For as far back as I can remember, I felt like there was supposed to be, "more". Like there was always something missing. That spark, that thing that would make my life come alive.
I wasn't ever really sure what that meant, nor did I know how to find it, so I usually just brushed it off. As a kid, this usually manifested through my ego as the idea that I was supposed to do something extraordinary in the world.
Then, one day, I remember thinking, "what if everyone else has this same feeling, too?". It didn't make my ego feel very good, but it sure got me thinking.
It turns out, everyone else does have this feeling. Unfortunately, instead of handling it in a healthy way, most of us search for things outside of ourselves (a lover, a new level of power, or material possessions) to fill that "void".
But occasionally, someone breaks that cycle, gets fed up or goes through some heavy shake-up, and begins searching for answers differently than they did before. They slow down and really start to think about things. They turn inward. When this happens, they begin the journey.
The spiritual journey, the journey to wisdom, the journey to peace and happiness, the path of awakening or liberation, whatever you want to call it, it's the same- it's the path we begin on when we break the cycle of consumption and unhealthy methods of filling the "void" and begin looking within.
If you're reading this, the likelihood is that's where you're at. Maybe you're far along the path, maybe you've just started, or maybe you're just looking at the path into the forest and still find yourself hesitating to enter for one reason or another.
Wherever you're at, you clicked on this article because you've realized (to some varying degree) that all the typical methods we use to find peace and wholeness don't really work:
...We look for "the one" thinking that they'll complete us, and while a loving relationship is a beautiful thing, it will never fill you up the way you want.
...We strive for power and achievement to caress our egos and fill the void, but that path never ends because power and achievement can't fill it, and so we drive for power until we crack, have a realization, or die.
...We crave material possessions and treat them like puzzle pieces, thinking that, "once I get that", we'll have the missing puzzle piece to our life, and everything will be right in the world.
So here you are on the path. You feel alone and afraid, but a little excited. And while you're scared, your intuition is telling you to keep going. Something about this feels...."right".
We all come from different backgrounds, grew up in different environments, have had different experiences, and make different choices. At times, we can all seem very different from one another.
But we share a lot of common ground. If the world were a house, and we were all living in different rooms, we'd all be living on the one very same foundation.
We're all human, we all want to feel whole (or "fully alive"), and we're all on our own very personal journey.
And while that journey may look different from person to person, it's the same for all of us: it's the gradual process of peeling back the layers of yourself to find a progressively greater level of peace (and much joy) through understanding yourself and your place in the world.
10 Guideposts to Help You on Your Journey to Peace and Enlightenment
Despite our highly connected world, many of us still live our spiritual journey very much alone. That's a shame because it doesn't have to be that way (part of what I hope to solve in the near future with Buddhaimonia).
But that's bad for another reason: when we walk our journey alone, we can often have no idea whether we're on the right path or not. If we get the sense that we're lost then that can be very demoralizing (even if we're not actually lost!), but it can also be very damaging as well.
In that way, you can look at this as a map on your journey towards greater peace and enlightenment.
No matter who you are, where you were born, what you've experienced in your life, or what choices you've made. If you've come to the path and need guidance, this can help guide you (even if just a little).
It's not meant to guide your entire journey- there will be curveballs, surprise turns, unseen forks in the path, and other challenges. But with these guideposts in place, I hope to remove some of that confusion and make your journey a little less dark.
Guidepost 1, The Basic Condition: The feeling that life could be better, or that something is missing, and the wish to change that
If the journey were a forest, this would be the entry way. Without this, the real journey never begins.
In Buddhism, this is called, "A natural bent towards awakening", and it's the feeling that there's something more profound to be experienced in life than the typical half-awake everyday drudge, sometimes truly enjoying ourselves, but always feeling like there's "something" missing.
This is all that's required to start out on the path. If you're here reading this, you already have it. Everyone has it, they just don't know the right way to treat it.
We live out our lives treating it in all the wrong ways, only finding peace when we finally let go of everything on our deathbeds.
So that's the bad, but is there any good? There sure is.
Because everyone has it, everyone has the capacity to set out on the journey to true peace and enlightenment. Throughout life, at all moments, the journey exists in front of you, ready for you to set out on.
Most of us think we've set out on the journey already, but we're really walking in circles. We're stuck going in circles 10 feet from the entrance because we have no guidance, looking for the answers in everything but ourselves.
But you can set out on the path right now. You just have to change how you're looking.
Guidepost 2, The Feeling: The intuition that the answers exist within you, not outside of you
This is really what it comes down to. This is where you decide to take up meditation lessons, Yoga classes, or reconnect with your spiritual upbringing. This is when you begin the journey to wisdom.
This is when you break the cycle and stop trying to fill the void with things outside yourself, and begin having the feeling that the answers may just lie within you.
But there is one requirement in order for this to do you any good: you have to act on it.
