Father Thomas Keating and the Dalai Lama

For many years, I considered spiritual seeking to be my principal avocation. I love ideas and spiritual practice so I tried many things but my mind, eyes, and heart have been opened through studying the works of Paramhansa Yogananda, Father Thomas Keating, and others. What I found through my many explorations and experiences was the idea that all paths seem to start at the base of the metaphorical mountain from different points, then work their way up to a common summit and pinnacle where their fundamental similarities converge and cannot be mistaken. The common threads, I suppose, have always been in the grounding elements of meditation, contemplation, and compassionate service through which one’s mind and consciousness can be examined and expanded.

In Pursuit of a Path

Years ago a neighbor stopped by my workshop.  I could tell by his level of agitation that he needed to talk about something but was having trouble bringing it up. After several failed attempts at small talk, he revealed the source of his concern. The following day he was heading to his first experience at a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat and was worried because he did not know what to expect. He was inexplicably drawn to attend but was very anxious about it. Would he lose his mind? Would he cease being the successful ophthalmologist he had spent his life becoming and suddenly leave hearth and home to live off-grid at an ashram somewhere? Would he still retain his love for his wife and continue to be a good father to his two sons? In essence, what he was asking was if he would stop being who he was.

The answer was yes. And no.

There is no doubt that an in-depth meditation of the type he was undertaking would change him. It was the way it would change him that was relevant. You see, depth meditation will not change who you truly are, but it will clear a path through the mind for who you truly are to express that Self clearly. For me, meditation is an emptying, a way to undo the conditioning of family, culture, media, and countless other subtle influences downloaded into our thinking machinery every day. In that clearing away, our life purpose and fundamental natures emerge so that we can present a more authentic Self to the world. This process seems to be true of all evolutionary spiritual paths. The very practice of moving yourself along a path appears to clear a space for your true essence to express itself. This is essentially the answer to why you would want to embark upon a spiritual path in the first place.

How do you find a spiritual path for becoming more fully yourself?

It may be useful to consider that every single thing in the universe is idiosyncratically unique. The universe has become more and more complex, creating ever more interesting and unique phenomena since the moment of the Big Bang. In all of that evolutionary complexity, here you are at the culmination of creation, being pulled forward to express the novelty that is your true Self. The path you seek is not one pushing you from behind. It is a magnet drawing you forward, and just as every other thing in the manifested universe is drawn to express its uniqueness, so are you.

Here you are at the culmination of creation, being pulled forward…

The How of that can be observed in what you are drawn to – in what resonates with you on a visceral level and in what you love. Unfortunately, love is a loaded word that has itself become muddled. It might be helpful to think of love in this instance as harmony. Those things you are drawn to — whether an inspirational message, a practice, teacher, song or poem, etc.—represents a door or window onto a place within where you experience harmony in yourself and your world.

What if I cannot find anything that instills harmony?

This may be a question that comes up for you and if so, it will be all the more critical for you to empty out some personal mental clutter. I’ve found that the best approach is to test what has traditionally proven to be effective. Meditation has been around for millennia and has quite a proven record of helping people mentally declutter. Other options people investigate might include isolation float tanks, ice baths, Qi Gong, intense physical activities, etc. These may also have some levels of success for you because they serve to remove some of the debris you may have mentally stored up over time. You do not know what you do not know – so start somewhere and experiment.

I can offer, from my own experiences, the proven shortcut – meditation. It is a perfect starting point. Meditation or any aspects of the ancient yoga science are long perfected and designed to free your mind and deliver you to an unprecedented awareness of self, self-direction and, frankly, of everything else. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose but your clutter!

As you navigate through various experiences and experiment, pay attention to how you feel. Does the teaching or practice you are exploring strike a chord with you? Does it calm your mind, soothe your soul and expand your consciousness? Ask yourself what you like and dislike about what you experience. If what you like draws you into harmony with others and you feel aligned and at peace with that environment, then follow that path, discipline, or teacher. Traditional disciplines like Kriya Yoga and Zen are structured in such a way that you have a framework to operate with as you move further into awareness. Conversely, if you find yourself uneasy about a situation or practice – if you become agitated, angry, compromised or fearful— evaluate whether that path or practice is for you.

Warning! Warning! Proceed with Caution

The mechanism of the mind is crafty. It protects itself. All of the conditioning, you at one time or another, have adopted to help you navigate through your world wants to remain in place. These behaviors are stratified by years of repetition and even if they are debilitating, they are intimately familiar to you — perhaps even beloved by you – and can be intractable and challenging to change.

You will need to be brutally honest with yourself. Are you merely reacting negatively to change, or are you genuinely in the wrong place for you? Removing mind clutter can be ominous and devastating. One term often used to describe this fear of change is Terror of the Threshold. Such a menacing fear is nearly universal at some point among those starting out. This is where a trusted teacher or codified discipline is necessary and most beneficial.

