Recently, a long-time friend shared with me that they are not doing their spiritual practices; they are without faith, and even losing their belief. This person explained to me that they know what needs to be done but do not have the energy to do it.
It saddened me deeply to hear this. The only door open to me was to pray and meditate for my friend. It made me think about spiritual progress and its unique application to every soul. Then, around that time I happened to read Paramhansa Yogananda’s statement that it is important to pray for spiritual progress.
Why? Because in doing so, we are aware of our responsibility to do our part in this regard on a daily basis. We are expressing the yearning of our soul to reach the goal — to be one with God. We need continually to nourish this aspiration.
What Is Spiritual Progress?
Spiritual progress is not a question of being able to jump through a series of hoops or meditating a certain number of hours. It is about making the effort in every moment to receive divine grace as fully as we can. The sun shines throughout the day but not everything receives its light. Sometimes the light is blocked by an object. At other times, one deliberately blocks the light with a barrier.
Yogananda gave us a helpful formula in this regard. He said the spiritual path is 25 percent our effort, 25 percent the guru’s effort, and 50 percent the grace of God. It would be worth noting that unless we do our 25 percent (which is everything we can put into it) we cannot engage the help of the guru and the grace of God that is going to be what takes us over the top.
Saint John made the following statement concerning Jesus and the Christ Consciousness:
As many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.
What we gain spiritually is in direct proportion to the energy we put forth. We cannot simply wait for it to happen; we need to pray for help, pray for progress.
Many years ago, when I was very new to working with people concerning their spiritual practices, a man entered our Ananda Center in Sacramento. He came right up to me and said, “Can you give me samadhi?” Samadhi is an exalted state of consciousness that is union with God. I could not believe he was asking me this question or that God was seriously putting me in this position. I had nothing to hide. I had never experienced this state nor anything close to it. I told him that one needed to be inwardly and energetically prepared to receive this state of consciousness. I tried to explain how he could go about doing this. He was very exasperated with my answer and with me. Impatiently he flustered about and in a reactive manner, said that he had just been in India and no one had suggested any prerequisites there.
“Why didn’t you receive it then?” I asked sincerely.
“They wouldn’t give it to me, he said. They told me to leave!”
From that point on, there was not anything more I could add and certainly nothing more I could do. I did pray for him to receive the understanding and guidance he needed to go forward.
Above all, progress reflects the joy of one’s heart and a deepening devotion within one’s soul.
How Can We Make Spiritual Progress?
BELIEVE IN YOUR ABILITY to make progress and that you are making progress, assuming that you are putting out energy spiritually.
At three different fundraising events for Ananda, I ran a full marathon. It was a very interesting internal process for me. I only trained a few times at a ten-mile run. I simply did not put out the energy to train more but counted on my almost daily five-mile runs through the hills. On my first attempt to run a marathon, I observed that at about three miles I felt with certainty that I would complete the run in full. The goal was laid out before me and all I needed to do was keep moving forward. Five and one-half hours after I began, I finished successfully. Be strong in yourself and in the thought that your effort is moving you forward.
ASK FOR HELP. For me personally, I pray, “Help me make spiritual progress for Thy sake,” because I know God can only use me as His instrument to the extent that I express His vibration and consciousness. Another way to put is, “Give me Thyself that I may give Thee to all.” Yogananda said that this is the highest prayer. I will add that from my experience, this prayer provides a lot of inspired impetus to move forward.
STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN. Paramhansa Yogananda shares the following statements:
“If you feel you are not making the spiritual progress which you should be making – the first thing to do is to ‘stop, look, and listen.’ Take stock of yourself and your habits. Find out what is standing in your way. Often it is inertia or lack of definite, undivided effort, and attention. Sometimes there are habits that need to be weeded out of the garden of your life so that happiness may become more firmly rooted.”
“You must gain complete dominion over all your outer self and activities by self-discipline, and by deeper and deeper meditation.
“If you can hold your peace and be calmly active, and actively calm in all that you do, and no matter what happens; if your eyes and your whole attitude always reflect restfulness and poise, through all experiences and seeming disturbances; if even great failure or great success cannot ruffle you; then these are the outward symbols that you have identified yourself with the Real Inner Self which dwells always in the Inner Chamber of Peace.”
INCREASE YOUR MEDITATION TIME even if only by five minutes! Start with something. I have oftentimes found that if I try to do just a little more, I receive a lot more and it may be 20–40 minutes before I am aware of time again. Sometimes, it is this additional meditation time that helps me to arrive at a deep state of inner calm.
Swami Kriyananda used the example of a glass of dirty water that contained heavy sediment. Stirring the glass causes a more homogenized appearance. After some time, the heavier particles started to settle out. Eventually, all of the sediment falls to the bottom and the water is clear. So, it is with our minds. Just a little more effort to be still and concentrated brings cherished benefits.
MEDITATE WITH OTHERS who have a strong practice and generally meditate for longer periods of time. This can be of great help. Group meditation is a powerful aid. Most times during a group meditation, I am not aware of other people being present but I am aware of a profound force of consciousness magnetically aspiring upward in support. It is hard sometimes to achieve breakthroughs on one’s own and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging this. The currents of consciousness swirling about in this world are not always uplifting — to the extent that we get drawn into the downward pull of negative influences, it is more difficult to consciously transition to the uplifting realms of peace and light.
Make Me Thy Eagle of Soul Progress
The following is taken from Yogananda’s prayer in Whispers from Eternity (70).
I will soar on balanced wings of wholesome living,
high up into the finest regions of divine perception.
High above the hurricanes of earthly preoccupation,
I will soar higher and higher to those unimagined heights
where Thou alone dost dwell.
Make me Thy eagle of ever-upward progress.
Nayaswami Maria: Maria McSweeney came to Ananda in 1976 and worked on the Ananda Farm. In 1986, Swami Kriyananda asked Maria and her husband Ananta to direct the Ananda Community in Sacramento, where they served for 23 years as ministers and Community Managers. In 2009, Nayaswamis Maria and Ananta were asked to return to the Ananda Farm at Ananda Village to restore it to organic production.