What Is Spiritual Initiation?

There are boundaries in our consciousness, common to all of us, meaning that every person without exception has these boundaries, and every person at some point in their spiritual evolution will encounter them. They are simple, easy to discern, like the place where land meets ocean or mountaintop reaches sky. They are not peculiar to the individual; they do not appear one way to one person and another way to someone else. They are the same for everyone.

Initiation is the crossing of these boundaries, and every person who makes the passage makes it in the same way, though each may have slightly different reactions or form different concepts about it.

Every person who has ever lived was born from a woman’s body. No one is an exception to this simple fact. The transition from life in utero to life outside of the mother could be said to be a boundary, common to all, in our earthly life experience—part of the mother, apart from the mother. Once apart, one cannot enter into the womb again. Once breached, the womb is closed forever.

But what is a spiritual boundary? What could be so simple, so primary, like the act of being born, that could be the common destiny of every living soul? Here is the first boundary, one that perhaps you remember. There comes a point in everyone’s journey where the world of the senses begins to seem inadequate, where the question looms in consciousness, “There must be more to this life than what I can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.” Familiar things begin to look false somehow, as though the seeable world were a painted backdrop.

More and more, the “real” world feels like it is somewhere else, somewhere behind the world that appears. And the feeling will not go away. The search begins for a way out, a way out of this false world of the senses into the real world that lies beyond it. What is that world? No one can tell you. In fact, they warn you not to look for it, lest you lose your mind and become incapacitated in the world they call real. But the more they warn you, the more you want to find what lies beyond it.

That which you know is there but cannot yet see becomes the “pearl of great price,” that for which you are willing to forsake everything of value in this world—wealth, health, happiness—in order to find. It will not let you rest. It makes hollow everything that before seemed worthwhile. No amount of the riches of this world can fill the vastness of the world you sense just beyond your reach. Your life becomes a quest, a mission to find what you cannot name, what you cannot envision, what you cannot justify or explain. You only know that you must find it. You must escape from a world that increasingly feels like a prison, even at the risk of your life.

This state of determination, this willingness to risk everything known for that which is unknown, is the threshold of the first initiation. The door of the threshold is narrow, so narrow that no attachment can squeeze through, no cherished possession, no well thought out philosophy, no deeply held belief, for these are all products of the senses. It is the “eye of the needle,” the “straight gate,” the “Mount of Olives.” Once crossed, the threshold cannot be uncrossed. Once you are born into the new world, you cannot retreat into the old, lest like an old wineskin taking on new wine, your mind bursts. You cannot enter again into your mother’s womb. By stepping across the threshold, you die to the life you have known and enter into the life you are to become, a life that was prepared for you from the beginning.

This, then, is the prelude to spiritual initiation. And by describing it, I hope I have helped you to see that it is the one road, the one path to the one truth, that this world of the senses, this world of body and intellect, is a world of shadows, and that passing from it into the unknown world beyond is the one act common to every person throughout all time in his or her journey to realizing the luminous world of Being.

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4 Responses to What Is Spiritual Initiation?

  1. Richard Distasi says:

    Thanks

  2. mvalentinus says:

    Although the other world may seem “unknown” before one arrives, That which impels us to seek it knows it well. In seeking it, we have initiated our spiritual lives and, when we cross the threshold, we find that is already known to us. In fact, it is our true home.

  3. Great intro to Initiation Michael.

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