Every so often I get an email from a student who has hit a road block and feels like giving up. I got one of these the other day from a lovely woman who is a dedicated practitioner of both yoga and meditation.
I’ve been hit by a strong dose of doubt about the path, meditation, Buddhism, self help, spirituality… I’m fed up. At the moment, I just want just give up and be “normal” again…. Why bother?”
Meditation is not self-help.
Buddhism is not self-help. Yoga is definitely not self-help. Though the paths of yoga and meditation can help us see more clearly where we need help in dealing with our issues, they are not a substitute for therapy. The practices help us to see how we get in our own way and cause our own suffering. How to work with these issues is a completely separate approach. From a Buddhist perspective, there is nothing to change. From your spouse’s, there might be a different story.
Giving Up Means No Path
On one level, this thing we call the spiritual path is simply a structure we give ourselves to stay out of trouble. As in: we’re here on the planet and have to do something with ourselves, so it’s better to do something virtuous rather than unvirtuous. Inevitably, harmful actions will cause suffering. So we train ourselves to be kind.
Somewhere along the way we start to realize that there is no path.”Spiritual path” is just a name for something we see after the fact. Live your life, moment by moment, with integrity. Take the spiritual thinking out of it. No nonsense: nuts and bolts.
The Heart Sutra (the essence of Buddha’s teachings of the second turning, or Mahayana path) reminds us that there is “no eye, no ear, no nose, no body, no mind,” and also “no ignorance, no end of ignorance, no end of old age and death, no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment and no non-attainment…”
So, what’s left?
Giving Up The Goal
Anything we can think of is a product of our conceptual mind. And conceptual mind is not the same as wisdom. When we sit down to meditate, we invite wisdom.
In this light, the great Buddhist saint Tilopa left us this provocative reminder:
One should resist, or let go of the temptation, which at some point always arises in the experience of beginning meditators, to improve or make better one’s meditation by meditating on tranquility, or on the experience of emptiness, or on clarity, or on bliss, or by fabricating or contriving any other strategy to improve one’s meditation. All such attempts to improve one’s meditation by “meditating” are obstacles to meditation.”
But this may not help ease our minds when we are feeling lost, alone, and discouraged.
Accepting Our Aloneness
Alone = All One. We are allone. At times this can be hard to bear. But my sneaking suspicion is that the voice of inner wisdom gets louder when we can tolerate our aloneness.
Here’s section from my book, Ashtanga Yoga For Beginner’s Mind:
Practice, if it is approached seriously, introduces you to your aloneness. Since the bulk of modern culture proposes everything under the sun to deny this fact of existence, continuing to practice is a defiant step against the standard view.”
Society has dictated certain goals for us, as if our lives were laid out before we even began. When these goals elude us, or when we choose not to embrace them, the fundamental truth of aloneness can feel like a curse.
The Key Is To Let Go Of Outcomes
If you feel like giving up, it implies that you are trying to get somewhere. The truth is that there is no goal. And isn’t this really what makes us unhappy? Thinking that we have not reached our goals? We want happiness, success, abundance, love, recognition, and when we feel we don’t measure up against our goals, we suffer.
The true prize, if there is one, is the ability to be ok with whatever arises. This takes practice. I find that by giving up the goal, instead of giving up the practice, I often surpass the goal and make other, wonderful discoveries.
There Is No Goal
Tilopa also said,
The best signs of success [in practice] are a decrease in self-centeredness and an easing of mental afflictions.”
Essentially there is no path other than a commitment to live with authenticity and integrity in each present moment. The amazing thing is that this experience is already with you right now! Then you realize that even though you are allone, you are not alone.
Follow Your Heart
The short answer to my client’s question is this: follow your heart. We are here for a short period of time on this planet. Find what is in you that makes you truly happy –not what everyone else thinks should make you happy–and do that.
I love Dr. Seuss’ wisdom on this:
Be who you are and say what you feel
Those who matter don’t mind
And those who mind don’t matter.”