Cultivating a spiritual life takes a certain amount of time, energy, and intent. There is an investment we make of ourselves, which implies that we expect some sort of return on that investment.
I consider writing to be a huge part of my spiritual practice. My books and research notes, this blog, and the journals I keep for myself are the space in which my spiritual life happens. And then there are the ways in which I celebrate the passing of time with those around me, and the groups in which I participate, as well as the ways in which I attempt to help make the world better. All of this is time and money and effort put in.
I think for everyone, some of the expected return on all that invested time and energy is internal. Me, I strive for personal evolution. I want to be more effective, more able, more wise and knowledgeable each day than I was the day before, and to then use what I gain to push that evolution forward. The investment I make in my spirituality pays off in my own inner development: greater confidence, more patience, the ability to make good decisions.
Then there is a portion of what we hope to get back which comes from outside ourselves. We affiliate ourselves with others who are on the same path so that we have access to support and guidance. We want social connection to those who share our views. Whatever it is we are passionate about doing for spiritual reasons will guide us to those who share our beliefs. My practice is personal, but through it I have found others who are on similar paths and with whom I can openly discuss my beliefs and often get inspiration.
And finally there are the ultimate spiritual payoffs. This is the part which is promised to us from the divine or the universe, like salvation or enlightenment or peace. There is usually some goal, some reward at the end of our spiritual path which we strive for through our personal efforts. I believe that my spiritual work will pay off in a positive legacy after I am gone. That is the reason I write, but it’s also what shapes how I interact with others and what I find important to fight for.
The thing is, just like a financial investment, there is risk. When we pick a path and a goal, we commit to a worldview or a series of truths. There are an awful lot of beliefs and religions out there, and we invest in hopes that we’ve chosen the right one. And the more we focus on the divine return, the less we invest in the inner or social rewards.
And I think this is where so many people go wrong with religion.
Faith is great, but not if it drives us to neglect ourselves and those around us. There must be some purpose in our earthly existence beyond jumping through hoops to ensure an ephemeral reward at the end. The inner development and the relationships built with those around us should be the most important thing while we are here.