She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing."
Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, 1940
-- Chogyam Trungpa
Fifteen years ago, I sat on the front porch of an A-frame perched on a ridge at Zen Mountain Monastery gazing at a star-filled Catskill Mountain sky. At that point, I was certain that I was going to leave.
I had absolutely no idea what my next move would be, though.
For decades, I had thought, "once the kids are grown, I can finally DO IT!" I would leave the chaos of contemporary life and head for the hills. There I'd find the Teacher and a sangha -- and really get spiritual.
Now, after only six months of residency, I knew I was done.
So much for that idea. Now what?
Though I respected many of the folks involved, and saw that the monastic life appeared to work for some, I now knew I wasn't going to get off that easy. The Truth for me was beyond that container. I was going to have to get out there on the streets and work it out for myself -- again.
I wish it was always that easy.
My tour of duty at Zen Mountain Monastery after I was released from those obligations was, I think, the final time I barked my shins on the way up the wrong tree. I realized this time, in my bones, that the true spiritual journey for me was one of the integration with, not separation from, what Zorba the Greek (then Jon Kabat-Zinn) characterized as the "full catastrophe" of Life. I was going to dive in once again. Then try to surf the incessant waves of samara as best I could.
This doesn't mean that I don't think there are Teachers and Teachings and Spiritual Communities that can provide us with a degree of support and guidance along the way. The opportunity to engage in intensive meditation retreats is a blessing, and I am so grateful to have been able to dive deeply into days, weeks, and months of such settings over the years. I honor and respect the efforts of those who have dedicated their lives to these efforts and will continue to sing their praises -- at times. (In fact, I highly recommend that you attend a meditation retreat if you haven't yet. Even a full day or a weekend can be transformative.)
Once we discern that our deepest yearning is to Connect, to love unconditionally and to help out as best we can, one's Practice unfolds as both the means and the ends of cultivating the clarity, kindness, understanding, compassion, and equanimity to do that. With Practice we learn to be more fully Present, to engage life with all our sensory apparatus functioning, with an Open Heart and Clear Mind. Rather than sleepwalk through our lives on automatic pilot, lost in our thoughts and daydreams, we vow to awaken. We face ourselves and our lives squarely -- ready to rock!
At that point, everyone and everything becomes the Teacher and the Teaching!
What more could one wish for?
Originally published, March 2014. Revised.