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The wisdom traditions of the world—while differing in form, custom, and practice—are essentially in agreement that the purpose of human life is spiritual growth and evolution. You are on a journey from ego to spirit. You may be traveling different paths and at different speeds than those around you, but the destination is the same—expanded awareness, a shift in consciousness, and, ultimately, enlightenment.
Despite this, it often feels like you’re standing still, failing to make progress, or—even worse—going backward in your personal spiritual growth. However, the good news is that evolution is a force of nature; it is the irresistible current that subtly pulls you forward, transforming your mind, body, personality, and every layer of your existence into something greater than you are. Consciousness has the intention to evolve and to know itself better, and you, as an expression of the conscious energy field, are part of that process.
Although at times it may feel as if you’re going backward, that’s just the byproduct of your limited awareness not being able to see the bigger picture. If you’re caught up in this ego illusion, remember the Japanese Buddhist Mantra, shikin haramitsu daikomyo, which can be translated as: “Every experience is sacred and contains the potential for the enlightenment we seek.”
So if your spiritual evolution is inevitable and potentially happening both above and below the levels of your conscious awareness, how can you recognize it? What is spiritual growth? Does it leave clues that transformation is at work in your life? Fortunately, there are several key markers on the spiritual health journey to indicate that you are moving in the right direction. Let’s examine these signposts to see how they can help you measure your personal spiritual growth.
An Increasing Sense of Lightheartedness
According to Vedanta, one of the key indicators of spiritual progress is that you become more carefree, easygoing, and lighthearted. Life becomes more joyful, happy, and much less serious. Your ego-self is a painfully serious layer of your being and it is constantly struggling to maintain its sense of self-importance. As spiritual practice disenfranchises the ego and weakens its illusory grasp on your perceptions, you look on it as you would a child throwing a tantrum demanding to be heard. You can laugh at yourself and your self-created melodramas, knowing that they are just the dance of spirit. You become less anxious, less worried, and more open to finding the joy in every moment.
Experiencing the Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire
As you “clean up your spiritual signal” so to speak, you remove the mental, emotional, and energetic blockages that inhibit the free flow of manifestation in your life. With a more direct line to the conscious energy field, more refined intentions, and greater present moment awareness, you experience more synchronicity, more little miracles, and more spontaneous opportunities that indicate the lag time between having a desire and that desire’s fulfilment is shortening. You find yourself at just the right place, at just the right time, to act on a once-in-a-lifetime chance that you couldn’t have planned if you had tried. You live in the flow of life, where preparedness and opportunity intersect.
As your awareness expands, you find yourself more deeply established in present moment awareness, a fundamental component of which is slow, deliberate, and mindful action. Recognizing that as author Dan Millman would say: There are no ordinary moments. You bathe deeply in the magic of each experience. There’s less need to rush or hurry since this moment is perfect, just the way it is. You speak more slowly, mindfully, and with impeccability. Taking your time allows you to make each moment an in-body experience. You know intuitively that there is nowhere to go, and nothing to do other than to be here, now.
Independence of the Good Opinion of Others
With ongoing spiritual progress, your identity shifts more from object-referral to self-referral. You know yourself by going within and making direct contact with your soul or higher self. In so doing, you become less concerned about the opinions of others. You stand tall in your truth, confident in the guidance of your spirit.
Leaving the Tribe
Another indicator on the path of spiritual growth is the increasing desire to withdraw from conventional life. This doesn’t mean you go live in caves or become hermits or ascetics, but rather you become increasingly less interested in the group consciousness or tribal mentality of the material world. You march to the beat of your own drummer, or become what metaphysical writer Stuart Wilde called a fringe dweller. Oftentimes this shift is an entirely internal one, in which you still engage in typical modern life, but operate at a different state of internal consciousness—being in this world, but not of it.
Softening of External Boundaries
The spiritual journey is one of reunion, or the reunification of body, mind, spirit, and environment. As such, the process of continued spiritual practice or Sadhana gradually begins to melt the boundary between your internal and external worlds. You have more experiences of merging into your environment rather than feeling like a separate “me” isolated and alone. The divisions between seer, seeing, and that which is seen dissolve, revealing the underlying unity of the entire universe. The sense of oneness encapsulated in the Sanskrit sutra Tat Tvam Asi, or I am that, is no longer simply an intellectual concept, but an experiential reality.
A byproduct of your spiritual awakening is the opening of new channels of awareness. New perceptions, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom are able to spontaneously download into your consciousness. You may gain access to information through the non-local domain of awareness that transcends the limitations of your five senses. As the great sage Patanjali reminds you: “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all of your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations; your consciousness expands in every direction; and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
These “dormant forces, faculties, and talents” represent the activation of levels of awareness and intuition that lie sleeping within you, patiently waiting to be tapped by the deepening of your spiritual practice.
Increased Love, Compassion, Forgiveness, and Understanding
A noticeable marker on the path of spiritual evolution has and always will be the expansion of life’s most important values. Love, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding increasingly become the ground state from which you live your life. Concern for others, a giving and caring heart, and the desire to relieve suffering are the prime mover in your thoughts, speech, and actions. Living from the level of your soul, these attributes arise spontaneously without manipulation or mood-making. From your vantage point of higher awareness, you can see the bigger picture; you embody these attributes because you recognize that you are doing the best you can from your own level of consciousness. Spiritual growth is relative—every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. To understand this process is to live in a space free from judgment from which you radiate love, kindness, and light to all.
The Desire to Serve
As you become more grounded in spirit, your ego loosens its hold and you often find yourself wanting to help others. Your internal dialogue shifts from “What’s in it for me?” to “How can I help?” In this more expansive state, you look for opportunities to give back, to volunteer your time, resources, or unique skills. What once may have felt like an obligation becomes a genuine and authentic desire to be of service to others. This drive is the embodiment of karma yoga or the path of selfless service in which you give of yourself to others without concern for recognition or reward. Once you recognize that every being is an expression of the divine, seeking ways to honor, support, and assist them on their journey becomes the natural impulse of your spirit.
Unshakeable Peace and Equanimity
Finally, despite the chaos of the external world, you develop the ability to embody deep peace and calmness in all you do. Like the eye of a hurricane, you carry the stillness of spirit with you wherever you go, often subtly shifting the local field of consciousness and bringing a calming presence into the lives of others. This calmness cannot be contrived or manufactured; it is an organic result of a deep shift in your consciousness. Spiritual practice has transformed you into a pipeline to the infinite; a conduit of tranquility into the world. This peace is your most precious commodity; an invaluable sanctuary of silent power that nothing can disturb. Being and living in peace is one of the most transformational qualities of living a life of spirit and one of the most important markers of progress in the evolution of your consciousness:
“The real spiritual progress of the aspirant is measured by the extent to which he achieves inner tranquility.” - Sivananda, Hindu spiritual teacher
Becoming familiar with the indicators of spiritual progress and spiritual development helps you more easily recognize that subtle transformation is taking place within. However, it’s important not to mistake the road signs for the destination. Think of these markers not as goals to be attained, but instead as natural evolutionary shifts that take place when the time is right, pointing you toward your ultimate birthright of spiritual maturity, enlightenment, self-realization, and an abundant life.