Thursday, October 27, 2011

How to Grow Your Garden

So this is obviously not a horticultural blog, but since a lot of people like the sandcastle metaphor that I used with the ego recently, the garden will be my metaphor for spiritual awakening.

Cultivating Your Spiritual Path
I specifically named my ebook, "Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening," because in the truest way, all we can ever do is make space for this deep shift to happen in our lives. You can't force an awakening, and even if you could, you'd be surprised at the costs that are associated with it. I am surprised by all the people who tell me that they just want to wake up. It's like saying that all you really want is what is in the box over there. It's an unmarked box, and you have no clue what's inside. And then some people get what they thought they wanted and are in deep and utter shock when the find out that the box is empty.

But along the way, we can all prepare for engagement with awakening. We can make space for it because I think it is more like a garden than anything else. Almost everyone who awakens has been doing some kind of spiritual work with the few exceptions where trauma launches someone out of their dream-state. I've had people tell me that they don't know why they're going through shifts, but for the last several years they've been reading spiritual texts, doing meditations at their home, and chanting kirtan. It makes me roll my eyes a little bit because doing this kind of stuff is amplifying that energy inside you and making space for something to bloom. It's like being a gardener who isn't paying attention to the seeds s/he is planting, but this tends to be still a rare phenomenon.

The Garden and Its Demands
For most people, they are the garden, and they've got a lot of un-tilled, un-irrigated, and rocky soil. With so much stuff overgrowing everything, there's no place for awakening to take root, and if it does, you're having to rapidly weed, dig, irrigate, and fertilize. Ask someone who has moved through awakening, and they'll tell you how beautiful it is and how much work it is too. So, I think it's great that awakening doesn't usually sneak up on anyone because most of us have an awful lot of work to do. And as I tell my students, I want you to have the easiest transition possible. That doesn't mean that your transition is easy, but if you've been working to pull out the weeds of self-doubt, the rocks of anger, and roust out the moles of fear, there's so much more space for awakening to grow (I know, I'm have a lot of fun with the metaphor--seriously, just imagine your fear as a mole to hose out of a hole. It makes it a lot more fun).

The Benefits of Early Work on the Spiritual Path
The benefits of this kind of work are a happier life and living with less fear and discontent. Even if you don't have a big awakening, you'll be happier with your life. In many ways, not everyone needs to have a big spiritual awakening. For some, it'll be enough to not lie so much. For some, it'll mean having a better temperament or being less afraid to follow their hearts. Doesn't that sound pretty good? I should think so. You don't need to have your whole world turned upside down by awakening to live a beautiful life.

When Awakening Doesn't Take Root
Of course, some of you have been doing the work to prepare your garden, and you've scattered seeds all about. But the sun is not shining. The sun is God, and only God decides when to shine to coax forth those seeds into life. You can water, fertilize, and weed all you want, but you can't force an awakening to grow. So you can meditate, chant, journal, serve humanity, and spend time with spiritual communities and teachers, but that doesn't mean an awakening will strike. Awakening shouldn't be something you expect anyway. Consider that this is like an unexpected visitor whom you've been preparing for over the years. You can't make the visitor show up, and you can't know the timing. But you can make space so that when s/he does, you're ready.

To return to the gardening metaphor, you can be ready for things to grow by having the tools to harvest what comes. But you can't force it, and ultimately, you should be on this path and doing the spiritual things that you're doing because it's what feels true in the moment, not because you're going to get awakening as a kind of reward.

You Can't Measure Your Peach Tree Against Someone Else's
And then something sparks, and you realize you have to change the orientation of your whole garden. You thought you had a pumpkin patch, but in the middle of it is this beautiful peach tree just starting to grow. Now you have to adjust and learn about how to nourish this tree. Some of us have a sense of what's growing and what may sprout, but if you don't, you have to learn to be flexible. Something beautiful is in your life, and it wasn't what you expected. So you change. Life is change anyway. Perhaps you should have seen this coming too, but nonetheless, you've got to learn how to take care of that peach tree.

And then your friend next door has an oak tree growing in her garden. You're not really understanding your process yet, so you may get angry. Why does she have an oak tree? It's so much bigger and more important. But it's not the point to compare awakenings. Everyone awakens in their own way. Everyone has different work to do. Perhaps your peaches are to nourish many children through your teaching in a kindergarten class. Each peach you offer is symbolic of the love and nurturance you offer to young children in their early stages of life. Is that not important? The big oak tree may shelter dozens or hundreds of others on their own spiritual path under her boughs, but that's simply because it's what an oak tree does. It's her path and her gift. It also requires her to learn about the challenges specific to being such a magnificent and prominent display of spiritual awareness while the peach tree draws much less attraction--good and bad. So in this you both have beautiful awakenings, and they should be appreciated as they are and never compared.

Finding Your Plot of Land
The best thing you can do to get started on growing your garden and making space towards awakening is to get started. You'll probably find a lot of weeds and work to do first. This may be disappointing, and if you have awakening already started, you've got some work to do just to make space for it. You'll know how much you need to do. In your heart, you've always known how much you need to do, but you can't really allow something to grow without nurturing it. Otherwise, things get stunted and twisted and very unhealthy. A lot of love needs to go into this garden, but with care and diligence, you may be surprised at what springs forth inside of you and what it grows into.
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