"Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others' viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times." -- Thich Nhat Hanh
Many of us have come to spiritual practice from a space of surrender. Suddenly, the tips and tricks that worked well for us in the past (popularity, work success, chasing relationships, material wealth) are no longer satisfying. Or, we experience the reality that life is harsh and confusing through loss, grief, or despair and wish to remedy this in some way.
In comes spiritual practice. Whether on the cushion or on the mat, spending time contemplating what lies beyond and seeking to connect with your deepest self provides a healing balm to your wounds. It feels great. It feels right. Suddenly, life's problems are not so overwhelming. We find some semblance of peace, of letting go, and we are hooked.
Yet in the process, many of us may seek to prioritize the spiritual realm over the more messy and unsatisfying worldly realm. Wars, anger, hate, poverty, environmental degradation... we no longer need to concern ourselves with this so much because we are, well, spiritual. It is not real in any case, the only thing that is real is love. Right?
But then, if we are lucky, something unexpected happens. The profound bliss of the cushion or mat becomes murky. We may notice that friends and family are not so welcoming to the messages that they created their own situation through their thoughts and they really need to breathe / do yoga / meditate / think positively and everything will be better. We may find that there is an eerie similarity between the local yoga studio where everyone is striving to perfect their lotus position and the worldly competition that you had originally sought to avoid. We begin to notice that spiritual leaders may say the right words, but are not always so kind or moral in their actions. We lose faith.
While at first this moment of disillusion is tremendously scary, lonely, and confusing, it is the beginning of true spirituality, in my opinion. I currently find myself unable to accept that spiritual peace is enough, and that perfecting a yoga pose or going on endless retreats is a good substitute for real action in the world. Sure, we must find peace in our hearts in order to find true connection with others, but both are essential, and they are mutually reinforcing.
I no longer feel that I must rid myself of my anger in order to take action. In fact, my anger fuels a deeper understanding of what is really needed in the moment. We must go beyond band-aid enlightenment, the idea that really all that is needed for world peace is to look deeply within ourselves, to transformational enlightenment, using the energy and peace that we develop through our spiritual practice to engage deeply with the world and with those around us.
Taking off the band-aid is terrifying. Old neuroses will come back, addictions you thought you had overcome will haunt you once again. Because the thing is, they were never gone. Taking a yoga or meditation practice and covering up your wounds can only go so far. Ultimately we must look deeply within our wounds, surround them with compassion, and accept them as the necessary shadow that comes with the profound gift that is our humanity.
May we rise from our cushions and our mats and take action to bring peace and wellbeing in our families, our communities, our societies, and our Universe. Only then will we truly embody the teachings of Buddha and Patanjali.