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I’m lucky to live in what’s called Gold Rush country, located in the forested foothills of the Sierras in Northern California. In 1849 white miners discovered gold nearby, and suddenly gold fever meant tens of thousands of fortune-seekers showed up – much to the dismay, displacement and destruction of the local Indian tribes. “Why do they lust after a shiny stone in the ground?” one Indian asked. Good question.
A few of the early miners literally tripped over huge gold nuggets and immediately “struck it rich,” in the vernacular of the day; but for the vast majority of the Gold Rush participants finding enough of the precious metal required extreme, risky, backbreaking work, and lots of it. Digging in hard granite, panning for hours on end in ice-cold streams and rivers, the miners who thought it would be easy quickly learned otherwise. Many gave up. But some worked incredibly hard, and a few of them ultimately found what they sought.
In some ways, spiritual search can feel like mining for gold. Looking for that rare, shining nugget of inner meaning and truth can be hard work. Coming across the real article is rare. And often seekers get discouraged.
But those who keep up the heat and intensity of their search usually succeed. Which brings us to the third in our list of nine axioms describing the common mistakes seekers make:
3. Feelings are only feelings.
You may feel, one of these days, that you’ve reached a discouraging point in your search where you want to give up, quit entirely or just put everything on hold. Searching for authentic meaning in your life can be difficult, bringing up exhausting spiritual tests and difficulties. After all, spiritual search truly makes us work hard, with all that labor exploring the inner recesses of our character.
Or perhaps your quest hasn’t “panned out”, as the gold miners used to say. You’ve searched for your own personal spiritual meaning in the universe and it just hasn’t clicked yet.
Or maybe your spiritual path has a few potholes you’ve recently discovered, and getting past them has made you discouraged and disheartened. You find yourself wanting to go back to your old life – you know, the one that made you unhappy in the first place.
In a word — Don’t.
Try not to listen to those feelings of inadequacy or defeat or frustration. They are only feelings, ephemeral as the wind in the pines, and they will recede and change. Realize that those feelings will inevitably alter themselves as your spiritual capacity grows and expands as a result of your search.
One of the powerful lessons an authentic spiritual search teaches us – that our feelings are only on the surface of our reality — means they’re likely to change tomorrow or next week. Instead, learn to rely on what’s deeper than those pesky, insistent feelings: your soul. Learn to listen to the quiet promptings of your spirit, rather than the loud shouts of your emotions.
When you rely on your soul, you’re able to go deeper in life, closer to the heart of the matter, and gradually become a more spiritual human being. Here’s how Abdu’l-Baha describes it:
A material man lets himself be worried and harassed by little things, but a spiritual man is always calm and serene under all circumstances. – Star of the West, Volume 7, p. 154.
The Baha’i teachings affirm the great courage and vision of every seeker of that calm and serenity:
The unworthy things of this world have not deterred you from seeking the world of Spirit. When in harmony with that world, you care not for the things that perish; your desire is for that which never dies and the Kingdom lies open before you. I hope that the teaching of God will spread throughout the world, and will cause all to be united…. I pray earnestly that the Light in this advanced age will so illumine the world that all may rally under the banner of unity and receive spiritual education.
Then those problems which cause difference among the peoples of the earth will be seen no more…. You are all waves of one sea, mirrors of one reflection. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, pp. 48-49.