Progress on the spiritual path is really directed toward Gnosis, which means intuitive knowledge of spiritual truths. There's an interesting history to this. It goes back to Egyptian times, when the people worshipped Osiris, a man who found God within himself, was persecuted and suffered, and was resurrected. It was the same as the Jesus story, and in fact a myth that reappeared over and over in ancient Mediterranean cultures. That story was the external knowledge that everyday people believed in and it gave hope to their lives. But for the priests it was a metaphor, of the process of finding God within oneself, and they taught this inner mystical knowledge only to initiates, the few who were inspired to look inside themselves for truth.
Pythagoras visited Egypt for 20 years and underwent this initiation; then he returned to Greece and a developed a similar religion and inner practice for initiates, this time based around the Dionysius myth. As a result Greece became a highly evolved civilization, upon which much of modern civilization is based. These are considered 'pagan' religions but actually they were highly evolved philosophies to which Aristotle, Plato and Socrates contributed; the knowledge was a threat to the later Christian establishment so they did their best to wipe it out from history, but it later emerged in the Renaissance.
Similarly, the earliest Christians had an inner Gnostic practice and an outer belief system for the everyman, the version of Christianity that was taken up by the decaying Roman Empire to establish the church we know today. Orthodox Christians insist that a chasm separates humanity from its creator; God is wholly other. But Gnostics who wrote the early gospels that were not included in the bible, such as the Gospel of Thomas, contradict this: self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical. To know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis.
Many Gnostics insisted that ignorance, not sin, is what involves a person in suffering. The huge accumulation of ancient wisdom in the library of Alexandria was burned and the Gnostic practices were mostly wiped out, though a thread remained with the Cathars of southern France until the 1200's, when they too were eliminated. We only know of the original Christian gospels now through the manuscripts discovered hidden in a cave near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Some of this knowledge was also the basis for the initiations practiced by the Rosicrucians and Freemasons.
A similar history occurred with the Islamic religion, in which Sufism provides an inner spiritual practice, though this wasn't brutally repressed by the outer orthodoxy. Gurdjieff played a major role in making this mystical approach known in the West.
The inner practice was always maintained openly in Eastern religions, however, and it is only quite recently that philosophers like Ken Wilber and psychologists like Maslow and Assagioli have tied all these ends together to reveal a non-dogmatic spiritual path of Gnosis that is not tied to myths or accepted beliefs, but is all about facilitating the unique individual process of finding spiritual truth within, through intuitive insight or gnosis. This is transpersonal psychology - the psychology of the spirit, which is the context and the foundation of our personality.
Gnosis is emancipation through the direct experience of knowledge, i.e. through insight. The knowledge that you will find within your self is all that is necessary for you to experience your own truth, your immortal identity, freedom from limitation, and genuine happiness.
Surely, you may say, we are in the midst of a 'knowledge explosion' today. But this has not eliminated war, fear, poverty, anxiety or Man's daily inhumanity to man. Nor has it given man any legitimate knowledge of his make-up. It has only been 'knowing about', not knowledge acquired from direct experience, from looking within.
All spiritual roads lead to that uncomfortable destination where the examination and acceptance of the inner self must take place. The first step is to realize our judgments and fears are self-created and limit our scope to deal with the present. They are the surface manifestations that capture our attention and keep us from focusing on the real blocks, deep in our psyche - the unconscious patterns.
So well have they been hidden, covered by justifications and illusory beliefs, which few have had the strength to break through them. They are the backbone of duality - the rigid 'black and white' thinking that makes understanding of holistic truth impossible. But we are oblivious to this situation because we have protective shields - we hold on to the past or hide in the future. We have consuming interests, worries about our status or our possessions. Such shields are both a great help and a great hindrance to us. They pacify us and at the same time fool us, giving us a false sense of security.
Wholeness, or being totally in the present, is dependant on breaking the patterns, of erasing their duality; only then can new states of consciousness become possible. It's been known since ancient times in Eastern religions and philosophies and among some Western mystics, that one's resistance to the events and forces of life lead to one's imprisonment in a smaller viewpoint, an isolation from perception, participation and enjoyment of life.
Each of us is 100% responsible for our subjective reality, i.e. our private mental and emotional space, our own universe. This includes our interpretations of events, based on our beliefs and memories, attachments and fears, and our corresponding emotional reactions.
The corollary is that we are certainly not at all responsible for another person's subjective reality, i.e. their thoughts and feelings. And another person (or situations and events) cannot be at all responsible for our own thoughts and feelings.
This runs counter to our cultural programming, in which we are taught to blame others or situations for our upsets, not recognizing that we create our own beliefs, interpretations and emotional reactions. It's built into common phrases, such as 'He made me angry.' By not realizing that we create our own emotions, we instead identify with them and feel we actually are them. We say, 'I am angry.'
With identification there is no distance from which to view. Only by becoming the witness to our feelings can we adopt the responsible viewpoint, from which we can then release the emotion, to let it go when it no longer serves. Then you can change your mind - beliefs and decisions can be changed in an instant when you've released the emotional charge attached to them. This new understanding is well proven as the basis of successful modern psychological practice and therapy and applied in personal development.
