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What is it to be spiritual? What is it to be on a path? How are you supposed to act?

People embarking on spiritual paths may or may not know what it entails. After many years of practice, both professionally and personally, I’d like to provide a few insights I've gleaned over the years:

You don't have to be perfect.

Growing up Catholic, I was inundated by the pantheon of outstanding individuals known as saints. Granted, a few had been a little mischievous before finding their way, but most had paths that didn't resonate for me or seem particularly elevated. Throughout my studies, I discovered a patron saint of sorts from Tibet called Milarepa. He had been responsible for killing many people. He cultivated such remorse for his actions and committed to such diligent purification and cleansing that he was able to reach enlightenment in a single lifetime. For me, Milarepa embodies the real potential of all human beings: Despite upbringing and actions, there's always hope, if you take a sincere, honest and diligent approach. You might even unlock full human potential—enlightenment is possible.

The Path Isn't Always Blissful.

To really work on your issues down to the core isn't always pretty. Each human being is part of an intricate network of emotional units bound together. Your “stuff” and issues may not be pleasant to face initially. And you may be very reluctant to be honest. It’s not easy to really see yourself as you are and begin to take responsibility. It's important to differentiate “you” from “your stuff.” You are working on dealing with the issues. I like to remind people that being honest with oneself is very brave. It's easier to lie and pretend like nothing is wrong.

Compassion is best learned first with oneself.

To really understand what it is to accept a person and gain that experiential knowledge, it's best to start with oneself. I have found a difference between people who seem very nice and compassionate with others and harsh with themselves, and people who have genuinely learned to accept and love themselves and recognize they are on a path laden with ups and downs and new learning experiences. If you were to fly a plane, would you want the instructor who has the most flying experience or the one who has never flown, but read a book?

You can't do it on your own.

Everyone around us has something to teach. Some provide us insights and reflections of ourselves to help us grow. Others teach us boundaries and how to stay away. A solid authentic community that reflects our desire to grow spiritually is important. For me, the people around you should help you to recognize your own individual experience, life and spirit.

It's not safe at all times for people to grow.

We are social beings with connections to multiple emotional units. When high stress levels occur within these units, it may not be safe to change. Reduce stress for better growth.

You might not get along with people you used to.

As we are part of emotional units, some of those units may not be healthy. Some may even be built on shared dysfunction. I often think of an alcoholic who wants to quit drinking: The alcoholic may be part of a group that deals with anxiety by drinking, but, to quit, may seek help from another group like Alcoholics Anonymous. Growing may require several changes. Some groups may even pressure you to resume your old role.

You might be tired a lot.

Processing and changing requires a lot of energy. Dealing with and taking responsibility for yourself may be exhausting. Part of learning compassion is knowing when to rest.

Watch out for “Spiritual Bypassing.”

A great way to avoid dealing with yourself is to pretend you don't have any problems and are enlightened and know everything. Watch out for yourself and be mindful of others who somehow managed to avoid the growing pains.

Gurus and what to look out for.

People who help us along the way are essential. A quick reference question I like to ask myself about others I encounter is: “Does this person care more about how I see myself and what I need to better connect to myself, or does this person care more about how I see them?” If they are more concerned about how I see them, I kindly excuse myself; it's not for me.

There's No One Reality and There's a Limit to Mine.

I have my reality and there’s a limit to it. Each person has his or her own reality. I can only speak my truth from my perspective and others can only speak from their’s. I don't want to teach you how to be me, nor do I want to learn how to be you. I respect and cherish that your reality is different than mine. I can learn from your experience and integrate my own experiences from your insights, but I can never be you nor you me.

These are a few reflections. If anything here is useful, I'm glad. If it's not, thanks for reading through anyway.

Enjoy your journey.

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