I will be the first to acknowledge that the title of this post is a bit misleading. This is because, whether we know it or not, everyone is on the spiritual path. The path is unfolding now. You have already taken innumerable “steps,” and in the end there were never any steps to take, but that is not what I want to say here.
There are many overused statements on the spiritual circuit, such as “there’s nothing to do” or “there’s nowhere to go,” or “you’re already enlightened, so stop trying.” And there is truth to these statements, but they are of little use. They are easily co-opted by the separate self (ego), which will gladly fool itself into believing that it is all done and fully enlightened, because apparently “there’s nothing to do.” This is unfortunate whenever it occurs, for it only exacerbates our suffering.
I will say something rather unpopular, then, when it comes to modern spirituality: Please do try to get free. Please make the effort. Assuming that the reader of this post is still living out his/her belief in themself as a separate entity (as the vast majority of us are), there are practices to be done, emotions to be explored, and inner investigation to dive into.
If the reader has seen through the illusory separate entity and abides as the Self eternally… well, I cannot imagine why they would be reading this blog.
In any case, we are all on our way to the recognition of our true limitless nature, of our home prior to our finite minds, of ourselves in and as God. From the most heinous murderer to the highest saint, we are all on this road together.
Life is the spiritual path, and the two cannot be separated.
However, in order to liberate our minds—to be happy, self-aware, and stand for true peace on Earth (the fancy term for this is “to be enlightened”)—it is helpful to consciously acknowledge that we are on the path.
Therefore, quite simply, the “first step” is to know in your heart that you are making your way back home. Bear this in mind as often as you can. There is not a single moment in which the path isn’t unfolding. Remember that there is no “way out” but to keep walking the path with courage and honesty.
No, this is not a step in physical space. There is no need to go to India or a monastery just yet (or maybe ever). All that is necessary is an authentic knowledge that you are already in the stream towards awakening/non-dual recognition, and that there are efforts to make to get there. Perhaps this will take place as a quiet acceptance in your heart. Perhaps you will want to tell friends and/or family in some form or another that you have chosen to take up a more introspective life. (And how they respond to this news may present one of your first major challenges.)
In any case, the point is that we, in some way, regard the spiritual path as a reality in our lives. We do not put it on the backburner or fall prey to the belief that there will be “another life” in which to get real with ourselves about these matters.
Generally, we prioritize our understanding and investigation more and more as its implications become clearer to us.
In time, if the thirst for realization grows strong enough—often due to the fact that the happiness “gained” by external/worldly factors has become unfulfilling—we make truth our highest priority. Sometimes we have to suffer quite a bit before we get the message that we must prioritize liberation (though some of us are luckier.)
By this point, several things are understood: Self-realization is the greatest service you can render to humanity, abidance in ultimate truth is the only means by which to experience lasting happiness, there is an ultimate truth to be discovered and it is not merely housed in the minds of a few exalted individuals, truth cannot be found in a set of beliefs, our assumed identities/egos are illusory, among others.
Even so, these notions may well be understood on an intellectual level, but do not mean one is liberated. There are a great number of individuals who can talk the non-dual talk. As our powers of discernment become more refined, we get better at determining who is steadfast in the Self and who has merely had a big “experience” that the separate self has incorporated into an “enlightened ego.”
Similarly, sometimes we tend to go in circles with one another over our personal opinions and relative truths. Such positions may be well-thought out, but they are not our concern when it comes to non-duality. There exist in this world billions of relative truths and personal viewpoints, but none of these are the ultimate. The ultimate lies beyond mental comprehension, and thus cannot be theorized about or expressed in words. It must be simply known.
I make such a disclaimer because I feel we are running out of time to argue. Yes, there is always time for questions, clarifications, and challenges, but the interest of non-duality is not in the debate of mental positions or philosophical discussions. It is in the investigation of the mind and emotional bodies themselves—a thorough exploration of the one who is experiencing the world. As humans seeking to become more aware, the time has come for us to take steps into our own selves, give our arguments a break, and simply look at what is going on inside of us.
More importantly, what is the reality of the entity in which things are happening? Where is it? What is its essence?
These are the kinds of basic questions we start with. Anything else, and we are apt to be fooling ourselves. We are already on the path, so why not get real about it?