There are many requirements for Spiritual growth. Some are as individual as those who require them. There are some that are more or less universal. Among these last are an open mind and a desire to be better than you feel you are at present. First, we will look at the open mind.
There was a big, dumb, macho guy doing the U.S. Marines Paratroop course. His class had done all their theory and their tower drops and were up for their first live jump from a plane. The sergeant instructor had briefed them before they got to the drop zone. He asked, "Any questions?" The macho guy said, "Yes, Sarge, what if my 'chute doesn't work?" The Sarge looked at him for a moment, then replied, "That's what that red handle on your chest is for. If your main 'chute doesn't work, you pull that red handle. It jettisons your main 'chute and opens your reserve 'chute in the pack on your chest. Okay?"
The macho guy looked thoughtful for a moment, then asked, "Sarge, what if my reserve 'chute doesn't work either?" The Sarge looked toward the heavens for a second, then replied, "I don't know because it has never happened to me and nobody that I know who has had it happen has ever been able to tell about it, but I believe the best thing to do is to pray and the best person to pray to is Allah. Okay?" The macho guy thought for a moment, then said, "Yeah, thanks Sarge," and with that, they all jumped.
Lo and behold, every 'chute worked perfectly except that of our hero, the macho guy. His 'chute tangled and flapped uselessly above him. He thought, "Uh, Oh. What was it the Sarge said? Pull the red handle." So he pulled the red handle and, just as the Sarge had said, it jettisoned the main 'chute and opened his reserve 'chute.
Unfortunately, the reserve 'chute was not fixed to his harness and floated away above him. The macho guy was falling faster and faster and running out of time and sky. He said, "What did the Sarge say about this? Pray. That's it. Pray to Allah." With that, he clasped his hands together and prayed. "Allah, please help me. I need your help in the worst possible way. Allah, Please help me NOW?"
Suddenly, a big, black hand reached out of a passing cloud, grabbed him, and put him down gently on the ground. Our hero shook himself, then went, "Phew. Thank God for that." And a big black foot came down from the same cloud and went, STOMP!!!!!!!
Now this story is not intended to be racist, discriminatory or derogatory in any way. It is intended to illustrate two points. The first is, Give credit where credit is due. (Including to yourself.) The second point is, The mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work unless it's open.
A baby explores its world with no preconceived notions of right or wrong and few if any expectations of what it will find. It takes with it on all its explorations, a sense of wonder, an absorbing interest in all that it finds. Every item discovered is examined closely -- usually to see if it is fit to eat -- and the information filed away for future reference. There is no judgement of right or wrong, good or bad other than perhaps 'good to eat' or 'yuck'.
Pain or pleasure are the only other criteria by which a baby assesses whether or not it wants to have anything to do with a particular object or situation again. The greatest advantage of this approach to life is that is uncomplicated and causes little if any emotional upset. Is there a message in there somewhere?
Next we come to wanting to be better than we feel we are at the moment. For most of us, there is usually some element of doubt in the back of our mind, the thought that we could be better than we perceive ourselves to be - - - - and this is ALWAYS right.
If we were as good as it is possible to get on this Physical Plane, what would be the point of continuing to be here unless it is to help others attain the same goal? So, I guess most of us still have a bit to learn yet.
But, it is also true that most of us are actually better than we give ourselves credit for being. It is a human foible that we tend to look more at our perceived faults than at what we consider to be our good points.
Most of us are our own harshest critics. This could be because everybody else is too busy being their own harshest critic. Apart from a few 'FIG JAM' types (F--k, I-'m G-ood. J-ust A-sk M-e.), most of us do not give ourselves all the credit we deserve for all the things we are and can do. In point of fact, the FIG JAM types mentioned above are often even less able to give themselves this credit, but manage to put up a good front to cover it. There are also those who talk up a storm and can't/won't deliver the goods.
Regardless of which of these profiles you fit into -- if you do fit one of them -- the stumbling block is most often our concerns about what others might think of us. These concerns affect our perception of ourselves - our self-esteem - which in turn affects our thoughts about how others see us, which in turn----.Which brings us back to the first point of the story told above -- Give credit where credit is due, including to yourself.
