What is spiritual growth? How does a human being grow from birth to spiritual enlightenment? What is the process?
I believe that spiritual growth is simply the process of awakening our consciousness; becoming conscious of ultimate reality and “what is”.
Like many things that are “simple”, it is not easy to achieve. If it were, there would be many more enlightened persons in the world than there are. What do I mean by awakening or becoming conscious of reality? And why is it so difficult?
Let me begin by saying that whatever your personal understanding of God, or Creator is, the commonly held theistic view of God as a “person” who lives in a place called “heaven” is not going to be helpful when we try to understand the process of human spiritual growth.
I find it much more useful to understand God or the Creator as the creative spiritual energy of pure agape love or perhaps the radical Consciousness of pure being; the creative Consciousness of the Universe itself.
If we are born in the image of God as many believe, then at the moment of birth, before the world get its hands on us, we are essentially a pure, untarnished child of God; a child born in the image of God.
At that moment we are nascent consciousness manifesting pure creative agape love; able to love without a “because”. At that moment we are able to manifest the infinite. We are simply a wave called “i am” resting in the ocean called “”I AM””.
We do not need a “because” to elicit our love. We love because agape love is our essential creative energy. It is simply who we are. The agape love energy of ” i am” is the same as the creative energy of pure agape love and compassion of “I AM”.
This is how I understand the idea of “being born in the image of God”. The goal of the enlightened person is simply to return to this essential self; this place of pure awakened consciousness where we began our human journey.
Conceptually, I find it useful to think of this “essential self” or localized “i am” as the center of a small circle that is surrounded by “I AM” — “THE” creative ground, the creative essence of all reality.
As we grow and develop over time into a separate ego “self”, a “unique” individual, opaque layers of “ego stuff” called beliefs, certainties, expectations, fears, desires, likes, dislikes, attachments, assumptions, conclusions, prejudices, illusions, judgments, roles, labels, and worries begin to build up layer by layer as concentric circles around the “i am”.
The essential light of “i am” is slowly covered by the impenetrable grime of this ego stuff until the light of agape love of “i am” is no longer visible. Instead of manifesting the agape love of the Creator, we increasingly manifest our individual ego or self-identity.
Over time, these layers of “ego stuff” become the definition of who we “are”; an “object”, separate, apart, and unique from all other unique “self” objects. The beliefs, assumptions, and other “ego stuff” that we call our “self-identity” and which effectively blocks the light of “i am” or the essential self, are each like small lenses that distort reality. The more rigid the belief, the thicker the lens. These “lenses”, or ego “beliefs”, distort reality in that they allow into the ego only those aspects of reality that the ego believes to be true; they effectively block out the rest of Creation by labeling it as “not true”.
The self-identity of the ego is now complete. The agape light of “i am” is no longer able to shine, and the light of all reality not consistent with the ego’s “beliefs” cannot get in.
We forget our essential self even exists. Both “i am” and “I AM” disappear! The idea that we are pure agape love, that we are co-creators with “I AM”, is rejected as ridiculous.
Once formed, the ego is very invested in surviving; both; physically and psychologically. The ego “self” does not like change because it means that some part of it’s self-identity must die in order to make room for a new ego “self”. If the ego “believes” something to be wrong, not consistent with it’s beliefs, it will label it as “not true, or not right” and then reject it. In this way the self-identity of the ego is protected from change. The ego’s belief is “THE” truth. In other words, when a firmly held belief of the ego encounters reality, reality will change, not the belief.
Said simply, the psychological survival of the ego requires that the ego avoid change by being rigidly invested in being right. The need to be right is a primary source of conflict and suffering in the world.
Unless we are able to understand how powerful this tendency of our ego is to allow in only what we already believe, we cannot grow. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual growth.
Removing the log in our own eye is not easy work. It can be achieved only when we deeply understand and fully accept that the seeds of conflict and suffering are embedded in our own heart. Not just our neighbors.
Spiritual growth therefore, is simply a process of getting back in touch with our essential selves; a process of awakening consciousness and discerning what our ego “believes” to be reality.
To summarize, spiritual growth is growth in self-awareness. Any growth in self- awareness is spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is nothing more than a process of understanding and accepting the many layers of “ego stuff” that keep us from sitting with reality as it really is, and manifesting our essential energy called agape love.
Growth in self-awareness means understanding and accepting the simple reality that each of our beliefs not only distort reality, they reject all aspects of reality that do not exactly conform to that belief.
A friend once told me humorously that the plum line for what is right and true ran directly down the middle of his ego.
Change, the fundamental act of creation, and spiritual growth, are both challenging work for the ego. Both require an awakened consciousness. Each time we grow in self awareness and empty the ego of its many layers, we move closer and closer to manifesting the essential energy of the authentic self, the creative “i am” agape love energy that co-creates with the creative agape love energy of “I AM”.
The reality is we are co-creators with “I AM”. The wave can never be separated from the ocean. The only choice we have is—are we going to consciously create love and compassion, or unconsciously create pain and suffering.
Spiritual growth is nothing more than our ability to increasingly manifest this essential agape energy that resides at the center of who we really are…..our essential self.