It’s my experience that people can be overwhelmed by descriptions of the spiritual path. Words and concepts like ‘awakening,’ ‘witness consciousness,’ and ‘the process of nonattachment,’ come off as intimidating and off-putting to many.
For those who consider themselves mere spiritual mortals (like me), a more relatable, practical description can be helpful. Here’s my non woo-wooey description of the spiritual path:
Training our minds.
That’s it. That’s the gist of what all spiritual work is about.
It’s like pumping iron
It’s not that different than training anything. Let’s take training the body, specifically, weightlifting. Your goal might be to turn to tone up and firm up any flabby muscles.
So you do curls to tone your biceps. Rows to tone your lats. Squats to get at your glutes and legs. Bench press to work your chest.
Do we weight train once to accomplish our goals? No. We lift regularly. And we lift intelligently and conscientiously to get the maximum benefit.
Does our weight training dominate our lives? Unless we’re professionals who compete for a living, no. We go to the gym and lift maybe 2–3 days a week and then we go to work or go home and hang out with our families.
The similarities of weight training and mind training
All of this applies to ‘training our minds.’ The one massive difference is that there is nothing more beneficial or more important than training our minds.
How do we train our minds? In other words, what is the work of the spiritual path? I’ve written about this hundreds of times.
Instead of doing curls, squats and rows, we meditate, practice mindfulness and let go of our egoic baggage. There’s also mantra, singing kirtan, qi gong, asana yoga and myriad others.
We need to train regularly
In training our minds, do we meditate once or sporadically? Practice mindfulness now and then? Let go every so often? No. If we want to train our minds, as with weight training, we do all of these practices regularly and conscientiously.
If weight training strengthens our muscles, what does mind training accomplish? It calms, quiets and slows down our racing minds. Over time. And with persistent practice.
As we do so, we come to realize, gradually, over time, that we are not our minds and the thoughts it randomly produces. We are the consciousness that is aware of those thoughts.
Through our training, our minds become less active, which allows us to more strongly identify as our true, conscious selves. That is the spiritual path.
Mind training goes back to the Gita and the Tao
It’s worth noting that this concept of training the mind is not new. Far from it.
The Bhagavad Gita, which many say is the most important text of Hinduism, was written well over 2,000 years ago and directly implicates training the mind as essential to spiritual awakening. Here are just a few relevant passages:
“Make your mind one-pointed in meditation and your heart will be purified.” 6:12
“With senses and mind constantly controlled through meditation, united with the Self within, an aspirant attains nirvana, the state of abiding joy and peace in me (Krishna/God).” 6:15
“Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diffuse in its search for satisfaction without, lead it within; train it to rest in the Self. Abiding joy comes to those who still the mind.” 6:26–27
“It is true that the mind is restless and difficult to control. But it can be conquered through regular practice and detachment.” 6:35
Again, this was written thousands of years ago! An even older book of wisdom, The Tao te Ching, also deals directly with training the mind:
“If you can empty your mind of all thoughts, your heart will embrace the tranquility of peace.” Chapter 16
The point is that restless minds have plagued mankind for many millennia. And really smart, really wise people recognized long ago that working with and training our minds was central to achieving peace inside.
Is training the mind more complex and difficult than buffing up our bods? Yes.
But if we travel the path, i.e., train our minds, with the same kind of dedication to consistency and conscientiousness as training our bodies, it becomes less daunting and overwhelming.
We’re just training our minds. Chopping wood and carrying water.
Hitting the spiritual gym every day. Doing rep after rep. Set after set.
Buffing up our conscious selves as we quiet our minds…