If you have ever gone walking in hills and mountains you have probably come across false mountain tops. You are walking along happily, and the summit is in sight. You feel you are doing very well, people have told you that this is a two hour climb, yet you are almost there after a little more than an hour and a quarter. You push on at a brisk pace, realizing that before long you will reach the top, then it will be easier going.
Just as you almost reach the top, you see that it isn’t the top at all. It is just a ridge, or the slope of the hill flattens out slightly. The actual peak is still a considerable distance off. You look at your map and realise that you should have seen this coming. You are actually not even half way up. Rather than doing well you realise that you are slower than most people. You are probably feeling rather tired, disappointed, disheartened and rather silly. At this point some people would give up, I have been in a group where it has happened. Having thought a point was the top they reach it and feel they can go no further. When I was an inexperienced walker I used to reach these points, sit down in exhaustion, look at the map and try to work out where I really am and where I need to head, and when ready and rested continue. When I was a teenager I remember doing this three times on one mountain, each time convinced that I had reached the summit!
As a more experienced walker I can often see potential false-tops from contour lines on the map. If I am nearing what appears to be a summit I am prepared for it not to be, and continue at a steady pace.
The same thing can happen to us in spiritual progress. We can think we are doing very well, only to realise that we are are not doing nearly as well as we thought. This has happened to me recently, and made me realise that I am not nearly as experienced spiritually as I am as a fell walker!
As part of my spiritual practice, at night I do japa, meditative and mindful repetition of “aum namah Shivaya”, adoration to Shiva. After this I meditate, contemplate my actions of the day and finish with the Gayatri Mantra. I was contemplating my actions for the day, thinking that I had done rather well. One of the actions I had done was putting some posts on a forum explaining my beliefs and countering arguments from other posters.
I looked at Shiva, thinking that this was a good service, when the thought came back at me “No it wasn’t. This could have been service to me, but it was service to your ego”. The truth of this hit me, but this was not all “You did not explain and discuss with love, you ridiculed others when finding fault in their arguments. Where others were already pouring scorn on someone you joined in, seeking approval for how cleverly you turned his words against him”. I know that all this is true. I have been kidding myself for a while that I have been doing service, dedicating my work to God when in a large part it has just been for my ego.
So now I have to do like the inexperienced walker, take stock of where I am, pray, look at the scriptures and then set forward again. I have enough experience to know that I will probably have other false tops ahead. Maybe I will see them from the map (scriptures). In any case I hope that in future I can keep up steady progress and an even pace and just continue.