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Spiritual Experience vs. Realization (or What’s The Point, Anyway?)

June 5, 2009

I have been musing lately about the relationship between spiritual experiences and spiritual realization. I said in a prior post on chakras that I don’t think dramatic spiritual experiences necessarily lead to personal insight or wisdom. I said this because I am a lover of meditation, but I know firsthand that you can have wonderful meditative experiences – moments of stillness, joy, love, or even dissolution – but not change much off your meditation cushion. I know it’s not spiritually PC to say so, but you can meditate and still be ignorant, arrogant, uptight, mean, or insecure.

In fact, attachment to meditative states can actually become a hindrance to spiritual growth – many Buddhist and yogic texts warn against becoming addicted to spiritual highs or blisses. This is especially true within the traditions that teach chakra and kundalini meditation, which is what I mostly practice and teach, because these high-energy techniques can result in dramatic shifts in awareness. And if you’re meditating just for those, you might as well be bungee-jumping. I mean, experience is fine, you could even make a case that diverse experience is what life is all about, but collecting experiences is not happiness, or peace, or enlightenment.

So what exactly is the point of meditation then? Or of spiritual practices and techniques at all? Or, for that matter, of this vast expanse of techniques and traditions (heavily marketed these days I might add) that we call ‘spirituality’?

Gangaji was asked this question once at an event I attended, and simply said, ‘to be kind.’ The Dalai Lama has said something similar. A classic Buddhist answer is simply ‘to be happy’. Some, such as Eckhart Tolle, might say that spiritual growth has become necessary for humanity to survive – that evolving beyond ego-based living has become an imperative. Another teacher I once had said spiritual seeking was just a personal preference or proclivity – much like Mozart’s pull to music or Shakespeare’s to words. Some of us are just drawn to the other side.

Others would argue that all of life is a spiritual journey, that everything we learn is part of the process, and that distinguishing something called ‘spirituality’ is pointless and divisive. In principle I agree with this, but it’s also true that spiritual paths – methods and advice for experiencing the mystic or divine aspects of ourselves and the world – have emerged within virtually every culture. So there is something different going on here – a desire to consciously seek light and direct knowledge emerges at some point for many humans.

Spiritual practices, and particularly meditation when it’s practiced in a spiritual context (which of course it isn’t always), are tools for opening the doorway to light and direct knowledge. And this direct knowledge, or direct experience, of spirit/awareness/presence/the other side/God/Goddess/divinity/the sacred dimensions – or whatever term you prefer – is the mark of a mystic in any tradition, as I see it. Of course meditation isn’t required for that – people often have spiritual experiences outside meditation. Anytime our usual perceptions or fixed identity drops away, and our awareness opens up or expands, we’ve touched this. And many different things can trigger such moments. Meditation is simply a structured way of opening up, of releasing, into this – rather than leaving it to chance, you could say.

But from what I’ve seen, on its own even the best meditation practice isn’t enough to change someone, to evolve them, to make them kinder or wiser. For that to happen, meditative experiences have to be processed, and they have to be integrated into a larger context of spiritual practice.

This makes sense if you think about it, because we have all sorts of experiences in life and don’t necessarily learn anything from them, unless we put some effort into processing them. For example, our psychological hang-ups might pull us back to the same types of dysfunctional relationships over and over, and it takes conscious work to break the cycle. Unraveling and releasing these kinds of patterns is a big part of what modern personal development, and ancient spiritual practice, is all about. Whether you call it karma or conditioning or the ego or just being stupid, by default we are driven by mostly unconscious mental and emotional patterns. We have to dredge that stuff up into the light of day to work through it and let it go.

Part of the reason I’ve always liked Buddhism is that it emphasizes a holistic spiritual path, it is really a way of life, and meditation is just one part of it. The Noble Eightfold Path, a foundation teaching that is accepted in some form by most branches of Buddhism, outlines eight aspects of practice, and meditation is one aspect (or maybe two, depending on how you interpret them.) I think the best teachers within any tradition emphasize this holism. I was amazed when I first read St. Theresa of Avila’s books (the queen of dramatic spiritual experiences), as she outlines a very similar integrated spiritual path. And it is found in the writings of mystics within every tradition, I think.

