In order to progress spiritually, we need to make a passionate commitment to our practice, ideally a lifelong commitment. But there are three caveats. First, perhaps the most popular misconception about spiritual practice is that no practice is needed. Many times the illusion is promoted that spiritual enlightenment can be accomplished by mere intellectual assent – I am already enlightened. Well, yes, you are already enlightened, but you have not realized this enlightenment in the core of your being. Such glib pronouncements constitute armchair mysticism, which is one of the primary ensnarements when walking the spiritual path.
Second, it’s important not to make spiritual practice something we profess but really don’t apply in our daily lives. We may label ourselves a follower of this or that faith, but if we don’t put the teachings into practice, our allegiance is merely superficial. This defeats the very purpose of following a spiritual path.
Third, and relatedly, we can make spirituality our lifestyle. We may change our name, our clothing, our friends. Such changes can at times be beneficial, but the danger here is where no real inner transformation takes place. We will have adopted outer changes, but these are again superficial and they don’t cut to the core. In this sense, spirituality becomes no more than a hobby.
For spirituality to be effective, it must transform our lives. According to philosopher Gerald Heard, this transformation changes our conduct, character, and consciousness (Training for the Life of the Spirit, page 13). Our transformation will be proportionate to the degree we apply ourselves to our practice.
In Hinduism, the Yoga Sutra (1:22) outlines three degrees of practice: mild, moderate, and intense. The problem is that most most modern societies reward material values rather than spiritual values. Productivity, consumption, and progress are esteemed, not navel gazing. It’s exceedingly difficult, but not impossible, to practice moderate or intense degrees of spirituality while living in this goal-oriented societal environment. One must somehow go against the grain and make a living while at the same time maintain their spiritual focus.
In addition, one’s psycho-physical mechanism – our body and mind – must be conditioned to embody the higher states of consciousness. This typically occurs in deep meditation, and it takes place over time. Our whole being becomes rewired to sustain the deeper levels of spiritual realization. This phenomenon takes place when one’s entire being becomes repeatedly deeply inwardly absorbed in the more refined and subtle contemplative states. The deep spiritual current then flows throughout one’s mind and body, interweaving our whole being in a singular, integral matrix of pure spirit. We thereby come to reside in our spiritual body.
St. Paul writes, “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44). Paul elsewhere notes, “He [meaning Jesus] will transform our lowly body into the likeness of his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Some advanced mystics from Christianity and all religious traditions have been so inwardly transformed that they come to live in and completely identify with their spiritual body—the same as their soul. Their physical body becomes a mere afterthought to these illumined saints.
Such transformation takes place when one is wholeheartedly devoted to their spiritual practice. This doesn’t take place overnight, and it requires sustained effort. To effect genuine spiritual transformation, there are no shortcuts.