There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.– Rumi (The Essential Rumi)
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?
Most people in the modern world have resigned themselves to a cliched existence, indulging in endless distractions. They go through life with a minimal or pseudo-faith and avoid grasping the emptiness of their lives. They are endlessly haunted by the shallowness of their relationships, neurotic issues, and inescapable loneliness.
And yet there’s so much more to us as a species than what we really know. You and I carry the most mysterious and magnificent qualities within us imaginable, yet we unknowingly guard and protect the great gift that is our Souls from the world.
It’s so easy for us to feel meaningless when we perceive ourselves as mere cogs in society’s machine.
The truth is that we are much more than slaves of 9 to 5 jobs. We are capable of creating deeply meaningful, mystical, and fulfilling lives. We are capable of finding our true calling and personal destiny.
For centuries the indigenous people throughout the world have known that to fully explore the depths of the Soul we must venture into a spiritual journey of the unknown darkness within ourselves.
In many ancient cultures they had Elders and Shamans to encourage and oversee these journeys toward a deeper spiritual existence. Sadly, these days in our own culture, we have lost such sacred rites and rituals. Instead, orthodox religion has replaced living spirituality with a theoretical god, dismissing, and outlawing personal experimentation and union with the Divine.
In this article, my aim is to help you start your spiritual journey. To do that, it’s important that you understand the three parts of the spiritual journey, and also the stages to creating a sacred and personal practice.
The Ancient Hero’s Journey
People have felt a pull toward something greater than themselves since the beginning of time.
Ancient cultures had many stories that served to illustrate the journey to fulfilling one’s destiny and experiencing Wholeness or Enlightenment. These journeys mythologist Joseph Campbell described as the “Calls to Adventure.”
A call to adventure is something we all experience at least once in life. When we embark on this adventure, we begin the process of gaining self-understanding and reclaiming our precious Soul gifts.
The archetype of the hero/heroine discovering their true spiritual nature goes back thousands of years. The Greek’s told the story of Orpheus who descended into the underworld to rescue his bride Eurydice from Hades. The Nordic people had their hero-warrior Beowulf, and the Sumerians wrote of Inanna who battled her sister in the dark world. Throughout history, there have been so many stories of individuals who have struggled through hardship to find themselves. But of what importance are they to our path?
Essentially, these heroes symbolize our spiritual journeys: of leaving everything familiar behind, entering the unknown, encountering countless unconscious monsters, and finally returning back home with a sense of renewed fulfillment and wisdom.
The 3 Worlds of the Spiritual Journey
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.– Rumi
At some point in life we all experience the “call to adventure.” Often our journeys start when we experience sudden spiritual awakenings or the dark night of the soul. Often without wanting to, we are cast onto the path of Soul expansion.
Like you, I have wandered these paths and have at times wound up lost and confused. For this reason, I find it useful to map out the spiritual journey in a way that helps the human mind know where it is, and where it will go next.
My Andean ancestry speaks of three worlds that we can experience in life: the Upper World (Hanaq Pacha), the Middle World (Kay Pacha), and the Lower World (Ukhu Pacha).
In many traditions and mythologies, these three worlds correspond to the different realms of Self.
The Upper World is the home of Spirit, the Underworld the home of Souls, and the Middle World is the home of the physical body and human ego.
Different practices and techniques are used in each of the three realms to help us spiritually mature and rediscover joy, peace, and wholeness.
Below I’ll explore each of these realms with you:
Purpose: Personality development
In our everyday lives, we function within the middle world. The middle world is responsible for our ego development, and yet many people on the spiritual path ignore this vital element of inner growth. Without developing a healthy personality, our spiritual growth reaches a dead end.
In life, we all begin within the middle world, or physical realm. As children and teenagers we go through various years of personality change and growth. Finally, as adults, we all have developed unique personalities. Yet many of us fail to continue our self-development, getting lost in corporate jobs and the pursuit of money, status, and fame.
The goal of the middle world path is to develop a healthy personality or ego. Tasks involved in this process include the exploration of core emotional wounds, self-love, and the cultivation of authenticity. A healthy adult ego will be able to love freely, be vulnerable, express creativity, and display empathy towards others.
We cannot develop a healthy personality by using techniques from the Upper or Under World such as meditation or shadow work. Instead, we must use techniques that pertain to ego development and healing such as assertiveness training, non-violent communication techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy, NLP, and other psychological avenues of self-development.
Purpose: Soul discovery
Our Soul is the vital, mysterious, and wild core of our individual selves. It is the unique essence within each of us that goes deeper than our personalities.