There is a program that I suggest to people who want to improve their image of themselves. It involves taking a sheet of paper, drawing a line down the middle, writing 'Faults' on one side and 'Good points' on the other and listing what you see as your good points and your faults. This requires scrupulous honesty but also an elemnent of charity, of giving yourself the benefit of any doubt. If you think you may have a good point but you aren't sure, list it until/unless you find you don't have it. If you think you may have a fault but aren't sure, don't list it unless/until you find for sure that you do have it. On the good points side, you would list such things as work skills and ethics, love of family, friends and people in general, love of nature, artistic talents and abilities, social skills, sporting skills, good exercise habits, good eating and other good health habits, charitable and volunteer work, listening to or helping other people and any other habits or abilities that might help to make this world a better place in which to live.
It is not necessary or even advisable to to try to write out your list at one sitting. Take your time and carefully consider each point before listing it as a fault or a good point. This is basically a stocktake of your character and personality. I have not spoken to anybody yet who has done this stocktake honestly and truthfully who did not find that their list of good points far exceeded their faults. Many people are pleasantly surprised, even shocked, to find just how many good points they really do have that they had never given themselves credit for.
The next step, if you wish to take it, is to pick what you consider to be your worst fault and begin to analyse it. First ask yourself if this fault is really as bad as you think it is. Is it a behaviour that you initiate yourself or is it something that you do in response to others actions or words? The more you learn about this fault, the easier it will be to deal with. And, most importantly, try not to hate either the fault itself or yourself for having it. Learn to love it as a part of you that has valuable lessons for you to learn. As part of this learning about your fault, try to become more aware of when you start to do it and start stopping yourself as soon as you become aware of it. As time goes on and you become more aware of this fault, you will find that you are able to stop it earlier and earlier. Eventually, you will be able to stop before you actually start it. At this stage, you may not have the fault completely beaten, but you do have a great degree of control over it. A little more work and continued vigilance will remove it completely. Be patient. You didn't acquire these faults overnight.
It is a good idea while you are doing this work on your chosen fault to also work at improving one or more of your good points. By concentrating only on your faults (The negative aspect of yourself.) and ignoring your good points ( The positive aspect.), it is possible to end up feeling even less happy about yourself than you did at the start. Working at improving some good points while you are removing some of your faults brings in a balance and helps to stop this lowering of your self-esteem.
All this work needs to be done along lines that you yourself have chosen. It needs to be done as you want it to be, not how others tell you it ought to be and definitely not as you THINK others might reckon it should be done. If you are going to have to live with the end result, it will help if you are happy with it. It also helps to be able to give yourself credit for work well done if you actually DID the work yourself. This is not to say that feedback, input and suggestions from others ought not to be listened to, but any decisions need to be your own. For this to work for the best, you need to make choices based on what you want the end result to be and who knows better than you what you want to be like when all the hard work is done. Only the 'Boss'.
Give yourself space and time to grow to be the person you want to be. Be patient with yourself. Treasure each small step and victory along the way. Each is a step closer to being the person you choose to be. Love yourself, either in spite of your faults or because of them. It will make it easier for others to love you.
Remember, you are not a flawed human being but rather a perfect creation of God seeking to KNOW that perfecton.
Look for the good in others rather than their faults. Seeing the good in others will help you to see the good in yourself. Positive thinking may not be as infectious as measles or flu, but other people have been known to catch it from a positive thinker. Many people tend to rise to the expectations or opinions of those around them.
The saying, "Give a dog a bad name," also works in reverse. It is amazing what can sometimes be achieved with just a little positive re-inforcement. Each person who lifts their game due to something you said or did is one more step up the ladder for ALL of humanity. There may still be a lot of steps to be taken, but the sooner more people are taking those steps, the quicker we will all get there.
May you have the space you need to grow as you would wish. If you want young trees to grow straight, tall and narrow, you plant them close together. If you want them to branch out to provide plenty of shade and shelter and have strong roots, you plant them further apart.
May your journey of self-discovery and undersanding be an interesting one.