My entire life has been a spiritual journey. I've made a lot of mistakes, and taken a lot of dead ends paths along the way. I've been an idiot and looked foolish. But, I've learned.
(As the song says, ♪ ♪ ♪ "I promise you I will learn from my mistakes."♪ ♪ ♪ )
Here's what I think I've learned:
1 - Dogma doesn't matter. Speculation about heaven and hell and nirvana and reincarnation and immortality are born of our animal nature, which wants to categorize, organize, and predict.
2 - Guilt is not useful. Again, it's born of our animal, social nature. Wanna see guilt? Look at a dog that got caught tearing up the trash. Guilt does not bring us to the divine, excepting in those rare conditions where it inspires actual change. (I've seen this almost never)
3 - Judgement, of ourselves or others, is counter-productive. It creates separation where there should be oneness. Someone worse than me? Someone better than me? Separation. I'm not what I should be? Unrealistic and destructive.
The only practical path forward involves a regular practice, patience, and tolerance (for ourselves and others).
No one would expect to walk into a gym, pick up a dumb bell, put it back down, and look like Arnold in his prime. And yet the church I grew up in told us that we would kneel at an alter, say a prayer, and walk away *CHANGE-DAH*. No. It's great for making you want-to-want-to, but not for effecting real, internal change.
A regular practice is essential. You hit the gym every day. You grow and change. You learn. Your practice becomes more elaborate and effective, and your body and mind more conditioned to accept it.
The spiritual practice is the same. It must be done every day. It must be focused. If you're a Christian, read your bible and pray. If you're a Buddhist, read Holy Sutra, recite and meditate. If you're Taoist, do your standing meditation, your sitting meditation, your taiji forms, and read each day from the Taoist cannon.
They're all working on the same pathways. They're all working on the same intellect. They're all working on the same emotions and with the same ego. They're all working for the same goals.
What is important is this: DO. YOUR. PRACTICE. TODAY!!!
As stated, you will rarely see great change overnight. The changes come slowly, over time, with regular practice. At some point, you will find that it's not that you want-to-want-to be generous, but you are generous. It's not that you want-to-want-to be kind, but you are kind. It's not that you want-to-want-to avoid harming others, you are just all about not harming others.
To get there, though, requires patience because ...
... it's not going to happen overnight, and you're going to have to put up with a lot of failures along the way.
But, over time, you begin to find that your vision is more clear, your emotions are more in check, your generosity has increased, your genuine sense of affection for your fellows is vastly improved, you're not as growly, you're more at peace with life's difficulties, challenges, and changes, and you're more tolerant of the foibles of others.
This is the spiritual path.