When you first enter a spiritual practice, you may be intrigued but wary, or you may be quickly inspired. Those who are inspired often jump in enthusiastically, read many books, take tons of classes and practice every day. But such enthusiasm tends to be superficial and short-lived, and after a while, their interest and energy begins to peter out and they have second thoughts about the whole thing. Often they forget their initial enlightening experiences and drop out.
Those who are more wary often decide to spend time checking the practice out before making a commitment. Before diving into a new spiritual practice they research different teachers and communities and read a few more books. Although they are drawn to the spiritual community, they are afraid to go too far without more understanding of what they are getting into. This approach is beneficial to a point, but can present a barrier to an essential ingredient of true spiritual practice — commitment. Whenever the wary reach the point of being ready to make a deep commitment, they hesitate, drop out and step back into the warm cocoon of their old way of life.
No matter how one enters into the practice of training the mind for spiritual purposes, the main idea is to become steady and confident. Constantly changing your mind about what you are doing drains away enthusiasm and leaves you and those around you depleted of energy. Hesitation can draw you into an undertow of self-doubt, which you then project on to the spiritual practice you are exploring. It is important to break this pattern and to develop more self-confidence and certainty in the practice, and to trust your own initial insight into its value.
When we lack confidence, we analyze too much. It is hard to make a decision because there is no end of options, alternatives, contingencies and what-ifs. Commitment is frightening because it means choosing one direction and abandoning others, but unless the spiritual seeker does so, it will be hard to make progress. Spiritual growth can feel like being a trapeze artist; we have to let go of one trapeze and fly through the air on nothing but faith that when we reach out for the second trapeze it will be there.
The point is that once you see what you need to do, go ahead and do it wholeheartedly with a willingness to ride out periods of doubt and confusion. If you make a decision to begin Zen training, stick with it so that it becomes a steady thread throughout your life. Although your circumstances are always changing, your commitment to training should be unwavering.
Today’s practice: When your enthusiasm seems to be flickering, try dropping down a layer to a more steady and fundamental stream of inspiration by recalling the insights you had when you first began your practice. By placing your experience within that stream, you can gain greater certainty in the view and practice of your chosen spiritual path.
This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.
Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.