When this integration isn’t present, spiritual practice just breeds arrogance, or confusion. I’ve seen a lot of this in spiritual communities I’ve been a part of over the years, and I’ve suffered through phases of it myself. Although I may be inviting trouble by saying so, I think it’s a particular problem with born-again Christianity: There’s a sense that this one dramatic experience saves you, and changes you forever. There’s little support for the idea that you need to process this experience to understand what it represents, or that you need to work to stay true to it, and be on guard for your ego’s attempts at distortion.

So, that’s my take on meditation and spirituality, from 10,000 feet: Meditation in any form (and there are many types) helps open our perceptual boundaries, and awakens us to realms of awareness – and spirit – that are hard to find amidst the busyness of our daily lives and minds. And sometimes the resulting experiences are dramatic, sometimes they are more subtle. Either way, on their own these experiences mean little. It’s what we do with them that matters. What do they show us about ourselves, and who or what we thought we were?  How do they shift our ideas about ourselves in relation to others and the world? What do they teach us about the nature of reality and our role in shaping it?

Just my two cents, what’s yours?

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43 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2009 4:08 am

    I think you’ve got it right. I know someone who meditated for decades and was into Buddhism – but he ignored most of the other seven parts of the path. In his case, I think he was expecting spirituality to let him sail over psychological issues that he never addressed.

    I can’t help wonder though, if it’s possible to have a certain level, depth or intensity of mystical experience, for want of a better phrase, yet still fail to be moved to a huge positive life change.

    I base this first on my own spontaneous initial experience, which actually went far beyond anything I’ve experienced since, and that literally changed my life overnight.

    Secondly, I’m aware of similar events in other lives – you mention Tolle, for example. Or look at the Buddha himself…

  2. mommymystic permalink*
    June 5, 2009 4:22 am

    Paul – wow you’re fast, I just posted this! I think you are right. I also was thinking of people who have near-death experiences, and then transformed their lives. And in kundalini traditions, there is a teaching that just the contact with the light itself, and all that energy coursing through you, will just clear blocks and karmas. There are certainly patterns in myself that I didn’t consciously work on, but that just seemed to dissolve over time.

    But on the other hand, there are many stories of teachers who have had profound insights, and been ‘certified’ by their masters (which I’m sure you know is common in Eastern lineages), and then ‘fallen’ dramatically later in their lives. So it seems vigilance is always required, the ego can always reclaim you. And if you think of Eckhart Tolle, he had this dramatic experience, and then spent 2 years ‘on a park bench’ as I think he puts it, processing what happened to him, and trying to figure out what it represented. He didn’t just come out of it changed. I wonder in your own case what led up to your experience, and what followed it? (I actually did finally order your book this week, so if it’s in there, I will find out!)

  3. June 5, 2009 10:37 am

    I think you’ve made a good point here. In the end, when one has become spiritually integrated, one’s whole life becomes a Spiritual Adventure. There is no separation. One eats, one sleeps, one works – but all is done with understanding and insight. There is no separation, it becomes seamless. Mind,, body, spirit – all acting in a powerful unity.

    we can have flashes of this, true moments of wonder. And then we fall out of these states, and we feel meditation is the only way back. But through persistent practice, those moods and insights become incorporated into our very being; we have changed the underlying brain structure. A very good book on this is “Zen and the Brain” – a massive tome I got through in college.

    in the end, the pursuit of Unity is the only task worth pursuing. Bringing us closer and closer :-)

    ggw

  4. June 5, 2009 12:54 pm

    Lisa,
    I am cheerleading you on here, girl. I can’t say that I have read such a comprehensive and thoughtful “essay” on this topic. It speaks to the fruits of YOUR practice that you are calm, clear, and wise about this.

    Clear seeing, and being able to integrate what comes up in our spiritual lives—whether a mystical, blow-you-out-of-the-water experience, or a mundane, potentially disturbing tango with your ego—comes down to how we choose to live as a result of the experience. Meaning, we get invited to ponder some pretty big questions of ourselves: ‘What DO I do with all of this? How do I now live?’

