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by David Truman

There are three main approaches to spiritual life: the self-Centered Path, the self-Deluded Path, and the self-Transcending Path. In practice, most people and most paths blend these three approaches to a certain degree. The purpose of defining these categories is not to imply that everything falls into either one or another category. These elements simply give us a handle by which we can understand what's going on in someone's spiritual life -- and how to better fine-tune our own.
The self-Centered Path -- most popular, but least likely to succeed
The self-Centered Path is a whim-based shopping spree.
In this path you work on yourself, using a mix and match do-it-yourself kit. The process of mixing and matching is a self directed, whim based shopping spree. There are lots of parts available today to choose from -- vitamin regimens, crystals, pyramid power, therapies of every conceivable type -- and we choose whatever catches our fancy and "feels right" at the time. It doesn't matter whether the parts fit together, because none of them get that close to each other.
But the defining characteristic of the self-Centered Path is the whole idea of isolated individual effort towards one's spiritual goal -- "me-first spirituality." Why does the ego tend to avoid sacred recognition of the Divinity of all God's children, wanting to shortcut straight to the source without having to relate rightly to man? Cutting corners doesn't work in spiritual life.
Granted, the idea of a direct relationship to God is sound: Every person needs to cultivate a personal relationship to the Creator. But God is everywhere, and you can't have an exclusive relationship with something that's everywhere and in everyone.
Divine love is not a private bliss, but a love to share.
Divine love is not merely a private bliss, but a love to be shared. If you prematurely manage to wrangle a private interview with God, the last words of that meeting will be: "Now go back and love the people as I have loved you!" A true relationship to God cannot be realized without a right relationship to His creation.
The self-Deluded Path -- a supreme opening to misinterpretation
The self-Deluded Path refers to lofty teachings from the "ascended masters" and other Divine sources. Examples are "The Urantia Book," "A Course in Miracles," and the ecstatic pronouncements of saints and sages throughout history. When we speak of great saints or of ascended masters, we're talking about beings who have already learned the lessons of our school of experience. Thus, from an earthly perspective, the truths they are describing are not really a path, but rather a DESTINATION -- that is, a goal of the path the rest of us are currently on.
Lofty teachings may be RIGHT, but we may be WRONG about what they mean.
Exalted spiritual teachings are useful, don't get us wrong -- but ONLY if they are used wisely and carefully. It's inspiring to read these scriptures, and to contemplate high thought. Realistically, however, at some levels of development the ecstatic speech of celestial agents and God Realized Masters may be virtually impossible to understand -- CORRECTLY. Perhaps this is because great thought is easily corrupted by the ego. For example, the person may actually think that declarations such as "I am a perfect Child of God" apply to the ego rather than to the True Self. Obviously, that misunderstanding can do far more harm than good. A fellow can AFFIRM this and that, but he can't KNOW it, or even truly relate to it, as long as he remains wedded to his ego.
Almost all spiritual aspirants benefit MOST from life-level challenges.
At the bottom line, we misuse the self-Deluded Path when we depend on it too much. It's of limited usefulness just to read the cool books, hear what the ascended masters say, and repeat those things within. We still need to DO the actual ego transcending work, the work it takes to climb the ladder by which the ascended masters themselves ascended. Truth be told, when it comes to transcending that rascal ego, almost all spiritual aspirants benefit MOST from life-level challenges such as work, mental discipline, and intimacy. That's even cooler than cool!
The self-Transcending Path -- the bridge from here to there
Practically speaking, what does it mean to transcend the ego in this day and age? And what help is really being offered for that? Many people are stuck because most spiritual processes that they see in the marketplace are primarily self-centered, not Self-centered. These practices don't contain many ego-transcending elements at all -- at least not in a significant and adequate measure. They often work mostly to improve or protect the ego, not to reduce it. Consequently, try as they may, spiritual seekers are not becoming particularly enlightened.
For true spiritual progress, live for something larger than yourself.
Where true spiritual progress is desired, the great question remains: How do you break your affinity for the ego? And the answer to that question is simple: live for something larger than yourself. Find ways to make your whole life a living sacrifice, a living prayer.
Forget the hair shirt. Some folks just love the idea of giving up everything for God! But beware -- the ego makes grand use of self-denial. Real renunciation is deep. And it occurs practically by accident, as a secondary result of accepting a higher, all-consuming purpose for your life and energy. You simply FORGET your lower purposes and attachments; they're left behind in the dust of your own spiritual activity. So the ego dies of disuse, not of abuse. It literally atrophies because you are not paying attention to it.
A picture of a whole, self-transcending spiritual life
Now let's weave together the threads of spiritual life into a whole cloth. We cannot live our lives in pieces, some spiritual, some otherwise. We must try to make a spiritually useful effort out of everything we are and everything we do. That is a true Middle Way, the exact and essential step.
Humanity service honors the everywhereness of God.
First of all, in order to live a truly spiritual life, we need a right relationship to God AND a right relationship to mankind. We recommend an approach that includes prayer, meditation, mental discipline, self sacrifice, real world service, social flexibility, real self-transcending effort at loving one's fellows, and cooperative living. We say that a sound spiritual life is by no means a 50/50 blend of withdrawal and service activity; the healthy balance is to be found well over on the side of service activity. It is essential to be involved in a loving outreach and a true recognition of the everywhereness of God.
This is not to invalidate the inner search for God or to ignore the need for a healthy prayer life. But we dare not err on the side of solitary effort, for that is spiritually dangerous. The emphasis on isolated worship or meditation too easily feeds into the powerfully negative habits and tendencies of mind.
In a socially spiritual life, you meet your Maker frequently -- in others.
In a socially spiritual life, you're going to meet your Maker, all right, but you are meeting your Maker frequently -- in the people you encounter hour by hour. And you're not living an entirely private spiritual life -- you are carrying your Maker's good news as you go.
Now go out and love the people as He has loved you. As you wish.

by David Truman

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Three Approaches to Spirtual Life:
self-Centered, self-Deluded, & self-Transcendent
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