Adyashanti: What style of approaching spiritual practice works best for you?

 

Rikki writes:

I’ve been taught that I should “practice like my hair is on fire” and in the past I have done so. Now I feel I should relax into it, be patient. But I keep attacking myself for not being more urgent with the admonition that the more awake I am, the easier it is for someone else to find freedom. How can I relax, urgently?

Dear Rikki,

Let us throw out both of the ideas that say you must practice “like your hair is on fire” or that you should relax in your practice more. What is natural to you? What style of approaching spiritual practice works best for you? That’s really the only relevant question. What attitude works best for you? It’s not about what’s right or wrong as much as it is about what is most natural and works best for you. And you will not find this in your head, but in your body. When you are applying the most conducive attitude to your practice you will feel inspired and relaxed, questioning but not impatient or anxious. You will also feel challenged at times but still open and eager to unveil Truth.

With Great Love,

Adyashanti

 

Kindness is not dependent on a feeling or state

 

Kindness is not dependent on a feeling or state.

I can act from kindness, even if I feel angry, sad, frustrated, or just about anything else.

Kindness is more of an orientation, an habit, or a practice.

It’s also something that comes from recognition. Recognizing in myself what I see in others. Recognizing that we are all in the same boat. Recognizing that I am responsible for how I relate to what comes up in me. Perhaps recognizing that we are all local expressions of (the one) life, universe, existence. Even recognizing that we – and everything – are happening within and as awareness. And all of that may be deepened through practice and habit.

Love is another name for kindness.

I often prefer thinking of it as kindness. It seems a little more approachable, especially on days like today when my feelings go more in the direction of frustration, anger, and sadness. Even on these days, I can be kind towards myself. (Gentle, eat well, meet what’s here – the emotions and reactions towards it – with kindness.) I can be kind towards the person working at the coffee shop, and others I relate to through the day.

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Doing one thing, recommending another 

 

I sometimes hear spiritual teachers advice their students to use a different approach than what they themselves used on their path.

It’s understandable. They may wish to share their current view, and what seems the most helpful advice now.

And yet, it’s a bit like someone using a boat to cross a lake, and then – when on the other side – telling the people on the other shore that a boat is not needed anymore. They themselves don’t need the boat anymore, so they assume others don’t need it.

I especially see this in people who worked hard early on in their process – perhaps struggling and “muscling through” with meditation and a wide range of other practices – and then found more simplicity and clarity. They may recommend that their students skip the “work hard, do lots of meditation” phase, and instead suggest more “subtle” practices such as natural rest or looking. That’s what works for them now, so that’s what they recommend to others, ignoring that they themselves came to it through a different path and lots of hard work.

I can’t say that this is not good advice. I don’t know. But it does seem slightly odd. At the same time, I know that people will do what they’ll do. They will follow the impulse in them, wherever it takes them. Some may hear this advice, and still try to “muscle through”, and perhaps through that arrive at a similar place as where the teacher is coming from.

Others may follow the advice, and they may indeed have an easier time with it. That’s entirely possible. I don’t have enough information (yet) to say much about it.

I am saying this partly since my early process also involved lots of hard work – hours of meditation and prayer daily – and now feels much more simple. And I also notice that I can’t unreservedly recommend others to start with what I now find most helpful. It may just be most helpful to me now because of what I did earlier. I can’t recommend others to start where I, and others who have explored these things for a while, am now. What I can do is share what’s been helpful to me at different phases in my process, and then let people go with what seems most helpful to them. They’ll do that anyway, which is a good thing. (Not that anyone has asked. And I still feel I am in the middle of my own process so others probably have much more perspective than I do.)

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Spiritual practice?

 

I sometimes use the words “spiritual practice”.

It’s a convenient shorthand. Most people have a general idea of what it means.

At the same time, I can’t say I like either of the words very much.

The word spiritual can refer to many different things, and be understood in many different ways.  (Most of which are different from the way I intend it.) It may sound special or something out of the ordinary. While for me, it’s more synonymous with life or existence. It’s ordinary. Simple. It’s what all already is. It’s all already Spirit. We cannot escape it, even if we try.

I also see that the word spirituality does point to a certain orientation to life, so in that sense it’s useful.