In the beginning, exactly what is going on with yourself is not always easy to see clearly. You cannot see your own eyes without a mirror. A good teacher and a tested tried and true discipline can become mirrors reflecting the patterns and content of your mind so you can see them clearly. Once you recognize the patterns, you can manage or change them, let them go, or modify them so that they are no longer restrictive or limiting.

When the moment and opportunity comes that you find a practice or discipline that promotes and nurtures harmony within you, it behooves you to focus your energy and attention, and to formalize your practice. If you are gaining clarity, keep going with it. Dedication to genuine expression is key. Read the teachings, attend the classes and speak with those further along in that specific path. Ask questions. Perform the disciplines, practices, and/or rituals.

This is how you follow the path you have chosen. As you deepen your practices and gain greater clarity, you will find that your awareness will telescope to give you understanding that is ever more inclusive and insightful.

I remember once having a conversation with an elderly Aunt. She was a lifelong fundamentalist Christian. Well into her nineties she was always in prayer, dedicated to her church and to service to the surrounding community. She was an avid gardener and grew the most wonderful flowers and vegetables. One day while sitting on the porch, she told me she felt that Jesus lived in her garden and in all living things. She was certain of it, in fact. Her expanded awareness was non-doctrinal and the product of years of contemplation and dedication to her chosen path. Nobody told her that. Nobody had to. After years of practice, she could just see the inclusiveness of Spirit in all things.

My Neighbor’s Experience

The neighbor and friend I mentioned at the start of this article went to his meditation retreat and did, indeed, return changed. He came back calmer, more loving and far more patient than he had previously been. Before long, he reported that his relationships with his wife and children were much improved and his ability to be fully present with his Ophthalmology patients had opened a new chapter in his professional life as his ability to embrace equanimity and calmly listen to others was radically improved. In this way, his worst fears when embarking upon the experience gave way, making an opening for his greatest benefit.

Change in this life is inevitable. My friend wisely precipitated a constructive change by taking the first, tentative steps to find his spiritual path. That was 20 years ago. I spoke with him briefly the other day as he was joyfully on his way home to attend an online Vipassana meditation session.

We may stumble along the way but our path will make itself known to us if we open ourselves to the possibilities of it. Once we are drawn forward, we realize that the path was seeking us the entire time. In our dedication to following our inner yearnings and paths, we are becoming our truest selves and can bring those unique expressions into the world. In so doing, we become of valuable and serviceable benefit to the world and to ourselves.

______________________________

Contributing Writer

Paul Bowersox is a lifelong seeker, meditator, professional ghostwriter, and co-author of Seeing In the Dark: Claim Your Own Shamanic Power Now and In the Coming Age (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2009).  His teachers have included Curanderos and line cooks, gardeners, Gurus, Shamans, and nature itself. Paul has written everything from cookbooks to YA fiction, with his primary writing focus being spirituality and awareness practice. His popular blog series Thought Cabinet can be found on social media. Paul has a degree in Biomedical Engineering from Purdue University and owns and runs, when he is not writing, a small manufacturing company, The Naturals, which makes twig wreaths and other curiosities for the floral and craft industries.

Lessons in Meditation
Starts July 30

A 10-week online course with in-depth instruction in scientific meditation techniques that bring more peace, deeper relaxation, and focused concentration to every area of your life.

Learn more

18 Comments

  1. “Clutter” my new word for my mind chatter! Thank you for this. I’ve never considered fear before as your friend did but I get it. Growth and change can be scary but I tend to just expect I’ll be a better person on the other side of it. Off to clear some clutter! 😊

    1. Hi Conlee, Fear is a great giver of perspective. Trauma even more so. And you are correct, the ‘scary’, properly used and observed, can be a way to clear all that clutter away when fear, grief or trauma arises. This is one reason why funerals can open our eyes to what is fundamentally important. The event of loss strips away illusion in many instances.

  2. Hi Paul
    Lovely article. I am a meditator and part of Ananda. I would like to contact you for some writing work, if it interests you. I live in India, and my number is +919820624726
    What’s the best way to connect.
    My coordinates are
    chhitrasubramaniam@outlook.com
    Many thanks
    Chhitra Subramaniam

    1. Hello Chhitra, I have written you email at your listed address. Thank you!

  3. Meditation and contemplation can be transformative. It can give you a broader view of yourself , those around you and of life itself.

    1. Ron, I completely agree. In college, I took a semester long class on Zen meditation. It was, as you say, transformative and was the first time I was made viscerally aware that there was a great deal more to me, the world, consciousness, and life than this tiny “box” labelled ‘Paul Bowersox’. Thank you for reading and commenting on the article.