The releasing process is achieved in a few simple steps...
Less identification leads us to gradually acquire a more spiritual viewpoint of our mind, emotions and body. We can be more stably happy, with less stress and conflict and with a certainty of our own identity. We have started on our spiritual path and now we encounter a new hurdle...
An even greater jump in consciousness is required to encompass the transpersonal spiritual viewpoint in which we are no longer solely identified with our individual personality. It's the ascension of one's awareness above the customary limited human consciousness - and requires an open-mindedness to one's part in the causation of the objective reality, the world around us.
This is the spiritual viewpoint of life in which one is at the same time both an individual living a life in this objective reality, and also one with God, the creator of this objective reality. As God, the Prime Creator, one is therefore 100% responsible for creation. Fully grasping this, it then follows that each of us is 100% responsible for the objective reality - what we perceive and experience as the physical world. Everything in our reality is created by our own beliefs - and so our subjective reality in this way transfers into our objective world experience.
This is definitely the bird's-eye-view of reality, rather than the one we generally have when involved in the game of life. You don't think about unconditional love when playing football - you are concerned about how to win! But one needs to understand the ascended viewpoint, this spiritual or God-like aspect of our nature, as the two levels of consciousness interact. There's a kind of magic that goes on here, where the world mirrors our inner view of the world and ourselves.
People enlightened to this viewpoint have long found that life situations mirror the subjective issues that they are dealing with in their personal growth, and when these issues are cleared-up, situations 'magically' change.
Each of us, through God, creates our reality according to our beliefs. We are God's contact and intermediary with the world; or if you like, a channel for expression of the universal mind. So nothing can be in your reality unless you create it. From this point of view, there are no accidents, and nothing happens by chance. Everything happens for a reason.
This can be hard to swallow as it is quite the opposite to the beliefs we are taught in our culture and especially by the Church. Normally all of this operates automatically and sub-consciously, but it is possible to awaken to our true power, to remember our higher nature, and to start to consciously influence our world. Since we create all, the dialectic qualities of good/bad, right/wrong and beautiful/ugly have little meaning.
It is only from this viewpoint, actually, that the non-judgmental qualities Jesus taught of acceptance, forgiveness and unconditional love can become a practical way of life. Emotional frustration, which drives less-than-conscious behavior - is caused by resistance. Resistance is feeling something is not OK the way it is (or was or will be). It is judgmental and taking sides, rather than understanding with compassion. Truth is always seeing things with love, as being an inseparable part of one's higher consciousness.
Power is recognizing that you are the source of your life - that you create in your subjective reality (your beliefs) and this is mirrored in the physical world through the power of God, of which we are each a part. The vibration and energy of God's power is Love. If our creation is not of love then it comes back and hits us in the face and from that we learn. That's Karma.
There are times when we face a frustrating situation - perhaps a person is just not listening or getting the point, or events are proving hard to control, or there is some kind of conflict. This is a turning point in which we can go in two directions:
Acceptance towards Light - Resistance towards Darkness
We have a choice. This is also the test, of whether we are unburdening our Karma or increasing it.
We can confront the situation, accept the reality that exists and work to improve it in a proactive, conscious way - with enthusiasm applying communication, understanding and empathy, bringing light to ourselves and others. This is the path of gratitude, forgiveness and love.
Or we can resist the situation, refuse to accept the reality that exists and instead apply inappropriate fixed solutions in a reactive, unconscious way - with consequent negative emotions, on a slide into darkness through antagonism, anger, fear, grief and apathy. This is the path of ingratitude, resentment and hatred. We have the choice.
As a part of God one is responsible for all that is; as an individual person one is responsible simply for one's self and for behaving in an ethical way that does not harm the freedoms and rights of others. One is also responsible for fulfilling one's agreements and obligations - for this reason it is important to make these consciously so that one is happy to do one's part.
So we are both a Games-Maker and a Games-Player and I feel it is important to recognize these complementary but differing aspects of our being - the spiritual Higher Self and the human being (physical body-mind personality) identified with and intimately involved with the game of life.
The Gnostics taught that we can liken the truth of our situation to a wheel, with many spokes and an outer rim. Each spoke is an individual. Where we connect to the outer rim is our interface to the physical world, this is our Ego. At the hub of the wheel is Source, a unified quality of creative love. The center can be symbolized as God the father and the outside as the Goddess, mother nature.
The incredible thing here is that what we actually want, what is true to our highest aspirations, what is an expression of the true nature of our consciousness, is always an expression of unconditional love. When we pass love from our Higher Self, near the center of the wheel, to our outer self in everyday life, we are uniting male and female.
That is our highest, spiritual nature - the wonderful aspect that we each have as a human being. Yes, every single one of us, even our dotty neighbor and especially our rebellious child. And it is the challenge we each have, to rediscover and express our true self in this life. Only then will we die content.