So this is a monthly column on spiritual development and today's topic: Is spiritual development practical? Of course my answer is "yes"! Here are some reasons why.
First, it contributes to self-knowledge in a context of properly ordered self-love and love of neighbor. If it does not, then it may be development but it's not spiritual. I may for example get over residual anger from my family of origin but if that does not generate energy for others then it remains suspect as truly spiritual growth.
Second, it helps one get beyond theological immaturity carried over from childhood religious ed. For example, a critical, constantly judging, reproving God, conjured up to encourage proper behavior, is replaced by truly Unconditional Love overflowing with mercy, or in a non-dualistic worldview it substitutes peaceful evolution for chafing perfectionism due to the discovery of love at the center leading to peace with oneself.
Third, spiritual development serves the goal of establishing one's own inner authority. Many people go through the motions of religious practice, or reject it altogether, because they have carried childhood imagery of the religious enterprise into adulthood. If they continue religious observance without corresponding spiritual growth, they become robotic and habitual in their practice without growing in love, or the whole process starts to seem ridiculous and they stop. Generally they do not have much idea of why they are doing what they are doing but they keep doing it because that's how they were brought up. Their reference for truth is whatever a religious authority figure tells them. Spiritual growth will lead to a buoyant, but humble, confidence in the authority of one's own inner voice moving towards greater love. This occurs when a person realizes that within the religious trappings of doctrine, ethics, and ritual there glows a burning bush.
Fourth, genuine spiritual development eventually leads to the transcendence of one's own cultural conditioning. I may for example have grown up as a white, American male. Culturally these three states have traditionally been "on top". A person can unconsciously absorb a certain false sense of spiritual superiority due to this unnoticed delusion of being "number one". Spiritual growth naturally results in a leveling of the playing field. I find myself increasingly able, for example, to see things from the point of view of others. I begin reflecting on my nation's priorities in relation to their impact on other peoples. I develop a heartfelt respect for those who are different from myself. I may start wanting to learn more about other religions than my own and other nations' histories besides just my own. What happens on the other side of the globe matters to me. In short, my ways are not the only ways.
Albert Einstein once said that the central question every human being must answer for him or her self is this: Is the Universe trustworthy? Spiritual growth gently confirms the soul's own intuition that the answer is YES! The experiential discovery that Love lives within me and in fact I am Love yields up the truth that the Universe and I are One.
Bill O'Brien, a spiritual development practitioner and meditation teacher, has lived with his wife Linda in Shepherdstown since 2005. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.