    In my view, the results of this process of noticing, and integrating with the help of meditation, humbles us. We soften toward ourselves and others. The ego begins to melt and we let go and into this journey of living with greater ease. Nothing is more humbling than meditation, done regularly or “properly.” Nothing helps me realize more how much I don’t know, how entangled I can get, how the ego desires to dominate and run my life, where and how I need to grow or to simply “be.”

    And, mind you, I am not necessarily speaking here of formal sitting practice. I still struggle with that. Walking meditation—walking mindfully through my day, noticing EVERYTHING I can about my perceptions, what thoughts arise, what emotions wash through and where they might take me, etc.—is my practice. I used to beat myself up about that—not being able to “sit” for long periods of time (plus, I have very cranky hips!). A wise teacher told me once to let that notion go because I actually was meditating (noticing, letting go, noticing, letting go, and integrating all along the way). I was most grateful for that.

    A wise teacher does help, a loving and supportive sangha does too, to keep us real, open, calm, clear, and hopefully, wise. And loving, always more loving…

    I am ever grateful you have these conversations here, Lisa, and that YOU are gathering a lovely sangha of bloggers too. It all helps…

  5. June 5, 2009 5:37 pm

    This is a very courageous post, and I love it.

    Recently I often find myself talking to my coaching client, “I know this sounds like heresy, but in your case, I don’t think you particularly benefit from meditation. . . you can have the same effect doing ( ).” The blank part depends on the client. For example, some get to the same serenity, bliss, and state of union by doing extreme sports — much faster and effectively than if they force themselves to sit down quietly.

    And as you wrote, meditation alone doesn’t accomplish much. There are those who seem to know every technique of meditation and don’t know much about themselves. They need to get their lives.

    I think your writing is getting better and better. You are very knowledgeable and experienced — keep up the great work!

  6. June 5, 2009 6:08 pm

    For me it’s playing guitar. Even practicing by myself can get me in that same state much faster than meditation. But then again, I’ve been playing guitar for over 20 years now, and I’ve only been meditating regularly for abut three weeks, so maybe that has something to do with it. ;)

  7. June 5, 2009 6:19 pm

    Lisa, thanks for getting the book – and I’ll answer your question there better than I can say it here. Except to add that I was in limbo for about two weeks following the experience. At that time – 1980 – eastern religion hadn’t become part of our culture. I had no background in studying religion or spirituality and I had no idea what had hit me. I did know that it directly challenged the entire world view I’d developed between the ages of 12 and 23.

    It was either pretend the experience had never happened, or overhaul my entire world view. And I really couldn’t pretend it hadn’t happened…

  8. June 5, 2009 6:47 pm

    It’s great that you’ve posted this perspective!

    It’s funny, but spiritual awakening is about overturning assumptions, and, ironically, it seems it is the spiritually-minded who cling to certain deeply-held beliefs. It isn’t that these beliefs are necessarily wrong; it’s the attachment which keeps us in delusion.

    Some of these assumptions are that meditation leads to mystical experiences, or that enlightenment is a one-shot big-bang event, or awakening is very difficult, and so on. I ask people to examine every belief, including their most cherished spiritual beliefs.

    My model is simple, even simplistic. Do I feel lighter, more joyful, more unified? Everything else, including the Buddhist precepts follows naturally.

  9. June 5, 2009 7:30 pm

    Lisa,

    I really enjoyed this post. Your commentary is so well written and thought out there’s very little to add.

    Let me just share that in Greek “spiritus” meant breath or breath of life. To me that is very essence of spirituality, noticing the flow of life and directly experiencing a unity with all things while I simultaneously operate in this world as a separate individual being. This seems to be the ultimate goal of so many spiritual paths and meditation is one of a collection of means for achieving that realization.

    Thanks so much for your post.

    Matthew at higherselfguides.com

  10. June 5, 2009 7:37 pm

    This is absolutely marvelous!

  11. mommymystic permalink*
    June 5, 2009 8:21 pm

    Thank you everyone, for your insightful and powerful comments. I started to respond to each one, but really they each stand on your own, and all have something powerful to say about the spiritual journey. It really just goes to show how differently the path can unfold for each person. And re: such great comments, this is one of the best things about blogging – when something you write triggers this kind of response. I am really learning a lot here…

  12. June 5, 2009 10:55 pm

    Lisa this is really honest! If awareness is lacking and you are not becoming a more loving person to yourself and others then it’s just entertainment.