The word practice sounds a bit heavy handed to me. It may bring to mind drudgery, or something that’s overly disciplined. While what it really means, at least for me, is something that’s just part of everyday life. It’s a resting with what’s here. Finding love for what’s here. Occasionally asking some simple questions, to shift out of habitual views.

It’s very simple. Even ordinary. A part of everyday life. Ongoing. Restful.

This too is about slightly different orientations, and perhaps phases of our process. Initially, both spiritual and practice can be helpful and meaningful words. They hint at a different orientation than what we perhaps were used to, and the discipline we initially may need to shift to that orientation. After a while, as we become more familiar with the terrain, the word spiritual may hint at something that seems too extraordinary, and practice doesn’t fit either since what it refers to is just part of ordinary everyday life – a resting with what’s here, finding love for it, an inherent curiosity.

Getting ready for inquiry

 

For all of us, there may be supportive practices that makes it easier for us to explore love, natural rest, and inquiry.

And if we are completely new to it, there may be practices that helps us get ready for it, and get more out of it.

Here is a list of practices I have found helpful in themselves, and as a support for – for instance – inquiry. (And inquiry, in turn, is a support for each of these. These practices are all a support for each other, in a very real way.)

Body inclusive: Tension & Trauma Release Exercises (TRE). Self-Breema and Breema bodywork. Yoga. Tai Chi. Chi Gong.

Stable attention: Training a more stable attention, for instance by bringing attention to the sensations of the breath.

Love: Ho’oponopono. Tonglen. Loving kindness.

Natural rest: Noticing. Allowing.

Physical exercise: Strength. Aerobic.

Nature: Being in nature. Moving the body in nature. Connecting with nature. (Practices to Reconnect.)

Inquiry: Some forms of inquiry may be easier to start with than others. For instance, it may be easier for some to start with the Big Mind process and The Work, and then move into Living Inquiries.

Stepping stones for what’s natural

 

I keep noticing how different practices are stepping stones to what’s natural.

For instance, inquiry is a stepping stone – a formalized structure – inviting us to a very natural and simple curiosity.

Prayer is a stepping stone to an equally natural and simple reverence and sense of connection with the sacredness of existence.

Heart centered practices – such as loving kindness, tonglen, ho’oponopono – are stepping stones to a simple love for what’s here, as it is, and as love already.

Movement practices are stepping stones to a simple and natural way of moving…. from our wholeness and with curiosity.

Even a specialized practice such as Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) is a stepping stone for allowing a very simple and natural shaking to release (body-mind) tension.

Stepping stones to what’s more natural

 

Many practices I have explored seem to function as stepping stones to what’s more natural. They take me from a disconnected and fragmented state to what’s simpler and more natural. And that includes meditation, yoga (tai chi, chi gong, Breema), inquiry, prayer, loving kindness, gratitude, precepts and shaking (TRE, spontaneous movement, dance), and a variety of other practices.

The mental body is the newest in our human evolution, so it is perhaps natural that it’s been emphasized during the last few thousand years at least. This has led to a temporary over-emphasizing of role of the mental faculties (they are important, but function best in service to the heart), the appearance of our thoughts as more real and solid than they are, and identification with and as thought. So many or most of the practices developed over this time period are aimed at remedy and balance this. They are medicines for a temporary over-emphasis of the mental body. They are a bridge from this to seeing what’s already here, and a simpler and more natural way of being and living.

Some examples:

Precepts highlight what in us – usually fears, shoulds and beliefs – that prevent us from living with a natural and simple kindness towards ourselves and others. As with the other practices, it can feel a bit artificial at first, and then it shifts into a more natural and free living from kindness.

Natural meditation (Shikantaza) is what’s already here, although attention may be drawn to the complexities and drama of the mental and emotional bodies. It’s also how the mind naturally is when it’s less identified.

Yoga helps us connect more consciously with the body and movement, and allows us to experience ourselves as the body-mind whole. The whole is already here, although it’s not always noticed. And an experience of it can be cultivated through various movement practices.

Prayer is a giving of ourselves to God, an offering of our human self to Spirit. Again, it’s already that way, and this helps us notice it. It’s also how we naturally live when mind is less identified.

Loving kindness is again what’s here when mind is less identified. There is a natural and simple love and kindness for whatever is here in myself, others and the world. It’s what I am and life is.