Think of your Soul as a stream that is connected to the ocean of Spirit. Our Souls contain our destiny, purpose, gifts, and the ultimate significance of our individual lives. To access these deep layers and qualities we must descend into the Under World of our unconscious minds.
Unfortunately, for thousands of years our culture has “protected” us from the hardships and dangers of the descent into the Soul. This has been done through the establishment of comfortable, predictable, and clockwork lives that revolve around material pleasures and shallow values. In fact, thanks to religious thought, the descent into our Under Worlds has been condemned as “evil” and wayward. Only Shamanic cultures and a few Western mystical schools like Hermeticism and Alchemy have dedicated themselves to exploring the Under World.
The descent into the Under World has been so feared and avoided because it is a perilous journey. There is a reason why Christianity referred to this place as “hell.” Within our Under Worlds lie our repressed thoughts, feelings, desires, traumas, and denied gifts. Often when we descend, or inscend, into ourselves, we come across many demons, ghastly creatures, and other parts of our Shadow Selves that we’ve been unconsciously hiding from.
Yet despite the fact that the Under World journey can be such a harrowing and haunting experience, it is ultimately a powerful odyssey. Only by descending into our personal Under Worlds can we truly embrace our true life calling, talents, gifts, and deepest values.
Under World, or soulwork techniques, include practices that allow us to access altered states of consciousness. These may include crafts such as lucid dreaming, drumming, shadow work, shamanic trances, vision quests, etc.
Purpose: Uniting with Spirit
The Upper World journey, or that of the ascent, is what we often refer to as Self-Realization.
There comes a moment in our journey between the middle world and the underworld in which a perfect balance is formed, allowing us to move up into the Upper World. For example, it’s much harder to “Spiritually Awaken” to the Upper World when our unconscious minds are plagued with deep childhood traumas (that stem from the underworld), trust issues (underworld problem), and poor self-esteem (middle world problem).
We enter the path of ascent up into the Upper World when we learn to surrender our ego identification (known as ego death) and Soul identification. Ultimately, we not only intellectually understand that everything is One, but we experience this truth at a core level. At this point, we are free from the illusion of having a separate self. This has also been commonly referred to as the state of complete self-realization or Enlightenment.
This permanent shift of consciousness is about merging with the Infinite, Divine, Eternal, and Absolute. Techniques used to taste this state of being are often found in the mystical schools of Zen, Kundalini, Taoism, Sufism, and disciplines such as meditation and yoga.
Note: Unfortunately many people in the spiritual community believe that spiritual ascension is all that is needed to experience peace and wholeness. As a result, the middle world and under world paths have been cast aside as if they don’t matter. However, only focusing on your “higher chakras,” cultivating positivity and Oneness with Spirit, creates lopsided individuals. When the darker and more down-to-earth elements of self-growth are ignored, the result is imbalanced and unhealthy individuals.
Download FREE Spiritual Journey Worksheets!
Go deeper with a spiritual journey journaling prompt + printable meditation mandala!
How to Start Your Spiritual Journey (5 Steps)
Everyone’s spiritual journey is unique, ever-changing, and ongoing. There is no single point at which we stop this inner transformation. In fact, the whole mistaken idea of reaching a state of “perfection” really only equals death and stagnation. And what happens when things stop growing and flowing? They become lethargic, break down, rot, and disintegrate.
While the demands for constant growth and evolution may be difficult to handle at times, they are necessary for us to find our life purpose and fulfill our destiny on this planet. If you wish to live a deep, meaningful, rich, rewarding, and loving life that is full of heart and Soul, beginning your spiritual journey is not only important but crucial.
Understandably, you might feel a bit intimidated and lost, not knowing where to start. As someone who has dedicated a large portion of their life to the spiritual journey, as well as guiding others through theirs, here are my tips:
1. Figure out the purpose/aim of your journey
Think carefully about why you want to begin walking the spiritual path. Do you have a specific goal, purpose, or intention in mind? Are you wanting to find something or avoid something? (Or perhaps both.) Perhaps you would like to achieve or experience something?
There are a myriad of reasons why people enter the spiritual journey, and there is no right or wrong answer. For example, some people want to experience enlightenment, connect with their spirit guides, develop their spiritual gifts, find their life’s purpose, taste truth/freedom, be free of an old trauma or addiction, and so on.
Keep in mind that your purpose/aim will likely shift and change as you progress through your spiritual path – this is completely normal. Your path and needs are unique to you, so embrace them.
