All too often we focus on the ways we’re imperfect instead of the ways we’ve made progress on our path. This happens for a lot of reasons, but also has to do with the fact that we often ignore the more subtle – yet important – parts of our progress.
You may have heard me say that we know we’re spiritually progressing when our reactive self shows up with either less frequency, less duration, or less intensity. But there are other signs as well.
When we think about gauging spiritual growth, it’s pretty subjective in some ways, which is still valid, because your suffering and happiness are subjective experiences, too. However, for this conversation, I’m talking about signs that we are awakening to our truth, our purpose, and our true self; and the degree to which we’re cultivating our wise mind and heart; and our level of awareness and presence in our daily life. Plus, magic, of course;)
I’ll drop a few of the main ones here, but listen to the pod for the full list.
Ultimately, I think we can say most people agree that “spiritual growth” in almost all traditions encourages us to more fully embody our “highest self,” in whatever way we define it.
But what does that mean? How do you define that for yourself?
One sign is we may notice we aren’t as attached to life being exactly how we think it should be. This can show up in a couple ways. One is that we aren’t as thrown when obstacles arise. We see them as opportunities more easily. That doesn’t mean we aren’t emotional or moved when something like a canceled flight or a sick loved one happens. It just means we are experiencing it from a place of more alignment and possibility.
Included in this may be that people piss us off less often (not never piss us off – just less often ;). We might notice we have more capacity to tolerate characteristics that irritate us, and that we have more capacity to understand others. As a result, we have less judgment or self-righteousness. This helps us also have more self-compassion as our heart opens to more joy and pain within ourselves – and compassion towards others.
We might notice we have a growing capacity for discernment. In Buddhism, discernment is often focused on determining whether our actions are conducive to sustainable happiness or not. We start to better differentiate what contributes to our wellbeing and progress on our path and what doesn’t (instead of fooling ourselves into ignoring red flags in a toxic friendship or relationship, or that we really do need a bottle of wine to relax, for example).
One sign of spiritual progress that might feel more unsettling in some ways is that we are more sensitive. Some people call this empathic suffering. As Ajahn Chah said, “If you haven’t wept deeply, you haven’t begun to meditate.” This is often because earlier on our path, we might have been more numbed out – both to our own suffering and to that of others. I know for me, I shut off part of my heart sometimes so I could make it through a really dysfunctional family, working in the ER at a level 1 trauma center witnessing death and grief, or as a midwife delivering a stillborn. With increased mindfulness, we can start to notice we’re more aware of our internal states and the empathic suffering that can exist in that space.
Fortunately, we also have a growing capacity to hold that pain.
We may also notice that the stories in our minds are truly stories, not just factual news. And we’re willing to let our old stories go, too. We let go of the stories that no longer serve us, and we see that those stories – our thoughts and beliefs – don’t actually define us. Another way to think of this is that they are more like weather patterns: thoughts just come in and float through, then they leave when their time is up.
We don’t have to believe or follow the stories; we don’t have to get hooked by them because we are more than our stories. This makes it easier for us to not suffer unnecessarily.
Here’s a big one: We also want to ask ourselves, “Am I happier, more content?” Because spiritual progress is supposed to feel good, with less suffering and more contentment! Some of y’all might think “That’s definitely not me. I am still bitter AF.” But listen: sometimes this type of contentment is more subtle, so it’s can be harder to notice. It’s not the big dopamine hit of alcohol or praise on social media or at work. It’s more subtle.
We also find we are motivated more from passion and truth than a drive to accomplish and “do more.” This means we’re also more comfortable being bored, or doing nothing but enjoying the miracle of the present moment.
Letting go, releasing. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be.
The more we spiritually grow, the more we can see the utter magic of life. The crazy technology of a smart phone that we’ve created and adapted to? MAGIC! The leaf blowing in the wind, and how it makes energy from light? MAGIC! The fact that we’re alive on this planet that happens to have everything we need – MAGIC!
We came to be from two cells that merged and divided bazillions of times – and continues to do so. In fact, we’re not even in the same body we had 10 years agh.. And now here we are with all our mental faculties enough to engage on the path.
Insert mind blown noise here, right?
There’s no one moment at which we say, “Ah, I’m done with that issue forever, now.” Life is more like a spiral, that we revisit our common themes, our life lessons, over and over from different angles and often, from a more mature place. Life doesn’t necessarily have fewer challenges as we progress on our path. There are good days and bad days. Good years and bad years. Just like seasons change. It’s all impermanent, coming and going. And we can accept that nothing has gone wrong, it is life happening not to us, but for us.
Mastering these signs of progress isn’t the defining factor. It’s any degree of progress (even a smidge!) towards even just one of these. That’s something to celebrate!
We know, deep down, that our own suffering isn’t the answer. We know in our bones that true healing and growth come from compassion, wisdom, and lovingkindness – towards ourselves and others.
So I guess what I’m saying is good on you for even freaking trying. Now celebrate that!
You will learn:
// Why it seems to be taking SO LONG to make progress
// 12 signs you are experiencing growth on your path – even if you don’t think you are!
// The importance of discernment on our spiritual journey
// How staying with our path can help us manage future suffering and leave what no longer serves us behind
// The importance of celebrating ANY progress and the fact that we are ON a path
// Check out Episode 100 : This discussed how we can watch for the frequency, intentity and duration or our reactive mind
// Listen to Episode 106: Empathy vs Compassion
// Early registration is open for the next cohort of the Adventure Mastermind at AdventureMastermind.com . Enter into the adventure of your life in a container where you’ll feel safe enough to explore your true self with entheogens and adventures during this one precious life we have.
// 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 weekly when I go live on new topics.
// Want to dive into this work on a deeper level on your own time? To study it and practice it together with a group of people with the same goals of freedom, adventure and purpose? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out.