“The end of learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.”
– John Milton
One of the topics that seems to be a recurring theme in many of my conversations during the past few weeks, is what is the purpose of spiritual and/or personal development? While I cannot speak for everyone, I feel that most will agree that the true purpose of any practice aimed towards spiritual and/or personal development is the continual refinement of ourselves on the various levels of our psyche, and ultimately our soul.
Too often people get caught up in the more esoteric elements of spiritual seeking, and fail to properly apply the higher knowledge of secret or mystical teachings. If you are solely focused on the spiritual path as some sort of intellectual pursuit, you are missing the point of the path. In reality it is a useless effort to undertake the path, and not seek to inculcate the teachings into your every day life. Knowledge for the sole sake of knowledge is largely useless, because knowledge only becomes useful when it is put into practice. As reflected by the above quote from John Milton, the point of knowledge is to understand both God and ourselves, which then allows us to reflect God.
One of the ways to see if you are truly making progress on the path and truly inculcating your knowledge or understanding, is to ask yourself simply, “am I a better person today, compared to a year ago, six months ago, etc.”. Have you progressed morally or ethically? Are you still finding yourself stuck in the same mental and behavioral patters as you were _______ ago? By conducting these comparisons you can really begin to get a feel for how you are progressing, perhaps you need to work harder, change practices or direction, or perhaps you are making steady progress (which is the goal).
Another great evaluation tool is to talk to those who have known you for a long time, and will be honest with you. Ask them if they think you have become a “better person”, ask them how they think you could improve. If they are truly honest with you, you may be surprised about what you may learn about yourself, or at least how others perceive you.
Another useful practice is writing about you progress, and your failures in a journal. You can also use the method employed by Benjamin Franklin, which is to make a chart of virtues on areas that you feel you need to work on. Benjamin Franklin focused on thirteen virtues that he felt he needed to master in order to become a truly virtuous man:
- “TEMPERANCE: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
- “SILENCE: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
- “ORDER: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
- “RESOLUTION: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
- “FRUGALITY: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
- “INDUSTRY: Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
- “SINCERITY: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
- “JUSTICE: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
- “MODERATION: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
- “CLEANLINESS: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
- “TRANQUILITY: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
- “CHASTITY: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
- “HUMILITY: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Try whatever methods and practices work for you, just remember in the end, the goal of personal and/or spiritual development is to refine yourself in order to become a better person. Therefore, make a goal to be a better person today than you were even yesterday.
Practical Tip: Journaling or talking to a trusted person regarding your path or practices can be extremely useful, because it gets the thoughts and theories out in the open, where they can be more objectively examined. Also, this method allows you to look back at your thoughts, motives, and failures in the past, in order to evaluate yourself today.
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Also please check out my book, “The Path: Using the Religions of the World as a Guide to Personal and Spiritual Development.” (Click on the book cover to view on Amazon.com)