    In Asia I believe that people still have a natural spirituality, living the teachings in their communities and honoring their teachers. There is less of a need to separate the worldly and the spiritual. I was reminded of this when I was in India and watched a man enter a public office building at the airport, touching the ground of the threshold then his heart before entering, just as you would see people do when entering a temple.

    Full conscious living, with the knowing that each moment,each action has the potential for transformation is freeing.

  13. June 5, 2009 10:57 pm

    Spiritual Experience vs. Realization (or What’s The Point, Anyway?)

    AQAL
    More of the same
    Full path vs. Lotus eating (Zen Fish Muffin)

    Great post, Lisa (again)! I really like the way you dig into distinctions on, and in, the realm of spiritual practice. Of course I have a few points I’d like to off for your consideration. ;)

    First, your thinking and methodology often remind me of the Integral Model, of which I am a huge fan. I find it to be an incredibly useful framework, and philosophical system, for fitting anything in the relative realm into. It also makes it very easy to carry the acknowledgement that while a great deal of the definitions of spiritual paths owe there inception and effectiveness to profound insights into the absolute nature of reality, they all still operate within the relative realm the instant they are shared between two people, or are used as the basis of any action whatsoever. The Model itself is often called All-Quandrants, All-Levels, All-Lines, All-States, All-Types, or AQAL for short. Those five basic elements, once briefly understood and experienced, make for a framework capable of containing and positioning anything, or any experience, in the relative realm relative to anything else in the relative realm. Very neat stuff.

    Next up, I personally find a fundamental confusion in spiritual paths to be fairly ubiquitous, which your post very nicely points to. Spiritual paths are held, especially by people who identify a spiritual, as being somehow better than any other path a human being can pick. They aren’t. In fact, as far as I can see, they are all just more of the same. Any area of human endeavor (again, IMnsHO {bonus points for guessing what the “ns” stands for}) is pursued for the purpose of either making this life better, or making the good things in this life more permanent, or for making the negative things in this life go away. Psychology, physics, personal development, law, entrepreneurship, politics, architecture, cultural study, city planning; the whole lot. All are ways to strive for the exact same thing: making this life more secure and pleasurable. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when we think we are not doing that when we are. Recognizing the portions of spiritual endeavor which are more of the same, and working with them in that context, is key to their success.

    Last up, your post really brought up for me the importance of pursuing the fullness of a spiritual system. I have been reading Daniel Ingram’s book, “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: an unusually hardcore dharma book”, and enjoying it immensely. Daniel is a bit of a caustic jerk, but he happens to be the type of caustic jerk I enjoy. I also find his rabid dedication to a full traditional path to be very refreshing. He draws a very good distinction early on in the book about the three main areas of Buddhist practice: Morality, Concentration, and Insight. Morality is how you act in the world, in any way. Concentration is meditation. Insight is wisdom. What happens a lot in the Buddhist flavored books which line the Personal Development, Spirituality, Religion, and New Age shelves of book stores these days is they either pull one of those out and treat it as the only point of Buddhism, or they mix the types of work done with those distinct areas all up creating a mess at worst or a vapidly light (and useless) treatment at best. This is the danger of not consciously carrying the distinction of Full Path vs. Partial Path. Personally I have zero issue with partial paths, but studying that way without knowing your doing it is disastrous. It leads to what I call the “Zen Fish Muffin” phenomenon. Zen (sans Buddhism) because they are cherry-picking one area of development, Muffin because it leads to the typical bran-muffin loving tree huggin’ hippy-dippy mind set, and Fish because they swim through that realm without ever paying attention to it (as in the old Zen adage that explaining buddha-mind to a human is like explaining water to fish, its very ever present already-always nature makes it very easy to miss.)

    In any event, you can see that your post got me all jazzed. Thanks again! Please, please, please keep up the amazing work!

  14. June 5, 2009 11:05 pm

    And another thing!