Gratitude is similar. It’s what’s naturally here when mind is less identified. This may be a gratitude for what it’s easy to find gratitude for (friends, family, health, shelter, good food), and also for life itself as it shows up, with warts and calamities and all.

Inquiry is an examination of our thoughts and how it relates to emotions, sensations and our lives. Again, when mind is less identified it is naturally curious and attentive of these dynamics.

Shaking is what any mammal does to relieve stress and tension. It allows the body and mind to restore itself to a more healthy state.

With all of these, it can feel a bit artificial at first. We learn a form and a method, apply it, and it can feel clumsy. It also brings up what’s in us that prevents us from living it in a natural and simple form, it brings us face to face with identifications, wounds, fears, shoulds and more. And over time, as these soften, are held in love, and are seen through, the natural way of living this is gradually revealed. Form gives way to a very natural and simple way of living. These practices is a bridge from a temporary over-emphasizing of the mental body, with accompanying identifications, to a more simple and less identified way of being and living. (more…)

Spiritual practices, and their function

 

Spiritual practices have a couple of different functions.

Spiritual practices can help improve the dream, making our lives more comfortable, improving the life of our human self.

Spiritual practices can get us “closer” to reality, and thin the veils. All may be recognized as Spirit, while there is still some identification as a me (human self) or I (observer, doer).

This thinning of the veils is a preparation of the ground, or an invitation, for a more clear and thorough awakening. (Although a thinning of the veils is not necessary for such an awakening, as there are many examples of.)

Spiritual practices cannot in themselves “get us there”. They cannot make a clear and thorough awakening happen. At most, they can improve our human life, thin the veils, and invite in a more clear awakening.

And it’s all grace. The ability to do any spiritual practice is grace, as is reality awakening to itself.

Here are some ways different practices improve our human life, and thin the veils.

Inquiry helps us see through stressful stories, and our most basic assumptions about ourselves and life. This reduces stress in our human life, and it reveals reality more as it is.

Heart practices opens up for love, gratitude, empathy and humility, and this too improves our human life, and thin the veils. Reality is love, and these practices help reveal life as love.

Feeling sensations as they are helps releasing wounds and contractions, which improves the life of our human self, and also reduces the “hooks” for identification.

Note: This is sometimes called a gradual and direct path. A gradual path helps improve our human life. It thins the veils, which perhaps makes it a little easier for the simplicity of being to awaken to itself. An a direct path is a more direct invitation for the simplicity of being to awaken to itself, independent of everything else, and without the possible distractions and “side-tracks” of the gradual path. For most of us, there is a combination of both of these.

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My tradition is the best

 

Why do some think that their tradition or practice is the best?

I can think of a few different reasons:

It’s the typical in-group / out-group dynamic.

This creates a sense of cohesion within the group. We are better than them. We know how things are. We are the chosen ones.

It also makes people feel better about themselves. I am with the right group. I’ll be saved.

It may come from ignorance. People may be misinformed about other traditions, or may not know much about them.

They may have a good point. Each tradition has its strengths and weaknesses, and the strengths may well be stronger than in some other traditions.

It also seems that this attitude may be increasingly more difficult to maintain, for a few different reasons.

We are better informed about other traditions and practices.

We encounter more frequently people from other traditions and practices, and see that they are as smart as us.

It simply looks pretty stupid to think that your tradition is the best (!). Especially considering that most people know that such an assumption is typically (a) used to keep people in the tradition, and (b) is often based in fear and insecurity, and is an attempt to feel better about ourselves.

I have always been eclectic in my approach, and see the value in all the main spiritual traditions and a wide range of practices. They are all medicine for people with different backgrounds, from different cultures, and at different phases in their process. So although I seek out practices that seem the most effective for me, I also realize that they are not inherently or absolutely “better” than other practices out there. And they are definitely not better than what’s possible, and what will most likely be developed in the future.

