People have a romantic idea of spirituality: escape worldly distraction, access higher states of consciousness, and settle into an internal serenity. The dedicated (and honest) practitioners, however, will frankly admit that it doesn’t always work like that. There are good days and bad days. Sometimes we experience a sweet pleasure from simple and sublime spiritual practices. On other days, however, it feels mechanical, burdensome, monotonous and uninspiring. Thousands of thoughts whiz through the mind and disturb our focus. But if spirituality is so natural, why does it sometimes feel so artificial? If we are connecting with our true nature, why does it seem so alien?
Before reaching spiritual maturity, one goes through the stage of anisthita bhakti – unsteady devotion. Here, the ebbs and flows of enthusiasm and dry patches are inevitable. The great spiritual preceptors therefore recommend that one take vows, committing themselves to a regime that will sustain their progress over a lifetime. Honouring vows in the early stages is easy since there is freshness and novelty. Honouring those promises in the mature stage is effortless since there is natural attraction and relish. In between, however, spiritual life can feel like a taxing struggle – freshness has worn off, and the ‘higher taste’ is a distant reality. This interim zone is the proverbial graveyard of numerous sincere spiritualists; they started, but just couldn’t continue. Fear not, however, since this is also the zone where the beautiful principle of commitment can shine through. The depth of any relationship is proportionate to the commitment shown – husband and wife, friend to friend, parent and child, guru and disciple… and also the individual soul and God.
Spirituality is about experience, taste, inspiration and feeling. But another major aspect is too often neglected – discipline, duty, determination and doggedness. There is much to be said about “getting on with it,” despite how you feel. If we could fortify this unglamorous aspect of our spiritual life we could grow to unimaginable heights. The vows of the great saints were like lines in stone; once uttered, there was no question of retraction. Their vows were planted in the heart and watered for many years, eventually manifesting wonderfully sweet fruits. Thus, this point of commitment should become a deep meditation. Spiritual life is undoubtedly a joyful process, but, uncharacteristic as it may sound, we may have to shed some blood, sweat and tears to make it work. Difficult, but not impossible.