Nature knows no straight line, nor does our heart. The flow of life is never straight, nor our spiritual progress. Nature is all waves, circles, ellipses, curves and spirals – and so is our natural growth.
If we expect our spiritual progress or capacity in meditation to follow a straight line or constant gradient, we are bound for disappointment. No matter how regular and disciplined is our practise, its benefits will arrive in their own way and in their own time: sometimes we may progress in leaps and bounds, while at other times we seem to remain stagnant for lengthy periods, or worse, appear to be going backwards.
Spiritual Masters have likened spiritual progress to a spiral. If you imagine the thread of a screw and follow that thread from the base, it rises on one side of the screw, and falls on the other. Yet as it ascends, the height of the thread is always higher than it was on the previous time around: each high point is higher than the previous high, and – encouragingly – each low point is correspondingly higher than the previous low.
When viewing a low point in isolation, we may be disheartened to see the thread has fallen from its recent height: yet if we see it in context of the overall journey upward, we see that the low points are indispensable stages of the journey, for without them we could not reach ever-higher points. The only way to a new high is through the intervening low. The low and the high points of the rising thread cannot be separated: they are each integral to the operation which allows the thread to rise. Thus does a screw perform its task, and thus do we progress, inexorably toward our goal.