Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mindful Navigation Along the Spiritual Path of the Present

I had a well needed appointment with my massage therapist today. He's an amazing guy. In addition to his massage practise, he also runs Yoga classes, of which I have partaken as well. He and I really connect. We are the same age and have very similar world views. Over the past four or five years we have developed an excellent relationship that has spilled over into enlightened conversation on Yoga, Buddhism and life and general. So rarely do we meet someone that we really connect with. In the end, I think that he and I are very much alike, the essential difference being that he is engaging in his personal spiritual practise much more whole heartedly than I.
That being said, my RMT is always encouraging me. I must admit that I do have a problem when it comes to going to a new yoga class by myself and whatnot. Though those who know me well might find this difficult to believe, I am really a shy individual and quite uncomfortable in crowds of people I don't know. I have taken leaps of faith in the past. For example, when I first started doing yoga in 1999, I sought out a teacher and became a staple in her class for a couple of years. I have also made a few sojourns to the local Buddhist temple for the English meditation sessions on the odd Friday night – something that would benefit me immensely if I were to make it a regular fixture in my week. My RMT is going regularly to Truc Lam, the temple, so perhaps that will aid me in mustering the courage to go myself.

Regardless, my conversation today really left me feeling a need to pursue my spiritual path with more intensity and purpose. As I turn 40 this year, I am at a point in my life where priorities change. First and foremost, I want to be a good Father. Secondly, I want to make a difference in the lives of the children that I teach. Lastly, I want to be inspired and inspire others. This differs from the mentality of a young man who is preoccupied with things like being attractive to women, sowing wild oats and the like.

I have been consistent with my yoga and meditation practise at home. I also do a bit of yoga with my 5 year old and am trying to talk my wife into trying a yoga class (she did a pre-natal yoga class a way back). My wife has been an inspiration to me as she has engaged herself in a rather serious spiritual quest of her own. Though her road has lead to more conventional Western churches, she is still open minded to the ideas and practices of the East.

In any case, I feel a need to commit myself further to my practise and feel that combining a weekly or bi-weekly visit to Truc Lam for meditation and deepening my yoga practise with the odd drop-in class will set me on my way.

As important as meditation and yoga are, they are not the be all and end all of seeking spiritual enlightenment. One must extend their practice beyond the yoga mat and meditation cushion. This is where most religious people fail – say one thing in the church, synagogue or mosque, but live by another set of contrary tenets altogether. My greatest fault is that I read a lot and intellectualise the things I read but can not habitualise it. This is the biggest hurdle I'm finding with the cognitive therapy that I am doing for my post traumatic stress disorder – I can untwist my thinking but the feelings of anxiety don't subside despite being proven illogical or unwarranted.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle in accomplishing the goals that I am outlining here are my fear of new groups of people is my general cynicism toward many of those who make up the local sanghas or Buddhist community. I find so many of them to be self-righteous and miserable which is ironic as Buddhism is about no ego and joy. Perhaps I am being unfair here, but, ultimately, I find much of the movement is infused with flakey people and overly-intense folks who believe that enlightenment is a lighting bolt that will strike if you sit long and hard enough. Equally, I am hesitant to venture into the whole yoga fashion culture of Lululemon and the likes. Don't get me wrong, I love Lululemon, but it is becoming more of a fashion statement and trend – something more of a physical than spiritual realm that this trend is fostering. It's not for me to judge nor to dislike these people, but what it does do is frustrates me as it moves the main thing away from keeping the main thing the main thing. I had similar experiences in several Martial Arts where the books would boast of these Zen and Taoist components and lessons, but the classes were purely physical and aerobic. Nothing wrong getting fit, but if you are advertising something metaphysical, then don't simply offer up a program of effective stretches.

So, it has come down to what I must now commit myself to doing. First, continue my reading and discussion of various texts of the Buddhist, Hindu, Yoga and Taoist traditions in addition to more modern psychology books (many of which are now embracing Eastern philosophy). Secondly, supplement my home yoga and meditation practise with trips to the local temple and the odd 2-3 drop-in classes each month. Third, keep a "thankfulness journal" in which, each day I write 5 things that I am thankful for. Fourth, embrace art by resuming my guitar lessons and exploring my potential with the pastels that my wife gave me for Christmas this year. Five: become vegetarian. I was a vegetarian for a few years back in the early 1990's. Six: practise mindfulness in all that I do. Seven: endeavour to always be kind and positive.

…That should just about do it.

In closing, if you are at all inspired by this, here is a recommended reading list to get you started:

 Hardcore Zen by Brent Warner. If I ever wrote a book on Zen, this would be it!

 Heart of the Buddha's Teachings by Thich Nhat Hahn. This is a brilliant intro to Buddhism and TNH is probably the best Buddhist writer on the subject with a plethora of books. We are luck to have one of his direct students running the local Buddhist temple here in Edmonton

 Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. This was a classic that I avoided forever because I thought it would be flakey and fluffy. It's not and worth reading

This aside, if you ever want to attend and awesome meditation session and dharma talk here in Edmonton (lead by Thich Phap – TNH's student), anyone is welcome, it's free and it starts at 6:30 Friday evenings. The Truc Lam temple is located on 97th Street and about 114th Avenue.

…and so continues my journey.



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