You can't just let this feeling go and shuffle on with your normal life. You've realized that this feeling isn't just a feeling, it's your intuition directing you. You already know there's something more, you just have to take the first step.
For many of us, it's fear (of what we'll find, of the possibility of finding something painful, or of what others will think of us) that keeps us from acting on this, but this is one of the greatest mistakes you could ever make. This is the moment that you can change your life forever.
It won't be easy, but it will be beautiful, and with some work you'll begin to arrive at what you've sought all along: to fill the void and find a sustainable peace and joy.
This step is nothing more than a subtle shift from looking outside of yourself to looking within. That's how it all begins.
If you recognize yourself in this place on the path, don't hesitate to begin sitting in meditation and developing mindfulness throughout your daily life as they're the foundations that will guide you.
Guidepost 3, The Courage: The understanding that tough questions first have to be asked to get those answers. And yet, the courage to face yourself despite that.
[Tweet "Without the courage to face yourself, you'll never get off the ground in your spiritual journey."]
Very quickly, you'll realize that your journey isn't so easy. Much of life we can bottle down our pain, numb ourselves, and ignore our problems, at least temporarily. But when you set out on your journey you give up that right, because what's required is no less than total cooperation.
On the journey to peace and enlightenment, no stone can be left unturned. What's required is a full-fledged opening up, like peeling back the layers of a piece of garlic.
Without the courage to face yourself, you'll never get off the ground in your spiritual journey.
The truth is liberating, but at first, it can be very painful and disappointing. It's because of this that most people never get past this stage, even though they often feel it's pointing them towards the truth, towards something greater.
Fear and comfort are powerful forces which keep many people from every realizing their true nature. And while the journey doesn't stop being tough here, if you can get past this step then you have a lot of amazing moments ahead of you.
Guidepost 4, The Blooming Lotus: The willingness to open up completely and be honest with yourself
So, you've set out on this new path, having seen that studying yourself closely and personally is the likely answer to your questions. But the courage to face yourself and the willingness to be honest with yourself are two distinctly different things.
You may have declared yourself willing to face yourself, but being honest with yourself is a difficult task, one which is often met with some push-back.
Resistance is natural, so the willingness to be completely open and honest with yourself is not something you'll likely start out with (I sure didn't), but it's something you'll eventually develop (with some fight!) and altogether required to develop to advance on your journey.
If you can get through this path, you'll often have some really beautiful things awaiting you. At this point, you've now busted through some major hurdles and have begun peeling back a number of those layers.
It hurts, but it feels so good all at the same time. Start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, because it's key from this point on.
Guidepost 5, The Clarity: Awareness (mindfulness) of yourself and your relationship to the rest of the world
You've been meditating for some time now. Maybe a year, maybe 2 years, it's hard to tell because some people take a short time and others take longer. This isn't a race, by the way, so don't bother keeping track.
Now, though, your awareness has begun to deepen and you've gained some relative clarity about yourself and the world around you. Still much to work on, but now that you have some clarity you can begin really putting some real work in.
This is a topic I talk about often on Buddhaimonia. Awareness in many ways is the path itself, it's the very foundation of everything. With our mindfulness, we discover not only ourselves and our place in the world, but we can learn to see the world with greater clarity as a result.
To be clear, you'll have many moments of greater clarity (moments of insight or awakening, or "satori" in Zen), so this isn't pointing to one single moment on your journey, but rather something to be aware of throughout it (in very much the same way as guidepost #10).
And while you shouldn't kick up your feet after a moment of insight, you should pat yourself on the back. You've taken a step "forward".
No matter how messy you feel your practice is, you're making your way. And it feels amazing.
Guidepost 6, The Understanding: A developing understanding of the way things are
Eventually, the path widens from learning about and understanding yourself to learning about and understanding the way of all things. The lines between you and the rest of the world begin to blur in a subtle way and certain distinct realizations begin to surface.
Ultimately, it all points towards the same one thing: a direct understanding of the way things are, the very nature of existence, which leads us to greater awakening.
This is when we begin to face such hard facts as impermanence and our own mortality, so it can be a difficult moment on the path. But equally, understanding these truths can also result in great peace and joy as well.
For instance, gradually realizing impermanence and the fact of our own eventual death as well as the death of those we love can lead us to cultivate a deep appreciation for life. So the path can start out very difficult but eventually lead us to a state of deep peace and equanimity.
Guidepost 7, The Freedom: The deepening ability to let go and live freely
With a greater understanding of ourselves and our relation to the rest of the world (through direct experience in our mindfulness practice), we eventually begin to develop the understanding that letting go of attachments is the way to freedom, and with time begin to realize this freedom.
As with the rest of the path, this is generally a gradual path with the occasional moment of acceleration (a moment of insight).
