Can Spirituality Be Learned From Self-help Books?
Q I read a fair number of books on spirituality. Although I find them interesting, I am not able to practice the ideals they suggest or describe. I get inspired for a day or so and then forget what I read. Peace, joy, kindness, and the sense of trust in the Divine described in these books are not my experience. I wonder if such high ideals are for those who devote their entire lives to the spiritual quest.
A For most of us, spiritual growth does take a long time. It’s a slow and steady process requiring constant awareness and daily practice of what we learn. For our entire lives we have been conditioned in a very limited way—mainly reacting to circumstances and being shaped by people and environments without understanding deeper truths. This level of being and living becomes our norm and gets internalized and reified daily. To de-structure such an identity is no easy task. Although many spiritual teachers tell us that we are already whole, and made in the image of the divine, our identification with our limited ego-personalities is so strong that we are very blocked from our soul-nature. We suffer from a kind of amnesia or hypnosis.
Reading books on spirituality is an introduction to ideas and more expanded ways of being human. However, like any endeavor or realization, be it a sport, a professional skill or a hobby, reading books about them does not make you a successful practitioner. Reading can also be an avoidance of actual practice. If we know stuff about a subject, we can make ourselves believe that we have actually learned it. However, to truly glean the essence of spirituality, we have to engage with the subject in a very personal and deep way. It is taking the instructions and ideas in the books and practicing them regularly that begins to transform your consciousness.
Most traditions have spiritual teachers that guide the student in meditation, prayer, exploring deeper philosophies, and metaphysical perspectives. Spiritual development is actually not a solitary endeavor, even if is a very inner process. People need support, reflection, guidance, and teachings to grow beyond their accustomed level of existence.
If you are drawn to a particular tradition such a Yoga, Hinduism, Sufism or any other path, find a center or a teacher that you like. Take classes, join a study group, practice the meditations, and create a community for yourself as well. I am not talking about organized religion, rather something like a small school or a local teacher that offers guidance and practices. The more your teacher can get to know you, the more precise will be the teachings and ways to develop your spiritual potential.
This is a very exciting endeavor because life does indeed change as deeper truths gets realized and integrated.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com