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Return To The Sacred: Ancient Pathways To Spiritual Awakening

by Jonathan H. Ellerby, Ph.D.,
2009

reviewed by Elliot Robertson

 “The only thing that defines the worth of your spiritual practice is whether or not it works for you,” Jonathan Ellerby asserts in Return To The Sacred.

In this book Ellerby describes twelve Master Paths, or roads to awakening and the liberation of heart, mind and spirit.
 
Ellerby groups these twelve paths into four categories: body-centered practices such as sacred movement; mind-centered practices including meditation; heart-centered practices such as sacred service; and soul-centered practices, which include ascetic practice, the death practice, and the life practice.

He discusses not only the rewards each of the paths offer but also the traps we might encounter. When exploring the path of prayer, for example, he makes a note of the pitfall of allowing “the ego and its desire to control and avoid situations” to hold sway when we pray such that we spend our time asking God to bow down to our enthroned ego rather than seeking to serve and surrender to The Sacred.

Ellerby approaches spirituality from an experiential, mystical vantage point. You “can’t really understand [spirituality] until you experience it,” he writes. “To study spiritual truth may feel good and affirming, but it doesn’t always create lasting change. To experience spiritual truth is to experience the convergence of thought, feeling, and sensation in a transformative way.”  In this discussion he creates a space for us to reflect upon our commitment to awakening:  is it a “deeply personal, intentional and invested process” or if it is just a hobby or a sideshow in our lives?

“No path is wrong; no path is right,” he tells us. It is our motivation behind the path we take that can tarnish our journey. We are asked to consider if our spiritual practice is feeding our egos; we are also asked to notice if our practice is keeping us in a rut, stuck in a position or a bias. We can never be humble enough!

Our mindset is at least as important as the path we choose: without “an open mind and heart, without a sincere desire to learn, grow and discover, any spiritual practice can become a barrier to growth,” he councils.

(Unfortunately, the topic of openness and sincerity is given very little elaboration beyond these quick cautionary remarks. A few more words about our tendency to live our lives keeping our God too small; a more studied examination of the strong unconscious force within us keeping the Divine at bay, refusing to see God in our flesh or to acknowledge that we are in this moment standing on Sacred ground; an invitation to consider how we might be attached to believing we are separate from God, regardless of what our dogma may be on Sunday mornings, or to reflect on our fears of living in intimacy with The Sacred: any of these would have made for a welcome addition to this book.)

Ellerby’s understanding of our needs as humans relating to The Sacred is lucid and edifying. When examining the path of devotion, he shares from his personal experience: “The love and blessings I’ve received along my spiritual path elicit extraordinary gratitude, reverence and respect that I can only express in simple terms. I dialogue with The Sacred, I bow before The Sacred, and I offer my daily gratitude and affection for The Sacred—even though I know that The Ultimate Divine Power is beyond any “personality” that I may choose to address. I need the outlet as a vehicle to engage and express my heart in my relationship with God.”  (Once again, Ellerby creates a space for us to reflect on our own lives. His implicit question, “How do you express your heart in your relationship with God?” is one we can all take with us into our quite time of reflection.)

More than anything else, Return To The Sacred is a clarion call for choosing one or more Master Paths. “As you cultivate spiritual experiences through practice and intention, your inner vision will develop your heart will open, and your mind will release the illusions that breed fear and attachment,” he promises.

While the core of the book is devoted to describing the twelve paths he identifies as Master Paths and may not be of interest to you if you are satisfied with the path(s) you’ve adopted, the opening and closing chapters are a must read for novice and experienced practitioners alike.  In the chapters that frame the book, Ellerby reminds us of the difference between living life in an awakened state, aware of the Divine’s fingerprints all around us, and living in a state of sleep.

“If we live without a connection to The Source long enough, we’ll forget our true nature and find ourselves locked into a life of reaction and routine,” Ellerby alerts us. “We grow attracted to the illusions of control and remain vulnerable to the winds of change. In the absence of Spirit, we feel stagnant.”

This picture stands starkly in contrast to his depiction of the life lived in connection to The Source:  “Once you make a lasting commitment to one or more of the Master Paths, you’ll quickly find powerful changes within and around you. Connections, synchronicity, and intuition will come to your aid.”

We are all subject to getting caught up in the overwhelming issues of life to such an extent that we live as if we are nothing more than a body and that life consists of nothing more than protecting our body and our possessions and advancing our circumstances. Ellerby directs our perception back to The Sacred, reminding us that our body is nothing more than a home for our soul and our life nothing more than the in breath and out breath of God, a prism for Light to shine through.

The book is a delight to read in large measure because of the non-didactic, non-prescriptive tone Ellerby brings to his work. This tone, coupled with his commitment to giving us a taste of the fruits that await us when we say “Yes!” to placing our soul’s well-being at the center of our lives, make Return To The Sacred an enticing reading experience and a welcome springboard for reflection.