People who find out I meditate often have two reactions: one is to acknowledge that I seem to be a grounded, calm person while assuming it must be the meditation that contributes to that, and the other is to tell me that for someone who meditates, I'm not very spiritual (especially if I get emotional or, god forbid, I tell them I eat meat). Luckily for my ego's sake, the latter reaction isn't too common, but it is still challenging to encounter those who have a fixed idea of what a "spiritual" person should be like. We live in a culture that thrives on a corporate projection and commoditization of humanity, which forms the baseline for our unconscious judgements of each other. In a capitalist society, we must be aware that the majority of media we take in, whether it's in the form of social media platforms, print advertising, or TV, is intended to foster consummerist behavior that can paradoxically even seem anti-capitalist in nature. The New Age spiritual community is not immune from this: there is a constant sharing of lifestyle, philosophy and product that often conforms to a predetermined idea of external spirituality. But another's external life is not the measure of the spiritual path, because what we perceive about others (which by definition is external) is always a projection of our own understanding. What then is the indicator of spiritual progression?
First, we must never try to answer this for another person. The question is not relevant unless we seek to answer it for ourselves. We do this by turning inward to our own experience of our thoughts and emotions, especially as they pertain to triggers. The way we react to triggering events and how frequently we react is not necessarily something we can control. It is the result of our prior conditioning. Merely being human means that we have been exposed to layers upon layers of conditioning from other people's fears and beliefs. We internalize this as children, forming a framework for the rest of our lives and we may never come to know the full extent to which this affects us. The conditioning process is part of our animal natures and exists for our basic survival as a species. It's not meant for our well-being, happiness, or fulfillment. Once we acknowledge and accept this, we can move on to developing spiritual resilience, which does offer us a chance at joy and fulfillment... but only once we are aware of our internal conditioning.
Resilience to me is the long-term effect of a meditation practice that allows for the space for emotional reactivity to occur with as little identification as possible. Resilience is cultivated over time and often does have external, visible changes as someone becomes better equipped to deal with challenging emotions. It's like an optimally functioning immune system that wards off most infections so that symptoms are never even physically registered. You may have been exposed to a pathogen, but your body is so efficient at detecting and containing it, you never get sick. Resilience is a state that develops naturally over time.
How resilience develops, though, is through recovery to emotional triggers. Recovery is a short-term process, much like the rising of body temperature or muscle aches in response to a virus that lasts for a day, but doesn't progress into a full-blown cold or flu. It is a quick rebounding after a disturbance to a baseline state of consciousness, one that is characterized by the recognition of one's own conditioning that created the context for the trigger, reframing of the trigger within a new awareness, and lack of immediate action as the turbulent emotion is being experienced. Recovery is very similar to the mind returning to the breath after being distracted in meditation. The goal is not to have the mind not wander, but to return. Recovery is an emotional, psychological and spiritual return to a conscious baseline in the present moment.
Understanding recovery and resilience in this way turns our emotional triggers into a meditation exercise. We get the opportunity to transfer the skills we acquire with a formal sitting practice, something as simple as returning to the breath, to our emotional reactions in difficult situations. This is the benefit that spiritual development offers us and it's not something anyone else can judge about us. No one else knows what we are experiencing internally, just as no one knows what occurs in our minds if they were to see us sit and meditate. Over time we will likely become more grounded and less reactive, but this doesn't translate to being a serene and calm individual. It doesn't mean that we start doing yoga, become vegans, or start wearing mala beads. Recovery and resilience means we stop judging ourselves and others. It means that we don't require spirituality to look like any one thing; in fact, we may become loud and angry at injustice rather than quiet and gentle. We will be more authentic to our experience, and thus possibly judged as horribly flawed individuals by those who are yet unaware of their own conditioning.
The New Age spiritual community, as of yet, appears to be identified with a certain image that will hold it back if it doesn't recognize that the very images associated with "spirituality" are curated by a western, corporate, capitalistic society. Fixed ideas must inevitably give way to internal exploration, and internal exploration is the only way to remove the dense layers of conditioning imposed upon us. This is not an easy process - it will bring up emotional discomfort but if we can remember that through recovery we develop resilience, and that resilience is a state of conscious being, we may yet have hope.