Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Is the Spiritual Path?

I feel like a part of my spiritual knowledge slate has been rubbed clear by that big magic eraser that is called God or life or the Universe or the Goddess. It's a funny thing to say after so many "informative" blogs that I've written as well as an ebook. But in oh so many ways, we all return to the beginner's mind--that clear, ungrasping space that honors what it does not know and that there is much yet to learn. Yet in returning to this space, there's this deepening understanding and appreciation that there really isn't anything to learn at all. We have all the deeper wisdom and knowledge that we ever need within us. Sure, we'll learn more information throughout our lives, but true wisdom? We have that already--we've always had that.


Starting Over a Thousand Times on the Spiritual Path
So, I'm joining those of you who have just started or don't know where to start on your spiritual path. I'm right here with you. I know nothing. Again. I have plenty of facts. Plenty of tips and techniques, but somehow, they feel relatively useless to me. So I'm starting over again. Re-examining where I am and where my path is, and of course, the spiritual path is exactly where it's always been--right under my feet.

A lot of people want to know where the spiritual path is. They want to do something to earn it. They want someone to give it to them, but you already have it. Sure, you may not have been paying much attention to it until recently, but it's been there. In some ways, it's probably guided you to wherever you are now. But to really engage with the spiritual path is to set an intention to do so. It's to set an intention to connect with your deepest self and to follow your heart.

The Heart Illumines the Path to the Soul
I don't know how anyone can feel like they're on a spiritual path if their heart is not in it. You can go to all the meditation retreats you like, but if this is not what's in your heart, why are you doing it? Suffering through endless silent daylong retreats until your knees scream in agony, what are you doing? Is this truly what's in your heart? Or are you seeking yet another fulfillment?

What the spiritual path is not is a way to get your fulfillment. You have that already. But if you think "enlightenment" will now bring you all the happiness and bliss you can stand, you're in for a real shock. I believe it's a Zen koan that says, "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water." You won't have the same perspective on your life after enlightenment or awakening, but life will carry on much as it did before in the basics of what you have to do. And if you made yourself miserable and forced yourself to do lots of things that you have no love of, then I doubt you'd even get to the doorway of enlightenment save through the final, ultimate giving up of the whole thing. In that moment of total letting go, then that awakening that's already in you would come through, and you'd be something like "Oh, I didn't need to do all this stuff anyway."

Building a Spiritual Path
But don't let me give you the impression that there isn't any work to be done on the spiritual path. As a teacher I was listening to at Rudramandir in Berkeley was saying last night, there's a lot of work and discipline that goes into creating a framework to hold this space. You have to start tuning yourself to a new frequency--a new way of being. So some things will be painful, but when they're a labor of love, you won't suffer. Suffering is the prolonging of a painful moment through stories that we have going through our minds. People can turn the spiritual path into a path of suffering much like anything else, so you also have to come to the path with no particular goal in mind. Awakening is not the goal. Being completely in the moment is.

Spiritual Awakening to Each Moment
In this very moment, you can awaken. That's the truth. For anyone else to tell you that you have to meditate 30 years to get there is a total lie. In your heart, you know this to be truth. For any teacher to tell you that you have to get some energy transmission or anointing from them before you can awaken is also a complete falsity. Spiritual teachers just help you clear away the delusion so that you can see where you need to go. Last night's teacher said that "guru" translates as a "dispeler of darkness" not a "bringer of light." Because you already have that light. And that light wants to get out. Making space in your life through a spiritual practice and your intention to bring spirituality into your life can allow that light to come out at any moment.

Being Afraid of Your Own Inner Light
Marianne Williamson is pretty famous for her words about how we fear our own inner light. I still think that's really true. I can see in many people's faces this kind of awe that they shed on spiritual teachers. They think they're being overwhelmed by the teacher. They're not. They're being overwhelmed by themselves and that deeper part of themselves that is waking up in the teacher's presence. To use the tuning fork metaphor that I mentioned earlier, the teacher's vibration is striking a chord with the student. The student's soul is responding, is remembering. I love to frame awakening as a kind of remembrance. You already know all that you need to know, and that can be frighten initially to your ego. You start to realize all the ways that you haven't acted in integrity with who you are and that your whole life is about to change to come into alignment with the true you. But it ultimately will take you where you really want to go; it will take you where your heart wants to go.

The Spiritual Path and Taking the First Step to No Where
You are always right here. Taking a step and then another step, you may stop and see that you are still right here. It's almost like walking on a treadmill, but not quite. You will feel amazing qualities opening up within you because the path that you are on is taking you within you--to all the amazing stuff you've locked up inside. The spiritual path lies within you as it always has. Meditation, spiritual sexual practices, journaling, praying, yoga retreats, breathwork, spiritual teachers, spiritual community, and plenty of other tools are great helpers to build space for you to live an intentional, conscious, and loving life. But they are just ways to turn you back towards yourself. When you connect deeply within, that's when the real spiritual path begins.
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