Living in the modern world, the development of our consciousness is focused almost entirely on the mind level. In order to survive in society, we improve our ability to organize, analyze, and achieve goals. These abilities are constantly operating in our minds, as we learn how to function in society, for instance when we are learning how to work, how to make friends, how to go to school, and how to earn money. If we were able to finish a degree or to perform a job, it means that we have also developed an ability to avoid suffering, so we can continue to function well in our daily lives. In other words, our minds have learned to get away from painful situations in many ways. And this behavior causes a deep and pervasive problem, because suffering contains a genuine motivation for us to face ourselves and helps us to understand the world in which we are living. If personal growth is a path to freedom, then suffering plays a significant role in it. Although some people are able to achieve it purely because of their curiosity, the reality is that most of us find our pathways to personal growth through suffering. Thus, although the mind is a tremendous tool for us to navigate in life, it is often a powerful obstacle for us to approach freedom, unless we figure out its appropriate place on the path.
Expand from mind level
When we start to face our suffering, we usually try to use everything that we have learned in our minds to “solve the problem (take away the suffering).” However, no matter how hard we tried to use our minds to get rid of it, we eventually realized how little it actually helps. This is why the same suffering comes back over and over again. These abilities to organize, analyze, and to achieve are not the keys to release us from suffering. Some conventional and pop psychology ideas lead to a dead end since they never consider stepping out of the box of mind. If we stay with the suffering and try to understand the root of it, we could see why using our minds to get rid of suffering is a dead end. The answer has to involve the areas of our consciousness other than the mind. This is where we start to extend our self-study to emotions, body, heart, and other territories of our consciousness.
The more we broaden our understanding in different levels and states of consciousness, the more we are able to solve the puzzle of our suffering. This is where we begin to taste the result of personal growth, the reduction of suffering. Although the elimination of certain sufferings are comforting and rewarding, some of us do not stop their personal work here. Their path of personal growth bring them into their spiritual journey.
The spiritual level of consciousness is technically something that we do not need to “develop.” If we are staying on the right path, we will gradually realize that our spirit is always here. We simply do not know and do not remember. The essence of developing spirituality is learning to know and to remember our true nature: spirit itself. We can develop our skills by meditating, doing yoga, or learning to live in the present moment. We can develop our spiritual understanding or spiritual practices. Nonetheless, our fundamental being is neither our spiritual understanding nor our spiritual practices. The purpose of this understanding and these practices is simply to allow us to remember that what we really are is spirit. Therefore, spiritual learning (in other words, an expansion of consciousness on a spiritual level) is a process that leads us to spiritual awakening, where freedom is purely present.
The Shadow is an essential area to focus on in our inner journey. Dealing with the Shadow means facing unfinished business that is engraved upon our egoic consciousness.
In the process of growing up, we were inevitably traumatized many times. Traumas were deeply engraved upon our system and forced us to worry about what the next similar hardship might be. When our unconscious picks up any similar situations, we immediately react in a way that reinforces the trauma in our system. Our reaction is often extremely strong and emotional, which makes us feel like we are losing control. It repeats whenever the similar situation appears until the trauma is resolved. As these reactions happen in our mind, body, and emotional levels, they makes sure we continue to be the victim in the trauma over and over again. This is why it is called “unfinished.” Once we work through a trauma, the business is also finished, which will allow us to be free from its Shadow.
The Shadow is the source of suffering and also an obstacle on our path. It is the dark side of the ego. It was formed by traumatic experiences and comes with intense emotions that block us from experiencing the present moment. When the Shadow takes over, we are almost always immediately kidnapped by intense emotions. In some cases we get ourselves back in a few minutes, and sometimes it can last for days, months, or even years. The Shadow causes extreme pain, hopelessness and helplessness in all of us, and it can derail us from our personal growth and spiritual journey.
Tao, Dharma, and Truth
The reason that I bring up Tao, Dharma, and Truth is because having a whole picture and a sense of it can make a great difference in practicing personal growth and spiritual awakening. Again, the mind is such a powerful tool that allows us to navigate in the world. We are mostly identified with it, which constantly takes us away from our journey of inner growth. If we really want to spend less time being lost or wondering about when we will finally reach enlightenment, the best way to practice is by being in the present moment. That means letting go of our minds and truly experiencing what is.
Tao, Dharma, and Truth are here all the time; however we have to empty distractions from our busy minds in order to get into the organic experience of being in the now. That is where we contact Tao, where we access Dharma, and where we taste Truth. Being in the present moment allows us to cultivate a felt sense of the whole picture, which is an invaluable practice on the spiritual journey.