This week is Episode 100 of the Rebel Buddhist Podcast! If you’re new to the pod, then welcome! If you’ve been around for a while – welcome BACK!
Today, I want to talk about how to know if you’re making progress on your spiritual path. Often, we think we’re not, but it’s usually because we are attached to our expectations… how we think progress is supposed to look.
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that being attached to expectations can really screw us in the end and make us pretty unhappy. Our personal growth path is no exception.
Spiritual stages are often depicted as this linear, simple, progressive route. You get from point A to B in the most efficient way. And that’s not fully wrong… but in the end, our path isn’t linear. At least, that’s been my own experience and observation. In fact, if we look at practitioners of any tradition, it’s challenging to find one which has a simple, linear path.
Still, we have this image that if we meditate enough, we’ll have this moment of bliss and feel connection with all and be forever changed. Just. Like. That.
And wouldn’t it be so convenient if the path to enlightenment was orderly and predictable and linear? But like any proper adventure, it’s filled with detours, landslides, or even avalanches that can block the road or send us on a detour for a good amount of time.
I’ve found that our path – when accompanied by practice – often looks more like an upward spiral. We don’t just transcend over an issue then never see it again, nor do revisit it over and over in the same way like a looping circle. Rather, we revisit the same teachings and lessons, but as we progress along that upward spiral, we have a different perspective, new skills, and a slightly different way of approaching it.
Sometimes, when I revisit a lesson in life, it’s like, “Really? I’m here again?” And it can be frustrating. But then I look closer and see that things are in fact different and I have made progress.
So we have to remember that revisiting challenges doesn’t always mean there is a lack of progress, because each time, we can reframe and respond to that situation differently. And we often do, which is apparent to us when we look closely.
We can’t capture freedom and just place it at a moment in time. Freedom is the journey itself. Like peeling back the layers of an onion or switchbacks on a mountain.
How can we know that we’ve made progress, even as we’re revisiting these old lessons and challenges over and over?
Phillip Moffitt once said to me, “You know you’re making spiritual progress if your suffering is of less intensity, less frequency, or shorter duration.
Notice he didn’t say that all 3 have to be present at once. The “or” in there is key. Sometimes, we just let go of something slightly faster, or we have a less intense emotional outburst, or we didn’t hold a grudge as long as last time.
These are celebrations that we often dismiss. Instead, we feel disappointed because we wish we hadn’t experienced that challenge ever again.
This past weekend at a business conference, one of the coaches told us “Massive Action won’t save you from the human experience.”
That’s what I think the Buddha was teaching in the Four Noble Truths about suffering. Here, it shows up here as your spiritual path won’t save you from the human experience. After all, part of the human experience is suffering. It’s part of the deal of being born in a body with this brain between our ears and being thrown into a world with a bunch of other humans who are doing this for the first time.
Another thing that I’ve noticed is that we tend to forget that progress is going to require practice in everyday life, not just in grand gestures. It’s a lifelong practice for a lifelong lesson. The lessons we revisit are really more like life lessons vs one-time challenges. We’re meant to get better at them over our lifetime (that spiral).
So yes, it’s also a long-haul deal. We have to do more than just read “shelf-help” books or attend workshops or retreats. We need to apply the work in our daily lives. In how we wake up, what thoughts we choose to bookend our day with. How we treat ourselves and others.
Finally, I want to remind you that the path is often not very pretty. Often, a successful meditation practice is the fact that you recognize that your mind is all over the place. That you get bored or distracted or start to doubt. Remember that it takes a minute to calm the mind! It takes practice. And there will be good days and bad days and all kinds of days in between.
Maybe this isn’t just something you deal with in your spiritual practice. Maybe you’re harsh with yourself and your progress in other aspects of your life, like your business goals, your relationships, or your art.
No matter where it appears in your life, if you’re judging your progress, then you’re going to miss the progress you are making. So let yourself celebrate the incremental progress you are making. Remember that it’s a gradual process and that small changes can have big future impacts.
It all counts, my friends. In fact, I bet you’re further along in your path than you ever imagined.
In this Episode you will learn:
// Why expectations can ruin our progress
// Why our path is less like a line and more like a spiral
// How revisiting challenges does not signify a lack of progress
// How to know you’re making spiritual progress – and progress in other areas of your life
// Why we can’t escape suffering and the human experience – even with tons of spiritual practice
// The importance of daily practice on our path
// Episode 60: How to Avoid Unnecessary Suffering
// Episode 63: Being Human is Hard – the First Noble Truth
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist FB group, and tune in every Wednesday at 11:30am PST as I go live.
// Want to dive into this work on a deeper level? To study it and practice it together? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out.
It’s also where you can get individual help applying the concepts to your own life. It’s where you can learn new coaching tools not shared on the podcast that will blow your mind even more, and it’s where you can connect over all things freedom with other freedom junkies just like you and me. It’s my favorite place on earth and it will change your life, I guarantee it. Come join us at JoinFreedomSchool.com. I can’t wait to see you there.