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On Getting Good Grades

Spiritual longing is not on a grading scale. There is no cosmic teacher who only give you a 85% on how far you’ve come.  We don’t average the amount of time spent mediating by the amount of books you’ve read and retreats you’ve attended. There is no inventory to be kept for a spiritual education. Yet there is still this need to know “Am I on the right path?” If we experience pain we ask ourselves “Shouldn’t I be past this by now? Haven’t I done all that work already?”

 “Spiritual bypassing—the use of spiritual beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs—is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed. The spiritual ideals of any tradition, whether Christian commandments or Buddhist precepts, can provide easy justification for practitioners to duck uncomfortable feelings in favor of more seemingly enlightened activity. When split off from fundamental psychological needs, such actions often do much more harm than good.”

There’s a great Tricycle article on the downfall of majoring in Self Help techniques. We start to do exactly what all these things are advising us not to do;  tally the books we’ve read, the insights we’ve had, or the years we’ve spent meditating. Somehow, we think, this should protect us. Somehow, all this work for all these years should be our shield against ever having to feel pain or grief again. We forget that we still live one moment at a time. If your practices so far have made you think about the oneness of the universe, or have great memories of listening to a talk on how to be compassionate, yet you still find that you don’t know how to apply these things, this may point to a trap called spiritual bypassing.

We want to feel better, but instead of doing things which will lessen the amount of stories we tell ourselves, we start telling ourselves stories about the things we do to lessen the stories.  So if your practice involved visualizing a compassionate person but there’s no experience of compassion, you may want to wonder what it’s place is in your practice. Yes, sometimes we need to do things in order to feel better in the moment, but if you have the desire to cut to the root of your pain, then you will want to be mindful of when you telling yourself you are compassionate, or when you instinctively act out of compassion and notice it afterwards.

If I  need to feel better in the moment, I do the Four Points Practices. Once I’m steady again, I turn to wanting to dig up the root of what knocked me off my center in the first place.

In order to determine which is which, I ask myself a simple question, “Am I adding to my thoughts, or getting to the root of my thoughts?”



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