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Basics of spiritual practice

 

A brief outline of a(n imagined) course on spiritual practice:

  1. What it is, and is not
    1. What it is: Training the mind (just like training the body, or training any skill)
    2. What it is not: It’s not airy fairy, or “mystical” in the sense of strange or hidden
    3. Overview of the course + tasters + Q&A
  2. Stability practice
    1. Training a more stable attention, creating a new groove for attention
    2. Bring attention to an object, for instance (a) the breath, the sensations of the breath at the nostrils or (b) a visual object
    3. Insight: Notice attention wander, being drawn into compelling stories (beliefs), bring it back (grace when notice it’s wandering)
  3. Mindfulness / Natural Rest
    1. Body scan, feel sensations, allow what’s here to be here
    2. Notice all is already allowed as is
  4. Insight / inquiry
    1. Insight that comes from the other practices
    2. Insight from inquiry, f.ex. The Work, Living Inquiries, sense field exploration, labeling, Big Mind process, holding satsang
  5. Devotion / Heart Centered
    1. Prayer – (a) Jesus/Heart Prayer, (b) Christ meditation (visualize Christ at the seven points), (c) asking for guidance etc.
    2. Ho’oponopono, tonglen, metta
  6. Body Centered
    1. Yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Breema etc.
    2. A form of stability practice + mindfulness + body awareness practice + grounding (psychologically and energetically)
  7. Life / Guidelines
    1. Simple guidelines for life
    2. Reduces turmoil and drama (suffering + distractions) + mimics a life lived from love and clarity
    3. Shows us what’s left to look at (get to see beliefs, take to inquiry)
  8. Spiritual Emergence / Emergency / Maps
    1. Map of stages and quadrants (AQAL)
    2. Spiritual emergence – definition, typical unfolding, sign posts
    3. Spiritual emergency – definition, possible triggers, types + symptoms, how to best relate to it

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What can be trained: previous blind spots in mainstream western culture

 

Mainstream western culture has had some blind spots about what can be trained and what cannot, and that’s already changing.

For instance, from spiritual traditions from around the world, including western ones, we know that we can train (a) a stable attention (supports almost any activity), (b) empathy and an open heart (tonglen, prayer, ho’o), (c) opening to the experience that’s here (inquiry, true meditation, tonglen, prayer, ho’o), (d) what we are recognizing itself (true meditation, inquiry, prayer), and (e) that we can inquire into our most basic assumptions and find what’s more true for us. Many newer versions of these practices are also available now, including headless experiments and the Big Mind process (what we are noticing itself), and The Work (inquiry into our beliefs, including our most basic assumptions).

And some traditions also shows us that we can train more “mundane” things such as our eyes and sight (sometimes recover from or prevent eye problems), our body so it has a good chance of staying supple and healthy throughout life (yoga, tai chi, Breema), and even our ability to notice and support a flow of subtle energy in and around our body for ourselves (chi gong) and sometimes others.

This is a training and a practice, although it’s equally much an exploration and investigation. What happens when I engage in these activities?

The dark side of the sacred

 

I came across a blog post called Holy Irreverence: A New Series Exploring the Dark Side of the Sacred by Vanessa Fischer.

It’s an interesting topic. What comes up for me around it?

Definitions of Sacred and light/dark

First, what do I think of as the Sacred? The Sacred for me is the same as life, reality, God.

And light and dark? Light and dark are not inherent in reality, they are only found in my thoughts about it. Since they are labels in my thoughts, what’s called light or dark is arbitrary and influenced by culture, tradition and personal experiences. (It’s arbitrary from a big picture, and yet often not experienced as arbitrary within a particular culture or tradition.)

Aspects of the Sacred

Then, when we talk about the “dark” side of the Sacred, what aspects of the Sacred may we refer to?

I find three: (a) The “dark” side of the Sacred (God, reality, life). (b) Approaches that address the “dark” sides of the Sacred (life, reality). (c) The “dark” sides of a Sacred process (awakening, maturing).

The dark sides of the Sacred as inquiry

A simple way of defining the dark side of the Sacred is to see it as the shadow of our typical images of the Sacred (reality, God) and a Sacred process (awakening, maturing, living from it). If I see God as good, can I also see the bad (what I label bad in my own mind) as part of the Sacred? If I see clarity as sacred and part of a sacred process, can I also include confusion? If what I see as desirable is included in my image of the Sacred, can I also include what I see as undesirable?

If I see something as sacred, can I see the rest as also sacred?

