All know the way; few actually walk it.
For those of us walking the way, nirvana might seem like an unattainable goal, but according to a contemporary mystic the way to awaken is simple: earnestly and assiduously follow the instructions of a practice or the guidance of a spiritual teacher. This mystic was told by his spiritual guide to contemplate the perfection of his own being to the exclusion of everything else. After three years of faithfully following this guidance, it is said that he awakened to the perfection of Being.
If on reading the above you decided to commit to the contemplation of the perfection of your being to the exclusion of everything else, you are well on your way to realizing Buddha Nature. On the other hand, if an objection arose, whatever form that took…
Contemplate the perfection of one’s being? But I am not perfect.
To the exclusion of everything else? That’s impractical. What about all those things that I have to attend to?
Perhaps in another lifetime
I can’t do that.
All well and good for him
I can’t sit for 30 minutes on the cushion without my mind wandering!
…you are among the majority of human beings conditioned to argue why not instead of eagerly pursuing the “how” of actualizing a possibility.
We may be inspired by the devotion of those who have attained the ultimate goal, but are we moved to do what they did to attain it?
If not, why not?
“Not” appears to be the crux of the issue.
We don’t catch on to the pervasive nature of negation as ego’s default, but if we pay attention we will notice how conditioned we are to “see” “what is not,” rather than see and say “what is.”
Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Just notice for a day how often some form of “No!” arises.
A suggestion is offered, you come up with a better idea.
An idea is presented, you point out what about it won’t work.
A possibility is put forward, you say you are fine with how things are.
You encounter something new, you look for what’s wrong with it.
Your words are reflected, you clarify what was not understand.
Someone compliments you or your effort, you are self-deprecating.
Practice invites you to consider your Perfection, you list the reasons that is not so.
At the end of a day of paying attention, would you agree that “Yes, and” is a much rarer response than “No,” or “Yeah, but”? Notice the prevaricating voice. It never stops!
The nature of conditioned mind is to focus on what is not, rather than what is. And therein lies the root of suffering. For what is suffering other than “not this”?
If we are focused on seeing life from the perspective of what-is-not, we’re training to project imperfection. What-is-not cannot see Perfection. To see the Perfection of one’s being, which is a definition of awakening, we have to cultivate the ability to see what’s true, rather than what’s not true, what’s wrong.
In the R/L Skills Class, we are introduced to this simple but profound exercise.
When we listen to voices, we are often focused on what’s wrong. So make a recording of what’s working. Some examples: My car started this morning; I had the best muffin for breakfast; I love where I live; Water came out of the faucet when I turned it on; I meditated this morning! You’re welcome to consider as many areas of your life as you wish—work, family, health, friends, social life, spiritual journey, basic needs—pretty much whatever arises as you look to see what’s working, what is so in your life. Once you’ve finished making the recording, listen back to it.
The exercise has many merits.
- It trains our ability to direct attention to what we choose to attend to.
- It expands awareness beyond the limited focus of “what’s wrong.”
- It assists us to cultivate the spiritual orientation most conducive to “waking up,” to see “what is” and say “what is true.”
And, it trains us to follow instructions!
The Guide recently said, “If you are not following instructions, you are likely following ego.”
Ego is no to Life’s yes. Ego transforms thisherenow to not this, not here, not now.
The practitioner does the exact opposite. We train to see ego as “what is not,” see that’s not what we are, and reclaim what is/what is us. Only when we stop advocating for all the reasons “I am not That” will we ever experience the “That” of “That thou art.”
What is crucial is the steadiness and depth of your devotion to the task. Life itself is the Supreme Teacher; be attentive to its lessons and obedient to its commands. When you personalize their source, you have an outer Guide; when you take them from Life directly, the Guide is within. Remember, wonder, ponder, live with it, love it, grow into it, grow with it, make it your own -- the word of your Guide, outer or inner. Put in all and you will get all.
Following guidance is following Life’s instructions. But the ego, the “what’s wrong” vantage point, is more often focused on arguing why the guidance cannot be followed than looking for how to follow it.
We often hear this guidance:
That’s not you, that’s ego!
Unhappiness is made up by the mind.
‘I” (ego-I) is an illusion.
Suffering is optional. It’s not real.
This spiritual “truth” is hard to receive in the depths of ego identification. When “my” struggle feels really real to “me” and the misery “I” am experiencing is obviously justified by my particular circumstances, what “I” want most is sympathy, commiseration and understanding. Validation of the reality of my misery is comforting. So when, in my identification, the Practice that I turn to for succor, appears serenely indifferent to what I am going through and calmly proceeds to challenge me I may feel bewildered and misunderstood.
But if I train myself to ask “Why would a practice that I know to be generous and compassionate refuse to corroborate my experience of difficulty,” I’ve just made an about-turn in my spiritual journey. I’ve become a student of Truth, more interested in freedom from suffering than being an ego identity desiring reinforcement.
As a seeker of Truth, rather than indulging the habit of “making it about me”…
I am unhappy.
I don’t understand this guidance.
This reflection doesn’t really help me.
I can’t see how to apply this guidance.
it is possible to stop and look for the truth of the guidance:
Where is the ego in this?
Who am I if I am not the ego?
How can this absolutely real experience be unreal?
If it’s not real, what is real?
To be clear, Practice doesn’t deny the truth of suffering; that suffering is is the First Noble Truth! Practice doesn’t dismiss the challenges of having a human incarnation. On the contrary, we’re given many tools to be with the turbulent emotions that appear to be the inevitable consequence of being incarnate and we are regularly facilitated to take the step of embracing that incarnation in compassion. But if all Practice did was to mirror an experience of misery, it would not be a spiritual practice, a way to transcend suffering.
We come to a spiritual practice because we intuitively know that there is more to life than unhappiness. How can we ever arrive at the Truth that is calling to us from the depths of our being if we don’t get past believing a lie?
Practice is the steadfast beacon that speaks to the Authenticity within. It refuses to placate the false, offer mere comfort or make the ego feel better. It lovingly and dispassionately summons the inherent adequacy that is untouched by the psychological drama of personality.
Yes, Practice meets us wherever we are on the spiritual journey, but in doing that it doesn’t alter the Truth. We may not like the guidance given but it is given anyway. Liking and disliking, as we know, are the purview of the conditional. As we read in The Key:
Practice trades in Truth, in the Unconditional. It holds our hearts until we are ready to give up an orientation of “life on my terms” and meet Life on Life’s terms. If we understand this intellectually, we can apply it practically. Whenever we receive guidance that ego doesn’t like, that conditioned mind objects to or finds reasons not to agree with, we can train ourselves to recollect that “Practice does not deny that I feel unhappy and that I am suffering, but it refuses to let me stay stuck in believing that unhappiness is all there is.”
Like everything in Practice, this shift from looking for “what’s wrong” to what is true takes practice. But it does happen. At some stage in the spiritual journey, the fruit of a practice of devotion is the realization that the “I” that gets miffed, aggrieved and wounded is ego. So instead of holding on to the ego that argues for the imperfection of my being, the practitioner is ready to follow the instructions to contemplate its perfection.
Do you hear a voice saying “No, I am not ready”?
The most often repeated guidance in this practice is “Drop the conversation.” What if we followed this instruction?