Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Practicing Conscious Action: The Importance of "How" on the Spiritual Path

Many of you are finding out that goals don't mean much on the spiritual path. Sure, they help us to get moving, and achieving things can have lasting, positive effects. But so often, we don't achieve the goals that we set out to achieve. A lot of times, the original goal goes by the wayside, and we find something more meaningful or true to us that causes us to shift our attentions. Or perhaps not. Because as I said, the goal is not of anywhere near as critical importance as the process of moving towards that goal. It is the "how" that is so critical because it is creating the end result, and it is the end result at the same time. We can never be anywhere but here and now. Many times, goals are "over there" or are a future desired result, or they are so fleeting in the moment of achievement that they are soon washed away by new goals or new demands.

So as you develop your spiritual path and as you awaken, more and more attention absolutely must be paid to how you are creating each moment.

Each Moment Offers New Awareness
We can only ever be aware of this moment--the one that's happening right now. Getting lost in the past or in the future are futile mental endeavors. One is a preoccupation with things that were and that we cannot touch. The other is a preoccupation with things that aren't yet in form, and many times we sacrifice our awareness and the current moment trying to get to these future things. It can cause us to neglect many important things that are here and now because we don't find them desirable or think they're only stepping stones. Consider what it's like working with someone who considers his position just to be a stepping stone. He may be neglectful or cruel to the people around him because he's trying to get some place else in his career. He may use others to attain these goals and leave a trail of anger and resentment behind him that will cause him much pain throughout his life, although oftentimes this person is so unconscious that he doesn't know it.

Or perhaps, you're trying to turn your marriage or relationship into the "perfect" relationship. You don't fully appreciate the growth you both have to do, and you may not appreciate what you have currently. It's like the couple that is always looking to the next step: first getting into a committed relationship (neglecting the time they have for exploring other partners); then getting married (perhaps not spending enough time to get to know each other); then having children (and perhaps not enjoying the life of being a couple); and then trying to get the kids off to good schools, good colleges, and so forth. In a culture that can get so focused on the future, we can give up the beauty of our lives until we're old and looking back at the past with regret for all the moments that we missed (and in that looking back, we continue to miss the current moment that we have).

Bringing Consciousness Into this Moment
This is why it's so important to start by bringing your attention to this moment. Even as you are reading this, what is your mind doing? Is it caught up thinking about other things? What is your body feeling? What is going on in your heart? How much attention can you bring to yourself and the stimuli that's going on around you? These are important questions and subsequently important practices to cultivate. There is nothing inherently difficult about any of these, and it's not meant to make you hyper-aware of all things, all the time. It simply is a beginning to many beginnings of starting over again in each moment. Each moment is a chance to begin anew, and therefore the very moment has its own unique consciousness that you blend with through your own consciousness. Because we're not singular beings. Part of the illusion of duality is believing that we're singular, individual, and wholly unattached to what happens around us. That brings about neglect, and it's a neglect that we see in how we treat relationships and our environments. The more consciousness and awareness you bring to each moment, the more you're going to notice how much you're influenced by everything around you and how much you influence all that touches you.

Paying Attention to How You Do Things
While meditation is a pause to see how you're feeling, this blog is an invitation to bring awareness to see how you are "doing." When you're driving your car, "how" are you driving it? Are you moving with the sole focus to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible? Are you rubber-necking, letting your attention wander all over the road with things that interest you? Check in with it. How we do things creates currents in life. People respond to these currents that we are constantly sending out. They may not consciously know that they're responding in this way, but they are responding to them. Others may simply not be able to explain why they don't want to be around you, and in truth, you may have some really big blindspots about the way you're acting. If you've never paid attention to how you act and why you do what you do, then you've got a lot of learning to do.

But regardless of how aware you are of yourself, you can always practice more. Because life is constantly shifting and evolving. There's no real end point to the spiritual path. There's just more change (I'm sure the Buddhists will happily agree with that sentence :).

Creating the Building Blocks of Your Life
Consider building a pyramid: If you're in a rush, grabbing whatever materials are at hand to build your pyramid as quickly as possible, you're probably not going to make a very good structure. It will likely collapse very easily and not be able to withstand the forces that will hit up against it. Similarly, if you don't take action to start building, you'll never have a pyramid. Conscious action is being able to make smart choices and to do the planning that you need to do to get there. It's very much grounded in the present moment, but it doesn't forgo learnings from the past and the ability to predict some aspects of the future. By following the spiritual path, we aren't becoming brainless people caught up in vicarious pleasures of the moment. We're evolving to hold space for past, present, and future, and we're doing so by understanding how they all come together in this singular moment. And in this moment, how we are with those considerations shapes everything in our lives.

Now, I'm not much for the law of attraction. It's entirely too simplistic, and it kind of supposes that everything that happens is because of ourselves either doing right or wrong. As I said, this is simplistic, and it's still pretty ego-focused (who could imagine that if the sun exploded that it's because the whole universe attracted that outcome?). But there is truth in the fact that how we act creates the ripples that draw or repel different possibilities and people into our lives. So in this way, how you are doing things is setting your life up for a lot of different things to come your way. If you don't like how things have been going, then it's time to start paying attention to what you've been doing and thinking. Thoughts are as much a part of how we do things as anything else; anyone who is helping the hungry to get more food but only to make him or herself feel better is corrupting the work. There are ramifications for that even if we don't see them immediately.

Quick Tips for Paying Attention to How You Are Moving Through Life
So you get the idea: how you do things and think about things creates outcomes. If you don't pay attention to what you're doing and how you're doing it, a lot of unintended consequences are on their way. Here are some simple ways to get started:
  1. Pay attention to how you're eating. Eating fast? Eating slow? Not paying attention to what you're putting in your body? Start here for some of the most basic conscious action anyone can take.
  2. Pay attention to how you're driving. Carwrecks are all too common place, so there's even an added benefit of increased safety by bringing more attention to how you drive. Fast or slow, it's a good idea to check in with how you're moving through the masses of moving vehicles.
  3. Paying attention to how you're talking with others. Are you talking at others? Are you talking softly? Are you talking loudly? There's a lot that we say about ourselves through tone of voice, and people respond to those mannerisms and the energy that comes with it. If people constantly are put off by how you talk to them, maybe you should start to bring more awareness to how you express yourself, or heck, you could even ask for feedback from others about why they respond to you in the way that they do.

Spirituality Is Still Simple
This is one of my more basic posts about spirituality, and it's ultimately a reminder that spirituality is still simple. It's not a hard thing. You don't need fancy robes or need to join the seminary. It's already inside of you, and if you start to pay attention to how you are living your life, you may be surprised at how quickly things may shift and change right before your eyes.
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