Spiritual development as “journey” is such a common metaphor that we take it for granted.
But in the last chapter of my own spiritual story, I realized its limitations.
Trying to find a new Source, a more palatable or perhaps relatable conception of God, I spent time in the woods.
Recently relocated to Portland, I found myself living at the edge of Forest Park which boasts miles of trails. The Pacific Northwest is an embarassment of natural riches, so it’s hardly unique to search for awe in nature.
And nature never disappoints. From old growth forests to ocean cliffs, I am always, without fail, met with a sense of calm and renewed centeredness.
But back to the path.
Walking miles of trails was indeed cathartic; it’s easy to let go when all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other on a narrow path.
And that’s the appeal of religion, at least at level one. When religion is reduced to a set of rules, everything becomes simple. It is easier. No wonder fundamentalism thrives, whether in Christianity or the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.
But as M. Scott Peck outlines in Further Along the Road Less Traveled, a sort of addendum to his better-known 1978 book, if the first “level” of spirituality is to interpret a philosophy literally and attempt to follow it to the letter, a next “level,” if you will, in spiritual maturity is to reject all of it.
The final level, however, is to live in the nuance. To understand that no spiritual belief system is without flaws, that no spiritual experience is completely understandable on the level of intellect.
Rather than an even-tempo march down a prescribed path, what happens if you wander off? What will you discover? And why can’t all the paths intersect, or work together to paint a bigger, clearer picture?
So I decided that the spiritual journey is not a path. It’s an amusement park.
There’s no correct order of experiences. There’s no minimum or maximum interaction. It would be ludicrous to compare progress with anyone else, because the concept of progress doesn’t exist.
It’s measured by enjoyment, fulfillment, and experience. Decisions are made based on curiosity and intuition.
If the roller coaster works for you and you’re content to ride it forever, have at it. But if you want to experience all the rides, why not?
And if you one particular ride changes your life, tell someone, but don’t drag them there. Let them decide for themselves, in their own time. It’s not race, because it’s not a path.
There’s no right way, no beginning or end, and every opportunity to dial it up or down depending on your capacity.
Now that’s the spiritual experience I want to have.
Artwork © Stephanie Hirsch, detail from Intuition.