When we start a spiritual path, it is natural that we go looking for people to help us. We look for teachers and others who are further ahead of us. We hope that this teacher or that teacher will take our problems away -will heal our pain and fix our lives, or at least set us in the right direction.
We search for just the right book that will fill us with knowledge. We read books from this writer or this philosophical erudite in hope that they will help us make sense of this life.
Sometimes, we hear that it is important to follow this Guru or that Shaman. That then surely we will gain great understanding and mystical powers and we will somehow figure out how to beat life at it’s own game.
Other times, we may hear of special practices that will speed our journey to being at one with all and we decide we need to go out and get that – and we do – we get it – but then we end up rarely practicing it.
Though these endeavors are often worthy, and we can gain from them sometimes, we need to be diligent that they don’t just end up being, us grasping outside of ourselves. Grasping for the quick fix or the next distraction.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the 3 year retreat. It’s a long cloistered retreat in the Kaygu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that lasts 3 years, 3 months and 3 days. And how these brave souls face themselves day in and day out and work on the gargantuan job of dismantling their tendencies and habits that keep them from experiencing each moment in clarity.
They meditate and sleep in a little meditation box all that time. It is so humbling that the participants would give everything they have and dedicate themselves so intensely to taste freedom.
I was reading some blogs and interviews from a few people who completed this retreat and many of them spoke of being intensely confronted with their habitual tendencies; the wheels of discontent and mind-chatter. And how much of the retreat was spent dealing with themselves and their reactions and deep-seated ‘stuff’. What else is there to do?
“Being in an isolated, enclosed environment and following the exact same routines day after day, week after week, month after month, highlights many patterns. In particular, it brings one’s own habitual ego-driven patterns into such strong relief that they become inescapable, like being trapped in a house of mirrors with infinite regress in every direction. This can be a cause of despair from time to time, but then the recollection kicks in that this is the very work I signed up to do, and the most effective place to do it. There’s no way to avoid situations you don’t want to deal with; every day brings you face to face with the same raw material, with no handy distractions or escapes.”
Taken from December 2008 blog written by Linda / Yeshe Chödron while she was on 3-year retreat.
So, as many of us have responsibilities that keep us from doing a three-year retreat at this time, the process that will gain the most fruit is to actually practice meditation – diligently at home – creating your own home practice. To practice a beloved Sanskrit Mantra – quietly by yourself – everyday. This will help us to start our own confronting what keeps us from living each moment in vivid awareness.
There is a lot of commercialized spirituality around these days. I understand this well – it’s how this world here works in the west. But I know after years of it all – the Meditation – the searching – the grasping – that what bears fruit is to actually face yourself in Meditation and to actually practice.
It’s not easy.
During my time in New Mexico I came to see this process of meeting yourself very clearly. It’s hard. It’s downright difficult, and most of the time disappointing and humbling work. Luckily, now and again one has a break through or a nice experience that keep you going. But on the whole it is intense work.
There is no way to the other side than through.
Here is a Mantra to start new beginnings with. It is the well known Ganapati Mantra that is traditionally said in the east when starting any new endeavor. It removes obstacles and infuses the practice with vital positive energy:
OM GUM GANAPATAYEI NAMAHA
OM AND SALUTATIONS TO GANAPATI (GANESHA)
So I encourage you, don’t be so concerned about the next great thing in the Spiritual Mall – just do the simplest practices like focusing on the breath in Meditation or repeating a wonderful Mantra – but do it everyday.
Make a commitment to start. To continue. To do it!