In our quick-fix, instant-gratification culture, spirituality can easily become a way to build up our egos or even avoid ourselves altogether. The aim of many new age practices is to become a more highly-developed, spiritual person, but in the process, some of the practices simply enable us to bypass how things actually are.
Some spiritual practices help us avoid or numb our lives completely. “So much of what passes for spirituality these days is really about pleasure seeking, getting high,” says Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. “This self-absorption disguised as spirituality only leads to more suffering. Real spirituality is about getting grounded. Once we understand who we are, we can realize the needs of others and do something about helping them.”
As part of a genuine spiritual path, Meditation gives us the opportunity to explore our whole experience without rejecting any part of ourselves. Meditation keeps us honest so we can discern if what we are experiencing is genuine or just a fantasy.
Studying our Experience
Everyone comes to meditation with projections and expectations about practice. Maybe we expect to become more productive or intelligent. Maybe we think practice will make us more likable or interesting. However, meditation requires letting go of these preconceptions.
The spiritual path is not about living up to an ideal or concept, or even about believing in anything in particular. True spirituality is about discovering one’s own dignity and worthiness through exploring one’s own experience.
The principle method of studying experience is through the practice of meditation. This can be likened to a scientific inquiry into who we are. The Dalai Lama calls studying this subjective experience, the “science of the mind.” During practice one questions one’s thought-patterns and begins to observe one’s mind in a neutral, unattached way. We all come to meditation with expectations, but the process of meditation is opening to the changing of our thoughts, ideas and perceptions.
Genuine spirituality is about developing the courage to explore the dark areas of one’s life with gentleness and compassion. Meditation is the practice of resisting the urge to reject, judge or control parts of ourselves we don’t like. This openness lets us be in the world without hiding behind beliefs and viewpoints.
Just being alive is a very raw experience; meditation develops this bravery and gives us the skills to open up rather than close down. “Ultimately, the definition of bravery is not being afraid of yourself,” says Pema Chödrön. Spirituality is ultimately about finding the bravery to help oneself and others.
Compassion and Vulnerability
Genuine spirituality is about becoming less selfish and developing kindness and compassion towards others. Being helpful and caring for others requires getting in touch with our own hearts. Instead of seeking out a spiritual high or comfortable experience, meditation practice helps us touch into vulnerability as a way to develop compassion.
Usually we reject painful emotions, fearful that they will overwhelm us. However, Pema Chödrön teaches that touching into our own vulnerability connects us to others.
She writes, “Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion.”
When we give up defending ourselves, its possible to be truly compassionate and helpful to others. When we are more comfortable in our own skin, its possible to let more of the world in.
Some perspectives to ponder:
“It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego. This means stepping out of ego’s constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort or whatever it is that a particular ego is seeking.”
– Trungpa Rinpoche
“If you go deeper and deeper into your own heart, you’ll be living in a world with less fear, isolation and loneliness.”
– Sharon Salzberg