves that seek destruction and harm.
When we clear away the clutter, the true darkness, the true ocean floor… the abyss and the many monsters that inhabit it, can clearly emerge. Seeing such things with clarity is difficult, as we are used to an incredibly obscured lens, or one that projects such shadows onto movies, onto villains in the outer world.
We start the spiritual path considering ourselves the victim, and working through the times we have been victimized, abused, and harmed. We do so for a reason. Many of us have been harmed so terribly, and it has us frozen in that consciousness; we are the infant or teenager or adolescent who has been harmed, and we look at the world through their eyes. Each time something reminds us of that pain, we revert back to being that consciousness… of being six, or an infant. This is how we relate to the world, this is the eyes we see the world through.
We blindly react to not look within– creating harm through our thoughts and actions, unable or simply not ready to realize our impact on others, we push our pain and ignorance onto anyone and everyone that we can find.
The spiritual path should be first and foremost about personal healing for a reason. Otherwise we lack perspective. Otherwise we cannot consider those around us. If we are drowning in our own lives, and with our own trauma, it is essential to get to a place of floating, or at least treading water, before we can even have the capacity to awaken.
Awakening involves the capacity to greater and greater degrees to move beyond personal selfishness, but we need to be a bit selfish to heal. It may, in fact, be the first time that we have regarded our own selfish needs to do so, instead of displacing our anxieties and issues onto family, friends, or others in an effort to not attend to our inner states.
It is typical for many people to feel the weight of Sisyphus– to heal, to heal, and to heal again. To feel spiritually exhausted from looking at that same spiral from different vantage points thousands of times. To feel as if the boulder has now become more massive that one is rolling up that hill.
Such people are doing work not only for themselves, not only for their families and ancestry, but for the good of humanity. While such things sound hyperbolic, it is those who are willing to traverse the depths who create change in their lives. Who can direct the course of their lives. Who can find their Will (their individual consciousness paired with divine consciousness) and understand their purpose in this world. Who can become of service to this world.
Who can move from blindly taking and reacting and basic human self-obsession to care for and consider others. This is a true blessing, and a gift, and it is typical for those who are on a spiritual path of depth to at a certain point have their path no longer be about themselves, but to do their small part to make this world a better place for their presence in it.
But eventually the path of Sisyphus must be examined. After rolling that boulder up the hill so many times it can become addictive to do so. We get very used to the circumstances of our lives. Even if the known is a difficult known, we still feel control, we still know the parameters of our known universe.
The real trick is how to put that boulder down and to sit next to that hill, resting and integrating all that one has done on the spiritual path. The real trick is to be okay with the unknown, and to be on a spiritual path in which all of the efforts digging in the mud, or at the bottom of the ocean, can allow for grace, and for the good stuff to come in. For states of flow, of blessing, of gratitude, and of realization of the ability to in many ways now direct the course of your lives.
There is no end to the abyss; there is no end to the bottom of the ocean. But such depths should allow for greater heights as well. On the spiritual path putting even Sisyphus aside to feel the liberating effects of such deep excavation, to integrate the immense work that has already been done, and to come into a new state of being require being able to see that the path of Sisyphus is one that can we can be liberated from, just like everything else.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual healer, teacher, and author. You can find more information on this topic in her book, The Spiritual Awakening Guide: Kundalini, Psychic Abilities, and The Conditioned Layers of Reality