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?
Oh my dear. Yes. I know this experience well. The short answer is: listen to your inner wisdom. Your heart will guide you.
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 and do that. Don’t give a damn what anyone else says. I honestly think that is the whole path. The key word being “truly.”
Meditation is not self-help. Buddhism is not self-help. Yoga is definitely not self-help. Though all of these paths can help us see more clearly where we need help in dealing with our issues. They help us to see how we get in our own way and cause our own suffering.
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 virtuous things rather than unvirtuous things. Inevitably, unvirtuous actions will cause suffering. So we practice to train ourselves to be kind.
But 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, daily, practically, 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…”
Anything we can think of is simply a product of our conceptual mind. And conceptual mind is not the same as wisdom. When we sit down to meditate, we are inviting 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 cul-de-sacs, and, as such obstacles to meditation.”
(Though I doubt Tilopa would have known the word for cul-de-sac, nor that the idea even existed in 10th century India. But who knows…)
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, almost like our lives are laid out before we even begin. When these goals elude us, or when we choose not to embrace them, the fundamental truth of aloneness can feel like a curse.
Giving Up The Goal
If you feel like giving up, it implies that you are trying to get somewhere. But 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. And this takes practice. What I have found is that by giving up the goal, instead of giving up the practice, I often surpass the goal and make other, wonderful discoveries.
Another great Tibetan saint, Milarepa, left us this:
“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 an open heart in each present moment. And the amazing thing is that this experience is already with you right now! Then you realize that even though you are alone, you are not alone.