So what is all this talk of a pathless path? It's not as if we've been
dropped in the wilderness of the cosmos to bushwhack our way through
consciousness, is it?
Let's see... where to begin?
The notion of a path is very sensible and intuitive for most of us. It implies direction, progressand ultimately perhaps, a destination.
Particularly those of us of westernheritage, are fond of these ideas. They seem to comfort us.
But which path to choose? There are so many!
If you've ever asked this of a spiritualteacher you may have heard the well story. A version of it goes like this:
This is a lovely story most often told to keep an initiate "on the path."
"If you desire water, do not dig ten holes ten feet deep.
Dig one hole a hundred feet deep."
(Read as, in the church, at the ashram, in the organization.)
This tidy well story may be true for a search for physical water, however, the metaphor doesn't acknowledge that in the spiritual sense the "water" we seek is also the shovel, the dirt, the hole, the hands holding the shovel, in fact it is our very essence. It is always as close as our breath... we need not dig to find it. We have never been "off thepath" no matter how many holes we have found ourselves digging.
As St. Francis put it, "What you're looking for, is what's looking."
I don't recall whether it was a car or running shoe commercial that says
"Life is the journey." The Course in Miracles puts it more enigmatically,
"A journey without distance to a goal that has never changed."
What propels us along our journey?
In my years of teaching belief management, I've noticed one of the more
common "umbrella beliefs" is "I think there might be something wrong withme."It most frequently dwells just outside of conscious awareness like a
kind of free floating anxiety. It is sometimes what motivates us to take
workshops and seminars on self-development and spiritual growth to learn
yet another technique or discipline to ease the tension.
And quite often these various tools help... at least for a time.
Then that niggling belief rears it's head again... "I think there still might be something wrong withme." And so the search commences anew.
I have the suspicion that a speciesversion of this notion may have inspired many of the cosmologies we have inherited. There are two versions of it. One is "There's something wrongwith us."
The blank gets filled in variously:
Then we hatch plans, elaborate or simple, to save ourselves from our ownjudgment of inadequacy.
The other form is "There's something wrong withYOU!" This leads personally to crankiness and culturally to genocide.
Some questions inevitably arise.
What if there is no problem?
What if there is nothing wrong with us?
What if this moment is perfect and shimmering in all its ordinary glory?
What if we could quietly lay down all our strategies to fix ourselves?
we aren't broken?
There's an old saying that goes
"Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."
Does this mean nothing changes, or that change and "enlightenment" are unrelated?
What of our desire for change?
Some very wise beings have observed a relationship between desire and suffering. Most of us have also noticed that the search for lasting happiness in the merely pleasant is futile.
Yet leaping to the assumption that because a thing won't bring lasting happiness that the thing issomehow flawed might be a less then helpful interpretation. It assumes first that our mission here is to find infinite, lasting happiness.
(A suspect assumption itself. It appears we've been given a vast spectrum of
human experience, with which to paint the canvas of our lives, and we would
prefer just one or two colors.)
To find such happiness we must ______. Fill in the blank...
Accept a personal savior,
or liberate ourselves from allcraving and aversion
and thus end all suffering, etc.
Is it the desire for an ephemeral goal that brings suffering,
or expecting it to last?
Desire and resistance can also be viewed as two aspects of the same phenomenon. It can be demonstrated like this:
I desire enlightenment .
(love, friendship, beauty, money,sex... fill in the blank.)
is the same as...
I resist the absence of enlightenment.
I resist suffering.
I desire the absence of suffering.
The result of this phenomenon, is to feel compelled towards something or away from it. In both cases our attention stays focused on "it," and whatwe focus on expands.
Thus desire or resistance magnifies (or creates) our experience.
To decide therefore that the object of existence is to liberate ourselves from this cycle may just be a "loftier" form of aversion/craving - resistance/desire.
Yet it is sometimes presented as the fundamental "fact of life" that becomes obvious to all who come to "see things clearly." The fundamental assumptions, that underlay most religions, belief systems orpaths are rarely seen as beliefs, but are usually presented as "fact."
Now as soon as I've pronounced something a fact, my ability or willingness to
inquire beyond it is severely limited.
(Aside: In 1992 the Catholic Church issued a formal acquittal of Galileo.
As you probably recall from school Galileo's observation of Jupiter's moons
through his homemade telescope convinced him of the Copernican theory of
the sun being the center of our "universe" rather than the earth. His
teaching of this so threatened the Church's cosmology that Galileo was
charged with heresy, called before the inquisition and forced to recant
under threat of torture, and was placed under house arrest for the
remainder of his life. How kind of us to pardon him three centuries later.
Better late than never I guess.)
Is it possible that our desire for freedom from desire, or sin, or hell, or the wheel of rebirth - might be the actual trap?
(The preoccupation with escape from life reminds me of something I believe Mae West said. "If you think sex is bad, you're doing it wrong.")
Is it possible that freedom fromour notions of liberation or enlightenment might be a more profoundfreedom?
I must admit, all of the longest surviving theologies are seductively tidy.
We define our problem,
then we strategize our solution,
and more often than not the result of the experiment can't be known until this life is over, i.e., be saved and enjoy heaven, otherwise burn in hell.
In other systems, life itself is hell and liberation a longer way off.
By some time lines, one lifetime is a drop in the cosmic bucket. We must
meditate, chant, pray, do service, etc. for many lifetimes before liberation is achieved.
I have to admit there are some who profess a kind of sudden zen, or
instantaneous transformation, that is not dependent on anything external
changing in any way. Some teach forms of meditation, attention, or
mindfulness that produce a deep level of appreciation of the moment.
We may find in the soft light of appreciation our labels fall away leaving us
basking in a unique experience. Though these are most often presented as
strategies, they can also be appreciated as an end, instead of a means.
(Or, go ahead, appreciate them as a means and celebrate your goal later if
There's also a story of a person with a kind of glow about her, who wanders
into a village. The villagers soon determine she has found enlightenment.
They ask her all about it, and she reports simply that she was sitting on a
rock by the river eating a mango. When she awakens the next morning the
village is deserted. She finds them all at the river sitting on rocks,
Can anyone else's path be ours? Maybe it's that reflective quality the
universe tends to have, but more and more often these days I find myself
running into folks who are making their own paths. Or perhaps they feel
they've outgrown their various notions of a path. By this I don't mean they
display a jaded skepticism but rather a kind of playful relaxed knowingness grounded in the present moment.
It turns out these folks generally still appreciate the kind of fellowship that is usually availablethrough traditional organizations, but have grown weary of being "fixed" or encouraged to hold the "right view" of our universe. They appreciate thelight, playful, sincerity that so many folks bring to our gatherings.
Don't get me wrong. I know deep commitment to a traditional spiritual path
can be a profoundly transformative experience. And I hope it's clear I'm
not suggesting a new strategy. Like "We just stop trying to fix things and
life gets Okee Dokee!"
It's just that, if I can indulge in a musicalanalogy... like so much of the commercial music we hear these days, there are some "commercial belief systems" that receive a disproportionate shareof air play.
I like to be reminded that there is a vast amount of music out there that you'll never hear on the radio, and besides, there's a place inside you where music comes from. You might just get a notion to make some up yourself.
David Beede has been teaching improvisation,
self expression, belief management and tools for
conscious evolution since 1988.
He can can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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