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You may also want to take this post in sections – I wrote a long one…
Ever spoken with a mentor or teacher or someone you respect and hold dear, and then a few days (weeks, months) later had another teacher recommend what seems like a relatively opposite direction from the first? Let me explain..
I mentioned in my previous post how blessed I feel, having multiple mentors and elders in my life who are often called spiritual teachers. And it is true, I have met some incredible teachers. But if we seek advice from multiple spiritual teachers, and if these teachers come from different lineages and traditions, is it possible that their advice might start to (seem to) pull us in multiple, difficult-to-follow-all-at-once directions? Oh, and if we have a strong intuition, or a body that we have developed a stable and kind relationship with, then we might start to feel that our intuition is also throwing some additional, separate advice into the cauldron… At present, this seems to be going on for me.
One Tibetan Lama recommends, do as much of the preliminary practices as you possibly can. If pain arises, then stop or do another practice which might help mitigate the discomfort. Push push push! But kindly… Another highly respected Lama suggested a couple of practices for me to add into my daily routine, which seem appropriate (but might be difficult to put into practice because they require extra time). And then a third teacher says that I should be gentle and kind first and no matter what happens, I should enjoy the practice I am doing. This advice has also been woven into the recommendations from Tibetan Lamas, but it stills seems a precariously tight rope to walk – push but only so hard, rest but only for so long, be kind yet diligent… In reflecting on the above material, I am struck by the importance of knowing myself – am I using one teachers advice in a lazy fashion to avoid or put off doing what another recommends? Am I actually pushing too hard and needing a slight reprieve?
Here is a list of advice from my teachers, which you might say, is a spiritual Bucket List (linking this to my recent posts):
1) Finish School
2) Learn (to speak) the Tibetan language
3) Push through the Preliminary Practices (and complete them)
4) Do a couple of (additional) brief practices, daily if possible
5) Get a job so that finishing school is easier (no brainer)
6) No matter what, enjoy what you are doing, and if not, then rest and practice quality self care
7) Choose one or two Zapchen exercises that I enjoy and do them for a few minutes a day
8) Practice restraint, stop ingesting poison
And now a bit of commentary on these suggestions:
1) If you have read many of my previous posts, you may recognize that I bring an astrological perspective along with me wherever I go. So to throw in an astrological wrinkle: At times, I often feel that being a Pisces with Neptune square my natal Sun (8th house of other people’s money and values) from the 5th house (creative expression, fun-loving-spontaneity, children), along with having Saturn in my natal 2nd house of material possessions and values, creates the phenomena for myself where I don’t have much in the way of material ambition or attachment to valuable “things.” Yes you just read that correctly – I have gone through life, at least on the material level, living quite below the poverty level, however perhaps reflected in my being a Leo Rising, I hide my impoverished nature behind a proud, refined public front. And I am actually quite content living below my means, or at least I was… Therefore I feel that going through school and pushing myself in a “worldly” direction works to counter my natural tendency of meditating first (naturally transcending material / bodily needs, whether for good or bad). Of course there needs to be balance in this regard too.
Also, being the type of person whose “right brain” (hemisphere) is more dominant – intuitive, creative, abstract orientation quite refined, etc, I believe 1) has to do with discovering inner mental balance for myself and not to mention developing marketable skills in the world so I can become financially stable and therefore be of more benefit to others.
2) When I study the Tibetan language for many hours on end, I push through some enormous resistance and I hate the process as it is unfolding – seriously, it can be excruciating. After I push through the resistance and complete a big project however, I feel complete, unconditional bliss arise, sometimes lasting several hours. So I know that whenever I learn Tibetan, whether it is in this lifetime or the next, I will be a happier individual. I also know that the Geshe who recommended this to me was extremely skillful and clairvoyant (when he died or dissolved back into the mandala, he exhibited signs of accomplishment). As a result, I am looking forward to putting his advice into practice.
