The reason I have lived the life I have lived, studied the subjects, written the books, lived in the places, been, or not been, in the relationships has been because I have listened to my spiritual guidance. I can remember being aware of being spiritually guided from as young as I was aware I was alive.
There have been times when the guidance has been harder to hear, and times when it has been crystal clear. In my teens and early twenties I found navigating the passage into adulthood confusing, like most of us, and took refuge in peer-led behavior, drinking alcohol often to excess, and taking recreational drugs. In my late forties, again in a sea of hormonal disturbance, I took refuge in a bit of a wine habit. Both times I was tolerated by my higher self/spiritual guides until a certain point when it was made abundantly clear to me that if I carried on, my life would not go so well.
I was sitting in a healing circle led by an Aboriginal elder recently, and she said, “If you want to listen to the ancestors, don’t drink coffee, drink alcohol, smoke, or take drugs.” People gasped. Not drink coffee or alcohol? But she was right. I didn’t want to hear it about coffee either, but I know that coffee hardens the ego and stiffens the ego’s drive, (which is why in today’s hyper-competitive world we are so addicted to it) and in the long run this works against us spiritually. Yes, you can have the odd cup of coffee or glass of wine here and there, especially for the sake of a special requirement or a special social occasion, but as all serious contemplatives know, stimulants and mind-altering substances (other than those administered by experts in a spiritual circumstance) weaken the connection with true guidance.
The times when the guidance has been crystal clear have usually come out of solitude and silence, or extremis; a sudden and great need. The latter is obvious and we all have experiences of this. Solitude and silence are more ongoing as a situation to create in your daily life. Solitude and silence are the spiritual warrior’s friends.
Having too much to do, too many people to interact with, too many worries and concerns, all get in the way of being able to listen to spiritual guidance. For most people who are sensitive to guidance, there is also a general porousness, so you need to be careful about what and who you surround yourself with. Too much exposure to muddled and egoistic thinking in your immediate field can make it harder for you to drop into the egoless state necessary for listening to true guidance. For it is not the personality that decides what you do with most wisdom in this life, it is your spiritual self, and it is your spiritual self that has the ability to listen.
Guidance often comes through dreams, so you need to be in a situation in which you get good quality sleep and can wake up slowly, absorbing your dreams into your waking mind, and then, on waking fully, have the time to consider them with an open, calm mind.
You need to learn to understand your dream life, to befriend it. This does not mean learning rote interpretations of dream symbols: it means paying attention, being willing to be guided. While it can take many years to understand how your particular dream symbolism speaks, the mood of a dream is always instantly available and will tell you if you are secretly troubled, missing the point of some dilemma, need to contact x or y, or if life is actually going much better than you think. When Freud noted that dreams often appeared to be compensatory, this could also be because the psyche needs difficulty at times to develop, and the dream life can become particularly vivid and marvelous in tough times. If it does not spring up to help you, eradicate all behaviours that are blocking it. Sleep in silence, lightly fast and avoid all stimulants, take time in the day to do nothing. Quieten your egoic mind, calm down, let go. Then the wisdom will flood in.
In many traditions there is a practice of morning prayer: that the first thing you do every day is to pray. This means to stay in the stillness of sleep, the communion with spirit that takes place when we sleep, and to gradually come into active daily life in a mindful way, by interspersing a period of contemplation in between waking up and acting in the world. Strict traditions also have prayers at other times of the day, meaning that every few hours you take yourself back into the state of oneness, of communion with the greater soul. This has the effect of calming the ego, because partly why the ego gets so out of control is because of our anxiety at being separated from spirit. We start to believe it is all up to us, that we must be in control, that we must know the answers, take lots of actions, and that to survive we must be aggressive in our pursuit of success, treading on those who appear to stand in our way. One reason why until recently women have been closer to spirit is because the burden of this egoic pursuit was held largely by men, who imagined they were in charge and gaining from their position of economic and political supremacy. Actually, patriarchal social organisation hurts men spiritually more than it hurts women.
Men and women open to spiritual guidance in subtly different ways. For women, the psychic openings of menarche, menstruation, pregnancy/labor/nursing, and menopause all give rise to a softer, less egoic, porous state of mind that allows spiritual guidance to enter full consciousness. If the right conditions for this are created. Too often these experiences today are medicated into uselessness, from a spiritual perspective.
For men, the demands of protecting family and society, when non-egoically undertaken, create an opening to spiritual guidance. In some earth-centered hunter gatherer societies shamanic rituals were designed to mimic the pain of women’s reproductive experiences and take men into similarly altered states of consciousness. Vision quest is the most extreme and often the most effective way to seek spiritual guidance through solitude and silence. The forty days and forty nights that turned Jesus from a questioning, doubting man into a true prophet and great spiritual leader was a classic vision quest.
For both genders, there is a great opening in sex, and this is one of the reasons people whose egos have got too big will unconsciously seek sexual relationships that undo them: the ego has persuaded them they can get away with it, but what they are also seeking is the altered state of that union and the great relief of a momentary absence of ego. When sexuality is understood as the place we come together with another in sacred union, then it functions as a vast opening to spiritual guidance.
When what you imagine is spiritual guidance has a voice that is critical, judgmental, and narrow-minded, you can be assured it is not true spiritual guidance. The latter always comes in a great atmosphere of love and forgiveness, of understanding and compassion. If what you hear is not like that, then dismiss the thoughts and take some time out to really listen. Use the ancient technologies of light, aroma and sound. Light some candles or a fire, use incense or essential oils (frankincense is particularly good), beat a drum, tap a singing bowl, or listen to spiritual music. Let these three influences settle your mind for a while, and then consciously open to spiritual guidance, asking for the highest and best guidance available to you at this time.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t receive any guidance immediately. Your personality mind, so useful for core survival, (as one Buddhist teacher said, you just need enough personality to stop you getting run over by a bus), can get in the way of true guidance, so calm it down. Avoid people and situations that pump it up. Spend time in silence and solitude. Be gentle with yourself. Be open to whatever avenues work best for you. Spent time in the natural world, with animals, in doing simple tasks: cooking from scratch, making a fire, working in the garden. Make art. For many of us in our very verbal word, writing is a great way into receiving guidance. It actually can come in any time, anywhere, but the more we create the space for it, the easier the channel will open up, until eventually, this is all we hear. Then we may be blessed, temporarily or even in some cases permanently, with immunity to the pull of egoic concern, and can be fully functioning spiritual warriors in the world. And then, my friends, life gets really interesting…….