Searching for a Path

My spiritual journey began at a young age in a landscape of rules, dogmas, and doctrines. As a sacred rebel, I struggled with my religious upbringing, and frequently challenged its mandates. I can hear the teenage mantra provided to the youth of my tradition, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go out with girls that do.” I ignored all those directives, other than the one about going out with girls. Although, I did go out with a few guys that didn’t follow the first three decrees.

From a spiritual perspective, even at a young age, I felt like something was absent. So much so that I rejected spirituality entirely for a short time. The religion of my childhood was primarily focused on salvation—a salvation paradoxically needed from the very deity that offered it. For me, religion was like a doctor threatening to inject me with an awful disease only to sell me the cure every Sunday.

The faith of my upbringing spoke of freedom, yet it was hemmed in by a myriad of rules and regulations. Among these, the commandment: “thou shall not be queer,” was pronounced only after I had already burned the closet down.

Encountering the Mystics

However, at the age of 19, I had a near death experience, which once again sparked a curiosity about spirituality. This led me to explore the mystics from my parent’s religion—Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Madame Gene Guyon, Brother Lawrence, Frances Fenelon, and others—whose writings and histories spoke of a direct, experiential encounter with the divine. Their focus on spirituality being a lived experience, rather than adherence to an authorized, inherited or transmitted religious system, resonated with me.

I was not too interested in the theology of the mystics, in fact, I rarely adopted their antiquated beliefs. Instead, I was intrigued by their spiritual journey. These mystics were on a path informed by personal experience and deep inner transformation. A path that often put them at odds with the religious authorities of their time. These were the sacred rebels of their day.

Lighthouse shining in the dark


Encountering the Four Paths of Yoga

Along with studying the mystics, I was also intrigued with world religions. It was in the rich spiritual tradition of Sanātana Dharma that I found the “four paths of yoga.” Sanātana Dharma is the religion often referred to as Hinduism. Hinduism was the name given to Sanātana Dharma by the European colonizers and was a geographical reference related to the Indus Valley. Sanātana Dharma is a Sanskrit word which can be translated as “the eternal natural order.” Sanātana meaning “eternal, ageless, or timeless” and Dharma meaning “duty, righteousness, law, or divine order.”

As I learned about Sanātana Dharma, I was introduced to a framework for understanding paths to the divine. The four paths of yoga—Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, and Raja—offered distinct and clear approaches to spiritual realization. As I learned about these paths, I recognized distinct parallels between the writings of the mystics of my own tradition and these clear spiritual paths.

These “paths” are referred to as yoga. Westerners often think of yoga as a form of exercise, like aerobics, however, the word yoga means “to yoke” or “union.” It is used in the Upanishads to describe the “connection to” and “following of” a spiritual path.

Statue of Lord Rama, one of Vishnu's avatars


Bhakti Yoga: The Path of Devotion

Bhakti Yoga is the path dedicated to the expression of love and devotion toward the Divine. It is characterized by its heart-centered approach, where practitioners engage in various forms of spiritual practice such as prayer, singing, chanting, and ritual worship. Bhakti Yoga is about cultivating a second-person emotional relationship with the divine, often personified in the form of a deity. This is a path of loving devotion. This path teaches that through devotion, one can dissolve the ego, transcend the self, and realize unity with the divine. Bhakti is accessible to anyone regardless of spiritual knowledge or skill, as it primarily values a relational experience with divinity.

Jnana Yoga: The Path of Knowledge

Jnana Yoga is the intellectual route to spiritual liberation, emphasizing the pursuit of truth and the discernment of reality from illusion. This path involves rigorous inquiry into the nature of the self (Atman) and its unity with the universal spirit (Brahman). Practitioners of Jnana Yoga engage in the study of sacred texts, meditation, and contemplative practices to achieve direct realization of the ultimate truth. It is considered a challenging path, requiring deep introspection and the ability to question one’s own beliefs and perceptions. Jnana Yoga culminates in the knowledge that the individual soul and the universal spirit are one, leading to liberation.