    (heh) I forgot to mention that I especially like that you pointed out that many (I would say most) insights come outside of meditation itself, but are integrated by and opened to, through meditation. IMHO, most profound insights, especially the ones of the great sages who have shaken the world with their declaration, are accidental. They stumble upon them. Meditation, as far as I can tell, does not create these insights, but rather makes one more accident prone. ;)

    (Warning: what follows is a shamelessly stated opinion which will likely upset a whole lot of people): From my experience I would say that there is precisely one method for directly coming into contact with they truth of absolute reality, or whatever you want to call it. A whole lot of spiritual paths and systems I have studied (both lightly and in depth) have this method buried within them, sometimes incredibly deeply and sometimes somewhat shallowly. But, it is only that method which can in anyway be called a direct one. The rest are either “more of the same” working on conditions in the relative realm, or they are lotus-eater methods for tripping out. Which, again, I am very honestly all for and fully support. ;)

  15. June 6, 2009 12:16 am

    Wonderful post, Lisa. I just love your writing and how you are able to speak so directly and clearly on these complex topics! You are a gifted teacher.

    In my practice, I find meditation to be rarely insightful, but I show up daily nonetheless. I do believe that practice of stillness helps to open us to deeper awareness. Plus, as a mother of a two-year-old, I have come to appreciate the silence and solitude of my meditation time.

    The processing and integration you mentioned happens for me when I journal – usually right after my meditation. This is where the insights and shifts in perception become visible to me. I think the two together have been a powerful practice for me.

    Cheers!
    Alexis

  16. June 6, 2009 11:03 am

    Meditation or any spiritual practice can become another opportunity to bolster the ego. That’s why there are teachings around techniques. Meditation is really where teachings are experienced. So if the teachings promote kindness, meditation gives you the way to become kind inside.

    Then you live kindness and it becomes part of everything you are and do. Techniques alone can lead to pride. It’s up to each person to internalize the teachings that meditation is but one aspect.

  17. June 6, 2009 2:08 pm

    I have expressed frustration to my partner about some of our friends who have meditated for decades who seem to me so very scattered, lacking any ability to focus or really see themselves. One person in particular — when I am around her, I can FEEL her nervous, ADD-like energy and I leave my time with her feeling sick to my stomach.

    Now my partner is very wise and she cut right to the heart of the matter and I think her point is very relevant in this discussion. She said to me:

    “Well…imagine if she hadn’t been meditating for decades!”

    Exactly.

    We cannot know the internal workings of another human being. We cannot have a clue as to how “far” they have gotten with the “spirituality.” We can only know ourselves and even then, we seem to be predominantly ignorant.

    As Mark Whitwell says, “Stop meditating.”

    The point of formal practice is just that — PRACTICE.

    “Meditation” is a state of awareness that is not about a time or place — or style of cushion, as I’m sure everyone in this discussion understands. :)

    Above all, methods, religions…all are just maps not to be mistaken for the territory.

  18. June 6, 2009 3:01 pm

    Love how you prompt readers to reflect on different wavelengths. One perspective is the point of anything is only ever what a person decides. SO, the point of meditation for one person can be very different than the point for others. You make a key point in saying, “meditation opens perceptual boundaries.” How one interprets that and chooses to apply it is a very subjective process.

  19. mommymystic permalink*
    June 6, 2009 5:20 pm

    Ok, more great comments, I decided I did want to respond to some of these points, but can’t possibly respond to all, so maybe I will have to do a follow-up post at some point.

    I do absolutely believe in the value of meditation, for health, stress management, and/or spiritual purposes. But when practiced as part of a spiritual journey, I just think sometimes the ‘bridge’ to real life – and heart – gets lost. I know for me it has at times. On the other hand, practice goes in phases, and my phases of arrogance or confusion have yielded great lessons in the long term (albeit sometimes with a crash!) Many kundalini traditions discuss the different energy phases that one can go through as karmas are released. But in order to come out of those phases, at some point someone or something (a teacher, life experience, dharma friend or book) had to jolt me a bit, to show me where I had gone wrong. That’s the value of integrated paths or practice – it provides a ‘checks and balances’ system.

