December 21st, 2011
Have you ever felt frustrated by your spiritual practice? Where are those results you expected? Here is a letter I received from a student in my Life Principles Integration Process Online courses with that very frustration, along with my answer. First, his letter to me:
My question is: Why can’t I experience anything spiritual inside that validates, in a positive way, any practice or technique I have ever tried? Just wanted to show you there is a question to all that follows (because there is a background story that must be told. I’ll keep it as brief as I can though.)
Part of this will be a bit of writing therapy for me as (at 63) my life, both inside and outside, lies in ruins all around me, I’m feeling suicidal, and I feel a need to yell at God.(Sorry, letting whatever happens be OK has run out of steam.)
So…Beginners mind: In the early seventies I read Zen Flesh Zen bones which blew my socks off and changed me from an atheist who was profoundly disillusioned with life on earth to a rather naive seeker. After reading that book I knew that I had to find a teacher who could guide me to the Self, the God within (my favorite image is simply ‘freedom’ though.)
Tried everything I had access to over the next seven or eight years. No dice; nothing moved me or resonated anywhere but inside my intellect. God didn’t want to know me. Each time something didn’t work I returned to sex, drugs and rock’n’ roll… which did work.
But not good for the body. Went to the States in 78’ and tried to do a Jack Kerouac…indulge myself into a sort of wandering, quasi spiritual, substance abusing suicide, inspired by my profound disillusion with worldly life and my failed attempts at a spiritual life.
Almost succeeded but under the most weird and extraordinary circumstances Baba Muktananda reached out into the byways of America and into my abject despair and hauled my sorry ass into Siddha Yoga… where, for the second time in my life, my sox were blown off.
With a return of the enthusiasm of beginners mind I did an Intensive at the end of 79’ and had my first real transcendent encounter with the Self. On the strength of that I was graced with a year of profound personal power where I could — and did – do anything I wanted… with great love and respect.
Glowing with “success” I went to India in 81’ (just to cross the ‘T’s and dot the ‘I’s on my enlightenment process.) There, the mat of my honeymoon period was slapped from under my feet and I discovered that (to put it mildly) there was still much work to do on my sadhana.
I did not run away though, such was the power of my experience of Kundalini awakening — and the year of ‘home trial’ that followed it — that I was filled with determination to stay the course and do battle with my ignorant demons.
This despite a slowly dawning realization that all the practices (meditation, chanting, selfless service, scriptural study etc.) seemed to be falling on deaf, internal ears. I felt nothing for them.
Not quite true…I felt a steadily rising frustration. I also realized that a great part of the spiritual journey was about burning up the inner obstacles. This fire, at least, validated that I was moving along the path. Though I tried, however, I failed to find any ‘juice’ in the desert of my inner landscape.
Thirty one years later it’s the same: all fire no joy, no happiness, no freedom… no inner benefits or validation after all my efforts. And on the outside… all of the indications of the failure of what I choose to do with my life… no home, no money, health in decline and a (Siddha Yoga) partner who I love dearly and am completely devoted to, but is worse off than me.
Ironically Bill, it is spirituality that has made me excruciatingly aware that ‘nothing works for me’. My last hope has failed me. (No, of course that is not true, I have failed it.)
That’s why I added Holosync to my Siddha Yoga practices. I have stuck to my sadhana through hell and high water. I have spent many years in the ashrams and even done a pilgrimage to Mt Kailas in a thus far vain attempt to get somewhere internally. All of this finds still nailed to the earth and desperate to find that brief experience I had when I first started Siddha Yoga.
Which brings us to the Now, Bill. That’s the bare bones above, there is much I could add that is probably relevant, but you’re a busy guy and I’m trying not to waste your time.
What it seems to me to add up to is that I am missing the most fundamental skills for an internal life. After 30 years of meditation I can manage maybe five minutes max of internal focus. Though I love music of all sorts thousands of hours of chanting leaves me cold inside. Though I feel respect and admiration for my Guru, I feel no love in my dead heart. Prayer is a complete waste of time (probably because the ear that can hear an answer to prayer is in the heart, and my heart is deaf and dumb.)
