I’ve had a big shift in life recently, which has been building for some time. The preoccupation with meditation and other insight practices has been pushed aside in favour of cleaning up my act- what I’ve called virtue practice before, but is so much more than that.
You can expect a more personal, plain, thoughtful and tentative kind of post for now, being as honest as I can. I am not offering formal teaching for now as I don’t feel ready anymore- but I do want to share what I’m exploring for the benefit of myself and others. Anything I say is entirely speaking for myself; though interestingly, the word ‘my’ seems fraught with implications of ownership in a world that obviously isn’t ‘mine’.
Life/practice: it seems even more wrong, divisive and arrogant, to separate the two. Practice feels very much here and now, or nowhere, at the moment, which is to say that trying to hunt down a magical realm where no one suffers isn’t the point any more. I haven’t experienced weird stuff in practice for months or years and it really feels like that’s because I don’t need it at the moment. The longing for nondual experiences and shifts in perception is an obstacle to what needs attention.
Tipping points in life seem to come with a long build up. The wheel of practice spins fast and slow, like a driver forever missing the right exit; until they work out their mistake, and suddenly the way out seems so obvious. There has been a lot of physical pain in meditation for some time, as knots immediately appear in my stomach and chest as I try and settle. This is the anxiety, I am sure, of the unconscious desire to have blissful experiences and profound insights.
I have been feeling more and more guilt, shame, anger and sadness. Constant judgement of self and others, as well as obsessing about past and future, are suddenly obvious and wrecking the concentration of the formal sit in prayer that used to be a way of escaping it. Regrettably I have been pushing them down by various unhelpful and hurtful methods, subjecting people and myself harmfully to them rather than handling them. Anyone who has had problems with addictions, obsessions or simply stubborn bad habits will emphathise.
This is not something that can go on, in all conscience, and my conscience is finally, thankfully raw; easily pricked the way it used to be, before defensiveness took its place out of an understandable inability to cope in a younger version of myself. It is all part of the process and so needs some forgiveness, but it also needs some penance and work now that I know better.
This is finally giving rise to more kindness and humility, as my ego is taken down a peg or two; to more perspective and relief, as I assume the real proportions of my life; to honesty and curiosity as I wonder whether what I know is true, and try to live up to how I know I could be. For all the searching for insight, it as always was here staring me in the face, but in a form that I didn’t like – mundane, difficult – and so couldn’t let myself recognise. The way it is always is, beyond my control in some sense, but in a very real sense, my responsibility. This is insight, not pop psychology, because I can see the delusion dissipating; the emperor’s new clothes of pride realised for what they are, leaving me naked and embarrassed. Clothing myself deliberately with an attempt to do better is today’s job.
‘Meeting myself where I am at’ is important. What I feel shame about, rather than vaulting over with a rational recognition of my own fallibility and the multifactorial nature of mistakes, is to be owned as what I honestly feel, boiling up to the surface to be held and coaxed to give up its secrets, using whatever mindfulness I have developed. I can’t look the Unconditional in the face because I don’t have the sufficient grip on the day to day to make such disorientating forays: as the late great Terry Pratchett said, you have to have your feet on the ground to build castles in the air. Acknowledging failings seems infinitely more kind than burying them or rationalising them, and it is a builder of the bliss of blamelessness that I am coming to treasure.
I will still be posting about practical instructions for practice, but you can expect many more exercises from the ‘virtue’ classification and a more personal explanation of why I am doing them, rather than vaguely metaphysical discussions about how they might work, as more than ever I want to write for those who just have to do these practices, are driven to do them. I hope very much that it’ll be of benefit and bring you a lot of joy.