I was recently reading a book on endurance training for alpine climbing, and it evoked many resonant chords of awareness regarding spiritual practice. While the authors described the process of improving fitness for ascending (physical) mountains, a striking amount of their observations would apply to energetic and inner work.
A key observation: “Training is not what you do, but the effect on your body.”
To re-write for the context of inner work, “Spiritual practice is not what you do, but the effect on your inner wholeness, spiritual maturation, and deep liberation.”
This puts “spiritual practice” into a new light, so to speak. It is not about an activity or set of ideas, but rather, about your results. Are you actually progressing in a meaningful way — whatever the goals of your inner work — by spending the time, energy, and money doing what you are doing? Or are you doing it … because … ?
The disconnect between goals, actions, and outcomes is real and pervasive. Just as much so in spiritual practice as in other aspects of life (and contemporary culture). A lot more marketing is devoted to ideas rather than long-term, sustainable, and valuable outcomes. In the process of absorbing this marketing, many people lose sight of whether they are actually accomplishing something with their time and energy.
In this respect, there is a trend in contemporary spirituality and inner work for it to be a form of entertainment — not much is desired or expected other than feeling or looking good in the process. This is dramatically different than the long history of deep spiritual quest. Historically, spiritual practice was expected to be long, challenging, and rigorous. I hardly see those terms applied to what is considered the modern spiritual or inner path.
It is always up to you what you want and why you want it. I am not suggesting that your inner work or spiritual path “should” look a certain way or have certain results. But it evokes the question of why you are spending time on various inner practices, retreats, workshops, etc. if you are not clearly developing expanded awareness, clarity, wholeness, and spiritual maturity.
My suggestion: evaluate your intentions and how your process of soul work to achieve them is reflected in your inner/outer results. Maybe you are not clear about one of these aspects:
1) what you want to bring forth in your spiritual development,
2) how you are going to effectively move towards your desired creation or elevation, or
3) what progress, if any, you are making.
No one can figure those out for you, and no one can tell you if you are realizing your goals. This is an inner process of alignment and awareness. It can’t be measured as simply as physical fitness with some numbers. But it can be qualitatively measured, with serious, honest reflection and self-observation. Your life, and response to the circumstances around you, will reveal much about your process and outcomes.
If you never examine where you are and where you are going, you might be stuck without even recognizing it. It is quite possible to be spiritually stagnant in the midst of lots of activity and effort. I’ve seen it over and over again. Which brings us back to the beginning of this reflection: Spiritual practice is not what you do, but the effect it has on your awareness and energetic elevation. Are you truly getting more “soul fit” (whatever that might mean to you) from your inner/outer efforts?