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Measuring Your Spiritual Progress

Does making spiritual progress ensure steadiness and equanimity during life’s rockiest times? What does spiritual work provide during a crisis and what does it say about your spiritual training?

If you read my last post, then you’ve read about the especially challenging month I’ve had, which has included:  a health crisis in the family, a search for a new home, the impending loss of my caregiver and long stretches of work travel –  all piled up on top of “normal” life. 

Thankfully, I am out of crisis mode now with the most urgent issues now clear. Life isn’t quiet, but I have a plan for these difficult situations. 

Yet, I sit with disappointment about how I handled myself during this period.  Despite my inner knowing that things would work out, I was rattled, stressed and irritable – continually. Occasionally, I could get quiet enough to hear my mind whispering, “Everything is ok. Trust the Universe. Surrender.”  In these brief, scattered episodes, I would relax into short pockets of peace.  The rest of the time, I chose to dance with my anxiety instead. 

This is the part that still bothers me –  my stress feels like it is of my own doing, or not doing. I believed this difficult phase could be a measure my spiritual progress. That –

If I rode the waves of life more masterfully and peacefully, it meant that my spiritual efforts were paying off, advancing.

Yet, as uncertainty mounted in my life, I coped by doing more: Zillow searches. Babysitter ads. Research for work. Anxiety pushed me harder into efforts like journaling, breathing breaks and yoga. In return, I believed I would be free of suffering and worry. I am still waiting for it.  Relief has been elusive. Why hasn’t the work kicked in? 

Sleeplessness nights, to me, indicated that I was not working hard enough at my spiritual life.  Would it take meditating in 6 hours stretches, like the spiritual masters, to get respite?

Do more, Shibani, and you will feel better.  If you don’t feel better, you aren’t doing enough. 

The impossibility of this burden revealed itself in a conversation I had with my trusted teacher.  I expressed to her my frustration that I didn’t experience more relief from my worries. I expected to feel better, considering my efforts over the last years. But as she reminded me, where consciousness flows, life follows. My consciousness was tied up in internal strife and suffering. My life mirrored it. I held the lofty, unattainable goal of being insulated from stress and was constantly let down, as a result.

So what “goal” should I have set for myself in my crisis, I asked?  In my conversation with Antoinette, we discussed revising my expectations to focus upon creating small capsules of peace, sprinkled throughout the day instead of expecting days filled with Zen-like ease. Because even 30-minute meditations were such a struggle, she suggested that I focus on shorter, more frequent meditations, moments of presence or pauses for connected breathing.  “This is how we measure spiritual progress,” she shared. It isn’t the absence of crisis, nor is it moving to sage-worthy levels of peace overnight.

Your spiritual progress shows by how you move into more frequent, longer moments of peace through a day, week and year.  

Even spans of 1-5 minutes were fine, she shared. Antoinette said that “we can create an inner sanctuary – even if for a few moments.” In focusing on creating little islands of peace, you can progress by stringing more of them together. This is something that can be pursued even in difficult times.  

She also shared that affirmations incredibly important during this time. They can help energize and elevate consciousness and speak energy to take you out of a whirl of worries.  She recommends Paramahansa Yogananda’s practice of repeating affirmations 3 times each to powerfully interiorize affirmations.  

This knowledge has been both useful and liberating.  Reaching for spiritual relief in smaller, more frequent spurts is much more accessible for those of us with a householder lifestyle. Being able to reflect upon progress in new, subtle ways allows me to see smaller, incremental shifts – even in the craziest of times.  

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