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What is Spiritual Growth?

Spiritual growth is so slow that it is unnoticeable most of the time.  It often seems that nothing ever changes – even when you have occasional spiritual breakthroughs, you always seem to fall back to square one soon afterwards.  The reason for this is because spiritual growth entails losing importance, and importance is very durable – it repairs itself immediately after any attack (which is what a spiritual breakthrough is).  The only way to permanently dissolve importance is by wearing it down over time (False: a near death experience – dying and coming back to life – can do the job lickety-split; but that’s not everyone’s karma).

Spiritual breakthroughs are oftentimes the work of spirits who are looking out for us.  In my own case Jesus, Mary, and the Mayan gods (my principal tutelary deities) have at various times appeared to me or hurled me willy-nilly into altered states of consciousness.  One such experience lasted a month – a magical mystery tour I made to Lake Atitlan at the Mayan gods’ behest (which I’ve alluded to in some of my books, and which was the most mind-blowing experience of my life).  Afterwards I asked my spirits what that was all about, and they told me that all they did was to lower my importance; everything else that happened on that trip was my own dream.  The point is that spiritual breakthroughs – whether induced by spirits, psychedelics, or just the astrology of the moment – are temporary unless you have lost enough importance via spiritual training to sustain the momentum.  Spiritual breakthroughs are the result of a diminution of importance; whereas spiritual tests are the result of an augmentation of importance.

I was recently listening to a Christian radio program in which the pastor was explaining why God sends us spiritual tests.  His answer was, basically, to strengthen our faith – like exercising strengthens our muscles.  The magical point of view is similar – spiritual tests help us to gauge our spiritual growth: we can see and evaluate our reactions for ourselves, to see if we’ve learned anything – the same reason they give us tests in school.  Spiritual tests are only tests because we make them tests – we ourselves seize upon these circumstances and events to symbolize what we most fear or what pisses us off or makes us unhappy.  If we didn’t care about them – if they weren’t important to us – then they would no longer be a problem; right?

From the magical point of view, it’s not “God” who is doing the testing – it’s Death.  And not just any Death: it’s Your Death that’s funnin’ with you.  Your Death is not something you’ll face some day when you quit breathing and go stiff – it’s right there beside you all day long every day, watching everything you do.  Just sometimes it gets a little frisky, and that’s when you notice it and call it a “spiritual test”.  Death sends everyone those messages now and again as a reminder that you have no control whatsoever; and that it can touch you at any moment in spite of all your protections and defenses (e.g. distractions, safety precautions, “securities”, believing that you’re special to God, and other hedges against Your Death).  Just as spiritual breakthroughs reveal possibilities, spiritual tests indicate the reality you have to deal with, and show you what spiritual progress you’ve made.  They are like a wake-up call.  This is what is meant by “accepting your destiny”: spiritual tests show you the destiny you have to accept and how accepting of it you have become thus far.

Does the doctrine of reincarnation and the law of karma mean that your life is predestined?  The answer – for most people – is yes; but that’s because most people are screw-ups.  The way it works is that the most important events and relationships in your life are indeed predestined by karmic decisions you made before you were born (actually there is no “before” – this is just a manner of speaking, it all takes place in dreamless sleep and the decisions are being made moment-to-moment – but to simplify the discussion let’s say “before you were born”).  You come into this world with a game plan: that you would confront certain situations, circumstances, and people, with preordained karmic agendas; but what you make of them is completely a matter of free will.  However, the reason why we say that “the Spirit is a trickster” (it’s actually not the Spirit at all, but Your Death which does this), is that things are always set up so that you’ll screw it up – give in to the proffered temptation, turn tail and run from the threat, shrug your shoulders and dump your responsibilities, whatever.  So it is predestination which brings you the temptation, threat, or responsibilities; but how you deal with them is completely a matter of free will (although Your Death sets things up so that probably you’ll fail – it’s what you least want to deal with – the very thing that you most greatly feared or that gets your dander up).  This is why the same sorts of problems just keep on happening all your life long (and lifetime after lifetime), till you finally learn that lesson (lose that importance) and can move on.

Cop to the facts: isn’t it true, considered objectively, in retrospect, that every single loss of importance (injustice; disappointment of expectations; betrayal of trust; slap in the face) moved you forward spiritually (unless you’re possessed by demons – in which case these events just screwed you down harder and shut you off emotionally)?

Spiritual growth is almost unnoticeable except in retrospect: seeing that the things which used to put you out or piss you off no longer do (‘cause they’ve just been worn down and burnt out by all the repetition).  Spiritual tests measure how far you’ve come, and spiritual breakthroughs measure how far you have to go; but both spiritual tests and spiritual breakthroughs do help to shake loose the importance coverings which bind you and hold you back.

