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Three Reasons I'm Still On the Path

After about five years of meditating like my life depended on it, I hit a wall. For the past two months, getting my butt on the cushion has been a struggle and a constant internal negotiation process. Summer felt good. Life felt good. Samsara didn't seem so bad. I started asking myself why was I meditating so much.

I realized I had done most of the things I originally wanted to achieve through meditation. I meditated for a whole month this spring, and that felt like an achievement. I've experienced more self awareness, less escalation of my anger and aggression, better communication, and more acceptance of things as they are. In short, I have a happier life, thanks to meditation. The Hinayana teachings -- to stop getting in my own way -- have had an almost tangible effect.

The next step on my Buddhist path, the Mahayana teachings -- letting go, practicing compassion -- are daunting, scary, crazy hard to be any good at! Ive been paralyzed by the fear that I'm useless on this path... too self absorbed, too materialistic, too unable to let go of my petty little possessions and territory.

Seeing my own limit is painful and humbling. I've been beating myself up and forgetting the foundational Hinayana instructions about being gentle to oneself. To sum up the last couple of months, I've been like a navigator lost at sea, trying to figure out where I am and where I want to go with this.

When I finally admitted that I was a bit lost, I decided to examine my inspiration to keep going on the path. In keeping with the Buddhist tradition of endlessly making lists, I've been working on a list of reasons I'm still on the path.

1. I want the world to be a better place

According to Pema Chodron, even if enlightenment seems like too lofty of a goal for us, all of us yearn for a better world. I think that is true. Even those who support the right to own a machine gun genuinely think this would make the world better. I'm just saying...

We are mired in a dark age. The audacious Bodhisattva path is like an antidote to the sorrowful state of Spaceship Earth. A Bodhisattva practices compassion and vows to work for the enlightenment of all beings before his/her own enlightenment.

Being a Bodhisattva means making a real effort to bring sanity to our world. It's the most empowering, DIY punk, truly useful thing I can think of. It's what allows me to stand up straight and know the planet is not totally screwed.

2. I want to feel connected

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a bubble. Many of us feel a lack of connection to our world. We feel out of touch with the people and things in it. We don't always feel in love. The more technology advances and our humanity does not, the more neurotic we become.

I was just reading an article in GQ about a crazy expensive nightclub with a line around the block every night. Yes, it's perfectly OK for a Buddhist to read GQ, and you can even find wisdom there sometimes. Anyway, I came upon this paragraph that perfectly describes the monkey mind, which retards your ability to be present in the moment:

Going to a nightclub, like going on vacation, sometimes gives rise to this really stressful internal-feedback loop that initiates when some dark part of your brain transmits a pretty obvious question: "Am I having fun?" Then: "Is this fun? What about that?" Or, "Those people look like they're having fun—are they pretending like I am?" Or, "I should be having fun, but am I really? How about now? Or...now?" And then this other part of your brain says, "Shut up, this is your dedicated night for fun, you paid all this money for it, and if you're not having fun now, maybe you're not capable of fun, so please for the love of God just shut up." "Okay. Okay... But how about now?"

I was just on vacation myself, and I had the same feeling. There I was, floating in the warm blue ocean that connects every continent, under a half moon and a setting sun. Then I asked myself if I was enjoying this, if I was internalizing the beauty of the moment. I suddenly needed to distill and inject the sunset and Caribbean peace right into my heart. It was already there, but I over-thought it.

I feel unconnected too much of the time. I want to feel like I am getting the most out of life. If that is impossible, at least I want to understand this empty feeling. Meditation is the only way I've found to explore it. Awakening Bodhichitta is the practice of learning to live with heart and it is fundamental to the way of the Bodhisattva.

3. I want to see what happens

The third reason I'm still on the path is simple. I'm curious. I want to know what happens if I stick with this. I want to see if it makes any difference.

I started and stopped a lot of things in my life. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I stuck with these practices. I'm sure studying Kung Fu for a lifetime would have had an interesting result, but what about practicing compassion for a lifetime? I have a feeling that would have a worthwhile result. It might actually be useful to somebody. It seems like something worth aspiring to be good at (if you can be good at such things).

When I am suffering from a lack of motivation, I have to remember that everything that happens to me can be worthwhile, as long as I use it to wake up. Then I have to remind myself why I practice, and why I'm not just having a beer by the pool instead. I've decided to spend next weekend aiding a meditation workshop at the DC Shambhala Center. I can think of no better place to awaken Bodhichitta.

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