Enlightenment Summit


I came to the spiritual path by accident. Every Sunday morning the yogashala became my church, a place of solace and love. It was filled with all the sensations that I had imagined I was meant feel in the hardwood Episcopal pews of my childhood. I felt my feet connected and comfortable rather than stuffed into constricting formal shoes, my attention drawn to the present room rather than cut off from the life tantalizingly playing outside the tall windows, the joy of my heart permeating my physical form instead of caught in a lump of mistrust at the back of my throat. Spirituality as expansion rather than conscription, as connectedness rather than pulpit honoring. This was awesome. I was working towards some sense of connection that I couldn't, and still can't, quite pin down, but I was happy to hone away with my new tools of breath, body, and awareness.

The more I practiced yogasana the better I felt. Not only did the physical ailment which had drawn me to the practice in the first place alleviate, but I was less easily agitated by the inevitable slings and arrows of a normal social sphere. As my body and concentration strengthened I sought more frequency in my practice. I was starting to get this "inner peace" thing that was always skillfully sidestepped by my teachers, preaching without the label.

But inner peace did come with a different piece of baggage for me : achievement. But achievement is good! Achievement gives us something to strive or hope for, inspires a moving loving life. Sure. But thinking of life as a series of boxes to check off, thinking that anyone but me will care that I "have" stillness or grace or wisdom, and deluding myself into thinking that harmonious status is capable of constancy were my pitfalls. It's the oldest aphorism in the book, "change is the only constant". But enlightenment couldn't be like that - it MUST be a place! It's where all wisdom, personal experience, and ancient texts point. It has to be a state of heaven on earth. Just as heaven is a prize to be attained in the Christian tradition I hoped that enlightenment was a lily pad that with much discipline and practice I could land on. THEN I would finally be free of these nagging thoughts, futile desires, and frustrating emotions that comprise modern humanity. I had found the train to take me there and I got in, damnit!

My studies and self-explorations have led me to the truth that I don't really want to know : that the train is on a perpetual circuit. There is no landing in enlightenment, there is no "getting" to tranquility and hovering there forever. Wouldn't life be horrifically boring if that was the case? The more desperately I grasp for the physical or emotional objects I believe are desirous, the quicker they slip away. Yes, I have a loving family and an industrialized life that mostly brings me opportunity for great joy. But the notion that I'm DOING it wrong because I'm not joyous constantly is…insane. Obviously as a novice practitioner I thought it would change as the years went on, but that is not the experience of any advanced practitioner that I have read about. Shit. Am I on the wrong ride?

Lovely brain...you just want to make sense of things, you want patterns and predictability. Lovely social conditioning, you just want me to succeed, yet it manifests as clinging and perfectionism.

For most of my time on earth I have viewed my little life itself as a mountain to be climbed, a thing to be conquered, a struggle that I can overcome if I am ______ enough. Maybe, probably, insights keep showing me, this is not an accurate picture. Life is not some massive hump to fight against all of my brief lifetime, and there is no gold start "inner peace" trophy waiting for me at the top. Also, it's freaking cold and lonely on the mountaintop.

Maybe each day I have the opportunity to climb a mountain. Sometimes I'll make it and feel great, sometimes it'll break me, sometimes I'll get distracted halfway up the mountain face by a delightful creature, and some days climbing the mountain will be a ludicrous idea and I'll sit at the base and take it all in. Each breath is different, each breathe is of equal value, and each breath is more enjoyable when I release the need to achieve.

So when I ask you what you do, I'm asking what's important to you. When I ask what you achieved, I'm asking what you noticed, what you breathed in. Maybe once in a while, like me, you get a breath of pure presence with all the bad and good and expectation and love inherent in that moment. Maybe that's the most beautiful, most changeable, most contently peaceful view possible.

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