There are several metaphors for the project that is the spiritual life. The two most common variations are, I think, the path and the unfolding of the plant.There are limitations to both of these.
The metaphor of the path likens the spiritual quest to a journey; one sets out on the path and sooner or later one arrives at the goal. This metaphor is good for clearly defining the goal, the path, and the various stages on the path leading up to the goal. The problem with it is that it's easy to overlook the fact that the traveller is constantly undergoing transformation, and that the person who initially set out on the path will not be the same as the person arriving at the goal.
The metaphor of the unfolding plant, or growth, corrects for the missing transformation in the path metaphor, but suffers from not having a well defined goal and even less defined stages. One could argue back and forth between these, but ultimately they are complementary. In fact, both are "true".
However, I'm not interested in writing about this right now. A few weeks ago, on a Thursday evening, a friend of mine was giving an informal talk on the topic of the Spiral Path, a progressive path of positive states of being that spirals out of the twelve links of conditioned existence depicted in the outer ring of the Wheel of Life.
The Spiral Path starts of between the links of Feeling and Craving, a place in the twelve links sometimes referred to as "the gap". This is the only place in the cyclic round of conditioned existence where we have the opportunity to change our habitual response to our experience. With the manifestation of Feeling (which is the hedonic tone, the immediate positive/negative/neutral response not affected by cognition, that arises on Contact, the preceding link), we habitually respond with Craving. Craving in this sense covers both attraction and aversion, so we respond habitually by either moving away from or towards whatever caused the contact (or whatever we associate with the contact).
Habits, though, may be changed, and with awareness we may be able to recognise the futility of the habitual reaction and to avoid going around the endless wheel of re-becoming. This is the start of the Spiral Path.
This train of thought continues in another article which I'll write another time, and then I'll connect it with the title of this two-part article series.