I’ve been thinking about something one of my teachers was talking about, this idea of being a spiritual seeker, and how necessary this is in the beginning, but how we also must understand that once we’ve found our way we must unpack, put away our bags, and settle in to our new location.
So many of us get caught up in the idea of being a spiritual seeker, always looking for enlightenment, for wisdom, for clarity, for the super-special sauce that will instill our being with spiritual creaminess. We seek and seek. We read book after book after book, devouring what’s inside them like starving dogs, hardly pausing before we pick up the next one, or go to the next teaching, or retreat, or workshop. On and on and on we go, thinking that what we seek is somehow always ahead of us, up there somewhere in the future, between the covers of the next book or in the mind of the next teacher or what what what.
This impetus to seek the something that will sustain us, will provide what we really, truly need, is vital. If you don’t seek, you certainly won’t find.
But if you never stop seeking, you’ll also never find.
I don’t know where you are on your journey. Perhaps you’ve already found what you need and are now engaged in living that truth for yourself. I hope that is the case. Perhaps you are still seeking, and because you haven’t found the “path with a heart” that Don Juan talked about, you keep looking, and rightfully so.
But perhaps you found the path you were looking for some time ago, but you’re still acting like a seeker. And if that’s the case, you may feel still that, yeah, this is it, this is the place, but what I need, what I have to find, is the piece that will make it all come together for me. I need to understand this aspect better, I need to learn that area, I need to be given the real stuff, the inner stuff, the stuff those great masters have, and once they give it to me, then I’ll be set. Good to go.
And so you press on.
What my teacher was saying, and I think this is really brilliant and helpful if this situation applies to you at all, is that when we recognize that we’re on the path that works for us, we have to make a real transition in our whole approach. I will use my own path as an example here just because it’s close to hand and I’m familiar with it, but the essence of this shift is the same no matter how the external particulars are expressed- at some point you have to say, okay, I’m here. I found it. This is the place for me. I’m home. I’m not seeking any more.
And you unpack your bags. And you set up your new home. And you get to work. You begin to till the soil, plant, cultivate, harvest. You begin to manifest the fruits of practice.
It doesn’t mean you quit going to teachings, quit reading books, quit studying, quit trying to understand everything. The outer conduct may look exactly the same as before. But the internal landscape is radically different. And the results, the outcome, is radically different.
I think you can see this in people in your own church or mosque or temple or Buddhist center- there are many people who are active members, studying, learning, very well versed in the academic aspects of the faith or practice, but they remain somehow unchanged within, where it really matters, as if the teachings were merely bouncing off of some internal armor and leaving their souls unscathed. And you can see others, maybe newcomers, who arrive and are open and curious and seeking and they study and learn but then they begin to change, they begin to actually somehow embody the teachings. They may not always act skillfully, but they act with conviction and a willingness to risk looking stupid, to risk making mistakes, and they get better and better and you can tell they’re really doing it.
You want to be like the second person. You don’t want to be so close to the truth and still blind to it.
I think this is something that has been essential in my own transformation. I knew very quickly that I was in the right place, and I very quickly decided that I would do everything that the teachings said to do. I wanted to put it into practice, not just study it, not just think about it, but DO it. And this changed everything.
And there’s another aspect to this as well, I mean, I say I got it quickly, I decided quickly, but that’s not true at all, really. I was an armchair Buddhist for years and years and years, and I thought Buddhism was cool and neat and smart and helpful and I read books and thought, yes, yes, they’ve really got something there. But for all those years I never did a single thing that made me really a Buddhist. I was on the outside looking in, but I thought I was kind of inside, you know?
I had to develop real renunciation, maybe. Had to really feel in my guts that the first noble truth was a pretty good starting point. Had to really, really know that listening to my screaming ego was stupid and it was killing me and I wanted to stop. All kinds of causes and conditions had to arise, I guess, and eventually they did, and I found myself really standing at the foot of the path. I could see the path, could tell it really was going up the mountain- maybe it disappeared from view up ahead somewhere, but I could see where it was going, and I could see others up ahead of me, and I knew that there had been those who’d walked it to the end, and now I was standing there, right at the foot of it all.
And it was up to me to step on to the path. No one else could or would do it for me.
It’s that willingness to let go of our own whole selves, I think, that in someway opens the door. Something. You cannot hold on to what you think you are if you are to go forward. You can’t say, “I will take this path, but I will also stay right here where I am safe and I understand everything.” You have to leave yourself utterly, and go naked into the wildness of the unknown.
But there’s help. There’s guidebooks and signposts along the way. Books on gardening. Right? Because the journey, once you’ve stepped on the path for real, isn’t about going somewhere else, but being right where you are. Being where you are totally and completely, and then doing the work. The hard work of uprooting the stones and tree stumps in your untamed mind. Making space for compassion and love, digging out the weeds of selfishness, fear, and hatred.
Again and again it comes down to doing the work. And you know, when you first start out, your work is probably going to be weak sauce. Your shit is going to fall down, your plants will die, you’ll overwater, etc. It’s only by actually doing that you learn and get better. All the book knowledge in the world won’t grow you a delicious crop of tasty goodness. You have to get your hands dirty, you have to commit to failing and failing and failing until you get it. Then make it better, keep going.
Then you’re on the path. Then you’re going somewhere and nowhere at the same time.
And you change your world.
Probably preaching to the choir here, but I find the idea very helpful.
May you be happy, may you be free from suffering, may you be at peace.