The philosophy and literature does inspire me, though — the poet saints, the stories of the masters and strange yogis…your writings, Bill! (and, with your recommendation, Jack Kornfields ‘A Path with a Heart’. Brilliant stuff!) But that inspiration gets one nowhere unless you have the faculties to translate it all inside…make it work…which I seem frustratingly incapable of doing. Beginner’s Mind runs out without the validation of some sort of identifiable success. That is the storey of my sadhana – and what was inevitably repeated with the Internal Map course.
So…all fire, no joy. Frustration ranging from tolerable to catatonic. My internal map more powerful than God. My life reflecting all the wasted effort. Is suicide really the only answer, Bill? Is meditation (for some people anyway) just a Pandora’s box of unconscious horrors…best left closed. The way I feel now I really wish I had just stuck to plumbing and drinking wine… money and joy…bingo!
I know this is hypocritical and paradoxical, Bill, but on reading the above, which is all relatively true, I realize that my spiritual life has been full of adventure and amazing learning — on the outside and intellectually. And that I do live in an unbelievable beautiful country, that is moderately safe and sane and I have wonderful friends. I am not unaware of my blessings, Bill. My conundrum is that I am living in heaven but going through hell.
Love and respect, JC
I’m not sure where to start. You have asked me to assess your entire spiritual path. Though I have profound respect for Muktananda, who was an amazing fellow (I have many close friends who spent time with him), I am not in complete agreement with the Hindu explanation of the human condition or the details of their approach.
I think what you are discovering is fundamental to what Buddhists have discovered about life. One thing we will talk about in the second Life Principles course are Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. The basis of those Four Nobel Truths is this:
As a human being, you are stuck right in the middle of what Buddhists would call “the human condition.” One characteristic of the human condition is that we are caught in a giant matrix of cause and effect – we are at the effect of an almost unlimited number of causes. For instance, there are 7 billion other people, and they often act in a way that causes you to get what you don’t want, or not get what you do want. Most of these people have an agenda that is in conflict with yours, and their actions interfere with you getting what you want.
There are also many physical realities over which you have no control and which can also cause you to experience outcomes you don’t want: the sun, gravity, cosmic rays, weather, the seasons, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc, etc, plus the fact that you’ll die without food, air, water, shelter, a certain temperature range . . . and so forth.
And, finally, even when you get what you want it doesn’t last. Everything in this universe eventually falls apart, goes away, or ends.
All of these conditions create suffering for human beings.
The Hindu view is that if you do certain spiritual practices you have a CHANCE, at least, of attaining moksha (spiritual liberation) – what most Westerners refer to this as “being enlightened” – in other words, having a constant experience of the transcendent (or, as you’ve put it, of God).
Hindus believe that this provides an escape from the suffering inherent in the human condition. Zen, however, has a bit of a different take on this subject. Tozan, a famous Zen master, describes five stages of awakening (The Five Ranks of Tozan). The constant experience of the transcendence (what Hindus call enlightenment) is the third stage, with two more to follow. The fourth stage involves “a fall from grace”, where the seeker realizes that the transcendent, as beautiful as that experience is, is not an escape from the human condition, though at first it seems to be. In fact, in this stage the seeker feels as if he has been thrown out of the transcendent by the very causes of suffering he thought he’d escaped. This is followed (hopefully, with a lot of further spiritual work) by a fifth stage in which the transcendent and relative worlds are integrated – which is quite different than thinking you’ve escaped from the problems of the human condition.
So the cold, hard truth is that, enlightened or not, you’ll still be subject to all the human problems I listed above. There is, in fact, no escape from these problems. Hindu gurus sometimes seem to avoid them because their followers take care of them and make sure their human needs are met, which shields them, to some degree, from some of those problems. But the guru still gets sick and, just like the rest of us, he needs food, air, shelter, etc, to survive, and eventually he grows old and dies. He is still subject to all the problems of being human I listed above (which certainly isn’t an all-inclusive list). He’s perhaps better able to be philosophical about his situation than most people, but he still has to contend with the same problems everyone else has.
Now, as I have said, there are SOME things you can (or, rather, could) have some control over or choice about, because you create those those things. While you don’t create what the sun does, or that you need air to survive, or whether or not there is an earthquake, or the actions political leaders take that affect you, you do create 1) how you feel, 2) how you behave, 3) which people and situations you attract or become attracted to, and 4) what meanings you assign to what happens.
