There are people who spend decades lifting weights in an effort to build a good physique. But there's a subtlety to it which is why so many fail. In the case of weightlifting, we have the physical body to prove whether or not it's working. In the case of spiritual growth, it's not so easy to prove because spiritual development is an internal and subtle phenomenon. Let's take a look at the different approaches used by people for their spiritual growth to understand what works and what doesn't.
1. Behavioral Modification
The idea here is that if you behave a certain way, you are more spiritual. Examples include adhering to a state of peace and serenity, suppressing anger, using some words and avoiding others, always being kind, etc. These things certainly have their value. Proper behavior does make for a better life for us and the people around us. However, real spiritual growth is an organic, fundamental transformation of awareness that reaches all the way to the depth of one's being. Behavioral modifications, when overdone, become like a candy coating over whatever it is that dwells deeper inside.
There are all sorts of philosophies of life. Every religion comes with its own philosophy. Though many of those philosophies are beautiful and quite intriguing, none of them actually create a deep, physiological change within a person. Repeating wise philosophical sayings does not make a person wise. Wisdom comes from deep inside, far beyond the domain of thought. At the same time, when used properly, philosophies can free up attachments to invalid or unhealthy worldviews that impede our spiritual growth. It's as if they till the soil of our otherwise compacted belief system. For example, believing that bad behavior doesn't always have consequences can be replaced with an understanding of karma—what goes around comes around.
3. Codes, Creeds, and Rulebooks
When I was little, I remember my mom once saying that she was sure she would go to heaven because she followed the Ten Commandments. Even as a little kid, I thought there must be more to it than that. Following rules, though good, is even more superficial than behavioral modification. So again, there is no deep transformation involved in following rules. Rules are, of course, important and of value, but following rules is a very limited path to spiritual growth.
4. Emotions and Moods
It's really beautiful to get emotional about one's spirituality and to feel one's heart swelling in love with our universal connection. This can certainly help culture the heart, and that's wonderful. But again, true spiritual transformation lies far deeper than thoughts or emotions. True spiritual transformation is about accessing the part of you that lies beyond space, time, thoughts, emotions, and the story of your life. It is about accessing the source of infinite harmony, intelligence, love, wisdom, and bliss.
We can have volumes of knowledge about the nature of life and spirituality, but it is just information. It can inspire and uplift, but the degree of personal transformation one gains through information is quite limited. To grow spiritually, many accumulate information, almost wearing it as a badge of spirituality. Though information has value, far less comes from it than many would like to believe.
True Spiritual Growth
So what really brings about true spiritual transformation? There are techniques that cultivate one's awareness and transform one's being, all the way to the depth of one's soul. However, just like in weightlifting with a set of barbells, having these techniques is good, but only if you use them. Also, as with weightlifting, the process takes time and must be done properly. It's not a 'no holds barred', anything goes, free for all. In fact, the true spiritual path has been likened to passing through the eye of a needle or traversing the razor's edge. The point is that it is a very subtle path. It is a sublime approach that involves the refinement and cultivation of one's nervous system, one's being.
The primary technique for true spiritual growth is referred to by different names in different religions. In the East, they call it meditation. But meditation has come to be a word that includes a broad range of techniques, very few of which allow the awareness and physiology to rest into the very depth of one's being. In the West, this technique is often referred to as prayer. But as with meditation, there are many forms of prayer. The highest form of prayer and the highest form of meditation are actually one and the same.
Proper meditation does not involve controlling the mind or imposing anything upon the awareness. Rather, it is a natural unfolding, a natural blossoming, of that which dwells deeper within. In fact, it is as natural as the waking, sleep, or dream states of consciousness. Yet, as with sleep, there is a technique to be employed. To sleep, we lie down, put our head on the pillow, pull up the covers, turn out the light, and close our eyes. The proper meditation technique needs to be learned, but is not related to any religion, belief system, or philosophy. Everyone from the atheist to the devoutly religious can enjoy the benefits of meditation. One such meditation is Surya Ram Meditation.