“The man who lives in true obedience and in the moral virtues, according to the commandments of God, and besides this practices the inward virtues according to the teaching and stirring of the Holy Ghost, who is just in deed and in word, … and thanks God for everything, and offers himself up with humble resignation; he has received the first coming of Christ according to the way of inward exercise. And he has gone out from himself in the inward life, and has adorned with rich virtues and gifts his quickened heart and the unity of his body and senses. When such a man has been altogether purified, … he can be inwardly enlightened, if God deems that the time is fit, and he craves it. … Such a man,however, must afterwards pass through those degrees and ways of the outward and the inward life.” ~John of Ruysbroeck
A Spiritual Life
Ruysbroeck tells us that we don’t become spiritual simply by declaring it any more than we can become a doctor by declaring it. We have to work at it and essentially make it our life. It is necessary to practice virtues and morals. We also have to perform spiritual awakening and growth techniques regularly. That means that if we are asked to go see a movie, but if we do so we will miss the time for our spiritual practices, we will skip the movie and do our practices. If the weather is cold, we won’t hide indoors but go out and do our sunrise practices anyway. In short, spiritual growth must be our number one priority if we are to succeed. This is not because God is jealous and demanding—He isn’t. It is because we live in a fallen world of matter where there are many distractions that can pull us away from the spiritual life if given opportunity to do so.
Out from Self with Inward Exercise
There are many who will tell you that a spiritual life is all about turning inward and ignoring everything outside of yourself. If that is true, then we must consider Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, St. Francis, and many others as spiritual failures. Yes, they all looked within. But they also looked without, primarily toward the spiritual sun. A spiritual life is about becoming one with the all. We can’t do that if we only look within ourselves. To become one with the All, we must look both within and without.
Purified and Enlightened
Ruysbroeck says when we have been “altogether purified,” we can become enlightened. But what does he consider to be “purified”? It means a person who is free of attachments to material things. A purified person still has an ego (we need one!), but it is under the control of the soul which knows truth.
The good news is we can have a spiritual life and become enlightened without being totally pure. Becoming purified is a long-term process. As we slowly become purified, we become more and more enlightened. It is a journey, not just a matter of flipping a switch and declaring that we are enlightened. The spiritual life starts with awakening our spiritual faculties. Afterwards, they must be developed and refined, usually for years, before we become truly enlightened and achieve Gnosis.