3) Nearly every Tibetan Lama I have attended teachings from, has said that the Preliminary Practices (the Ngondro) are the most important practices of all. And if I understand these Lamas and their teachings correctly, I believe that in the beginning we have to prepare our body and mind to be able to receive and grok the higher teachings / practices and without doing so, we can cause harm and dangerous confusion to arise if we push through the advanced practices without being ready. So the preliminaries are very important.
5) is pretty obvious – if you are in debt, then get a job to get yourself out of debt and back on the moving forward track! (I skipped four on purpose.)
6) But the dilemma arises when we come to number six… I am trying to discover a good balance between practice, work, self care and if there is any time left over, play. Okay, so I work 40 plus hours a week and then I need a few hours a week to unwind, massage my aching legs and feet, so that time is taken care of. When I am at work, I try to maintain right view and if I have some down time, I will recite a few mantras or remember contemplations on emptiness, but work has been very busy as of late (waiting tables) and trying to keep a spiritual mentality in a bar setting is challenging for me.
My body, due to several little health problems, can only take but so much (I know what you might say, “Kirby you are young, so just push through these complaints!” and I would respond by getting very perturbed at your suggestion and mentally blocking anything else you say out, because you don’t understand my situation and are ignorant if you think you do, while saying what you just said). Therefore, with what little time and energy I have left, how much Zapchen do I practice, how much meditation, how much time do I spend going for a brief hike? That is where I am lingering these days, but thankfully, in addition to receiving clear messages from my heart (intuition), I work with the I Ching, so I am also receiving confirmation of the choices I make.
7) For anyone who does not know what Zapchen is, I would highly recommend experiencing it first, before trying to “figure it out” and certainly before judging it. However, in a nutshell, Zapchen exercises are little things we can do (with proper motivation and intention) to move toward lasting well-being, resting in alignment and moving to a state of spontaneous re-orientation toward a relaxed yet alert state. Julie Henderson is the creator of Zapchen Somatics, and she has done an exquisite job blending light-hearted exercises with empirical science to produce a complete toolbox of vital exercises for well-being. One of her teachers, His Holiness the Drukpa Kyabgon has gone so far as to say that the Zapchen exercises, when done under the supervision of a qualified teacher, can be as potent as the Ngondro practices. Anyway, now that my sales pitch is over, back to my spiritual bucket list.
I tend to do some stretching and some light Zapchen exercises when I wake up. This does several things for me – it clears my head (eliminating the need for coffee), it awakens and enlivens the chi / life-force energy – allowing me to feel full and charged in very little time, and it inspires joy. Sure, there might be one or two mornings where I have celebrated a little too hard the night before, when resistance and irritation will arise, but more often than not, this brief obstinacy does not last long. So this is an easy one to check off my list.
8) Finally, last but not least, and actually, the item on the list which should come first (seriously!). I say it should come first because in the basic teachings of Buddhism, throughout all schools and all traditions, we need to eliminate the causes of suffering in order to create the causes for lasting happiness. Therefore, we need to discern where we venture off the path, practice restraint and get our butts back on the path as soon as possible – in other words, figure out where and how we are ingesting poison and put a stop to that first. Then we can walk the path with more ease.
Well, those words sure sound good, clear and easy to (mentally) understand. But when you have some bad habits as deeply ingrained as I do, walking the talk is very challenging. Therefore, I am only able to talk the talk at the moment. I am still eliminating the sources of poison in my life. I am tired to swinging between the extremes of blissful elation and angry depression – so having vacillated for some time now, I am finally practicing restraint. In the past, when I really pushed hard, and did hundreds of prostrations (virtuous activity), I would notice an equally potent move in the opposite direction (away from virtue). So now I am doing less, but my pendulum is almost done with its annoying swinging. So that is all good!
So I guess the answer might lie in seeking out ONE teacher and then following their advice over the advice of others once you are sure you want to work with them. Or, you can bounce ideas off several, which is what I seem to be doing, all the while trying to follow the advice of one root lama / teacher. If you are intelligent and discerning, then you will notice that your authentic teachers’ advice all leads to the same place. I hope this sheds light on a curious topic.