by Bob Trowbridge, M.Div.
First a disclaimer: This is a path I seek, that I work toward every day. It is not something I have fully realized but I feel that I have the tools I need to advance along it each day. I will offer some of those tools to you as well as suggesting some different ways of looking at yourself and your spiritual venture that will be more compatible with a path of joy.
One of the things that influences your spiritual path is what you believe about God. I have certain minimum requirements of a God for the path of joy. I will not believe in any God who is less generous, less forgiving, or less loving than I, nor in one who has less of a sense of humor. Some of you may think this gives God a lot of leeway but if you honestly look at your own beliefs about God you may find that you do believe in a God who is more judgmental and less forgiving toward others than you are.
I will not believe in any God who requires that I experience life through pain, suffering, and struggle. I can believe in a God who gives me those options, but not one who requires them of me. Such a God is too small, far too petty. I believe that many of us choose to experience certain kinds of pain, suffering, and struggle in order to widen our emotional vocabulary and perhaps to be more compassionate toward others who have the same experiences and toward ourselves. I’m simply arguing that pain, suffering, and struggle are not necessary ingredients for spiritual growth.
The other aspect of a God concept that coincides with the path of joy is what I call the Unfinished God. If the Creator can truly be called a living God, then there must be new things for that God to experience, new things to create, new ideas to consider. Any God who knows everything there is to know, has experienced everything there is to experience—past, present, and future—and can do anything She/He wants to do, has to be bored out of Her/His skull. This is a picture of a frozen God, not a living God, a God who is more like a perfect statue than a living being.
God continues to grow because that is one of the most fundamental aspects of being, of God’s Being and our being. This leads us to one of the most important aspects of the path of joy. A path suggests a destination. In spiritual circles that destination might be called enlightenment. What the Unfinished God concept leads to is the understanding that there is no ultimate destination. There are many goals and plateaus along the way, many levels of enlightenment, but no final or ultimate way of being. God continues to experience, learn, create, and change. We continue to experience, learn, create, and change and will continue to do so in the non-physical state as well.
On the path of joy it is possible to back off a little and not be so hard on ourselves, so demanding in terms of where we should be, what we should have accomplished. Whatever destination we arrive at, there will immediately be a new destination to move toward and a new one after that. So it is important to pay attention to the journey, to live for the moment, because the journey is all there is. The goals and destinations are simply way stations, not permanent resting places. If we can learn to enjoy the journey more, the destinations will take care of themselves.
The other thing that can help us experience the journey with more joy is to let go of the idea that there is only one best possible path for our life. I believe that we can move onto a path of joy at any point in our lives, regardless of what has gone before. I also believe that it can take many different forms in any individual’s life. We are so multidimensional, even within the physical experience, it would be impossible to express and experience every possible enlightened path. We are always on a journey and we can allow that to become a path of joy at any time.
Another aspect of the God concept that can make it easier to be on a path of joy is that of non-judgment. In spite of the religious ideas about God as a judge, it seems that this is probably not the case. Those who have had near death experiences (NDE’s) overwhelmingly report that the Presence, whatever form it may take, is completely non-judgmental. The only judgment involved is that of the individual as they review their own life experiences and the impact they have had on others.
Love is the Answer
The path of joy is based on a holographic theory of God and creation. In the beginning God had nothing with which to create reality but Itself. (Godself) As a result, all of creation is made out of God stuff or soul stuff. The smallest portion of creation is made out of God stuff and contains the essence of Divinity. A physical-spiritual polarity doesn’t make any sense because the body is made out of spirit so there can be no division. Being physical isn’t a form of soul-slumming. It’s simply another form that spirit can choose to take.
Since God has been compared to light and love, it can be said that we are made out of light or love. Love is part of our fundamental being. This means that there is a positive bias in the universe. The very stuff of which we are made is Love. The most natural way for us to be in the world is loving. It takes a great deal of energy and personal will to move us away from love, away from self-love and love of others. The full weight of the universe is gently but continuously pulling us toward that bias and toward the path of joy.
To walk this road on a daily basis requires constant awareness until the path becomes habitual. One awareness to practice is trying to recognize that everyone and everything you see is an aspect of God, as you are. All of your experiences throughout the day are a kind of feedback telling you what is in your own mind. Seeing yourself as the recipient of feedback rather than a victim of circumstances or of others’ behavior gives you more power and more options. Those who aggravate you the most are your greatest teachers and they’re trying to lead you back to the path, not sabotage you.
It can also help to affirm life, especially your own life. If you have absorbed some of the negative attitudes about being human from religion and spirituality (original sin and karma payback) or from science and psychology (survival of the fittest and Freud’s id), you can begin to recognize that human beings are not fundamentally sinful, are not barely civilized beasts. Affirm the divinity of your being every day. Try to experience the divinity within yourself as you try to experience the divinity in others and try to respond to others as if they were God to you (or Buddha, Mother God, Jesus, etc.).
Ask yourself honestly if you feel sinful or guilty just because you’re physical, if you think that being physical is a lower state, a fall from grace. If you find those beliefs within yourself you may want to change them. Write out any negative beliefs you have about being physical and then write out an antidote, a new belief. Turn the new belief into an affirmation. Imagine a symbol to represent the new belief. Consciously put time and energy into the new belief and its symbol. Deliberately act as if the new belief were true even before you’re sure it is.
Seth said the only reason for suffering is to learn how to stop suffering. It’s possible that we’re really here to have fun and somewhere along the line we allowed ourselves to become convinced that life is difficult, that spirituality is serious. Consider the possibility that you’re really okay the way you are right now and you will continue to learn and grow and create forever anyway. You’re not behind in your spiritual growth because the path is infinite and you have infinity to move along it. I know that if I have to become enlightened before the millennium I’m in big trouble. Time is not our enemy because time is just another fiction of physical being.
Be kinder to yourself. Be more patient with yourself. Be more loving and forgiving. If we can stop judging ourselves we will find no one else who will judge us. The very next step you take can put you on the path of joy. It is not a way without tears, without sorrow, without emotional pain. It is a path which recognizes everything as emerging out of love in which even loss and sorrow can be tinged with joy (as I experienced in the presence of a dying friend). It is a path of compassion without pity. I believe it is the way most natural to our being and if we can learn to trust our own being, we will be led to the path of joy with little effort.