I first came to mindfulness, meditation, Buddhist and Hindu philosophy in 1987. I felt as if I had discovered an exciting alternative world. Of course, in my profound ignorance I misunderstood just about everything. I adopted the forms and none of the essence. I bought the beads, started to dress in a way that would show everyone what a spiritual being I had become. I used all I learned to simply pump up my ego. I even started to think of myself as special. I was on a spiritual path unlike these ignorant people around me. It still makes cringe just thinking about it.
For the next few years I became a seminar junkie. Every weekend, all my spare time was spent on retreats, courses, seminars. I had fallen into the trap of Spiritual Materialism.
As described by the great Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa: “The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use,” he says, “even spirituality.” The universal tendency is to see spirituality as a process of self-improvement—the impulse to develop and refine the ego when the ego is, by nature, essentially empty.
Just the other day I found myself talking to a lady who spent much of her time telling me the names of the teachers that she has known. Instead of listening, she felt the need to interrupt: “I was one of the first with mindfulness in my city. I understand about Bach Flowers. I have studied family constellations. I also have this famous Yoga teacher.” So much of her time was spent talking about her impressive “spiritual” credentials or CV. She could talk about just about anything in that world.
However, in terms of actual practice she did nothing. In spite of her impressive “spiritual CV” it seemed to me that she had changed nothing. She was deeply unhappy.
Another man I know was infuriated that his friends could not see how spiritual he had become (after just one four-day retreat). He wanted to be perceived as special, different, above the others.
Rather than cultivating greater peace in your heart, equanimity, a greater sense of connection, clearer thinking, these attitudes simply pump up the ego and take us further away from ourselves.
The other profound misunderstanding I had was to get hooked on the good feelings and believing that bliss, ecstasy, euphoria, mystical experiences or at the very least, a profound sense of wellbeing were what it was all about. I simply used all the great teachings, all the information like a drug, and to further inflate my already bloated ego. It had effectively become just another drug to make me feel better for a while. For many people who follow a guru, their guru has become their drug of choice.
Our consumer society makes us treat everything like something to buy, to own, to ingest, to have, to possess, to feed our ego and make us “happy”. We know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Practice and stick with it. Remember the attitude of wise gardeners: patience, humility, and everyday creating the best conditions for the harvest they desire. They understand that their control and power are limited. They pay attention to all that is happening in their garden, to the weather to the quality of the soil and they focus on those small daily repetitive tasks.
On this path the destination and the practices are one and the same.
Moment by moment, breath by breath.