  4. I was loving meditation by myself or with others till a certain time & it took many years to realize what happened was I suddenly changed to signing my name to pay taxes on money someone else was in charge of yet I was to benefit from it eventually. Before that it was money I made with husband only that taxes were paid on. So, when I added the other I added steal, kill & destroy spirits into my life that were never there before. When I started making calls to bind these false spirits, my life changed for the better. The trinity is good to bind these negatives God never intended but man in his lust for other’s property ( I would reject inheritance if I could) has brought on more divisiveness in the world than anyone can imagine. The fact that none of this is illegal shows the illusion of everyone involved in controlling another’s property or the controlled not fighting the bad things your relatives do to you legally to kill you gradually. All relationships need to be built on freedom of each individual to be in control of all he pays taxes on in order to thrive & fulfill a destiny.

    1. We live in a world of illusion that is based on commodification. In other words, everything we love sooner or later shows up in the marketplace with a price on it, or as an incentive to buy something. The spirit of money, therefore, can become debilitating when one begins to give it power in thought, word, or deed. In essence, money is merely a tool, just like a screwdriver or a hammer. Would any sensible person become obsessed with a screwdriver? Then why indulge in the obsession of money or wealth? It is always our attachment that brings us suffering.

  5. Dear Paul,

    Your very well written, articulate article struck a chord of deep resonance.

    May I take the liberty to contact you to explore possibilities of penning some articles if it fits in with your scheme of things. I am based at New Delhi, India and am contactable at :
    (M) : +91 9891000212
    Email : sachdevajay@yahoo.com

    Kind regards
    Ajay

  6. Hi Paul
    What a beautiful article.. so clear, uplifting with straightforward guidance.

    In 1995 I was drawn, like a magnet, to the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and for 10 years got deeply entangled in a meditation organisation that falsely claimed have sprung from Paramhansa Yogananda. It was a huge ‘learning curve’ and though it took many years to clear the resulting confusion and pain I finally emerged stronger and with more clarity of my choices.
    Years later after a few years break from any meditation at all I began exploring various other paths for a few years each and finally resonated deeply with kundalini yoga.
    This year Paramahansa Yogananda has been a strong influence again and I feel that duality of two paths calling, yet strive to be open to the discipline of remaining consistent with one path.
    Of course, different teachers will influence us along the way and I love that, but my challenge seems to be my comparison of the two paths and commitment without straddling two paths.
    Warmly victoria

    1. Victoria,
      I appreciate your dilemma of having studied and practiced two spiritual paths. I too have had this problem in my life. I have found that the conflict and doubt that this presented in my life spurred me on to practice and develop discernment that I would not have had otherwise. I can see where this can stymie weaker spiritual seekers. If you have the strength and fortitude, your spiritual life will be all the better for having gone through this.
      Bill

      1. Very true. Thanks Bill for your clear reply. Interesting to oberserve, now that I reflect throughout my life to recognise that pattern being very strong throughout my early life with choices between two – be it partners, career, country to live in etc – and now in this powerful 2020 an opportunity being that is asking me to go deep into my inner truth and as you say, emerge stronger. Not easy when both paths offer such profound, albeit different benefits.. however, ha ha! Going back to the article itself – all paths lead to the same point ultimately. Thank you , Victoria

      2. Bill, I was preparing to comment to Victoria when I read your response. What more needs be said? Your perception that, with persistence, one develops a keen discernment is spot on. Very well said, and I agree completely. Being ‘lost in the woods’ can be terrifying and frustrating, but it can also be an opportunity to hone ones perception.

  7. I love the story about about the elderly fundamentalist aunt who discovered the presence of God through her gardening.

  8. Great story. Recently thinking about the difference between soul and spirit. You write….
    “she could just see the inclusiveness of Spirit in all things.” On the one hand spirit seems singular and on the other not necessarily. Like Native American ideas of spirit as in Bear Spirit or Eagle Spirit. So is the spirit in all things specific to that particular plant, insect or animal. I once bought a shark tooth necklace when I was feeling down and weak. I was greatly unpowered for several months, then one day I did not want to wear it and took it off. It seems I needed the shark spirit in my life at the time. It seems spirit is more of this world, soul of another. M

    1. Excellent comment. In my experience, differentiation is of this world, and yet essence is universal. A friend once said during a similar conversation, “Y’know, this is more of a ‘both/and’ situation rather than an ‘either/or’ one.” I have always compared soul and spirit to a hand, where soul is the palm from which each of the fingers and thumb are spirits differentiated from the common source.

  9. Hi Paul
    Wonderful article; great insight and guidance into finding your path.
    Thank you and blessings
    Brad

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *