Stages Of Spiritual Practice

By Rudra Shivananda

When we talk about sadhana or spiritual practice, most often we highlight the techniques and the progress in proficiency of practice. We might give tips on how to practice better or guidelines to overcome certain obstacles that will occur along the path.

However, it may be instructive to examine the psychological stages that a spiritual practitioner will go through once he or she starts on the path, irrespective of the particular path or techniques. This can be helpful to put oneself in perspective and also help understand why we observe certain characteristics from someone at certain times and the behavior changes.

A dominant characteristic of someone who has recently started a spiritual practice is the need for information from the community or from a teacher / Master. The principle psychological need is for external validation of one’s chosen path. The practitioner is in a cocoon of joy when at last having been established in an evolutionary journey but still harbor doubts and the mind seeks to alleviate concerns through as much information as possible from the internet, fellow practitioners, books, and teachers to make sure that the techniques are being practiced correctly and remove any doubts about the path. This is a necessary stage but when prolonged, may indicate incompatibility with the particular practice or path.

When the practitioner becomes proficient and established in her sadhana, her focus shifts to her physical, astral or mental experiences. He becomes engrossed in the visions, dreams or flashes of intuition that arises in the course of the practice. This is a dangerous phase because it can lead to dependence on experiences that are inconsistent and often non reproducible. When some insights turn out well, one is in ecstasy and feels validated but when they fail, one is depressed and doubt the effort put into one’s practice. It is important to let go of such external experiences in order to make progress.

At the third stage, the practitioner no longer concerns herself with external experiences or psychic gifts. He is joyful in the practice itself. He would sooner give up eating or sleeping then miss his daily practice. She knows that the purpose of her sadhana is spiritual transformation and can observe the changes to her thoughts, words and deeds as a result of the transformation. At this stage, the practitioner is truly established and will not be shaken to give up his chosen path. All that is required is regularity, perseverance and the divine grace for a long life to finish the path.

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