A distinction has been made between the Path of Return and the Path of Divine Expression, though these two paths are complimentary aspects of One Spiritual Unfoldment. The Path of Return is the process of clearing and surrender, whereupon the Divine Being emerges into realization. This is an un-covering, a clearing away of all the clouds of attachment and distraction, until the Light of Divine Being emerges from obscuration and is realized. So the Path of Return is an unfolding realization of Divine Being. We could also call it Self-Discovery.
The Path of Expression is how the Divine unfolds into manifestation, or how the Divine expresses through us. Obviously, the Divine will express more fully and refinely when working through a clearer and more realized vehicle. So the Quality of Expression depends on the degree of realization (or the level of Return).
At any moment we might be on the Path of Return – consciously ascending back to God. While at another moment we might be on the Path of Expression - participating in the process of Divine Expression into the world. At other moments we may not be on any path at all, except the path of repeating karma or the path of slavery to social patterns.
Cosmically, there is an ongoing rhythm between paths of return and paths of expression. Yet in deeper mystical transformation, the two paths are synchronistically two sides of the same transformation, because in the actual moment of Return the Divine Being emerges into realization and expression through us. There is a synchronistic, complimentary relation between the Path of Return and the Path of Divine Expression. As we return to God, God emerges and expresses through us.
So at higher levels, the two paths become less distinct and more synchronistic. But this is difficult for the mind to image, because it is like trying to see an upward and downward motion at the same time, or like trying to see light come into us and out from us at the same time. We can really only understand these truths when in the higher realizations, (and remember that direct experience is more important than intellectual understanding).
But to wrap this subject up, understand that the Path of Return and the Path of Divine Expression merge together at the very apex of Return, the apex of spiritual ascent. In other words, when we have surrendered ourselves completely the Divine Self emerges and is immediately expressive. So Divine Emergence is the focal point or merging point between Return and Expression.
In some spiritual teachings there is greater emphasis on the Path of Return, more so than the Path of Expression. This might be because we have to begin from where we are, and we begin from conditionings, habits and ego patterns, which need to be surrendered. If we merely express from lower states of being, then expression never evolves to a higher level.
So the first step is raising consciousness, purifying the mind, surrender ego, and making the journey to Divine Being. In other words, the Path of Return (and all it entails) is needed first, and so it is rightly emphasized. But any emphasis can become lop-sided. So the better spiritual teachings also emphasize service, caring and compassion in the world, as well as a refined beauty of speech and self-expression. For remember that the spiritual Aim, from the perspective of Divine Being, is outward expression and manifestation; while the Aim from the perspective of the spiritual seeker will have more emphasis on inner realization or spiritual return.
Now, in emphasizing the Path of Return, spiritual teachings often emphasize practices of devotion, worship, and love for God (the Divine). Mind and heart is turned toward God, as the seeker approaches being a mystic. This emphasis tends to orient the mind and heart more inwardly, turning the mind and heart away from the regular world and more towards God as the Beloved. Mind is oriented more inwardly and the heart is oriented more toward loving union with the Divine. We see this exemplified in meditational and devotional practices of Yoga, and also in most other spiritual paths.
This is all good, but this emphasis and these kinds of practice are only useful for the particular spiritual stage which we called the Path of Return. Once we return, the spiritual emphasis and orientation needs to switch. So, continually emphasizing devotional and surrendering practices would like continually climbing a mountain without ever coming back down. Well, this may be what some people want, but at some point we need to bring the Light of the Sun back down to earth.
So at some point, we need to acknowledge and work with the Path of Expression. It is fine to be absorbed into the Great Light, but at some point this Light needs to be brought down into the world or out into the world. It is fine to surrender and be immersed in Divine Love, but at some point this Love needs to be poured out to the world [through us]. At first we are raised up and enter into the Higher Light, becoming the Divine Light. But then we must turn back down to radiate this Light into the world. We surrender into the Heart of Love, and then we come outward to love. Always remember that the Full Breath of the Spiritual Journey is both upwards and downwards, both inward and outward.
Reaching a plateau of spiritual union, love or ecstasy is all very good. Coming into God-Consciousness (or at least a higher consciousness), and into God-Love (or a deeper love) is what the Path of Return is all about, and this is very good. But at some point the emphasis [of aim and practice] needs to reverse itself, where upon we become a spiritual channel for Divine Expression.
This happens when we become the Divine Quality of Love and become an expressive agent of Divine Love. We become expressive love. We begin to love and radiate love. And this becomes our spiritual practice. Our consciousness and love is turned outward to the world around us. It could be said that one's consciousness and love is still oriented towards God, but this new orientation is towards God immanent in the world rather than God transcending the world. That is, this new orientation is towards the Divine in others and in nature. The sense of worship, devotion and love is now towards the world.
