Walking the spiritual path has been likened to traversing a razor's edge, a narrow path with dangerous drops on either side. Falling off the edge comes down to one thing: distraction. The modern world is rife with distractions. Understanding how they can seduce you is the first step to keeping your balance on the spiritual path.
From social media feeds to packed social calendars, the amount of stimuli entering our lives often overwhelms the inner sense of self in today's world. Those in spiritual pursuits speak of epiphanies, breakthroughs, and emotional fervor as though more stimuli promotes spiritual growth. Consider that the opposite is actually true.
The spiritual path, in ancient times, was referred to as the path of discernment. Discernment is introspection done with the heart as well as the mind. Discernment results in the integration of thoughts and emotions with what lies within your deepest Self. Logic is certainly important, but a person can justify anything with the intellect.
Ultimately, thoughts matter little. How you feel about those thoughts makes all the difference. Yet you must feel deep within yourself, to a place beyond bias, indoctrination, social programming, and childhood hurts. Discernment is an art developed over time. But to remain committed to the process is to traverse the razor's edge. Distraction is the greatest obstacle on this journey. Just don't get distracted.
With such an excessive amount of external input, the inner sense of self is numbed. To feel something, the stimulation must become stronger and stronger. Even spirituality becomes steeped in rhetoric, vying for your attention by overwhelming your emotions. Thrills, movies, concerts, and sporting events get ever more overpowering in an attempt to impact your overloaded world. Music gets louder and cruder in its attempts to jar the physiology more intensely. Even the overwhelming impact of drugs can seem desirable in this context.
Let's take a look at what happens when we turn away from these stimuli and center our attention inward. As one goes within, things become more silent, more subtle, more wise, and more sublime. True spirituality ultimately leads to an inner place beyond thoughts and emotions. Just as the roots feed the entire life of a tree, the silent depth of your being feeds and nourishes life with clearer thinking and more refined emotions. The source of true spirituality resides in this quiet depth. Yet it is so silent, so deep, and often so covered by outside distractions that it remains beyond direct experience. So many people long for communion with the depth of their soul, but so few are capable of overcoming their addiction to the distractions that overtake their hearts and minds, consuming their lives. This is the paradox of modern spirituality.
Through discernment, your thoughts and emotions become more and more fully rooted and integrated with the depth of your being, the Self. Without discernment, your life becomes like a kite without a tail, spinning in the wind. You can't be stable within yourself if distractions relentlessly spin the kite of your life. The stability of the tail--which is the Self--allows the kite of your life to soar ever higher.
So how do you cultivate discernment? How do you walk the razor's edge? How do you overcome programming and over-identification with the surface of life? How do you integrate the depth of your being with the surface? Reflecting, pondering, questioning, and seeking out wise people are all very good tools. Yet the most powerful tool for cultivating discernment is proper meditation. Through such meditation you rest into the depth of your being, the source of your inner wisdom. Be mindful about what meditation you practice, though. Many meditations are unnatural--whether they are emotionally indulging, controlling, programming, or even hypnotizing. In contrast, I have found the Surya Ram Meditation, an ancient technique from the Himalayas, to be the most natural and effective practice.
To those addicted to powerful stimulation, sitting down to meditate can sound painfully boring. However, to experience its quiet power is to appreciate it. It is not a quick fix--one meditation cannot be expected to break your addictions and solve all your problems. However, it is a practice that gives a direct experience of the depth of your being. Not just a mood, notion, or attitude, but something much deeper. Without that experience, you cannot know what direction to go. After experiencing the depth of your being, you will find that you have naturally moved along the razor's edge, thereby giving your life direction. Just as two points determine a line, that movement points in a direction. You then have an idea--a sense, a feeling--of what lies beyond the horizon.