The path to spiritual enlightenment tends to be a confusing one—for there are no maps or obvious road signs to point out the way. I suppose it’s like trying to make it to the top of a mountain and being lost in the forest below—where tall trees obscure the view, darkness often abides, and many blind trails weave through the heavy underbrush.
Whether the goal is the top of a mountain or spiritual enlightenment, we can always take comfort in the fact that, if we keep at it, we’ll eventually get there. But when we’re faced with a choice of directions on the spiritual path, which is the best way to turn? After all, it’s not like we can just stop at the nearest gas station and ask for directions. How, and from where, do we receive true spiritual guidance?
I was raised as a Catholic and, in the Church’s doctrine, the way to “Heaven” always seemed quite clear. One must refrain from a multitude of sins, worship God and all “Higher Beings” (Jesus Christ and the many Saints, for example), and follow the Church’s myriad rules with respect to prayer, confession, mass, communion, and the like. While I have a profound appreciation and respect for these and other beliefs, very few of them seemed to ring true or resonate with my own sense of “inner knowing”. It occurred to me that the authorities of every religion see theirs as the one, true way to enlightenment. With so many religions and so many different approaches, how is this possible—and which, if any, was the right one for me?
My paternal grandmother’s spiritual outlook was much more broad-minded, eclectic, and accepting. She appreciated the finer aspects of all religions and passionately studied anything related to spirituality, metaphysics, and consciousness. My grandparents’ home was cluttered with stacks and stacks of books by Emmett Fox, Joel Goldsmith, Norman Vincent Peale, and many others. I remember my grandmother fondly, as she would often sit on the steps in the backyard near her favorite pink roses—her deeply lined hands resting on her apron-covered lap, eyes closed, peacefully meditating in the soft morning sun. Many times, when I was confused about something, I would ask her, “Grandma, what do you think I should do?” She would pat my hand lovingly, smile in that gentle, reassuring way of hers, and say, “What I think doesn’t really matter. It’s what you think that’s important. You already know all the answers deep inside you. All you have to do is look within to find them.”
“Um, OK, thanks, Grandma!” I’d reply. I had absolutely no idea what she really meant and I’d run off to play—often more confused than before. Then, after thinking about my dilemma for some time and reconsidering my options, I would, as she suggested, discover the right choice for me–one that would somehow be in alignment with both my heart and my head. I haven’t thought much about it in the years since, but I now understand that my grandmother was simply teaching me how to find my own answers. She was teaching me how to be my own guide.
Sometimes when we feel lost, as I did then, the first thing we do is turn to others for direction. We may consult so-called “gurus”, healers, or spiritual leaders—those who, in our perception, have far greater knowledge than we do. We may also seek information and guidance through the abundance of religious or spiritual texts, books, videos, and Internet resources that are available today. Even friends, acquaintances, and family members may have a great deal of life experience and advice to offer—but the important thing to remember when seeking guidance from any source outside yourself is that their Truth does not have to be your Truth. Furthermore, their viewpoint isn’t necessarily any greater or better than your own—in fact, many times it’s just different.
In my limited experience—and, as my grandmother so wisely suggested, I’ve found that the best place to seek guidance has been within. While the chaos of the outside world tends to drown out the quiet wisdom of our own inner voice, it’s always there. Our own “Higher Self”, which some may refer to as one’s soul, conscience, or even “gut instinct”, will never fail us if we only trust it and allow it to guide us. The voice may at times seem quite faint, but it’s always there if we listen for it.
I’ve also discovered that another invaluable resource for inner guidance is an understanding of and appreciation for synchronicity—that is, those seemingly coincidental events that catch our attention and somehow seem pertinent to the situation at hand. Many of these seem to have unexpected significance and subtly urge us in a particular direction. These mysterious, often helpful circumstances seem to occur more and more as I’ve opened myself to their existence—but I suppose that’s a topic for an entirely different post.
In the end, the choices we face and the decisions we make must be entirely our own. No one else can decide for us where, when, or how we should travel on the road to enlightenment. I’ve often heard that we’re always right where we’re supposed to be and doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing—and I believe it. Everyone’s path is different and each will eventually turn out to be the best one possible for their own individual growth. While we may stumble off the trail or become entangled in briars now and then, we all wind up making our way through these challenges somehow wiser, stronger, and better than we were before. We’ll all eventually get there—and when we do, I’m assured that the view will be quite spectacular. So now, before setting off in any new direction, I check my inner compass first, last, and always–because I know it’ll never steer me wrong!
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