Thus spiritual growth isn’t something you can do – it’s not something you can force; nor something which you should chastise yourself for not measuring up to when you fail.  You just take note of your error, make amends (if possible), and move on.  It’s important always to remain within your own comfort zone, since spiritual growth is the quintessential art of the possible: basically all you can do to help the process along is to be patient.  This doesn’t mean being complacent and indulging yourself not doing squat – it is important to have a daily spiritual practice which keeps you grounded and on track, such as daily Creative Visualization and its subsidiary techniques like prayer and casting spells; and by fortifying your intent with techniques such as going to tree spirits every day, and rejecting importance thought forms – thoughts of shame or glory – as they arise (and you become aware of them).  But there’s no call for self-flagellation or overreaching, and then feeling bad when you can’t keep it up (e.g. a ten-day fast and then pigging out to reinforce your importance, which the fasting attacked).  There’s no way to hurry spiritual growth – it has to unfold on its own in good time, which means a lifetime, in most cases.  It’s a matter of waiting, and knowing what you are waiting for.

“Now you know you are waiting for your will. You still don’t know what it is, or how it could happen to you. So watch carefully everything you do. The very thing that could help you develop your will is amidst all the little things you do.” – Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality

Twenty-some years ago I had two definitive dreams, spaced several years apart, which since have become a major point of reference in my self-understanding.  In the first dream I was back in my childhood home and dysfunctional family, and feeling all the feelings I felt at that time; in the second dream I was back in my dysfunctional marriage, and feeling all the feelings I felt then.  It was most interesting, because in the interim I had “forgotten” (repressed) the extraordinary pain I felt for most of my life.  I remembered the thought forms, of course; but not the pain (until these two dreams called it back up).  Also I had forgotten some of the details – for example, how my father was as rejecting towards me as was my personality-disordered mother (I had tended to exculpate him in my thought form remembrances because he was nice to me when I was little; and also because in the end my mother completely crushed his spirit).

The importance of these dreams is that they forced me to realize that I have come very, very far from where I was.  I’m more or less happy now; I don’t have anyone stomping on me and causing me great emotional pain at least.  I’ve learned how to cast bad faithers and games players out of my space without falling prey to their demons or accepting ownership of their self-hatred agendas.  I don’t take things as personally as I used to; and for the most part my life is okay – I have no major complaints, I’ve learned I can take setbacks in stride, I’ve seen that I can deal with problems as they come up so I don’t worry or stress out so much about the future.  I would describe my normal, everyday mindset nowadays as eager anticipation – like feeling the feeling I feel when I know I’m about to get laid, even though I know I’m not about to get laid.  Because spiritual growth is so glacially slow we tend to discount what meager progress we have made; but truly, I have come a long, long way from where I was back then.

“Seeing makes one realize the unimportance of it all.”

“The unimportance of what, don Juan?”

“The unimportance of everything.”

– Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality

To progress spiritually – to lose importance – means to feel more and more vulnerable – NOT in control of your life, master of your fate, etc.  Some people learn this lesson more easily than others – that’s what religious awe is all about: respect for a higher power (the antithesis of what American society teaches, particularly with all its emphasis on material “security” and its phony religions which promise you “heaven” if you do this and that and the other thing – all of which are distractions to deny Your Death).  It’s only when you feel raw and vulnerable that you can be aware of Your Death, and thereby accept your destiny which – when all is said and done – is to die.  Invulnerability, power, control, “salvation”, etc., are the feelings of people who think they aren’t going to die.

To grow spiritually you have to open yourself to Your Death without surrendering yourself to it with self-pity.  Self-pity is a (completely idiotic) defense against Your Death – idiotic because it is actually clinging to Your Death instead of pushing it away (which is what people believe they’re doing when they pity themselves).  You have to be light and loose – not clinging to your routines and defenses like a security blanket or thumb you are sucking.  This entails trusting in the Spirit to sustain you rather than pieces of paper in bank vaults, pats on the back from other people, or churches’ lies.  Spiritual growth means getting over the notion that it’s all about YOU, that YOU are the center of everything and it’s all happening to YOU.

The spiritual path entails facing and working through your karma – not running away from it, as most people try to do.  This requires recognizing what is required of you and carrying it out.  But it’s not that hard, really.  There’s no call for making a big deal out of anything.  Just chill; that’s all that’s all you have to do.  All your spiritual trials and tests are a preparation and a means for losing importance.  The measure of how much you have grown spiritually is how equably you can accept the disappointing / conflicting things which happen to you and get back to normal (feeling okay about things) again after initially being knocked off your pins, by just accepting your situation – and other people’s limitations – philosophically.  There’s no way to fake this (e.g. by “putting on a happy face” or “thinking happy thoughts” – which are merely a form of denial).

The question you must always ask yourself when confronting disappointments and conflicts is whether you will still give a damn about them after you die; if the answer is “no”, then to hell with them.  On the other hand, making peace with other people – even if only in your own mind (if they won’t permit it in reality), is the kind of thing you’ll care about after you die.  Spiritual growth means being kind – to yourself and other people – getting off your own case as well as theirs; not pinching yourself or driving yourself or judging yourself – and certainly not forcing yourself to be more “spiritual”.  When the time is right – if you’ve been doing the intending and the daily practices which that entails – things just unfold naturally and everything falls into place by itself.

Thanks to Bob Makransky for allowing the republiction of his wondeful work.

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