This slogan is about the power of establishing spiritual training as our underlying habit of mind. It is about the power of affirming our intention to make spiritual development the foundation of our lives, no matter what the day brings.
On the journey between life and death, we encounter both external and internal obstacles to spiritual practice and to the work we must do to awaken to reality. Sometimes we are inspired; other times we are discouraged. Even if we attend a meditation retreat and have resolved to continue meditating, all sorts of external obstacles could arise. Sickness, family crisis, travel, exhaustion, legal troubles or financial problems may arise as distractions from best intention.
Other times, the obstacles to practice might be more internal. Doubt that the practice is effective or doubt in our ability to realize enlightenment could interfere. We might get preoccupied with pressing matters, burnt out or depressed. Or maybe practice has brought us to the point where we feel threatened and are afraid to go deeper in case we have to let go of a treasured attachment to an object or belief. External and internal barriers such as these can leave us feeling stuck and disheartened.
When we encounter obstacles and obstructions or feel discouraged about the progress of practice, how do we get back on track? What can we do to solve this problem? We usually know from experience that trying to push through does not work. We know how difficult it is to prevail in a struggle with our own state of mind.
Fortunately, we don’t need to fight in this way; instead, we could simply instill in our minds a strong affirmation of our wish to make spiritual practice the foundation of our existence. As we repeat this affirmation, it becomes a form of positive self-indoctrination. It helps if we develop a daily habit of doing this. For example, each morning when brushing your teeth, take a moment to look into the bathroom mirror and say, “Today my most important activity is spiritual training.” It doesn’t matter if speaking these words isn’t strong enough to get us to the meditation cushion or if we immediately forget our intention, because we have, once again, reminded ourselves of our bottom line position.
Focusing on spiritual development as the single underlying motivation in each day has a lot of power. When obstacles arise, they are abruptly brought up short by the power of right intention. It is as if we have created a spiritual GPS to guide our course and bring us back to stability each time we lose sight of our primary purpose. A daily affirmation insures that obstacles can no longer throw us off our chosen path.
Today’s practice: When you struggle with an external or internal obstacle and fall into discouragement, notice the tendency to feel stuck or under attack. Notice how your relationship to obstacles shifts when you reconnect with your intention to make spiritual development your primary motivation.
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.