Seeking – The Story to date
I’ve written this article, a seekers story, not just because Tess asked me to but because I wanted to be give an idea of what being on a spiritual path is like, warts and all, even though your spiritual journey may be nothing like mine. I suppose expect anything and be grateful for everything would sum it up, even if the latter is hard at times. This is my personal spiritual seekers story.
I’m almost forty nine and my “proper seeking” as I call it started about two and a half years ago. But really I’d been looking for something all my life. From my teenage years I wondered about the meaning of life, its ultimate purpose, whether there was a God, what should I do with my life? The questions changed slightly but there was an underlying existential angst which I felt from a relatively young age that never went away and still hasn’t.
I was brought up a Catholic which for various reasons put me off religion. In my early twenties I read about Zen Buddhism and enlightenment. I liked the lack of a God but I wasn’t sure about this enlightenment thing, whether or not it was real, and the idea of a life in a monastery for something that may turn out to be false was too high a price to pay. It was a completely unrealistic proposition. So I carried on as best I could. Some years later a new company car, the first new car I’d ever had, showed me the emptiness of possessions. The novelty and the feeling of happiness wore off in about a month. I thought there was something wrong with me. What other people seemed happy and delighted with I found empty and wanting. And this was a recurring theme in my life.
During these years I tried Transcendental Meditation, attended the odd Buddhist meeting and read loads of books, mainly self-help and philosophy. The last book I read, looking for an answer to existential angst, was ‘The Sane Society’ by Erich Fromm. The book promised so much. He was articulate and had questioned things that I too had questioned but his insights were deeper and more penetrating. I waited with eagerness at the final section of the book where he outlined his solution. It was shockingly naïve – a society based on co-operatives and government regulation. No personal solution to the existential questions he had brought up so eloquently. I was utterly crestfallen and I decided there and then that I was never going to find a solution so I might as well go and enjoy life as best I could and forget all this serious stuff about finding a meaning to existence. I had to accept that I was a bit odd and thought too much and just get on with it.
Then started a series of events which with hindsight guided me to the various web sites of TAT and its members and introduced me to a whole world of books which I’d never come across before despite reading “serious” books almost continuously in the years up to this point. My first “proper” book was “I Am That” by Nisargadatta. I bought it because Bart Marshall (of TAT Foundation and Self Inquiry Group, Raleigh, NC) said it had been his bible for a few years. I waited eagerly for it to arrive from Amazon. When I received it I was disappointed with its format. Worse, after quickly reading bits of the various conversations in the book, I decided it was utter rubbish. “You’re not the body you take yourself to be” – horse manure! Of course I bloody well am this mind-body! This Nisargadatta chap was just away with the fairies.
So I ordered more books by different writers, eventually owning half of Amazon’s spiritual catalogue, or so it seemed. But they were all equally baffling in their own way. Somehow I kept getting drawn back to Nisargadatta and with more frequent reading I warmed to him. There is a saying that when the student is ready the guru will appear. He was my first guru albeit in a book. But I never considered myself a student and I certainly wasn’t ready, at least in my mind.
In the two and a half years since then lots of things have happened despite my feeling that there has been no or very slow “progress”. On the “spiritual side” for want of a better term I have gone from thinking all of this is complete rubbish through to a firmly held belief now that this really is the Truth. But it went via a long meandering path in which lots of mental arguments ruled the roost for most of those two and a half years. The literature is full of contradictory advice given by different teachers and even by the same teacher. And there are lots of things that just don’t stack up however much you think about them. Eventually I have reached a stage where I’m weary of reading. It may last it may not. This mind-body cannot bring about realisation by its knowledge, that is up to grace. But it is capable of making itself a suitable receptacle. It doesn’t have to be perfect just up to the job.
It sounds very strange to a rational thinker such as me but there really is a guiding influence in all of this even though it is often only seen with hindsight. At the time it’s all a jumble. Too many options to choose from. Too many practices, teachers and teachings. But somehow you stumble on the one that’s working for you. I always want to know what to do next as I’m never sure. It should be signposted! But by going with what feels right it seems to work out just fine. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bed of roses! For me meditation, reading certain authors and being in an online group has been the way to go. But it’s different for everyone and I’ve long since stopped looking at what happened to others to try to find out what I should be doing next or where I’m up to or make sense of what’s happened.
For what it’s worth my path to date, and I am now convinced that I’m on a path, seems to have gone in sections. None seemingly related. The first was stumbling on to/being shown the right material. Next was a Douglas Harding workshop about a month after which “I experienced” what is euphemistically called “a glimpse” while doing one of the experiments. In it the mind-body writing this did not exist. It only lasted seconds but it completely floored me for about a week. It’s never happened since. Despite that my mind tried to logically dismiss it and the literature I read. It really is hard going at times. I have had lights in my vision that on and off lasted about three months. About eighteen months ago I had excruciating hip pain at times which lasted six months or more. And for the last six months I have had a skin rash which won’t go away. I have been to the doctor but just get cream which I have to apply daily. I often wake at 3.00 – 4.00am and cannot get back to sleep. And for about the last two months I occasionally get moments (well, minutes) of just overwhelming gratitude, just gratitude for nothing in particular, that sweep over me and cause floods of tears (and until I began “proper seeking” I was never a crier). Then the next day I can be as low as hell all day and everything seems bleak and dark and this thing will never happen and my day to day life seems beset with problems. And so it goes on. And there are lots of things I haven’t mentioned.
There have been changes in this body mind too. Thanks to the self inquiry encouraged by Tess in the online group I have seen lots of things that I didn’t know I did. I no longer trust my version of events, I know there are selfish motives behind lots of my actions and ultimately I’m no more special than anyone else even though that runs contrary to my belief (which has still not completely gone) that I held for most of my adult life. I do not watch TV at all anymore. I have few strong views about anything as I can see their emptiness. I tend not to judge people as much as I used to do. I get bored by telling the story of what’s happening in my life and usually just keep quiet. I’m weary of myself as silly as that sounds. I no longer care what people think about me, which I used to a lot, as I know they’ll think what they want anyway. So I no longer try to please people in order to be thought of as a “good” person. I haven’t become mean or nasty or ungenerous I just don’t have any motivation in my actions to make others like me. These changes haven’t been brought about by conscious effort they have just happened by themselves. I no longer fret about the future or what life will bring. I just seem to do what’s needed and see what happens. On the down days there can be lots of seeming mountains and obstacles and then I do fret about the future. But fortunately those days don’t last too long.
The final point is that being on a spiritual journey is like leading a double life. It is impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t got the same urge or yearning or whatever else you want to call it. And it’s hard enough to convince yourself of the Truth without having to address the doubts of others as well. Plus you’d probably be ostracised, for being weird, which at times may not seem like such a bad thing!
I’ve written this article not just because Tess asked me to but because I wanted to be give an idea of what being on a spiritual path is like, warts and all, even though your journey may be nothing like mine. I suppose; expect anything and be grateful for everything would sum it up, even if the latter is hard at times.