    As way of gratitude, I’d also just like to say that this blog has actually become a great ‘checks and balances’ at this point in my own practice, through the comments I receive. When you teach, it’s easy to get trapped in the role of ‘expert’, and as the famous quote from Zen Master Suzuki says “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” So every comment to me is a way to practice beginner’s mind and see things from a new point of view.

    And although I believe in the value of meditation, I agree it’s not for everyone. Journeys unfold in lots of different ways, and you can’t judge them from the outside.

    Also, I do believe in the transformative power of mystic experiences, whether they occur in or out of meditation. This is part of the case for kundalini/chakra meditation practices, which in Tibet they sometimes call the ‘fast path’, because they can trigger such experiences. I just think they have to be processed insightfully to really lead to lasting transformation, and some philosophies (and some teachers) do a better job at that communicating that integration part of the path than others.

    Finally, many of you pointed out in one way or the other that true meditation is not about experiences, or ‘practice’, but about finding the experiencer, or letting go into the flow of awareness. I absolutely agree. I just think it is tricky business getting there sometimes. I think often spontaneous experiences happen early in someone’s meditation practice, and then the ego can take hold of it, and we can be tricked in all sorts of ways. This is part of what both Zen and Advaita/Vedanta and all the modern correlaries (including Gangaji) are trying to avoid. But the ego can take hold even of those paths! It’s just a constant untangling I think, and the minute you think you are ‘done’, you are in trouble in my view. Better to just assume you have only seen 1/1000000th of what the universe/awareness is, and then you will always keep probing.

    I have been contemplating this a lot because I recently re-read Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and he discusses this so well. (Trungpa was the Tibetan Buddhist teacher that founded the Naropa Univerity in Boulder, CO and created Shambhala Training and Press.) But I do agree, you have to just ‘keep showing up’ for practice to work through all these different phases, and that in itself becomes where some of the ego issues get worked out.

    Thanks again!!

  20. Penelope permalink
    June 6, 2009 7:23 pm

    Well…I have to kind of disagree…I think you seem to be overanalyzing. I think part of the problem is that people try to make things much more complicated than they should… it doesn’t have to be…just relax…it shouldn’t have to be so hard or such a chore or something…connecting with spirit/God is pretty simple if you keep it that way

  21. Penelope permalink
    June 6, 2009 7:28 pm

    just breathe

  22. June 6, 2009 7:45 pm

    Whatever works for you, works… for you.

    Everything anyone ever says is just a suggestion. ;)

  23. mommymystic permalink*
    June 7, 2009 1:39 am

    Penelope – well, I certainly can’t disagree that I have a tendency to overanalyze! That is probably why I like Trunpga (see prior comment for reference.) But in this case, I wasn’t really talking about HOW to meditate, or HOW to connect to spirit/God, I was really talking about how do you process that experience after the fact? The ego is a slippery thing, and I have not seen any evidence that the ego just melts away. It takes some integration and processing. I may be more sensitive to this issue living in LA (not sure where you are) because honestly sometimes it actually feels like a competitive spiritual marketplace here. It was kind of shock when I moved here.

    Of course that may just be MY ego, and that of people I personally know. I do realize there are a lot of different types of people and egos, and that’s why there are so many different paths.

    Travis – in the end, of course you’re right. I do think if the intent for freedom is there somewhere, no matter how buried it is, you get drawn to the right tools to work through your own particular kinks. So I try to respect them all. But I know you are here in LA too, so you probably know what I mean about a ‘competitive spiritual marketplace’. At a certain point, you just have to call a spade a spade – arrogance is arrogance, no matter how long someone has been meditating! That is really where my musings began on this…(and I don’t exempt myself from that arrogance either.)

  24. June 7, 2009 1:44 am

    I hear that, Lisa. I love the term, the “stink of Zen.” I try to keep an eye on myself for that, but of course we see our own faults the least, so I also really try and pay attention to other people’s complaints about me.

    Also, I live in San Francisco, not LA, but we have plenty of the “spiritual marketplace” up here in the Bay Area. Fun to watch.

