I have not fallen off the face of the earth. I’ve just been transitioning. My last blog described a shamanic journey, where I felt as if all the pieces of my six-month wander through New Zealand, India, Thailand and Cambodia in search of a more peaceful place within, fell into place.
After the shamanic journey, I cleaned all the earth off my body (yes, I had been rolling in the earth) and prepared to re-enter “normal” life.
The gods are kind. I was able to experience a gradual re-entry back into the “real” world. I spent a sun and coconut-filled week paddling around a tributary of the Mekong River with two Telluride friends. I got to celebrate my brother’s wedding in California. And (thank you Universe), I drove from the California Bay Area to Telluride, where I will spend the summer teaching, with a former Tibetan monk, Chophel, who generously delivered a 20-hour dharma talk along the way.
After Chophel handled the challenge of a locked house upon our arrival into Park City, Utah, for the night, and I watched him drive 40 miles out of his way to help a stranded trucker, I thought I understood a little bit more about spiritual practice.
“Spiritual practice means nothing without ethics,” he says. “Sitting in meditation and then screaming at someone cutting you off in traffic is not the way.”
About this time, his phone rang. It was a woman who wanted to help him with directions from Park City to Telluride. He had the route clearly mapped, but he spent a considerable amount of time listening to her suggestions. “When someone wants to help you, it’s good to let them,” he said cheerfully, pulling onto the freeway and taking the alternate route to the one she’d told him to take.
It made me think back to all those times I’ve cut people off, saying “I know,” or stewing in frustration that someone is making a situation more complicated and less efficient than it could be. It makes me reconsider my attitude.
I ask Chophel a lot about samadhi, that state of bliss yogis strive to achieve, the end goal of all the yogic contortions and things like sneezing air forcefully out through the nose, and contracting the muscles of the pelvic floor. When I tell him about all our tantric techniques, he laughs.
“I am not making fun,” he says. “It’s just that the focus can be misdirected.” That’s where all our suffering originates, he explains: from our misperception of reality, or truth. But he is quick to add, “We are all wrong. Isn’t that freeing? None of us are right, so we can just relax and experience this life.”
Having the goal of a perfect pose is settling for far less than we are designed to achieve, I am realizing. This makes me think of a quote I heard long ago from CS Lewis:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
So what is the use of all the techniques I’ve learned? I ask Chophel, and he has me listen to a talk on the Buddha by meditation teacher Alan Wallace. Here’s what I took away: The Buddha was this guy who achieved samadhi, the mental disembodied state of clarity and bliss, within days of beginning a practice. He realized that this was a limited experience. “Not enlightenment, just a vacation.”
But the yoga and meditation practice is the first step toward being full of wisdom, love and awareness. As you attain FOCUS through yogic practices, you are ready for the second step: INQUIRY.
So all these teaching I soaked up throughout the Far East are absolutely helpful and beautiful. They are just limited. The point is to apply them in a way that makes you more loving, more helpful, more of a force for good.
Here’s the Buddhist wisdom meditation as (I think) Chophel explained it to me:
As you end your day, go back over the events of the day. Notice those events you handled in a skillful (rather than good) way, and congratulate yourself. Then become aware of the events you handled unskillfully (rather than badly). Picture yourself handling that same event in a more skillful fashion. And as always, give thanks for the day, the moment, that is never coming again. Continue to build the practice of gratitude for each precious breath, knowing that each moment is special, unique and blessed. It will never come again.