From my studies of enlightenment, and I’m not myself an enlightened man, the basic spiritual movement, the fundamental spiritual act, could generically be phrased as “turning from the world to God.”
There is to my mind no intentional move that is more basic to the outcome of our life (or lives) than that.
Drawing on sages like Shankara and Ramakrishna, I might describe the basic spiritual movement another way, as (1) Discriminating between the Real and the unreal, (2) Detaching from the unreal, and (2) devoting (or attaching) oneself to the Real.
Using more modern language I could say that that movement is observing our unwanted conditions, pushing ourselves away from them (letting them go), and pulling ourselves to what we truly want (reaching out for our heart’s desire, our true passion).
To my way of thinking, all of life is a huge spiral in which the soul leaves God and begins a journey outwards, towards realizing itself as God, only to merge again with God when that realization is complete.
Jesus described it when he said, lo, I came from the Father out into the world and now I leave the world and return to the Father. (No time for citations anymore.) That is a precise description of what I just referred to.
And the halfway point, the furthest point on our descent into density occurs, to my point of view, when the individual soul turns its attention from the world and focuses it on God.
Now those words “the world” and “God” can mean many different things to different people and all would be partly sound and correct. I could say “turn from worldly desire to desire God alone.” I could say “turn from my appetites to my longing for God.” I could say “turn from pleasure to yearning.” I could substitute for the word “God,” the One, the Self, the Tao, the Formless, the Divine, it really doesn’t matter what word I use.
However one wants to talk about it, there comes a time in one life or another where one feels the irresistible call to put aside what St. Paul called “childish things” – one more movie, one more bottle of wine, one more trip to Marrakesh – and cry out for God.
Sri Ramakrishna had many parables about the child playing with its toys. So long as it did so, the mother continued cooking rice over the fire. But the minute the child tired of its toys and cried out for its mother, she would take the rice pot down from the fire and hurry to her child.
The child has turned from the world to God and God has hurried to the child.
Or Jesus, when asked what the first commandment was, said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul.” A person who does this has turned from the world to God.
For me, this basic spiritual movement is the first noteworthy, conscious step an individual takes on the spiritual path and the one who does it has covered perhaps more than half the “distance” between Origin and Destination in the overall journey of life.
(Continued in Part 2.)