  25. June 8, 2009 12:30 am

    I’ve been thinking about this a bit more

  26. June 8, 2009 12:33 pm

    I love this article. My view is that spirituality does not equal wisdom. For a while, I was very disappointed because I had assumed that they go in tandem. I had thought that the more years of meditative practice or the more psychic experiences a healer claim to have, the more wise he or she would be.

    Boy, was I wrong! I saw how egos can interfere in his/her perspective of the world around. In fact, the ego became so high that a spiritual healer can make some totally unbelievable claims.

    I also like to use the Buddhist framework. It helps keep my ego in check. As much as I can, I adopt The Noble Eightfold path. Although I don’t consider myself religious, I send my kids to Buddhist classes every week so that they can learn how to meditate and make peace with life. I surround myself with Buddhist friends and volunteer my writing services and assistance to a Buddhist non-sectarian organization. By doing, I am constantly reminded to practice loving kindness, be humble and to contribute selflessly to the community.

    I am most surprised to read what you’ve said about the “spiritual marketplace” in your locality. It sure does not sound pleasant!

  27. June 8, 2009 4:01 pm

    Meditate away, until your ass falls asleep. It’s fun, a good discipline, and yet another one of those fascinating experiences the mind, or self, or whatever we call it on a Friday, loves to rear up and claim as its own. Meditate, live life, engage in whatever practices come your way, and enlightenment may come someday…maybe tomorrow…hell, maybe even in a minute or two. The mind, tool of duality, will always find a way to stay in charge, whether it’s to engage in practices that keep enlightenment a dream of the future, or concoct a belief system that promotes unity or harmony or deep engagement with others or blah blah, blah blah blah. This is paradise. This is it. Whatever the seeker seeks, is this, always everything, always available. The best thing about spiritual practice or fascination with certain states or meditation or guru yoga or you name it is that the apparent practitioner will just give up. What is let go, is what lets go. It could happen at any “time”, regardless of what the appearance is, whether it’s a profound and fulfilling spiritual path or stinking drunk under a bridge. It’s all a different face of the same thing. Everything. This.

    Travis can sure go on a bit, can’t he?

  28. mommymystic permalink*
    June 8, 2009 6:22 pm

    Evelyn – yes, it sounds like I had a similar process of discovery as you regarding spiritual experience vs. wisdom. The ‘spiritual marketplace’ here in LA prompted this article partly because there are literally ads in a local paper about techniques that can still your mind in one day, or grant you enlightenment in 1 month. It’s wild. Of course, this is LA, land of TV and movie-making, so we excel in make believe here!

    I have just started thinking about what kind of spiritual or religion education I would like to provide my children, if any, and am also gravitating towards Buddhism, even though I don’t identify myself that way anymore, because it seems to have the most grounded, integrated approach.

    Susan – “What is let go, is what lets go.” Love it. As for the rest of your comment, I will have to come visit your blog and see if I am following you. If part of what you are saying here is that the main plus of formal spiritual practice is that eventually you give up on it, and then are truly able to surrender, then I have to say, YES, it does seem to happen that way for some people. On the other hand, I actually do ‘believe’ (bad word, but English has no other) in enlightenment, and grace, and guru transmission, although it might not sound like it in this article. So I’m not sure I’m with you on all of it…

    Travis can go on a bit, but at least it’s interesting:-) And I go on quite a bit myself, so can’t hold that against him!

  29. June 8, 2009 8:00 pm

    Belief arises, sometimes in enlightenment, sometimes in guru transmission, sometimes in primal screaming, sometimes in child beating. Everything is available.

  30. June 9, 2009 2:16 am

    There’s so much here that I have often pondered myself, it’s such a great post. And then all the comments as well…

    A couple of ideas/statements stand that spoke a lot of truth to me, one being:
    “When this integration isn’t present, spiritual practice just breeds arrogance, or confusion”. And then commenter Evelyn’s observation that “spirituality does not equal wisdom”.

    I’ve certainly encountered this, (and Paul above also refers to it), in the form of individuals I have known who have been very dedicated spiritual practitioners (Buddhist), who meditate and do yoga every day. One of these people (a friend of mine) actually did a lot of very hard and painful work and is someone who I think actively embodies loving kindness and compassion in her life and relationships. Her strength and humility is such that she really has and continues to try to integrate her life with her spiritual practice.

