Spiritual growth is a journey with many twists and turns. But there are clear stages we can recognize on our path to spiritual wholeness.
Spiritual growth can be achieved in many ways. There is no prescribed path that leads to enlightenment. In addition, the journey can sometimes feel like two steps forward followed by three steps backward. The stage you are at is not necessarily that important. However, it is nice to check where you are on your journey to see how far you have come and what might be round the next corner.
The following stages of spiritual growth are only guidelines. You may be at different stages in different aspects of your life. There are many different interpretations of the stages of spiritual growth and no one right path or way. However, I believe understanding the processes and stages can help us move forward and make the journey a little smoother.
So here is my interpretation of the stages of spiritual growth:
1. A complete absence of awareness and connection to your spiritual self
A person at this stage may not recognize the existence of spirit at all. Many people refuse to acknowledge that there is anything other than the material world all their lives. Which is fine. Accepting that others have different beliefs is actually an important stage in spiritual growth and this includes the acceptance of those who believe there is no such thing as a spiritual plane.
It is possible to live happily in appreciation of the wonder of being alive in this world at this time without any need for a spiritual underpinning of this knowledge. However, for many people, this is simply a stage on the journey and they may soon start to feel an inkling that there is something more to life.
2. A recognition or remembrance that there is more than the material world
At some point in many peoples’ lives comes a niggling idea that there might be more to life than meets the eye. This can be triggered by a difficult period in our lives or it may come from a spiritual experience. It may arrive as a result of strange coincidences or a meeting with a spiritual teacher.
Many people stay at this stage of wondering about spirituality for many years, some even stay here all their lives. Again, it is important to remember that there is no hierarchy in these stages. Each is perfect in its own way.
3. Spiritual curiosity – a thirst to find out more about the spirit and our spiritual self
For some people, their curiosity about spirituality grows. They start to investigate more and begin to wonder about our existence. This can be a difficult time for some. May people jump into an established religion at this stage. Thought this is right for some, it can also come from a discomfort at the uncertainties of spiritual life.
Some people really struggle with the not knowing and ambiguity. They prefer to step into an established spiritual path with rules and guidance rather than embrace uncertainty. Of course, this is the perfect path for some.
For others though, this period is one of exploration and openness. It can be a time when we feel all at sea and long for solid ground beneath our feet. But as we begin to adjust to our new perspective we are able to live more comfortably with uncertainty.
4. Spiritual exploration and study
At this stage, we may experience many insights and pointers to further development. There may be many twists and turns on this path. We may embrace certain ideas only to abandon or move beyond them at a later stage in your journey. There is no hierarchy in spirituality – no path that is better than another. It is more a matter of finding the path that matches your spiritual self.
You may find a teacher or guru, or set yourself on a course of study of a particular spiritual path, or maybe several spiritual practices. Your knowledge and awareness of your spiritual self will expand exponentially as will your understanding of the nature of the universe and its interconnectedness. You may begin to feel a real sense of responsibility for the people animals and plants that you share this planet with. You will become more open to possibilities and less dismissive of other peoples’ experiences.
This can be a period of exciting discovery. There may be times of bliss, but also times when you slip back into fear and doubt.
5. Developing a spiritual practice
At this point, you may begin a spiritual practice that soon becomes as essential to your well-being as air, food, and water. This may not remain constant. Often what we need changes over time.
However, it may be that you find a practice such as meditation, journaling or prayer that will be with you for life. For others, their spiritual practices are constantly evolving and expanding to integrate new spiritual ideas and experiences.
6. An acceptance of yourself and others.
At this stage, you will realize that there is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ on your journey or anyone else’s. Everyone is in the perfect place for them. You have an understanding that we are all at different stages in our spirituality, perhaps even on different incarnations.
Any feeling of superiority over others will dissipate and you will be washed with compassion and love for people no matter how they are acting at their present spiritual stage. You will desire to help and encourage others on their journey, but will not feel the need to preach your own path to anyone else.
7. Spiritual maturity
At this point, spirituality stops being something you think about much. Instead, it is just a part of your being much as your digestion system is. Many existential issues simply disappear. At this stage of spiritual maturity, you will truly understand that everything is one and the illusion of separateness will fall away. Or so I hear. I’ve not actually reached this stage myself.
The dark night of the soul.
As well as these stages, many spiritual seekers experience a very low point on their journey where everything feels like it is falling apart. This is often described as a dark night of the soul. This often happens just before spiritual maturity, however, we may experience more than one of these dark nights on our journey.
Each one of them will change us and prepare us for further growth. The dark night of the soul is often triggered by loss. This may be a loss of security, a relationship or loved one, or a more material loss such as homelessness or redundancy.
If you experience such a dark period it can be a challenging and lonely time. It can be valuable to reach out for help at times like this. Be reassured that you will get through this process and gain something valuable from it in the end.
It is essential to embrace each stage of our spiritual journey and not try to rush on to achieve the next. Wanting to move quickly towards enlightenment is often an ego need rather than a spiritual one. While your spiritual journey may be difficult at times, many of the problems we experience often do come from the needs of our ego for outward success and recognition.
Embracing each stage, fully entering the experience we are having and accepting ourselves as in the perfect place in our journey at each and every moment can make the process of spiritual growth smoother and less challenging.