2. Pay attention to philosophies, tools, or practices that intrigue you
Once you’ve figured out why you want to explore the spiritual path and discover your destiny, simply pay attention. Notice what spiritual fields, ideas, philosophies, and practices pique your interest. The spiritual journey doesn’t have to be something dry, monotone, and repetitive (unless you want it to be). This is a quest that ideally involves play, joy, and passion. In fact, you will likely get the most out of your spiritual path if you approach it from this heart-centered place. Neuroscience has proven that we learn the most when we’re having fun – so find your bliss. Walk a path with heart. This is the path you’re meant to be on.
3. Go deep-diving
One of the main issues that often arises on the spiritual path is a certain kind of spiritual materialism or spiritual window-shopping.
Jumping from practice to practice can be useful at the beginning (to become familiar with the territory). But if we get into the addictive habit of finding the “next and best” spiritual practice, tool, workshop, etc. we are doing ourselves a great disservice. We are not only approaching spirituality with a materialistic mindset, but we’re also avoiding the fundamental purpose of the spiritual path: to deeply transform and evolve.
Once you have done some dabbling here and there (this might involve watching youtube videos, readings books, attending workshops, etc.), it’s time to slow down and commit to something. Don’t worry if you discover later down the road that the path you’re on is not for you, you can always change route. What’s important is that you slow down and commit to something, to begin with – this is the only way to extract the nutrients, deep essential truths, and embodied wisdom.
So tune into yourself and figure out what sets your Soul on fire. What speaks to you on a profound level? What has benefited you the most? Begin to circle around that topic, practice, or path and dedicate your full attention to it. (And if there are a handful of paths, that’s okay too, stick with them.)
4. Record what you’ve learned and experienced
We hear a lot of pretty sounding words and mystical ideas on the spiritual path. But all of them mean little if we don’t actively find ways of absorbing them into our being.
One of the simplest ways of recording what you’ve learned and experienced is simply through the act of journaling. Have a special journal or diary that you dedicate to writing down your thoughts, experiences, ideas, and discoveries. You don’t need to be a good writer (or even good at spelling/grammar) to do this – forget about that! What matters is that you have a solid record that you can refer back to throughout your journey.
There are also other ways of recording what you’ve learned/experienced such as creating pieces of art or composing music. Find whatever creative outlet suits you the most. That might even include creating a vlog where you go into your daily experience (and you can keep this private or share it with others).
5. Integrate and embody your spirituality
It’s easy to go spiritual window shopping and jump onto whatever new and exciting bandwagon emerges. But it takes much more strength of character, sincerity, and courage to actively integrate and embody what you’ve learned.
To integrate means to absorb something into your being; to make it a living and breathing part of you. To embody means to be an expression of what you have learned: to be the change you’re looking for, to infuse your life with the essence of what you’ve discovered.
There are numerous ways to integrate and embody your spirituality, but remember that this is an organic process that takes time. You cannot rush or force integration/embodiment – it is the natural product of Soulful maturation and spiritual ripening.
There are, however, ways to initiate the integration/embodiment part of your journey. Some of these practices include:
Anything that helps you to slow down, be introspective, and go inwards, while encouraging present moment awareness, will help you to integrate and embody what you experience.
Instead of being a magical sounding idea, you will actively live and express qualities such as lovingkindness, presence, and wisdom. But first, you need to be sincere and dedicated to this path.
In my honest opinion, no spiritual journey is balanced (or healthy) without some level of psychological healing. We need to focus not just on ascending to the Upper World, but also working with the Middle and Under World. See the following articles for more guidance:
- What is Inner Work? (& Why Most People Are Terrified By it)
- Spiritual Psychology: Why Meditation Isn’t Enough
The Spiritual Journey is a Valley, Not a Mountain
Contrary to popular depiction, the spiritual journey of fulfilling your destiny isn’t like climbing a mountain.
We rarely start at the bottom and climb to the top. Instead, for most of us the spiritual journey is like hiking through a series of beautiful, but perilous range of valleys.
Our spiritual journeys alternate between periods of descending and ascending. In one period of our lives we may cultivate our connection with Spirit, while in other parts we may descend to the Soul to heal core wounds, or the middle world to develop self-care.
Finally, it is very possible and also quite common to get hung up in these valleys. Many of us become lost, distracted, and even forget why we were trying to get to the top of the mountain in the first place. (See our article on traps of spiritual growth for more guidance.) However, with guidance, willpower, and persistence, we can make our way through.
In the end, you will find that the spiritual journey is like a mystical marriage between the ego, the Soul, and the Spirit. One cannot exist without the other.