When we plant a young tree sapling, we need to protect it from the various dangers to its safe survival. One danger is the lack of water. We need to see that it is watered frequently, until it is able to establish its roots deeply into the earth, insuring for itself a steady supply of water, regardless of external conditions.
In the same way we need to protect our newborn spiritual self from drying up because of a lack of spiritual sustenance. We can do this by keeping company with spiritually oriented persons through seminars and group gatherings for such purposes. We can also water our inner spiritual sapling through daily prayer, meditation and reading of spiritual texts.
Another danger is that passing goats might eat it. Thus we must erect a temporary fence around the sapling, preventing the goats from eating its tender leaves and shoots.
Eventually, however, when the tree has grown larger and its leaves have risen above the level which the goats can reach, we can remove the fence without fear of there being any harm to the tree.
Now the tree is not only no longer vulnerable, but it can offer protection to the goats from the hot sun or the rain or snow. The goats now benefit from the tree.
In the same way we must, in the beginning of our spiritual growth process, protect ourselves from company and contacts with people who are not spiritually oriented, so that we can have the opportunity to develop our inner faith and discipline. (This does not include, of course, our immediate family, whom we have incarnated to serve and love. Nor does it include people who need our help. It does include superficial social and professional contacts).
By avoiding those who are negative towards spiritual values, and keeping company with those who embrace those values, we gradually strengthen our spiritual sapling into a full-grown tree, which no longer needs any such protection.
Now, we can have contact with all types of negative influences without loosing our center. Now, like the large tree, we can offer comfort, love and wisdom even to those who previously would have caused us to loose our spiritual center.
We need to determine whether we are saplings or trees and act accordingly.