How To Lead a Spiritual Life

This title presumes that the person knows what the spiritual life is. But most people do not know what a spiritual life is.

Comparison of Three Levels of Life

All of us live a physical life, the life of our body. So, we simply look at our body and ask how does this body live. We lead a physical life because of the body that we have.

Almost all of us also live a mental life, the life of our mind. We think, we reflect, we reason. So we have a mind. The ones who do not live this life would be the mentally retarded. They have a mind but their mind no longer grows. They may be 50 years old physically but their mind has remained at the level of a 1 or 2 years old. But for most of us we lead a mental life.

But to lead a spiritual life is different. For one it may be confused with leading a religious life. Up until the last century most people thought that the religious life was a spiritual life. So, we had religious orders and congregations whose members thought that they were leading a spiritual life because they were leading a religious life: praying, reading the Bible and other spiritual books, meditating, helping their neighbors, etc.

Spiritual Life Is Not Necessarily a Religious Life

But lately we noticed a phenomenon. Non-religious persons have been busy in learning more about the spiritual life. And when they discuss the spiritual life, they were not at all referring to the religious life of people. In fact, some of these non-religious persons who were doing research on the spiritual life thought that the spiritual life is in many ways totally different from the religious life.

So, the question is, if the spiritual life is different from the religious life, how do you start to lead it?

The religious life is started by a certain ritual, like baptism or the donning on of a religious garb or habit. The spiritual life is best started by a teacher who guides the student to this spiritual life. The teacher may employ a ritual or he may not. But he is there to guide the student as a tour guide would guide a traveler as they enter a building of historical importance.

This was the approach taken by Teresa of Avila who wrote a book on the spiritual life with the title of THE INTERIOR CASTLE. She conceived of the spiritual life as a mansion with many rooms or a castle with many dwelling places.

Again our question is: How do you start to lead the spiritual life? A reflection on a common experience we have may make us understand the answer to this question. After we answer this question, we answer the second question: How do you continue to lead this spiritual life after you have started leading it?

The Start of Our Spiritual Life

Here is the common experience we have which may help us understand how we can start to lead the spiritual life.

When we were children our parents told us to do something, either pick up their shoes or go to a certain part of the house. Most of the time we obeyed. There were times when we did not obey. For the times when we obeyed, we ask now, Why did we obey?

It was because we heard the voice of our parents and we naturally thought of obeying the word signified by that voice. In other words, the means of communicating between us and our parents, besides gestures and looks, was the word. This is very important to notice because it is the word which, upon reflection, we realize has power.

When we grew up, we have had more uses of the word. But it is the word that has power. In the army especially, one word can move thousands of soldiers to stand on their feet at attention. The commander shouts "Attention" and all the rest follow.

The word is most powerful. This is the entrance to the spiritual life, knowing a word and using it to enter into the life of the spirit. The spirit is in the word as it were.

In some centers of spirituality people are trained to utter a word again and again slowly until this word sinks into their subconscious mind. This is what they call a mantra, a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that a person repeats again and again, producing spiritual effects in his being. What the mantra does is to awaken the spirit within us, just as a word would awaken physically a sleeping person.

And this is where the guide or teacher is handy. He would help the student find a mantra that is suitable for him.

This is the start of leading a spiritual life.

The Continuation of Our Spiritual Life

The continuation of leading the spiritual life is simply understanding more of the mantra that has been given to him. In some societies only the teacher and the student know the mantra. It is a secret word. But it is this secret word that gives spiritual power to the student.

The student or spiritual person meditates on the meaning of this word. He reads more about it, reflects on the meaning he finds in his readings. He does this until the time comes when he stops reflecting on its meaning. He stops reflecting because it has entered already into his very being. It is like eating. When we eat we chew. But when the food is absorbed already by our stomach we stop to chew that portion of food we were chewing before.

So, also in the spiritual life which begins from the word we reflect upon. Time will come when we can no longer reflect on the meaning of the word we had reflected before. This is because the reality of the word has already entered the depths of our being.

The ideal would be for a student to receive this word from his teacher. But this word can be any that you think is conducive to your temperament and religious upbringing. If you are a Christian, you may choose the word "God" or "Jesus". One Benedictine suggested the word "Maranatha" which means "Come Lord". If you are a Muslim you may choose the word "Allah" or "Rahman" which means "the God" or "the Most Merciful". If you are a Hindu, you may choose "Brahman" or "Atman". And so forth.

To summarize then, to lead the spiritual life, enter it first by meditating upon a word. Then continue leading this life by meditating more upon this word until you can no longer meditate on it, because this word has entered into your very being.

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