What’s the point of spirituality?
Everyone has a different reason to study, pray, meditate and explore spiritual paths, but at the end of the day the purpose is to make a difference in the real world.
The real purpose of spirituality is to change your life.
With that in mind I want to take a look at these life-changing lessons from the world’s greatest spiritual teachers.
1) Self-awareness comes first
Before any real change can occur in life, it has to occur inside.
What does this mean?
It means that until you understand yourself, anything you do in your outer life will lack deeper meaning and significance.
You can become a millionaire and invent a new technology that revolutionizes urban transit and be loved by everyone, but if you don’t know yourself it will still be like you are living somebody else’s life despite all the outer success and recognition.
When you begin to sit quietly with yourself, get to know yourself and truly look at yourself, your level of consciousness rises.
You begin to see all the ways in which your behavior, thoughts and emotions are instinctive and automatic and you begin to gain more self-control.
As you gain in self-awareness, you achieve the ability to consciously choose and control what you do to a greater degree, instead of just immediately responding to your desires or impulses.
“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave,” taught Armenian mystic and spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff.
2) You have a unique mission
We each have a unique mission.
This may sound dramatic or even intimidating, but a mission doesn’t have to be saving the universe or curing cancer.
Your mission may be to learn how to give and receive love, or to help bring people together in dialog instead of conflict.
Your mission may be to cook food that warms people’s souls, or to build bridges and roads that get folks where they need to go.
No mission is “small” or lowly.
Every mission, and every person matters and has their own place in the tapestry of life.
Every small act of love and purpose brings people together and makes a difference.
In a world of frustration, confusion and sorrow, finding our mission and reaching out to others can change our life and everyone else’s, too.
As New Thought spiritual writer Florence Scovel Shinn memorably put it:
“There is a place that you are to fill and no one else can fill, something you are to do, which no one else can do.”
3) Wisdom is nurtured by failure
We all want to get what we want and succeed.
But when that doesn’t happen, you’re faced with two basic options:
Get angry, sad and resentful, or find the benefits of failure and disappointment.
Specifically, disappointment and failure bring many benefits such as patience, strength, stoicism, empathy and help us see longer term.
Experiencing failure can also enormously increase our ability to feel compassion for others who are suffering and experiencing disappointment.
When you fail, you can use this as fuel and find the inner beauty in a lost dream, or use it as a bridge to connect with others who have also seen a dream die.
Failure isn’t final, it’s just a stepping stone and a path to self-actualization.
As Rabbi Tzvi Freeman puts it:
“Your soul willingly left its blissful place beyond all troubles to descend into a stifling frame of bone, blood and flesh. Why?
“Because only from within this frail form can inner strength be forged by pain, can wisdom be nurtured by failure, can love be the reward of those who choose to give love.
“Only here can you struggle with the bitter things of life and squeeze out of them a syrup of sweet, inner joy.”
4) Joy is found in service
Spiritual teachers throughout the ages have taught that real joy is found in service.
I always thought this was just a sort of “do gooder” thing that meant pushing down your own desires or trying to force yourself to be a good and generous person.
But it’s really true.
Volunteering, service, helping people out and assisting without any expectation of something in return is an irreplaceable activity.
It makes you feel alive, purposeful and powerful.
Making a difference in the lives of others, no matter how small, changes your life and changes theirs.
As Bengali poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore said:
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.”
5) God is found in nature
Cultures from the indigenous to the Abrahamic to the east often speak of a Creator God or various gods who express their power in nature, history and the lives of humanity.
Another common theme is that nature itself contains expressions of divine power.
From the writings of Homer to modern worship music, nature is both a symbol and potent reservoir of divine power and beauty.
Being out in nature changes you, bringing a certain inner peace and contentment to which it’s hard to put a name.
This peace and communion with the divine is something special and irreplaceable.
The key to finding it is to spend time outdoors enjoying, contemplating and appreciating nature.
As American author and Trappist monk Thomas Merton said:
“Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already been said better by the wind in the pine trees.”
6) Real love is about giving
What is love?
The ancient Greeks had various categories for love, including brotherly love, romantic love, erotic love and divine love.
In the area of romantic partnership, there are many challenges that come.
We often meet the best and worst aspects of ourselves when we enter into a serious connection with somebody else.
But true love happens when we are willing to see somebody for who they really are and love them without expecting anything back.
“A genuine relationship is one that is not dominated by the ego with its image-making and self-seeking,” teaches German Canadian spiritual leader Eckhart Tolle.
“In a genuine relationship, there is an outward flow of open, alert attention toward the other person in which there is no wanting whatsoever.”
This is also reflected in the words of wise sages from the past who emphasized the role of love in ennobling and fortifying human beings.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage,” said Taoism founder Lao Tzu.
Wise words indeed.
7) Let life be what it is
Lastly in terms of the life-changing lessons from the world’s greatest spiritual teachers is to always strive to improve, grow and learn.
Don’t worry about others who you think are better or worse than you.
Focus on your journey and what you’re doing in the world to live your purpose and help others live theirs.
Many times the greatest spiritual breakthrough for somebody of any faith or belief is to attain the faith and love to just let life be what it is.
To truly allow life to exist as it does instead of demanding that things out of our control be something they are not.
When we accept reality, even when it’s not what we want, we gain the superpower of letting go of what’s outside our control.
American spiritual author Wayne Dyer had this absolutely right when he wrote:
“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.”
Lessons to live by
These wise spiritual teachers all give us lessons to live by.
Find your purpose, love life and do your best to make it count.
We’re all here for a short time, but life is a beautiful mystery that becomes deeper and profound as we come to know ourselves and others and walk together on this path.