This is a reversal from traditional forms of worship and love of God. There is still love of and in God, but the new orientation and emphasis is now towards the world. The world, and all that is in it, becomes the object of reverence and love. Our consciousness now opens up to the beauty of life around us, opening to an aesthetic and spiritual appreciation of what we find in the world. We have loving appreciation for the beauty found in the world, but without attachment or grasping desire. It is simply a pure loving appreciation and reverence for all that is beautiful and good. Not everything we find in the world will be beautiful or good, but when we do perceive beauty or goodness, in people or in nature, we deeply love and appreciate this divinity.
Our caring and active love goes out to others and the world. This may begin as a general radiance of love to the world, as we radiate-out the Light of Divine Love from our own being. We are actually bringing Love into the world. We are now breathing Love into the world. Our heart centre becomes like a beacon or sun radiating Love to the world. Our heart is open and radiant with love. This begins as a general expression of love, yet this love can express specifically to people or places. What we are expressing here is Divine Love, God's Love. In Buddhist terms it is the Compassionate Buddhic Nature, or Boddasatva, or the Healing Love of Quan Yin. In Hindu terms it is the loving nature of Vishnu or Krishna, or from the Goddess Parvati. No matter what names we use, the quality of our own love is the expression and radiance of the One Divine Being. The essence here is to really focus our consciousness and love toward the world. This is how we become the active agent of Divine Being.
Essential on the spiritual path, there is a ‘turning-in to God’ and a ‘turning-out to the world’. Turning-in to God involves leaving behind the world, leaving behind all outer distractions, and going inward to God – the Essence of Being. It is leaving behind the complexities of practical worldly life, and returning to the simplicity of just Being. Note though that one is not only leaving behind the outer complicated world, but also leaving behind the complications and conflicts within one’s own self. These self complexities and conflicts are, often, the more difficult phenomena to become free of and leave behind. So generally, this turning to God has to involve a leaving behind, a letting go, and a surrender of the self. It is almost like a melting into God.
On the other hand, the turning-out to the world is a kind of concentrated looking outward with full attention to the external world, and working fully in this external world. It is very much the opposite of being inward and withdrawing from the outer world.
There is a middle way, or reconciling way, between the turning-in way and the turning-out way. This can be called the way of harmony and balance. It is a harmonious turning within and out simultaneously. There will still be a need to sometimes concentrate on either the turning-in or the turning-out, but the major part of our spiritual path and practice will be along this middle way. Here, one is fully involved relationally with the outer world, yet at the same time working with an inner practice. One is, in a sense, turning or dancing in the world, while remaining inwardly centered and harmonious.
One is fully embracing the sensory properties of the world. One is walking through the world with the senses wide open, and the heart and mind fully involved in this world. Yet one is not becoming lost in the world, lost in the chaos or complications or distractions of the world. Nor is one allowing the world to spin oneself out of balance. One is not letting influences of the world take control of oneself. In other words, one is not allowing the outer world to spin and push and pull us here and there. One is not merely losing oneself in the forces of the world and becoming a slave or mechanical robot in relation to these outer forces.
We need to have our own centre, consciously breathing in and out from this centre; and not allow the outer world to take away our centre, nor take away our conscious breath. So we move and walk and dance in the world from our own centre, always practicing to hold our own sense of inner balance and harmony with the outer world. Our practice is to relate in the world with harmony. But this does not mean that we merely allow ourselves to drift with any outer force that comes along. This way is not merely a passivity in relation to the world. It is not harmony through mere passivity or merely being like a feather floating upon any forces of wind that happen to appear. Rather, this practice involves active intention and wakeful consciousness. The intention and practice is to become harmonious in the world, while simultaneously maintaining of our own centre of being.
The practice is to come into harmony with the world, but we are speaking here of a deeper meaning-sense of the 'world'. For it is not merely the social-cultural or economic world that one is practicing to be in harmony with. Rather, it is the natural world, or we can just as well say it is the divine order underlying this perceptible, manifest world. So the way and practice of harmony is to come into a conscious (and also higher emotional) relationship with the natural/divine order, of which we must learn to sense or intuit as existing within the outer world. It is like finding the essential underlying harmony in a given piece of music. One is not so focused on particular segments and notes, but rather one is sensitive and aware of the very basic, essential harmony of the music.
The practice being described here is to open up one’s subtle sensitivity, then listen for or feel the subtle rhythm of harmony within the whole natural world – within this sacred world of Divine Being. Then, with conscious breath, keep entering into this harmony, continually becoming one with this harmony. This is the way of coming into natural-divine harmony. This is the way of becoming harmonious in being; in harmony with Divine Nature, in harmony with the very Presence of God. And we can do this by bringing our breath and our whole being into this harmony. Then, we 'come from this place' – this natural harmony, as we relate in the world and with others.
Also there is a need to balance the path of the contemplative-mystic with path of the practical materialist. These two ways have often been in opposition. The contemplative-mystic has often been weak in practical material life, too busy experiencing the inner life. While the practical materialist has often been weak in the contemplative area, too busy always doing things in the outer world. Also there has been a simplistic labeling of the practical materialist as not so spiritual as the contemplative.
This is part of the spurious division between spiritual and material life; but in reality, the material world is within the spiritual world and is significant to spiritual purpose. So if we see that practical work is equally important as spiritual contemplation in the overall spiritual purpose of life, then either way is just as imbalanced if one is over predominate. The contemplative needs to make time and effort for practical material concerns, and develop practical skills such as building or repairing or organizing material things. While the practical materialist needs to make time and effort for inner contemplation, and develop the inner skills of just-being and exploring the inner world of self.
Returning to unity in Divine Being is our spiritual goal, rather than remaining lost in our own self-seclusion and separation from Divine Unity. This self phenomena of seclusion and separation is based on illusionary patterns of thought and emotion. In other words, this self-problem is a kind of illusion, and the separative-ego vices, which hold us back from divine harmony and alignment with spiritual purpose, are based on this illusion.
So if the bubble of illusion bursts, then there is realization of the Divine Being, the Reality that is always present but not always realized. In this moment there is a transformation of self experience, from being a 'separate contained entity' to being a transparent reflection of the infinite Divine Being.
The experience of self-transformation involves an annihilation, release, dissolving, or surrender of the separative illusion. There are various ways to dissolve/release the separative illusion. One way is through the divine air. In this way, one allows oneself to dissolve into the infinite spaciousness of pure clear Being, and one rhythmically breathes in and out in this pure spacious Being/Presence. Another way is through the divine water. In this way, one allows oneself to dissolve into the pure clear water of Divine Love, whereby one is cleansed and sustained in this Love, and one feels this Love flowing though oneself. A third way is through the divine fire. In this way, one allows oneself to enter into the Fire of Divine Being, to be transformed in this Fire. One surrenders into the Fire, so that only the purity of Divine Being remains present in oneself. A fourth way is through the divine earth. In this way, one gives of oneself completely to service for the earth and improving the physical reality of everyone and everything. This too is self transforming, through selfless service and divine manifestation.
The fundamental practice for spiritual transformation involves both negation and affirmation. This is the negation of attachment and identification, and the affirmation of Truth. In the fundamental practice of sufis, for example, this negation and affirmation is contained in the repeated phrase translatable as, "There is nothing but God." There are other translations or possible phrases, but the essence of meaning is the same. What is important is the kind of inner activity involved in the practice. The first part of the practice is a negation, denial and rejection of everything standing in the way of God-Realization. This is a continuous letting go of all our attachments and identifications, a clearing and surrender of the thoughts and emotions of the ego-I. Essentially it is surrender and letting go of whatever we are mentally and emotionally holding onto. This is clearing away the veils blocking the realization of our True Inner Being.
Behind the veils is our True Inner Being, which is God. So as the veils are surrendered and let go of, more of Divine Being is experienced and realized. We become more immersed in Divine Presence. We more immediately experience Divine Presence, and we disappear in Divine Presence, as we surrender and let go of our 'self.' Then there is nothing but Divine Presence. Our consciousness is filled only with Divine Presence. Most often this will be experienced as either Absolute Love, or Light, or Peace. It is the cherished Abode of God. So now we are in Divine Consciousness, experiencing Divine Presence. The veils have been lifted, maybe not absolutely but at least significantly enough that our whole experience as transformed.
In western mystical terms, this is the resurrection, having ascended into Heavenly Consciousness and in union with Divine Presence. This ascension came about because of the letting go, the surrender of mental and emotional attachments. The heaviness and clingingness of our attachments and desires have been dropped, like dropping heavy-clinging clothes or like dropping heavy-clinging energies. The result of this is a lightness of being and a freedom of being. And so it seems, once our being is freed from the heavy energies of ego-attachments, our consciousness naturally floats up into a vast Spaciousness, the Spiritual Sky, and we meet directly with the Divine Presence.
The clouds of our illusions have disappeared, due to our surrendering them, so now all that remains is a pure consciousness of Being Itself. This Being has always been here, has always been who we really are, but it was clouded and veiled by the various contents of our attachments. Now, our Being is freed and our consciousness is clear. We can remain in this pure state of Conscious Being, and soak in the Light and Love of God.
Then, at some point, the Divine Being urges a descent back into individual mind and matter; for the Will of Divine Being is to be realized in all parts of mind and expressed through individual existence.
The Highest Realization, or Highest Consciousness reached, begins its descent back into individual thought and feeling. Now, the mind needs to understand and make sense of this Divine Experience; which then renews and enriches the personal sphere of mind, emotion, and activity. As the higher consciousness gradually descends back down into personal mind, the mind needs to formulate (form) an understanding of the spiritual experience just now realized. In other words, after having a deep spiritual meditative experience or immediate realization, it will be useful to intelligently understand that deeper experience. This is like a translation of deep intuition into mental understanding.
This is a process of building higher knowledge, based on direct spiritual experience. Direct spiritual experience, or spiritual intuition, must come into the understanding mind, which uses language and imagery, thought and conceptual models.
Also in this descending stage, we acquire higher intentions – which are intentions from the Divine Will. These are Intentions of the Divine to express through us and into the world. So we once again we need affirmation in the descension of Divine Realization and Intention. That is, we need to sincerely affirm our higher realizations and intentions.
So now, affirm the realization of Divine Presence, Divine Love and Divine Light. You might first realize that you are now in this Divine Love. Make this an affirmation, affirm it deep through your heart and mind. You might even realize that you are Divine Love. Then affirm this as who you are.
Affirm 'I am Divine Love,' or 'I am Divine Light.'
This brings Divine Presence into self-presence. If we can keep on affirming this realized Truth through the various levels of mind, then there will be transformation on all levels of self. We can also affirm the Intention of Divine Love; thus making it our own intention. Affirm the intention to be Love, and be loving. Hold the intention and will to love. Affirm inside, "I am Love, and I will love."
… Relating this again to the mystical self-transformation, the first step is clearing and surrendering of all that veils the pure experience of God, Divine Being. We must do this until there is nothing but the pure experience of God. And through this voluntary clearing and surrendering, the lower energies of our self are transformed. This is the essential work of the spiritual practice, but it needs to be consistent, since there is much to be transformed.
The second step is the opening of mind and heart to what is Real, opening the mind/heart to the Presence of Real Being – which is discovered when the mind/heart is clear and open. So these two steps of clearing and opening are essential. It would be better to work just on these two steps, than anything else we could do in spiritual practice.
These steps are also related to breath; for clearing is a breathing-out (an eliminating or letting go of) and opening is a breathing-in (a letting in). First, concentrate practice on the clearing part of breath, then after letting go of stuff concentrate more on the opening to Greater Being, or opening to God. God is not merely an abstract Idea. Rather, God is the Real Being in which we live and of which we are. So, God is the Greater Consciousness and Greater Love to which we open.
The result of our surrendering/clearing and the opening of our mind/heart is pure consciousness in Divine Being, an awakening in Divine Being. This experience, this state of consciousness, is described in various words by different teachings. We may describe this as Divine Presence, Divine Love and Light, or even God-Consciousness. But no matter what names we give it, there is a definite, notable, significant change in our consciousness and experience of being.
A heaviness of our being has lifted, and the cloudiness of mind has cleared. The mind is clearer and more awake, the light of consciousness is brighter, and both mind and heart seem greatly more expansive. This Greater Presence of Being is always here, so we can simply surrender into it. We are surrendering to the Greater Presence of Being, which emerges into brilliance as the clouds of self-thinking and self-attachment disappear. Then, as we surrender ourselves, we seem to disappear into the greater Being/Presence – which was already here but was covered up by layers of thought and emotion.
Here in Divine Presence, we can now be content and at peace. We can simply be in the Love and in the Light. Or the experience might be that there is just Love, or just Light. This Love/Light eventually overflows so much that it keeps on expanding and radiating into infinite space. One then realizes, 'I am this Love,' 'I am this Love radiating love.' Now we begin to affirm the Quality of Divine Being, and identify with this. We can now consciously affirm the reality of Divine Being and identify with it, inwardly affirming 'I am this Divine Being.'
I am this Love, this Light, this Being,
and I will love and radiate Light all around me.
Then, one must take this realization into regular life and be it, live it and express it. This is where the affirmation of our realization and the intention to express it is so important. Become a sun and radiate the light of Love in all aspects of life. Make your own life more Divine, and help make everything around you more Divine. Love and help bring out the love in everyone you meet.
Allow Divine Love to flow through you, work through you, and radiate through you, like Light radiating and expressing through a pure crystal.