(a) The dark side of the Sacred. What’s my image of the Sacred or of God? What’s the reverse? If I make a list, can I find genuine and simple examples of how each one is equally part of the Sacred?

(b) Approaches addressing the dark side. Any approach to the Sacred worth it’s salt will have ways to address and work with the dark sides of life. Some may be of the first aid variety, making the process a bit easier in the moment. Others will go more to the core of the issue, and may even uproot any ideas of shadow or light, right or wrong, desirable and undesirable. Some of my favorites are tonglen and various forms of inquiry (the Big Mind process, sense field explorations, The Work).

(c) The dark side of the Sacred process. I am not even sure what to define as a sacred process. If it is a process of awakening and/or maturing, then it does have it’s “shadow” sides, which – when I examined it a little closer – turned out to be it’s bright sides! For me, these have included loss (of dreams especially), disillusionment, illness, and primal fears and beliefs surfacing so intensively that they cannot be ignored, pushed aside or sidestepped.

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Medicine

 

Any pointer, practice or insight is medicine.

It’s medicine for a stuck view, for what’s covering up innate wisdom, love and guidance.

And as with any medicine, it’s helpful for a certain person in a certain situation, and that’s it.

For others, it may not be helpful. And it may not be helpful before or after.

Gratitude for all

 

Gratitude and appreciation is a practice, and it is also a natural expression of who we are when less clouded over by beliefs.

It’s rewarding and helpful to find gratitude for what’s obviously good in my life. It helps me shift attention from my complaints to what is pretty good in life.

And it is even more powerful to include all without exception, including and especially that which I at first don’t appreciate. This helps me find the ground below likes and dislikes, and a softening of identification with my own familiar beliefs about what’s good and bad.

The simplest form of gratitude practice is to repeat thank you – to life, God, the Universe.

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Simple, not easy

 

The pointers I have found most helpful are all simple, but not necessarily easy.

Here is my usual list….

The world as a mirror. At an ordinary human level, I can find in myself whatever I see in the wider world. I recognize qualities, characteristics, dynamics and so on in other people, in imagined figures, in nature, in myths and world views, and can then find the same in myself. It won’t necessarily look the same, it may be expressed differently and at a different volume, but I can still find it here. I can see it, feel it, take it in, and eventually find appreciation for it.

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Ways to work with ruts

 

It is a common experience for all of us:

We get in an emotional state, our thoughts cannot help support it, and we act accordingly.

The three support each other. It starts with a belief, we inevitably feel and act as if the story is true, and we take these feelings and actions as support for our initial belief.

And this is why it may, at times, be unattractive to do what is likely to get us out of the rut. There may be no opening anywhere, or if there is, the belief-induced mood is stronger than our impulse to get out if it.

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Three facets of spirituality

 

Spirituality can refer to many different things.

When I look at the type of spirituality I am most familiar with, I find three facets. And one, two, or three of them can be present at once, it seems, and in any combination.

First, there is fascination. We can be fascinate by many things, including the idea of what we may get out of spirituality (awakening, healing, peace, good rebirth), our own path and experiences (insights, dreams, glimpses), the stories in the tradition (cosmology, teaching stories), the teacher (personality, what they represent), more peripheral aspects such as reincarnation, supernatural powers, and auras, or even more peripheral things such as astrology, foreseeing the future, reincarnation, and also anything unexplained and weird such as UFOs, crop circles, ghosts and so on.

Fascination can be very helpful. It can make us feel good, hopeful, and inspired. It can help us stay with a path. It can be a needed temporary escape from problems. And it brings up projections, inviting us to find here what we see over there.

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Gentle exercise, and gradual capacity building

 

These days, medical doctors often recommend gentle exercise to support recovery after injury.

And that seems to be sound general advice, whether it is recovering from an illness or injury, healing psychologically from phobias or traumas, or developing skills in just about any area of life – including inquiry or meditation practice.

Use gentle exercise and gradual capacity building, gradually expand what you are able to do. Combine it with rest, and periods of more vigorous exercise when you are ready and find enjoyment in it.

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Book: The How of Happiness

 

the_how_of_happiness

I am reading The How of Happiness, and it seems to be an excellent book. Practical, simple, science-based and effective. I especially appreciate the emphasis on finding practices that fits ones own circumstances and interests (chapter 3), and the pointers on why the preactices work and advice on how to go about the practices (chapter 10).

