Techniques for Spiritual Advancement

These are some techniques or practices that can help anyone to advance on his or her own spiritual path. Everyone is in a different place on the path, so what works wonders for one person might be a poor choice for another.

Why do all these techniques start with the letter “M”? They just do.

1. Meditation. This is the ages-old technique for “going within” and perceiving inwardly. Basically, any technique that produces bodily relaxation while retaining sharp mental focus can be called “meditation,” including self-hypnosis, pre-sleep prayer, or even driving on the highway. The important distinction that makes a mind-awake/body-asleep practice “meditation” is its purpose. If you relax your body and focus on your “inner world” for the purpose of understanding, I call that meditation. If you do it to reduce stress, I call it therapy.

2. Mindfulness. I liken this practice to the “prayer without ceasing” mentioned by Paul of Tarsus in the New Testament. This is my preferred method because it works for me. While mindfulness isn’t “prayer” in the sense of supplication or thanksgiving, it is maintaining awareness of the NOW moment at all times. In doing so, you become more aware of your actions, the thoughts that precede them, and the memories or other background mental circumstances that precede thoughts.

In fact, you become more aware of everything: relationships, sensations, circumstances, and so on. Eventually, you can use your state of mindfulness to “see” otherwise hidden parts of reality such as other people’s motives. The most important quality of mindfulness is that, if you pursue it with honesty and determination, you can bring your conscious mind to the point of perception of reality’s Oneness.

3. Memory. Everything you do reminds you of something you did before, unless you’re truly doing something new, like bungee jumping. Even then, your current emotional state probably brings up a memory from a previous situation in which you had the same (or similar) feelings.

If you’re attentive to these subtle hints of memory, you can learn to trace your present experiences back in time to previous experiences. In this way, you learn the causality that your past experiences have on your present, and you learn that you have the simple but profound power to prevent this otherwise automatic occurrence—just by not allowing that “connection” to happen.

This disconnection of present experience from past experiences leads to freedom in the present.

The automation of experience, caused by the connection in memory of otherwise unrelated experiences, is the opposite of the awakened state. Automation, or “asleepness,” is the current “normal” state of most human beings.

4. Music. Music affects us in keeping with the state of its composer when it was written, and of its performer(s) when it is played. Like the written word, music proceeds from mental/emotional states and it tends to produce a similar state when listened to. This is why we can or can’t “get into” certain kinds of music, and it’s why our friends tend to like the same kinds of music that we do. We’re on similar “wavelengths” (which is why we’re friends to begin with!).

Certain kinds of music uplift us emotionally, and others bring us down. Some music helps us to break free spiritually, and other music focuses on limiting physical circumstances. It’s important to realize that popular music more often reinforces the status quo unless it genuinely moves us to feel appreciation or other emotions of beauty.

5. Mimicry. Although not one of the more effective self-awakening activities, sometimes it’s helpful to put oneself in the shoes of an authentic spiritual teacher. This is the way of religion: outward appearances. You might not understand why a hatha yoga master would contort his body in a certain way, but if you do it yourself you might get some inkling of why.

By the same token, if you’re a yoga master you might very well produce your own methods that someone less able than yourself could use in order to grow.

6. Mirrors. Our relationships are sometimes our greatest teachers because in other people we see ourselves reflected. What does this mean? Other people constantly give us feedback about our behavior (which is the outward expression of our “inner” selves). The closer or more intimate our relationship is with any particular person (and the more aware and committed that person is), the more meaningful and intimate will be the feedback we get from that person.

It is important to understand that people with little or no familiarity with us on a personal level can give us only limited feedback, while those who know us better will give us better—more accurate—mirroring and feedback.

While not comprehensive, the information given here can and does help to improve people’s understanding of themselves and the reality they experience. A true “spiritual” path, taken all the way to its goal of realizing that the Universe and the individual operate as a single unit, will encompass many more experiences than can be contained in a single essay.

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