Each summer at the Blue Lotus Temple we invite “lay practitioners” to speak to our community and share their “spiritual journey”. In July a community member shared this particularly moving tribute on the value of a dedicated spiritual practice:
I thought that speaking about my practice would be easy. I spend lots of time reading and contemplating the dhamma. I meditate regularly and I try to live mindfully and with purpose. My practice is central to who I am, but It’s not something I often talk about. Maybe that’s why this task has turned out to be a little bit difficult for me. I have been writing and rewriting what I wanted to speak about today, but I finally decided that I would share an area of my practice that I am struggling with — and it seems like I’m always struggling with something. My tendency is to pick up an idea from a teaching or a book or just from a conversation or observation and churn it in my mind while I try to make sense of it.
The truth is that what has been on my mind for some time is that I want to live a more noble life and that I have been frustrated by my inability to do so. What I mean by a noble life is a life spent as an expression of my values and therefore an expression of my true self. I often ask myself the question: Is what I am thinking or saying or doing in harmony with my values? Is what is happening now or has just happened truly who I am? The answer to these questions is not always yes. I wonder how it is that I can have clarity and peace sometime and be such a wreck the rest of the time? One of the little truisms I sometimes hear is that the more we learn the more we realize how little we know.
Perhaps through growing self-awareness I am more clearly able to see all the times that I am under the control of emotion. What I can see is that I am often hobbled by anger and fear and desire. And I am far too often simply not present. I guess I could take certain comfort in the fact that knowing about my condition is kind of positive since from this awareness I can do the work needed to put out these fires, but honestly this has been going on my whole life. Quite recently after behaving rudely to a store clerk, I immediately felt bad and earnestly apologized to the target of my rage. I must have seemed more than a little unglued — a one-person good cop / bad cop. Apparently able to referee myself but not always embodying the values I hold dear.
In reflecting on my spiritual journey, I feel like I had known the first noble truth long before I was drawn to the Buddhist path. When I finally took refuge in the Buddha, the dhamma and the sangha I learned the other three truths as well and I am learning so much more. I also feel like I had always been dissatisfied with the world and myself. But having taken refuge and by doing this important work I am finding that I am incrementally able to accept the true nature of the world and myself. My practice is making me aware of the need to think, speak and act generously and with compassion and to understand my values and live those values without attachment to the outcome. We don’t often acknowledge that we can’t change the world. It seems that our social ideal is that of doers and achievers — attention directed outward. But I am learning the value in looking inward. And I am learning that I may be the only being that I actually can change. And by doing that, I might then be able to create more happiness in the world.
Another little truism is that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This idea used to seem self-evident to me, but I no longer necessarily agree. Sometimes things take time. Sometimes we have to commit to doing something over and over and over until we get it right. We have to have faith in our practice, so that we can awaken to our true nature.