Stones stacked on top of each other with roses and the word "Karma" written on one fo the stones.


Karma Yoga: The Path of Selfless Action

Karma Yoga is the path of action performed without attachment to outcomes or personal gain. It teaches that one can attain spiritual liberation by engaging in one’s duties with dedication and selflessness, offering the fruits of all actions to the divine. This approach transforms mundane activities into spiritual practice, emphasizing the importance of intention and the attitude with which actions are performed. Karma Yoga is a way to purify the heart and mind, reduce egoic influence, and cultivate a spirit of detachment and altruism. It is particularly relevant in the context of daily life, as it applies to work, family, and social responsibilities.

Raja Yoga: The Path of Meditation

Raja Yoga is often called the “royal path” to spiritual liberation, emphasizing mastery over the mind through meditation. It’s a holistic approach that combines physical, mental, and spiritual practices to achieve inner peace and enlightenment. Think of Raja Yoga as a journey inward, where the ultimate destination is a state of deep meditation and unity with the divine.

Raja Yoga offers a methodical approach to developing control over the restless mind, guiding you towards serenity and enlightenment through the practice of meditation. It’s a journey of self-discovery, inviting you to explore the depths of your being and connect with the profound tranquility that lies within.

The core of Raja Yoga is the practice of meditation, which helps calm the mind, reduce distractions, and focus your mental energy. This inner tranquility allows you to connect more deeply with your true self and, ultimately, experience a profound sense of oneness with everything.

While Raja Yoga includes a series of steps or “limbs” that guide practitioners on this journey, at its core, Raja Yoga is about learning to quiet the mind and find stillness within. It’s a path suited for those who are drawn to introspection and meditation, offering tools to help manage thoughts and emotions, leading to greater clarity, self-awareness, and inner peace.



A person meditating while sitting in the sand with their hand on their heart.


Salvation Theology and Realization Theology

As I learned more about these specific paths, I began to realize that my experience in Western spirituality often focused on believing the “right things” over following a specific path. The core of religious experience within many Western traditions is “salvation theology” in which some outside force saves the believer. Whereas the core for Sanātana Dharma is “realization theology” in which we realize our spiritual potential.

One aspect of salvation theology that I found particularly challenging was its tendency to emphasize being correct in one’s beliefs. I recognized that even the most devout religious people in my parent’s religion had very different beliefs about that religion. As a natural born skeptic, the concept of embarking on a spiritual path resonates more deeply with me than the necessity to adhere to specific doctrines. However, the mystics within that tradition clearly exemplified being on a spiritual path. Jesus himself said, “follow me,” indicating that there is indeed a direction to pursue.

Expressions of Divine Love

Before realizing we’re journeying on a spiritual path, it’s crucial to acknowledge our inherent worth. At Folx with Faith, we often affirm, “we are expressions of divine love.” Recognizing this innate goodness is vital. We don’t need to become perfect; we are already perfect. We are perfect expressions of our inner state of consciousness. While we can advance and transform, it’s not about “improving” in a conventional sense but rather about evolving—a natural, ongoing process. The first step on any spiritual path is recognizing that every step is holy.

I sometimes hear people talk about Jesus as the perfect model for our spiritual perfection, and that may be true. However, I think this can cause what I call “Jesus Christ Superstar Syndrome,” causing a person to set unachievable or unattainable goals. When we understand that we are on a path, we can simply start walking it with intention. Not to become better than we already are, that’s not the path. Not even to become more like Jesus, although that is a reasonable outcome. The path is a path of realization of who we really are. A spiritual path allows us to become more ourselves. My path leading me to become more James and your path leading you to become more you.

A person hugging themselves.


Christian Mystics and the Four Paths



“Make me an instrument of your peace.”
~ From “The Prayer of St. Francis” inspired by the writings of Francis of Assisi.

Francis of Assisi and Bhakti Yoga

The mystics exemplified the four paths of yoga in their lives. Francis of Assisi’s life is a testament to Bhakti Yoga’s essence, characterized by his profound love for God and all of creation. The prayer, “Make me an instrument of your peace,” inspired by Francis’ writings, reflects the Bhakti path’s emphasis on love, compassion, and seeing the divine in every creature. St. Francis’s approach to spirituality was not just about reverence but about embodying divine love in every action and interaction, much like the Bhakti practice of seeing and serving the divine in all.

Thomas Aquinas and Jnana Yoga

Thomas Aquinas exemplified Jnana Yoga through his intellectual pursuit of divine knowledge. His seminal work, “Summa Theologica,” represents a profound engagement with the nature of God and reality, akin to the Jnana practice of using reason and contemplation to understand the divine. Aquinas’s assertion, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible,” underscores the Jnana principle that ultimate knowledge comes from direct realization and transcends intellectual understanding alone.



“Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”
~ Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila and Karma Yoga

Teresa of Avila’s reformative efforts within the Carmelite Order showcase the principles of Karma Yoga. She dedicated her life to serving her community, driven by a deep love for God rather than personal ambition. Her writings, particularly “The Interior Castle,” explore the soul’s journey towards divine union, achieved not only through contemplation but through active service. St. Teresa’s statement, “Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world,” reflects the Karma Yoga ethos of seeing one’s actions as an extension of divine will.

St. John of the Cross and Raja Yoga

John of the Cross’s mystical experiences and writings, especially “The Dark Night of the Soul,” align closely with the practices and goals of Raja Yoga. His descriptions of the soul’s union with God through deep, contemplative prayer mirror the meditative absorption sought in Raja Yoga. St. John’s poetry, filled with imagery of the soul’s journey through darkness to divine light, reflects the Raja Yoga principle that through meditation and inner purification, one can transcend the ego and experience spiritual awakening.


“Strive to preserve your heart in peace; let no event of this world disturb it.”
~ John of the Cross

Queer Mysticism

For queer individuals, the ideas within realization theology and the four paths of yoga can be a useful framework that affirms the diversity of spiritual experiences. This inclusivity is especially meaningful in the context of queer spirituality and queer theology, which often seeks to transcend rigid categories and embrace a more holistic understanding of personal identity and the sacred.

In my experience, accepting that I am on a path and taking steps forward on that path has been a liberating experience. It was also powerful to find clear parallels between the paths within Sanātana Dharma and the spiritual experiences of historical figures within the religious tradition of my youth.

Your Unique Path

What about you? Do you find the concept of spiritual paths helpful? Does it enhance your relationship with your own religious history or current spiritual practices?

As we traverse these paths, let’s celebrate the richness of our spiritual heritage, honor the wisdom of traditions both ancient and evolving, and embrace the diverse ways in which the human family has explored truth. In doing so, we find not just a path to the divine but a path to our most authentic selves.

In the diversity of spiritual paths, there is a profound unity—a shared quest for meaning, connection, and liberation. Whether you identify with a specific tradition or find yourself wandering the rich landscape of exploration, you can trust that your journey is valid, sacred, and uniquely your own.

May your journey be filled with light, love, and the courage to follow the path that calls you home.

A cobblestone path in the woods leading to a lighted clearing.


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There are plenty of “path” oriented spiritual communities. Here is a short list of queer affirming communities focused more on the “Sanātana Dharma” perspective of realization theology rather than the traditional Western salvation theology model.

  • “The New Big Book of Christian Mysticism: An Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality Paperback” by Carl McColman
  • “God’s Beloved Queer: Identity, Spirituality, and Practice” by Rolf R Jr. Nolasco
  • “Is Your God Big Enough? Close Enough? You Enough?: Jesus and the Three Faces of God” by Rev. Paul Smith
  • “The Four Paths of Yoga: Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga” by Swami Vivekananda

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