    The other person I know, is as dedicated a practitioner, but is a lying, stealing, corrupt psychopath (an ex-colleague : ) But he sees himself as this evolved and spiritual person. These parts of himself are bizarrely so separate that it’s probably a case of disassociation or some kind of personality fragmentation. Definitely borderline anyway, but that’s not the point I’m getting at here.

    I s’pose for me, my practice – yoga and meditation – is an opener, a reminder of who I am on a core level. But for me it’s not the essence of the work itself. It helps me be still, and mindful and conscious enough to engage with the work I have to do on all the loopy, neurotic, and dysfunctional aspects of my being…hehe. Life and practice as yoga.

  31. mommymystic permalink*
    June 9, 2009 3:48 am

    Docwitch – yes, I like what you said – yoga and meditation is a “reminder…but not the essence of the work itself”. It seems our relationship to our practice is almost more important than the practice itself. And practice is just that – practice – the real thing we are practicing for is daily life. But it’s a tricky business, staying grounded i think.

  32. June 9, 2009 5:47 am

    Daily life…although it’s all nothing appearing as something, that daily life stuff, that unfolding, that’s truly what I, or my character, or whatever we’re calling the mind/body thingy today, do my best to “get right”. Thankfully, without the load of fear-driven ego resistance which seems to have just dropped away without any real effort, “getting it right” seems nearly effortless. The impending teenagehood of my children will tell how bloody spiritual my character REALLY is! Bring it on.

  33. June 9, 2009 8:18 pm

    Coudn’t agree with you more. If spiritual practice is a means of getting somewhere, I’m in trouble. I’ve seen this with my own practice. If I am trying to transcend suffering, I just dig myself deeper into it blindly. If I choose to be with it, the insight usually becomes clear after a while, as long as I am not trying to push through it quickly to get to the other side, whatever that is:) Thanks for another insightful post.

  34. June 10, 2009 9:58 am

    My eyes almost popped up when I read about what you mean by spiritual marketplace in L.A. Enlightenment in one month?? Still my mind in one day??? Wow….what a claim!! Well, if it is really true, I will be wanting to fly over immediately. Writing this made me remember that the last time I went to L.A. was 10 years ago.

  35. steve permalink
    June 17, 2009 3:23 am

    First, my condolences on the loss of your friend. I will pray for you and him.

    If a man fishes for food then it is work. If he fishes just to fish then that is joy. If we take the seat just to take the seat, with no expectation of gain, then this is joy also.

    Spiritual experience has its place, but it can be a huge hinderance. This I know from personal experience. Like psychoactive drugs it can bust the rigid parameters of self and reality and force us to open up -but it is a powerful drug and to seek more for the sake of the experience creates pain. Spiritual experience is a lesson taught, and if taken as such, is a benefit.

    Peace be with you in this time of change.
    s

  36. August 10, 2009 9:22 pm

    Love this post…thank you for sharing! I think it really is about finding joy, and as Eckhart Tolle says to move beyond the ego…as often as is possible to experience greater joy and happiness and to see things with clarity so that we are able to respond to situations purposefully.

  37. September 22, 2009 6:51 pm

    Ohh!! Really a very nice observation and deep understanding of meditational practices.

    The purpose of meditation is to get detached from worthless thoughts and feelings, but if get addict of the blissful experiences during meditation or sometimes to powers that come through meditation, you will hinder your further spiritual progress..!!

  38. mommymystic permalink*
    September 23, 2009 7:42 pm

    Arvind, thanks for your insight. I think this is an especial challenge in chakra and kundalini meditation, which I see you are also a practitioner of.

  39. March 21, 2011 10:54 am

    The best meditation is the one that works out for you. as long as you are able to achieve balance and oneness with your mind and body, then that is fine. Thanks for this article.

  40. March 22, 2011 2:13 am

    Best meditation – I agree! Thanks for visiting.

Trackbacks

  1. Travis Eneix » What Spiritual Dis-Ease And Morbid Obesity Have In Common
  2. Spiritual Experience vs. Realization (or What's The Point, Anyway … | ChakraRetreat
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