Practicing mindfulness and embarking upon the journey of spiritual consciousness development are wonderful pursuits. But they are not ends in and of themselves. Rather they are the means to the ends we seek. They are aspects of the practice that we hope will one day bear fruit and deliver us into a light-filled, elevated state of consciousness—one from which we will never again digress. That is our true goal. Let us then examine more closely some of the nuances of this exalted state we hope to attain. For, in doing so, we will be able to understand better what is currently motivating us.
The spiritual journey is not an easy one. It takes a very strong sense of motivation to stay the course through the rough patches of inertia and discouragement. But often times we are unaware of what is really motivating us. And like all other aspects of consciousness, becoming aware of our motivational schematic will not only bring greater light to our experience; it will also act as a tonic in aiding and propelling us forward.
Every individual has a unique motivational schematic. This is because each individual has had unique experiences in his or her life that have brought them to the spiritual practice. And life experience is one of the main factors that motivates us. For example, for one person it might have been an illness and a desire for healing that led them to embrace the spiritual path. For another, it was perhaps an emotionally devastating relationship. For yet others, it might have been financial problems, etc. These are all common life experiences, but they affect each one of us differently. And it is this unique way of viewing our own circumstances that tends to shape our motivational schematic.
This being said, there are also many shared aspects to our spiritual experience. This is especially true of the goal we all aspire to. Though for each of us the journey is unique, the goal is the same for all. We all yearn for deliverance from the aspects of human life that we have found to be problematic and troublesome. We all aspire to a fuller and richer life experience. So in at least this one area we are all being motivated similarly.
How then can we become better aware of the unique aspects of our motivational schematic? One way is to ask ourselves a few questions such as these: What brought me to the spiritual practice in the first place? Was it a particular circumstance or was it an entire lifetime worth of experiences? What has my spiritual journey been like so far? Has it been dominantly difficult or dominantly rewarding? Do I find spiritual practice and discipline to be burdensome, or are these things I love doing? These are all questions that involve only ourselves, so it goes without saying that the key to benefiting from answering them lies in our ability to be totally honest.
Acknowledging why we began our practice in the beginning is important because it is one of the keys to understanding why our experience has panned out like it has. If we originally came to the practice after many years of deep feelings and intuitive synchronistic perceptions, our motivational schematic will, in all likelihood, be very strong. This will, in turn, lend a sense of alacrity to all our endeavors. On the other hand, it is quite common for people to undertake the spiritual journey for weak or insubstantial motives. A good example of this would be someone who was originally drawn for the motive of hoping to find social consolation. Spiritually minded
people tend to have a very elevated sense of integrity and goodness. They are generally kind, affectionate, and compassionate. In other words, as people go, they are some of the best. So it is natural to want to become socially involved with such a community. But social involvement must not be our main motive. Rather its rightful place is as one of those “added things” that Jesus spoke of when he said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all of these things will be added unto you.” In other words, when your motive is right and strong, your experience will also be rich with social consolation as a secondary benefit.
Another weak motive might be an attraction to the practices themselves. Like the people who are committed to them, spiritual practices can appear extremely attractive and alluring. We watch others meditating or doing yoga and we see how peaceful and beautiful they look. And we want that for ourselves. Like the old Beatles song described, we too want to be one of the beautiful people, tuned to a natural E. But this can be a deceptive motive on account of our ego. Thus we must be able to discern whether we are drawn to the practices solely for the spiritual benefits they can bring, or whether we are drawn because we see them as part of a new identity we aspire to take on and impress others with.
The problem with indulging weak motives such as these is simply that they will not be able to stand the test of time. They will be fine as long as the going is good and easy. But when inertia and discouragement confront us, we will have nothing to brace us and keep us from a serious fall. We may even find ourselves considering leaving the practice altogether.
Jesus once gave a very difficult teaching—one that caused many of his followers to turn back and stop following him. When push came to shove, their motivational schematic was not strong enough to enable them to persevere through difficult circumstances. Though they were unaware of the fact that their motives for following Jesus were weak and misdirected, this was revealed when the going got rough. In contrast to their experience, there was that of the twelve apostles (Jesus’ closest followers). When Jesus asked them if they wanted to leave too, they responded that they had essentially burned all the bridges behind them and now had nowhere else to go. This revealed that they had a very strong motivational schematic for following Jesus. Its strength was based on the experience of having become so certain that they were on the right path that nothing else mattered anymore.
And so for us also the strength of our motivational schematic is sometimes not exposed until the going gets tough. If we have been mainly attracted to the social aspect or if our ego has gotten into the act, then we will have nothing to steady us and keep us from falling. But if we have become certain that the spiritual path is the right path for us and have, as a result, forgotten all else and burned all the bridges that once connected us to our past, then we will be able to stand firm and weather the storm.
Of course, we are all creatures of free will. We are free to approach the spiritual life, and all life for that matter, however we choose to. But it must be said that just because trials and difficulties come your way that does not necessarily mean that the spiritual path is wrong for you. On the contrary, the spiritual path is, in truth, the right path for every human being, which is why it is a travesty for someone to fall away and become alienated because his or her motives were not yet strong. Jesus took no pleasure in watching some of his followers leave. He would have preferred that they stay with him and make the changes in their motivational schematic—that which was causing them to become disillusioned.
Our motivational schematic is not set in stone. It can quite readily be changed and strengthened. Through an act of our own consciousness we can nurture a deeper level of commitment to the spiritual practice. Many people have done this. They may have been initially drawn to the practice for a weaker motive, but then at some point they did the soul searching that the apostles had done in relation to following Jesus. They saw with certainty the vanity and futility inherent in just about every worldly pursuit and, one by one, they burned those bridges behind them. Thus instead of falling away and leaving the practice, they consciously renewed and revamped their commitment and, in so doing, took it to a deeper level.
Some will, of course, choose to leave. This is inevitable. But it need not be so. The real reason that people give up on the spiritual journey and return to worldly pursuits is that they are unwilling to adjust and renew their motivational schematic. Like those that gave up on following Jesus, they cling to their original weak misdirected motive and let that color their experience.
Many aspects of the spiritual journey require adjustments as we go along, and this is especially true in the realm of motivation. That is why the willingness to always be open and willing to search our hearts can move mountains. Another word to describe this attitude is integrity. It is not necessarily an easy thing to practice, but it will serve to establish us in a more sincere posture like nothing else can.
The same holds true for humility. We may have to humble ourselves at times in order to get back on track or infuse our practice with an injection of renewed energy, but this does not hurt us. The only thing it hurts is our pride, which is, of course, an attribute of ego and one that has no place in the spiritual life.
Motivation in the spiritual life, as in all of life, is a crucial factor to our success and well-being. It is a part of our inner workings that is often overlooked or ignored. But this is not to say that it does not impact our experience. On the contrary, it is really one of the main, behind-the-scenes sources of spiritual energy and commitment or lack thereof. So if your motivation seems to be waning in the face of trials and tribulations, don’t despair. You need not give up on the spiritual journey. All you have to do is make some gentle corrections in your motivational schematic. And this you can do through an act of your own consciousness.