Jesus said: “seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all else will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33)
The vedas say: “Those who have Unity in their awareness, those who have Unity lively in their awareness, Natural Law works for them.”
The Buddha implied: Ignorance is the root of suffering and the cause of suffering is (attachment to) desire.
True personal success originates in spiritual success. While worldly success seems desirable, without spiritual wealth it doesn’t produce sustainable happiness. There’s nothing wrong with desire, in fact it’s great. Desire is life. Life without desire would be very flat indeed and it likely wouldn’t even happen. However, the clinging to desire causes us to act, feel and relate in strange ways. This is because desire is one thing and clinging, attachment, is another.
The spiritual life (we would rather call it the integrated life) is lived from the understanding that clinging, grasping or attachment is the source of discontent. But many feel that one can have their cake and eat it too. We think that it is possible to live a life of desire and also be spiritual. Well in fact you can – you just can’t cling to desire. And since desire is who we are, we also can’t cling to ‘me’.
Emptiness & the Clouds of Desire
The way the Buddhists make this point is through the realization of emptiness. Emptiness here is not an emotional wasteland. It is a rich and open spaciousness that manifests as kindness and compassion. Sunyata (the sanskrit word for ’emptiness’) is potential, like a Clear Sky. The Clear Sky can seem obscured by clouds (desire) but the clouds are part and parcel of the sky. They only cause us pain when we try to hold on to them and forget the boundless sky behind.
Clinging to our own personal clouds blinds us to the Clear Sky that is always there. So the Clear Sky is heaven in this metaphor and clouds are what happens in life, our desires. Desires come and go, change and are impermanent. Desires are subject to disturbance and disruption – but not so the Clear Sky.
Seeing the Clear Sky
Many people don’t feel they have the time to focus on the Clear Sky. Clouds are our day-to-day lives and taking time to see the Clear Sky seems impossible. Its true that learning to see the Clear Sky takes practice but there is no inherent reason it can’t be done in the midst of the most riotous cloud formations.
Many people only get short holidays and after work they just want to relax and take it easy, why focus on the clear sky? Many say even when they do focus on the Clear Sky they mostly just get other clouds. It’s true it takes some practice but it’s not really that difficult to see the Clear Sky. Clouds are habit forming. Bring your attention to the Clear sky and the clouds temporarily evaporate.
We do retreats and courses, training, to learn to see the Clear Sky in a setting where the sky is relatively unclouded (ie free from the distractions and stresses of daily life). We can learn to take this habit of looking behind back to the factory, the office or our families and apply it there.
Practicing in the Virtual Monastery of Daily Life
Some feel that to live an integrated life they need to be monks or nuns and they don’t want that lifestyle. True the life of a monk or nun was dedicated to the practice of Clear Sky watching (call it God or Buddha if you like) and then teaching that to others. However there is no reason that this spacious clarity must be developed in the model of a monk or nun.
We’ve developed what we call the virtual monastery. This monastery looks pretty much like your day to day life. In the virtual monastery you practice Clear Sky watching everywhere and always. The difference is that you aren’t living a particular lifestyle like that of a monk or nun.
When Modern Meditators Can’t Sit Still
People tend to think they would like to be meditators but the reality is that they often can’t sit still. This is not surprising. In the past, life was far more agrarian and rural. Sitting in meditation was not all that different from watching sheep graze. Nowadays we mostly live in cities that are fast paced, high energy and mentally and emotionally taxing. Sitting on the cushion is a bit like trying to stop the QE2 on a dime.
The good news is that meditation, while indispensable and incredibly relaxing is not the only path to awakening. The oldest meditation manual in the world, the Vissudhimagga (path of purification) lists many other paths, one of which is karma yoga. Karma Yoga is the path of action.
Karma Yoga shows up in monasteries as service to the organization. Jobs like cooking, farming, wine making, painting, administration and finance were all tasks that monks and nuns performed as well as prayer. In the virtual monastery these same jobs apply and the same attention can be brought to the work as in a monastery.
There is No Better ‘Vacation’ than a Retreat
Often people would like to do retreats but even if they have the time they feel they can’t afford a retreat. These same people however, often, can afford a vacation. There is no better ‘vacation’ than a retreat. Unlike a vacation, you come back rested, calm and centered, as well as typically, much more energized and alive. And probably no fatter!
A retreat is also an investment. It is an investment in your wellbeing and through the training of, for instance, karma yoga an investment in your success in the world as well.
The Discipline of Training does not equal Authority & Power
In order to get good at anything, training, discipline and focus are required. In the spiritual life we train at recognizing spaciousness, the Clear Sky, and act with skills developed in training from there to serve our communities.
These days, more and more authority is being applied over our lives by schools, governments and the rules of a crowded and competitive market place. Everyone is tired of endless rules and hierarchical systems. Not to mention all the baby boomers occupying the market place and drawing pensions we may not be able to pay.
People are skeptical of teachers these days. Many think DIYD (do it yourself dharma) is the way to go. Many teachers (mostly male) have gotten into ‘sexual skirmishes’ with their students, or people feel taken advantage of by their spiritual organization so many ask ‘why should I trust you’?
It’s a good question and deserves more time to it than can be given here. However, a few points can be made. The first is that the nature of a blind spot is that it is blind – we need other people to help us see our shadows. The only person who can reveal a shadow aspect is someone who has seen his or her own.
Another reason for a teacher is that they have spent many years observing their own social and cultural programming and therefore have a better sense of how we are shaped and molded, not always for the best, by our parents, churches and countries.
You get the Teacher You Seek
Lastly our personalities run mostly on habit and habit is by nature unconscious. It is the work of an integrated life to make us more conscious. Disturbing our habits, in order to help us be more conscious is part of the work of a teacher. Conditioning is fierce and it keeps us stuck. The status quo can be hidden behind new age hype. In order to wake up you need to be occasionally disturbed. You get the teacher you seek.
If you don’t want to be woken up you’ll find a teacher who in many ways will still be asleep at best and at worst on a huge megalomaniacal voyage.
What are the Five Steps to a Successful & Integrated Life?
So now we are ready to answer the question; what are the steps to an integrated (spiritual) life.
1) Learn to experience emptiness, spaciousness, like a Clear Sky.
2) Next, this experience of sunyata or spaciousness is by its very nature kind and compassionate.
3) Since we are feeling in a very good state at this point we are naturally generous. Generosity comes from strength and one form this takes is service.
4) Service is dedicating our lives to helping and supporting growth and unfoldment in ourselves and others. This helps us overcome our own problems that incidentally helps us see the spaciousness as well.
5) In this way we become successful people and therefore can generate successful careers and relationships.
Trust the Horse to lead the Cart
It’s a horse/cart argument. The horse of the spacious Clear Sky pulls the carts of clouds through the experience of our lives.
I once asked my teacher “is trust enlightenment”? His answer was “complete trust is complete enlightenment”.
Our issue is not about trust it’s about trusting in the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. How can emptiness, spaciousness, trigger any mistrust? The discipline and the training is about learning to trust the horse, not the cart. Teachers aren’t the horse. They just point your attention to it.
If you would like to find out more about Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat’s teachings, sign up to their mailing list. If you’d like to join them on a retreat this summer, check out Awakening through Action (August 8-20, 2016), as well as their other upcoming retreats and courses.