I recently read of someone who said of the spiritual path "I keep falling off the steed in the Valley of Search". O.K. kids, pop quiz: What is the name of that steed?
Almost everyone has had the experience of trying to quit a bad habit -- smoking, drinking and the like -- or trying to lose weight. We begin with a great burst of enthusiasm, but eventually stress overwhelms us into what I call the "Aw, the hell with it" moment when we backslide, and then we feel really bad about ourselves, and that low feeling saps our energy even further, to the point where we just don't have the gumption to begin again. For a loooong time.
Years ago, I went to a training session for teacher's aides that was discussing addiction, and they said it was quite possible for an addict or alcoholic to "white knuckle" it for a period of time, but more than will power is needed for long-term success -- they need to understand their addiction, its roots, the stressors that trigger it, etc.
In spiritual transformation, we aren't giving up a pleasure, we are seeking one -- we want to feel the presence of God in our lives. We are seeking paradise, as it were. But it's not easy -- if one message comes through loud and clear through the scriptures of the world is that the spiritual path is not easy. ("Narrow is the way, and strait the gate.") Except for the times when it is. ("My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.') Baha'u'llah says the same thing -- on the one hand he'll tell us that without effort we have attained the goal while those pious folks who have spent their whole lives searching have missed out, then on the other tell us a true believer is non-existent and lay out conditions for a true seeker that only a bona fide saint could live up to.
Trying to live up to the conditions demanded of us by our faith can bring us to a point of despair. If I remember my religious history, that's part of the reason Luther tossed out the notion that human effort had anything to do with salvation, and came up with his "faith alone" (sola fide) doctrine. That is, he was white-knuckling his spiritual life.
I don't think we can get very far with a grim determination to do "better" -- certainly not to be perfect. I think part of spiritual development is the ability to look honestly at our weaknesses, trying to understand the causes, and at times, admitting to ourselves that we aren't really all that ready to do anything about them. Admitting that we need God's help.
What I think is important is consistency and commitment. We need to have some "God time" every day. I don't think it matters especially what particular technique is used -- and there are a myriad ways of prayer and meditation to choose from. And whatever we choose, there are going to be days when we are rushed and forget, or we just plain aren't "into" it. (I find prayer is better than meditation on those days.) But we keep plugging away at it anyway. I'm a spiritual plodder -- I do it even on days when I don't think it's doing any good. Sometimes, my commitment to the quest is all I have to offer -- or one might even use the term "obedience". I'm there saying my noonday prayer because Baha'u'llah says to do it, which is one reason I can dredge up even if I can't think of any other reason.
So, why do it if you aren't feeling spiritual and maybe you aren't all that sure what you believe anyway? You're waiting. Big, dramatic, on-the-road-to-Damascus moments are few and far between. You wait for God. That's what my "God time" is; I'm just there waiting, faithful to the idea that if I keep showing up, so will He, eventually.
And I have found that, slowly, subtlely, changes begin to happen. Those "not into it" days are fewer, you start getting a handle on your weaknesses, days when you are doing better. Not a complete turnaround, just a little better -- then, a little better, then a slip, then back on track, and so on. Help comes to you eventually, and it really becomes easy, and something you wouldn't want to be without. Baha'u'llah tells us that even if the seeker should continue for a hundred thousand years and still find no trace, he shouldn't be discouraged. This isn't an achievement, trying to get a certain result or reward. It's waiting.
The steed of the Valley of Search is Patience.