The author has a column in Psychology Today, and here is a video interview with the author.

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If everybody knew

 

The recent Tiger Woods story is a reminder of a simple pointer:

Would I do what I am doing if everyone knew about it? What would I do differently if everyone would know it?

In our digital and highly connected age, it is very possible that everyone will know, and that gives an added reality to the question.

Here is another take on those questions: When I am alone, do I behave as I would if others were here?  How would it be to act as if others were here? When I am with others, do I feel and act as free as I do when I am alone? How would it be to feel and act with the freedom that is here when I am alone?

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Letting go of techniques

 

I have spent the last few years exploring different techniques, and now it seems time to leave the more elaborate tools – for a while, at least – and go back to simplicity.

Much of that is what I have written about regularly here….

Allowing and being with experience, as it is, with kindness and heart. Noticing resistance to experience, and impulses to hold onto it, and allow that too with heart and kindness. Noticing any content of experience – including pain, resistance, impulses, a sense of doer, a sense of observer – and allow it all as it is, with kindness.

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A more level-headed approach II

 

As the previous “level-headed” post was quite unfair and one-sided, I thought I would be a little more inclusive here. It is also more interesting to me.

If we make the distinction between who and what we are, we get three ways to meet our human and spiritual longings.

We can meet all human and spiritual longings with spirituality tools. We can meet them with psychological tools. Or we can meet them at their own levels.

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Opening up or closing down

 

Again, it can seem obvious:

How I receive life opens it up for me, or closes it down.

And that is true for spiritual practices and traditions as well.

When they are taken as questions and an invitation for exploration, they may open up the world.

For instance, precepts can be a wonderful opportunity for exploration.

What happens when I encounter the precept? When I try to follow it? When I can’t follow it? Do I notice the symptoms of triggered beliefs? What do I find when I investigate those beliefs?

What are some of the layers I find when I work with a precept? What are some of the ways I can understand and apply it in daily life? How does this change over time?

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The gift of advaita

 

There are lots of tools out there to invite in healing, maturing and even awakening, and they can all be very helpful.

But it is also good to notice that what we seek is already here, and that is the gift of Advaita.

That is what Advaita – more than any other tradition – reminds us of. It gives us a reminder of how simple it is, and an invitation to notice here now.

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Common sense use of tools

 

When we use tools in daily life, we use a good deal of common sense.

If a particular tool works for a specific task, we continue using it.

If it doesn’t seem to work, we explore alternatives – often with help from someone who is more familiar with it than we are. We may find another way of using the same tool, or we may try another tool and see if that works better.

And the same is a good approach to how we use tools for healing, maturing and awakening.

If it doesn’t seem to work, it doesn’t make sense to continue using it the same way – or with more effort! – and expect a different result.

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The Way of Selflessness

 

joel2

The Way of Selflessness is just out, and I can highly recommend it.

Written by Joel Morwood, the spiritual director of the Center for Sacred Sciences in Oregon, it is the product of 20 years of working with students and studying the mystical core of the different traditions, all from within a clear and genuine awakening. It is practical, span the traditions, and gives pointers for what you may encounter at different points on the path.

If you take the main practices and teachings of mystics from the main traditions and boil it down, as you would if you boil an ox down to a bullion cube, you will get something like this.

For all its strengths, it may have a few drawbacks as well.

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Science and spirituality

 

LIFE EINSTEIN

There is a huge amount of possible relationships between science and spirituality.

The most obvious one in our science-based culture is to explore spirituality through science. For instance, we can explore the effects of different practices. How do they show up in how people experience and live their lives? What bodily changes correlate with practices, regular long-term practice, different states, and a genuine Ground awakening? How does it show up in the structure and activity of the brain, the nervous system, endocrine system, muscles and so on? Also, we can explore the science of spiritual practices on their own terms. What works and how? What are the dynamics and mechanisms behind practices from the different traditions? How similar are the ones that appear quite similar?

We can also explore science through spirituality, especially and most productively from within reality awake to itself. For instance, how do current models and views in science correspond to reality as it appears to a mystic? How can they be rephrased so they are better aligned while still staying true to current science?

Equally interesting is how we can use current stories from science as fodder for practices.

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