Monday, March 24, 2014

It's a Long, Long Trail: Some Thoughts on Spiritual Practice

This is a popular quote, and there are a lot of images of it on Google.  I like this one, which shows a woman who is experiencing some "negative" emotion.  Negative emotions are those the culture doesn't want women to have, like being royally pissed off.  Men are allowed to have those; in fact, they're the hallmark of a Real Man, the kind who beats his wife, then apologizes abjectly, blubbering, drunk, of course, then beats her again and again and so on until something gets her to a safe house.  It should be called Rage Disorder, but the women could not get that into the DSM-IV.  There's a whole book about that.

Or maybe she's experiencing the astonishment of realizing what she's been put through because she was born with a vagina.  Not leaving out you men; there are victims among you, too.  But in my category - intractable PTSD caused by childhood sexual-and-emotional abuse, it seems that more of the victims are women. This is usually not diagnosed.  Instead, the locked-off pain manifests as chronic depression or bipolar disorder or fibromyalgia or underachievement, or all of these with anorexia and psychosomatic ailments thrown in.  Don't leave out the alcoholism.  Girls Wine and Whine.  And then, Smile!  There are no effective medications for any of these effects of abuse.  How could there be?

Here's the truth that pisses me off: the quote is true.  Reality is sometimes hard to face.  That would be why a lot of people don't.

What you think when you start meditating is that it will cure you, relieve your stress, make you happy, and also nice.  Yes, it does allow a space for healing, it will relieve stress for a while, maybe even for a few hours afterward.  But that just gives you fresh eyes on your condition, your life.  After a while, little unwelcome insights will start creeping into the meditation itself, Yow!  The mind clamps down on that, and the meditation becomes boring.  You get restless.  You think, This isn't doing a thing for me.  You decide to try something else.

The road to realization is less traveled for a damn good reason, in other words.  There are passages on the Way that are subject to avalanches of unwelcome memories, tears, rage.  Most people - even those who've had a chance to work with  genuine teachers - quit the Buddha way.  From where I live, it looks like half the Buddhist Teachers in America are in California, but you wouldn't believe how many unenlightened people are lying around beached out there.  People with opportunity.  Some of them - most of them, I bet - tried meditation.  My (estranged) sister once told me she went to hear Thich Nhat Hahn.  Shrug.  "It didn't do anything for me."  Well, neither did the desert in bloom (a wonderful metaphor and fact.)

If you are practicing outside an authentic system, if you don't have a teacher who's actually walked the whole damn path, you haven't got a chance.  Facing life will scare you to look for another self-styled Life Coach or Guru, another cheery book, another sweet quote, a great new recipe, oh, of course, new shoes! - in short, another way to escape reality.  That's the road more taken.

You wouldn't believe how I had to search to find a version of this as I remembered it.  Thank you, Kenneth Moody-Arndt.   I especially like this verse:
You must go and stand your trials.
You have to stand them by yourself.


  1. Trials that are specially tailored to our own delusions, finessed to make you scream a lot and giggle... just a little bit, until one finally understands that we are not our body and we had better get on a path to peace that doesn't involve substances or food..... 'cause time's a wastin'!,

  2. Thank you for this. YES. "Nobody else can walk it for us."

  3. Great post, thanks Jeanne. I can relate to so much of what you describe... and I have just realized (after going 'home' to visit family and being attacked by a sibling) that the healing path is lonely but worthwhile and facing the dark feelings is inevitable.

    1. Hi Sari,
      I feel for you. I've been there. Thankfully, another great truth is that things change all the time. Dark and light. And that kind of experience has washed away in the river for me.