If the end goal of the spiritual path is enlightenment, most of us have a lot of work to do. I’m certainly not counting on enlightenment in this lifetime. But even with that end goal out of sight, there’s still much spiritual progress to be made. How do we continue to grow on our spiritual path?
For me, progress has come with my sadhana.
Sadhana can be loosely defined as “daily practice” and it means something different to everyone. The practice might be very specific and scheduled — like daily yoga or meditation — but it can also be less structured and defined, like being mindful while we wash the dishes or seeing the Divine in the sunset. One of the beautiful things about sadhana is that it’s not rigid or set; it’s as flexible as we need it to be.
Eventually, sadhana seeps into all aspects of our life, making daily living a very spiritual experience. We start to live more mindfully and with more awareness, recognizing the divine everywhere: in flowers and trees, in soft wind and rain, in our friends and in strangers. We see beauty more clearly.
We even start to recognize the spiritual in the ugly — the hard stuff in life. This is real spiritual progress: accepting challenges head on. Challenges are life’s greatest opportunities for growth. If life were too easy, we wouldn’t need to work on ourselves. We wouldn’t have to look at our own dark side and work through our “stuff.” Challenges are a gift. They push us to change our negative patterns and grow.
(More on this fact of life in No Mud, No Lotus: Why the Difficulties in Life Support Our Spiritual Growth.)
When we’re going through these challenges, it’s again our sadhana that keeps us strong. Sadhana is our anchor, our rock; the rituals or attitudes we can turn back to when we’ve gone astray, or use to refuel ourselves when we’re feeling drained.
Our sadhana’s potency comes in part from its frequency. We can do our practice once in a while to recharge our batteries, but in my experience, it’s a daily sadhana that keeps us on track! Our spiritual progress depends on it.
Sadhana has been transformational in my life.
For years I practiced the physical aspect of yoga sporadically: a few days here and there, intensely for weeks, and long gaps of yoga-less life in between. With each yoga class, I got a peak into sadhana. Something about those yoga days was very different from my non-yoga days. I felt more energized and more peaceful. I hadn’t yet learned that yoga was a spiritual practice and I definitely didn’t know what a sadhana was, but I recognized that yoga felt like a sort of anchor of stability and calm in my life. This was the beginning of my own spiritual progress.
Fast forward many years — I had become a dedicated asana practitioner. I was hooked on the way it made me feel. Sure that yoga had more to offer me than my bendy back and strong arms, I went to India to explore yoga more deeply. I found a wonderful teacher who blew my mind wide open, introducing me to real yoga: a system for spiritual progress. He taught me about Patanjali’s eight-fold path, the Bhagavad Gita and meditation. He taught me the importance of sadhana.
(Here are more reasons Why Yoga Teacher Trainings Aren't Only for Teachers.)
Until then, I was stuck on my path. I was doing “yoga,” but without any spiritual awareness, and I wasn’t really growing. I needed a teacher. And most of us need someone to show us the way. Vedic teachings have emphasized the role of a guru for thousands of years. We’re not born enlightened; we need someone who’s deep in their own spiritual journey to lead us toward the light.
Nonetheless, our progress depends on sadhana. A teacher or guru can only take us so far. Until we implement their wisdom or guidance in our daily life, we won’t really grow. We may understand their teachings on an intellectual level, but we’ll only understand at a soul level when the teachings become part of our daily flow.
I learned this from my teacher in India. He taught me the first steps of meditation: sitting still, focusing the mind, bringing the mind back when it wanders. Intellectually, it made perfect sense (and also sounded easy!). Practically, it was impossible. The remedy he recommended? Daily practice. Meditation isn’t another asana to master. It’s a continual, effortful practice that only deepens when it’s part of our daily life. As a once-in-a-while thing, it may bring us relaxation and stress relief, but as a sadhana — a daily practice — it brings insight, awareness and an objective sense of our thoughts.
Knowing my teacher knew best, I did what he said. I made a commitment to practice meditation daily, and my sadhana has grown from there. It has seeped into so many other aspects of my life, with a feeling of connectedness to the Divine popping up in the least expected moments. My life has become a growing process rather than a passing of time. For me, that is spiritual progress. And for anyone who wants to experience this growth for themselves, a commitment to the daily practice of sadhana is life changing.