During my recent travels, I spent some time volunteering at a spiritual community and retreat centre. I was less drawn towards the specific ritual practices on offer, but was instead very keen to connect with like-minded, spiritually intuitive people. Sadly, the reality turned out to be quite different. Apart from my growing discomfort with the emphasis on hallucinogenic-induced ceremonies, my greater issue was the disconnect I experienced between the expectation of being an active part of the dynamic community I had been invited to, and instead feeling increasingly unsupported, neglected or ignored.
For me, a lack of clarity, poor communication and disrespectful treatment are always upsetting, but it was even more unnerving occurring at a place identifying itself as a haven of higher vibrational energy. It became increasingly clear to me that while no malice was intended – quite the opposite in fact, as I believe their good intentions were genuine, the problem was that the community members were overstretched in running the retreat centre and didn’t have the ability or energy to address the pressing needs and issues of the volunteers.
The irony of being at a place that offered guided spiritual practices led by people unconcerned with the volunteers’ welfare was too hard for me to take and I left the place early. However, when an opportunity arose to voice our concerns, the community members seemed receptive to the issues and recommendations we expressed, and I truly hope that they will make some positive changes in future and view it as an opportunity for learning.
The experience also brought home to me what it means to be spiritual. For me, at the root of any spiritual practice is the ability to be present, and the way in which I began my own spiritual journey. Being present in my immediate environment is the basis upon which I can develop the clarity and understanding I need to respond to situations with intelligence and equanimity. With clarity and presence, you can then incorporate other practices, such as kindness and empathy.
For me, it’s imperative that this kind of foundation is firmly in place before embarking on any ceremonies or rituals, or the lasting value of these experiences will be fairly limited. Of course, guided retreats and ritualistic ceremonies can have a place in supporting your spiritual journey and helping to direct you into other realms of perception, but fundamentally, the real work happens with what you do yourself.
Spiritual awakening can’t be bought as a shiny package that will magically transform you. True spirituality comes from the work that you do within and emanate outwards. It’s a slower and less dramatic process than a ceremony or a retreat but the reward for the hard slog is its endurance and sustainability. It’s the certainty that you can be in a spiritual place at all times because you are drawing your resources from within and bringing them with you wherever you go in your everyday life and beyond.