These four things are NOT a choice, however, unless you have the awareness to see how you create them, as you do it. This is what the first Life Principles Integration Process course is about: how you can become aware of how you create these things. When you do that, these four things become a choice.
Making these four things a choice is not something you do in the 6 months the course takes, however. It generally takes decades, and a lot of awareness, which is why we meditate, or, better yet, use Holosync. With Holosync, this process is dramatically accelerated because Holosync creates tremendous awareness.
Once you have a choice about those four things, you can then CHOOSE your suffering – which is a lot different than escaping your suffering, and is, unfortunately, the best you can do in this particular universe. For example, if you are attached to your child, you are subject to suffering if he dies or does something you don’t want him to do. With the choice created through awareness (since awareness creates choice), you KNOW that this consequence (potential suffering) is built into caring about your child, but you do it anyway–you choose to do it–because without such connections, without this sort of engagement in life, life would be dry and boring. It would have no juice.
This is, unfortunately, the best we can do as humans: choose our suffering. Buddha’s first Nobel Truth is that “All life is suffering”—for the reasons I cited above. Your story is your own version of living a life where you, like everyone else, are caught in the human condition.
So, what can you do? First, you can do what you need to do to have choice about those things you actually create. Less than 1% of people ever do this. If you do, it improves your life immeasurably because you stop most of the suffering that YOU are creating. You still have to deal with the suffering you can’t control (a product of cause and effect and the impermanence of all things), but at least you aren’t creating more suffering in the areas where you do (or could) have choice (you will never get to the point where you are so aware that you don’t create some suffering).
Next, you can continue to do spiritual practice toward the idea of experiencing the transcendent, and ultimately gaining the ability to live in the transcendent. You will, after that, at some point experience the fall from grace they speak of in Zen (you may be in that stage right now, based on your email), and which I mentioned above – hopefully followed by the ability to integrate the transcendent with the relative, which, as I said above, is different from thinking you have escaped from the relative world (which is what the Hindu approach promises, but doesn’t deliver). You cannot escape from the relative world, other than by dying, and this integration is an acknowledgement of that reality.
Muktananda, if I remember correctly, died of a heart attack (or some physical problem). So did Yogananda. Just like all humans, he was caught in the human condition. So are you. So am I. So is every person who is reading or listening to this. But what can you do other than make the best of it?
And, of course, there are many beautiful things about being human. You have mentioned the inspiration of philosophy and literature, but there is also music, art, and other creative pursuits; physical activities; the beauty of nature; and, of course, loving others.
I think much of your angst is because you have an idealized view of what is supposed to happen. You believed the Hindu promise of an escape from suffering. I wish there was one, but there isn’t. This doesn’t mean you’ll be constantly suffering (unless you create it), but it does mean that all those things I mentioned above are outside your control, and that you will inevitably fail to get what you want a great deal of the time, sometimes in a big way, sometimes in smaller ways.
This is just the way it is. Though no one ever fully accepts it, you can relax about it, you can learn to have choice about those things you do create, and you can learn to enjoy the day to day breathing in and out that makes us human. Muktananda, in fact, once said, “Life is a meaningless energy, going nowhere for no reason.” He meant, in part, that all of life’s meaning is ADDED, by you. It happens in your mind. This is your creative power as a human. Life means what you decide that it means. But only when you have enough awareness will the adding of meaning be a CHOICE. Without awareness, it will happen automatically, and you will add meanings based on the way your Internal Map of Reality was programmed by your past experiences.
Become aware. Use Holosync. Watch your Internal Map as it creates how you feel, how you behave, which people and situations you attract or become attracted to, and what meanings you assign to what happens.
And, finally, learn to be ordinary, because we all are. In Zen they say, “When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.” Life is what it is. When you stop fighting against the human condition, it doesn’t haunt you so much.
PS: An update on “Going to Hell in a Handbasket”: I hope you are paying attention and have noticed that much of what I have predicted in my three previous posts—financially, socially, politically, and otherwise—is unfolding, just as I have said it would. And, trust me, this process is just getting started. Social mood will become increasingly darker. Conflicts between all groups will increase. Financial problems will increase. The tendency to seek peace or to compromise will decrease. Please, get out of debt. Accumulate the resources you might need (food, cash, warmth, transportation, etc) should the source of these resources be temporarily shut down. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Above all, don’t be a deer in the headlights. Do something.