Friday, December 31, 2010

spiritual books

So I'm enjoying a spiritual book by a friend in my spiritual community. He's ahead on the path, but we're in the same community. He's done years of meditation, friendship and study. I come along and pick up his book, and I can glean some of the insights he has developed. He's picked up some modern research to see if the results jive with current findings and lo and behold they do, he's found many many interesting studies. He's gleaned insights from an advance meditation practice.

So my question is, is that fair, or is it spiritual bypassism. John Welwood has, to my knowledge, coined this phrase. Where you use spirituality to not change, you just quickly and quietly incorporate this new system into your personality structure.

Is it fair for a person to go up the mountain for years of spiritual work, and then when he comes down we ask him all our pressing questions. They've put in some serious work, and you skip along and say, "hey, I don't want to do that kind of work yet, but can you just give me the secret and I'll skip the work please."

On the other hand, we learn from our elders, those ahead of us, that is a good thing. We seek guidance, and perhaps we're not trying to skip any work, but we just want to find some inspiration and mould our insights and clarify our vision of where we truly want to head.

I suppose the difference between the two is the approach to the book, whether it's a fickle fad, or whether it's the tenacious patient approach of a mature spiritual aspirant who has chosen one's tradition. And even if you're a dilettante or still on your spiritual journey of exploration to see what best fits you, that's OK too.

I feel the pull to go deeper, really commit to my spiritual life, and not get so swept up into irrelevant things. I want to simplify my life, unplug from distracting technology, and be alive as possible. At times I'm tired, and want lighter fare, lack of intensity.

As much as I like Living As A River, he's riffing off a meditation practice I mostly do on retreat, and is meant to be practiced in the run up to ordination, according to the system of meditation developed by Sangharakshita. I don't have a large enough well of metta to practice it regularly. Even if I am in harmony with the ideas and conclusions of his profound book, have I put in the work to really put into place his suggestions and really loosen up my ideas of self, to dwell in mindfulness and kindness more consistently and deeply? Sangharakshita has a quote to the effect that if the average westerner put into practice 10% of what they "knew" they would be doing good. Am I putting what I believe into practice. We are always not exactly there, we're unfinished projects in process, which is fine.

There's always a balance between pushing myself along and attacking myself when I'm in a depressive mood. If I dismiss spiritual ideals, I become poor, untethered, there is nothing to disentangle, no path to head on. If I use the ideals to beat myself up, I'm just reinforcing my own pathologies and smallness. If I use my ideals to spur myself along, then I use them properly, neither holding them too tightly nor too loosely.

So as I head into the new year, I wish to recommit to meditation, spiritual friendship, study of the word of the Buddha, continued ethical reflections based on the ten precepts, simplifying life, living mindfully and kindly, with an ever increasing appreciation for the reality and conditions, meanwhile keeping an eye on the transcendental as my reference point.

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