May 21, 2017

This is the Difference Between Knowing the Spiritual Path & Walking It.

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I haven’t been walking the spiritual path for a long time.

Those who know me closely might find this statement silly since I’ve actively been practicing spirituality for the past five years. You might wonder, how can one be on a certain path for a long time, yet claim to have not started that walk until just recently?

It took me a while to realize that my mind was ruling the show at the beginning of my journey. I still remember the first time I walked into a Zen center five years ago. I asked the meditation teacher more than 20 questions in less than five minutes. He chuckled and replied, “Elyane, be patient, and with time, you’ll figure out all the answers by yourself.”

That memory came to me again at the end of my retreat last year in India. When some of the answers to my longtime questions revealed themselves, I realized that my spiritual path had only just begun. For the prior five years, I was merely a kid stepping into a candy store and craving to buy all the candy.

I’m convinced now that we can’t buy all of the candy at once.

The spiritual path is indeed like candy—desirable and satisfying. I’m reminded of the story of The Beggar and the Box:

“There once was a beggar who sat on a box by the side of the road for many, many years. Day in and day out, swarms of strangers would pass him on their way and the beggar did what all beggars do: ask for money. One day, a traveler was passing through town and the beggar shouted, ‘Please give me some money!’ The traveler said, ‘Sorry, I don’t have any money to spare, but I am curious about your box.’ ‘What about my box?’ the beggar replied. ‘Well, what’s in it?’ The beggar responded, ‘I don’t know, it’s just an old box I found here that I’ve been sitting on for years.’ Persistent in his inquiry, the traveler once again asked what was in the box. […] Finally, to appease the traveler’s insistence, the beggar split the box open and amazingly, a treasure of gold burst onto the ground. He’d be sitting on it for years and never even knew it.” 

Discovering the spiritual path is akin to discovering a treasure of gold that has been dormant inside of us for years. Since the nature of our mind is curious and greedy, we want to discover more. Consequently, we plunge into acquiring more knowledge.

However, knowing the spiritual path is different than walking it; we have to know it prior to walking it.

To know the path means to study it. So many times, we confuse the abundance of knowledge that we have gained with actual experience. Some people get hung up in this confusion. It’s easy to spot these people through their actions. When actions don’t match words or teachings, it means that the person might only know the path and has not started walking it.

However, when we start walking the path, focus shifts from mere words in space into actual experiences. To walk the path means to question it, doubt it, experience it, and to let it go and then get back to it. Walking the spiritual path can be confusing, arduous, and almost drive us crazy in the pursuit. The reason is because the knowledge we have acquired starts to sink in.

When we finally start walking the spiritual path, the acquisition of knowledge doesn’t stop. However, instead of verbalizing it, explaining it, or preaching it, we begin to feel it and to experience it in a sensory way that goes beyond words. The closest description of this that I have come across is a passage from Buddhism Is Not What You Think by Steve Hagen. He states, “There’s nothing to prove, nothing to figure out, nothing to get, nothing to understand. When we finally stop explaining everything to ourselves, we may discover that in silence, complete understanding is already there.”

We reach a point where there is no duality between what we utter and what we live. Our internal knowledge becomes our words, and vice versa.

No alarm will ring in the morning to tell us that we have started walking the path. No book, no teacher, and no friend can tell us that we’ve begun our journey. Only we will know it when we start walking the path.


Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: @katarrrrina on Instagram
Editor: Caitlin Oriel

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