by Andrew Cohen
Are you a seeker or a finder? This is a very important question. If you are on a spiritual path, have you found what you are looking for? Or are you still searching? If you are doing a spiritual practice, are you doing it to reach a goal or are you doing it just because you think it’s a good thing to be doing? Or are you doing spiritual practice from another position altogether—the position of being a finder? Being a finder means you are one of those rare individuals who has unequivocally found what they are looking for, and are now doing spiritual practice only because they want to continue to develop.
People who do spiritual practice but who are not yet enlightened tend to divide their lives between the “spiritual” part and the unspiritual part. When they are engaged with spiritual practice and spend time in the company of others who share their faith or conviction in the reality of Spirit, that’s the spiritual part. All the rest is the unspiritual part. People who are enlightened, on the other hand, see all of life as an unending spiritual adventure with no holes or gaps where Spirit is not present. What you see is what you get. It is really only the capacity to see and directly experience the life we are living with greater and greater depth and more and more perspective that liberates our awareness and awakens our consciousness of Spirit’s all-pervasive presence.
If you are a sincere seeker, then it’s important that your spiritual practice be imbued with a life-and-death commitment to your own liberation here and now. The short-term goal must be to get to the other side of existential doubt. You want to free your soul from both the ego’s suffocating self-concern and the outdated and spiritually unenlightened values of our modern and postmodern culture. First and foremost, you need to do whatever it takes to free yourself. Why? So you will finally be available to participate, consciously and wholeheartedly, in the greatest gift you’ve been given…which is the life you’re already living right now.
If you are no longer a seeker but one who boldly claims to be a finder, then that means you no longer have any doubt about who you really are and why you are here on this Earth. In your own direct discovery of and awakening to Spirit’s true face, existential doubt has died a sudden and irrevocable death, liberating an infectious confidence rooted deep in your soul. A true finder may or may not continue to do spiritual practice. If he or she does, it is motivated, as I said, by the desire to continue to develop and evolve. Indeed in the new evolutionary spirituality, making the noble effort to catalyze our own individual and collective higher development is recognized to be the very raison d’être of the human experience at the leading edge. But as finders we’re no longer doing practice in order to experience a spiritual epiphany that will convince us of something we don’t already know. Now we’re making the effort to evolve because we’re in love with life and are committed to unlocking its higher potentials through our own development.
When we realize that the process of life is Spirit in action, then ideally we would aspire for our entire lives to become an unceasing manifestation of its multidimensional nature. Even more importantly, we would expect our actions to embody its most significant qualities. That means we would be expressing freedom and creativity in and through the way that we live the gift of life. And this would occur both as the spontaneous expression of a liberated heart and mind and as the practice of evolutionarily enlightened living.
I became a spiritual teacher twenty-four years ago, after I found what I was looking for. Up until that point I had been an ardent meditator. The practice of meditation, for me, was the means to an end: I wanted to become an enlightened person, whatever that was going to mean. I took my practice very seriously. I also exercised vigorously every day. I was careful about what I ate. I sought out and cultivated friendships with others who shared my passion for Spirit. And, typical of my generation, I looked to the East to find illumination rather than to the West. Like so many others, I traveled to India. When I arrived, almost immediately I felt like I was home. This was because I entered into a shared cultural context where the inner quest was accepted as being a lofty and valid endeavor. I no longer felt like such an outsider. After two and half years, I met my last teacher and he liberated my soul when he uttered ten simple words: “You don’t have to make any effort to be free.” Upon hearing this, I made the transition from seeker to finder.
I have spent almost the last quarter century struggling with the question of how to take people with me on the greatest journey that there is: from seeker to finder to co-creator of Heaven on Earth. The first step is straightforward—to become a finder all any one of us ever has to do is let go of the fears and desires of the ego, absolutely and unconditionally. It obviously goes without saying that this is easier said than done. Freedom is letting go and letting go is freedom. In truth, it doesn’t take effort. It only requires you to love God or Spirit more than you love yourself.
Creating Heaven on Earth is another matter altogether. It requires enormous effort and a long-term commitment that means forever. It also requires practice, because all truly great creative accomplishments require endless practice. So how much practice are we actually doing to ensure our own development? How deeply have we realized the importance our own higher evolution has, if we desperately want the world to change for the better? These are important and relevant questions for serious people who are committed to change.
After so many years, what have I come up with as the magic remedy for both letting go and creating Heaven on Earth? Well, that’s simple …we have to do it all! What does that really mean? We have to endeavor to take on and embrace every aspect of the human condition, individually and together, and insist that evolution happens. This approach has been called “integral practice.” Integral, in this case, means taking on our whole being, in all its many dimensions.
We can either approach the whole endeavor of practice from the “outside-in” or from the “inside-out.” Outside-in means we intellectually understand and appreciate the multi-dimensional complexity of our selves, and we aspire to engage with and develop as many parts of ourselves as possible because we have recognized that it makes good sense to do so. The inside-out approach is one in which we have already spiritually awakened, at least to some degree, to the perennial mystical truth that all is One. And from the direct cognizance of that Oneness, we endeavor to align and develop the many different dimensions of our own being. My approach is from the inside-out.
So what does a life of spiritual practice, a life in which Spirit is being truly lived, look like? If we are committed to creating Heaven on Earth, we need to pray or meditate every single day so deeply and earnestly that each and every time the result is freedom from fear and existential doubt. The goal is ultimately to get to that point in our own spiritual development where we no longer need prayer or meditation to know what the Truth is.
The highest form of spiritual practice, for those of us who aspire to create Heaven on Earth, is our relationships with one another. That means being willing to sacrifice anything and everything so that the intersubjective world of our shared culture becomes the stage on which the spiritual reality of who we really are, beyond our separate egos, comes to the fore. Think about it: If Spirit always comes before self, then the self that we are will always manifest as Spirit first. What could be more important than this if we want to change our world?
Another very important dimension of spiritual practice is the cultivation of what I call spiritual self-respect. That is because spiritual self-respect is ego-transcendence. We must do whatever we need to do to respect ourselves so that we can respect each other. It’s more important to respect yourself than to “love yourself.” In a spiritually awakened context, respect for self always means respect for God or Spirit. Respect for that which is higher is transformative because it instantly ennobles and dignifies our separate personalities. That’s very different from having to love your ego in order to feel comfortable being who you are.
If you respect yourself, you’re going to make the extra effort to take care of yourself. How you look from the outside is always an expression of what you believe in. Evolved and enlightened saints and sages from all traditions have already told us that the path to God is one defined by self-discipline, self-control, humility, and unshakeable commitment. Because of your rare degree of spiritual inspiration, physically you will radiate beauty, and emotionally you will vibrate with open-hearted self-confidence. This will be as a result of your own ceaseless efforts and submission to your own true heart’s longing.
Finally, and most importantly, because of our commitment to going all the way and putting all of this into practice, we will simultaneously create and reap the heavenly rewards. The life we have chosen to live and our relationships will become an ecstatic cauldron of creative ferment. Because Spirit is both freedom and creativity, our own empowering realization of spiritual freedom will give rise to an unusual capacity for creative engagement. The truth of God will emerge again and again and again through our own ongoing love affair with the possible.