To arrive at this stage takes work, but it's where we truly begin to develop a strong equanimity, a quality most people are unfamiliar with but which is all we really want:
The capacity to live fully in the now- amidst our challenges, in the world as it is, within and among the craziness, but with an unwavering sense of peace and inner strength just as a tree stands tall in a strong wind.
This doesn't happen right away, you've developed it for some time now on your journey. But now your skill has developed to the point where things don't affect you the same way they once did and this quality of equanimity has become noticeable.
When someone passes, you feel sadness but aren't paralyzed by it. You can reflect clearly on the beauty of their life and find appreciation for everyone and everything else in your life through your direct understanding of impermanence.
When you feel anger, you can lean into it, smile at it, and come to terms with it- transforming it into something altogether different than it once was.
When you feel fear, you can see it clearly and make friends with it, understanding that it arises naturally as a part of life but no longer has control over you.
This is essentially what we wanted all along, the moment where we realize a deep and unwavering sense of peace. But the journey doesn't end here.
Guidepost 8, The Boundless Love: Greater love and compassion for yourself and for others
As you walk along the path, you won't feel love and compassion for all beings yet, but you will feel as if your love has started to expand to encompass a much greater space. You've now begun to understand that love is both boundless and the very energy which connects us.
In a way, the path of love and compassion can be seen as a separate path on the journey itself, as one can simply pursue that with mindfulness as a basis. I've touched on love before, but look forward to me talking a lot more about this path in the future.
Compassion is a partner with love as it's a natural progression on the path of love and a gradually developing compassion for all beings is a distinct aspect of all paths.
One thing to keep in mind is that by compassion, I'm referring to a state of mind rather than the act of giving or philanthropy. Compassion as a state of mind is the foundation. You feel compassion.
It's the expression of a growing understanding and love for all beings and a state of mind that's altogether transformative not just for ourselves, but for the world.
Guidepost 9, The Kindness: The compulsion to help (Love taking form)
This is compassion manifested into action. Think of it as the next stage on the path of love (cultivating love for all beings). In Buddhism, this is called loving-kindness, and many do work to cultivate this directly (although it's really a cultivating of understanding -> then compassion -> then loving-kindness).
You've worked on understanding the way things are- including those around you- cultivating love and compassion for others, and now the next level of your practice begins to compel you to express these insights in your daily life by showing kindness to those you meet.
This doesn't have to be anything specific or special, like donating to charities or offering your time to a shelter, this can be as simple as expressing kindness to everyone you meet as you go about your journey.
Without a doubt, while donating and contributing is helpful and necessary, to be compelled from within our very being to express kindness for all and to live out our lives in this way is nothing short of a revolution (although it looks average and ordinary to the naked eye).
Never forget how subtle and slight the shifts on the path are. At the end of the day, you'll simply be transformed from within and overflowing with a feeling of wholeness and joy.
You won't turn into a superhero, be able to levitate or leap small buildings in a single bound.
You won't eradicate anger, or fear, or sadness, or never think something bad about a person again.
But you will transform these feelings. You'll be able to face them and transform them with your very presence and be able to live with them without letting them control you.
You'll feel whole, at peace, and know in the deepest part of your being that no matter what happens, everything is right with the world in the most fundamental sense.
Guidepost 10, The Joy: Boundless joy in the simple silence of daily life
Amidst all this big talk of attaining peace and wisdom, it can be easy to lose track of things. What I mean by that is, it's easy to forget that the purpose of the journey is to find peace and happiness. It all boils down to that. We want to stop being tortured by our pain and feel joy in our daily lives.
The good news is, if we lose our way, the right type of practice will correct that very quickly, so it's often just a matter of switching up our practice in some way that works better for us or changing our perspective.
After developing awareness and love to a certain point you can't help but find joy in every moment of your life. You can literally do nothing but sit outside and listen to the rustle of the leaves, the sound of the wind, and watch as the cars pass by and feel completely at peace.
This last point isn't so much an ordered step on your journey as it is something to keep in mind throughout the journey.
It might sound odd that you can lose your way even after finding the path to peace and enlightenment, but you definitely can.
One of the best ways to keep this from happening is to keep your practice simple, while not restricting yourself. Don't think you need a bunch of bells and whistles- 100 meditations, complicated rituals, a crowded schedule of "spiritual activities", superfluous "symbols" of your practice that make you feel like you're more focused than you actually are, and the like.
Keep it simple. Use mindfulness on the journey and look for the guideposts as you go to keep you on the right trail.
And never forget- we all want the same thing, so we're all in this together. Reach out, connect with other like-minded people and you'll be surprised by what you find.
Journey to the Present Moment - The First-Ever Buddhaimonia Online Course
In Journey to the Present Moment, I take you through the journey with the light of mindfulness and equip you with the tools you need to live more fully and freely in the present moment with mindfulness meditation and realize greater peace, happiness, and meaning.
JPM isn't currently open for enrollment, however, you can sign up below to be notified when it opens up: