“I still have a long way to go, but I’m already so far from where I used to be, and I’m proud of that.” ~Unknown
Just like any student, I’ve made mistakes throughout my spiritual journey. Although I prefer to see mistakes as learning opportunities, below are a few things I've learned not to do through my years of meditation and detox weekends and constant effort to stay on the divine side of life.
1. Constantly looking for answers externally
When I started meditating regularly, I experienced heightened intuition. Triggered by this, I constantly tried to find signs to guide every decision I made. While waiting for 11:11, feeling a butterfly landing on my shoulder, or simply finding a four-leafed clover, I was trying to find the answer outside.
I went from one spiritual teacher to another, trying to find the one who would give me the “answer.” This “the universe owe me an explanation” mind-set paralyzed me from being self-sufficient in determining my own life direction.
You know what finally works? The regular sit down, close your eyes, and focus on your breath method. Yes, that good ole technique. Apparently our heart always knows the answer, but our minds are often too clouded to listen.
2. Thinking I am above those who are “unenlightened”
When I first started on my spiritual path, I condemned those who didn't meditate. I didn’t like hanging around those who could not keep up in conversations about positive energy and the law of attraction. I thought of them as unfortunate mortals who would never live the fulfilling life I was living.
But then I met unspiritual people who are warmer and nicer than many spiritual people I know. Although they never keep a gratitude journal, they're happy and contended with their life. They might not consciously choose to walk in the path of love, but they are demonstrating every aspect of having it in abundance.
I figured out that spirituality is not about how much you know about chakras or how cruelty-free your diet is. It’s about how you have incorporated positivity in your life, sometimes even without realizing it.
3. Being attached to your spiritual practice
A year ago, I joined a walking meditation class. We were advised to practice it every day, but the lazy me often failed to do so. Then I would feel bad about myself, so I eventually stopped doing it altogether because I didn’t want to be reminded of my failure.
Did you ever start a daily meditation ritual to reduce your anxiety, only to be even more anxious on days when you couldn't find time to meditate? It was kind of like that.
When we rely on rituals to feel better about ourselves, sometimes we become too attached to them. Next time you're doing your daily meditation, ask yourself, are you doing it out of self-love or out of fear of not doing it?
One easy way to answer this is to observe whether you're meditating as an act of self-care or so you can feel good about checking it off your to-do list.
The key to healthy spiritual practices is doing it to enhance your well-being, not for a sense of accomplishment or to build your self-worth.
Do you remember the cliché but true saying “When you truly love someone, you love them in spite of their shortcomings, not only because of their good qualities”? Now I feel enough despite not doing my rituals, not because of my rituals.
So what if I don’t have thirty minutes to spend in silence today? I realize I am still the functional, magnificent creature I am. It’s just that when I do spend the thirty minutes focusing on my breath, it even further boosts my already awesome self.
4. Doing good things just to feel significant
This is just another form of attachment, although from the outside it looks very positive. Yes, your surroundings would probably benefit from this. However, have you ever gotten angry because someone rejected your nice gesture? If yes, then that's your issue.
You felt that way because you weren't doing it for them, you were doing it for you. Maybe you hoped they would pay you back, or maybe you were using them as a tool to rack up good karma.
I too was guilty of this. A few months into my first job out of college, I really wanted to be liked and wanted to “spread love.” I would send long, overly nice emails to my colleagues—which turned out to be ineffective, since it took a lot of time to read them. Also, I would voluntarily help people without assessing whether my assistance would benefit or burden them.
In my fourth month, I was wondering “Why am I not loved by everyone already?” In retrospect, I suspect they could smell my insincerity and felt uncomfortable about it.
The key to doing good deeds is remembering you are doing it for others, thus your focus should be on them, not you.
5. Thinking of spirituality as a destination, not a journey
I have met many spiritually enlightened gurus, and none have claimed that they're done with improving themselves. Spirituality is a long, ever-changing journey.
I used to believe that if I were spiritually awakened, no bad things would ever happen to me again. I would never feel sad, only be surrounded by nice people, and from there on life would always feel positive.
I could not be more wrong. Spirituality is not about suppressing or diminishing your dark side. Spirituality is about raising your mindfulness to a level where you can always make the conscious choice to do the right thing, in spite of what happens and what you're feeling.
Along the spiritual journey, you will finally accept that you always have options. And that, my friend, is the true meaning of freedom.