31 Dec Finding a Path
Something that’s been an ongoing exploration in my own journey as a practitioner of yoga and meditation and an aspirant in these modalities is the question of what The Path actually looks like, both for me personally and in a general sense, including students I work with and even friends and loved ones moving through their lives.
The image of the path is a very old one indeed. Again and again, we see all the myriad cultures of this world, throughout history, describe life and progress in terms of path. Often very rich images abound, and a whole range of very visual ideas appear. The path as it moves through the thick forest, with vicious, wild hounds snapping at the aspirant’s heels, only to suddenly open out to an unimaginably vast and beautiful vista and sudden safety is just one such image.
Personally, I really respond to path metaphors, and to the idea of a clear path to tread in my practice and study life. In a way, spiritual practice is a pathless path, but only to a point, and crucially, to my mind, only at the very cusp of full realisation. There has been definite progress in my own life and my journey as a practitioner and a human, and I have seen the same with many people I have been lucky enough to spend time with. While there may not be a direct, simply laid out pathway toward the mystical state of full awakening, or enlightenment, or whatever you choose to call such an indescribable point in one’s development, there is definitely a pathway that greatly helps us in that direction, even if that pathway is far from clear cut or even vaguely similar from person to person.
Yogic literature is full of various lists of the path, and what we can expect as we make progress. Many of the old texts include various signposts we will come across as certain abilities are developed. For example, we are told in the Hatha Yoga literature, as in the voluminous pages of the Hatha Tattva Kaumudi, that one of the signs our nadis (energy pathways) are becoming cleansed is that the practitioner begins to smell wonderful! Highly amusing, but also very interesting. At the risk of sounding very strange, I must profess that at times I have been engaged in a lot of intensive alternate nostril pranayama practices, my body odour did change in quite a striking manner.
Putting such bizarre things aside, the real consideration of this post is what a personal path might look like for you. Few people are lucky enough to be drawn to one particular system in such a powerful way that everything else seems to pale in comparison. For example, you may meet a teacher in India, and they may be a master of Laya Yoga, and teach you the practices and the view of this system. Upon entering into these teachings, you may well find that this is all you have ever looked for and wanted, and stop looking for anything else.
However, as I stated a moment ago, this is not most of our situation. Most of us are drawn to a variety of strands. For example, a very common situation in today’s world is that someone has a deep love for the teachings of the classical yoga tradition, but find their philosophical leanings are different to that given by orthodox modern Hinduism. Perhaps Buddhist teachings resonate more strongly, or the person in question is purely scientific in their views and approach. This will as a result require some deep searching to figure out what really is the path, and how it might look to tread it, as well as the very vital question of who can be the guide/s for the journey.
My feeling at this point in my own journey is that to a point, it is very important to eventually have a home base view. Whether that view fits within a Buddhist framework, or a Christian milieu, or even old Samkhya, is less important than that the view is one that seems to fit, that has the ability to fire you up, to inspire, and to feel like life has a definite direction. Often a great deal of searching is required to find this home base, and you may even find yourself trying on different views for size and seeing what fits. This is what you might call the shopping phase!
However, we can’t just keep shopping. At some point, we do need to commit to a system, or at least a basic view of reality, if we wish to take steps, even in a general sense, on a path leading toward a more fulfilling and enriching life. If we do not, we may well have a perfectly enjoyable life, but there is a sense that an opportunity is missed.
Once we have our home base, we then look at everything we do and see how it fits into that home base. A friend of mine is firmly within the framework of Thai Buddhist tradition, to the extent that he is even considering ordaining into that monastic order, and yet he is deeply immersed in his yogic practices, stemming from the ancient traditions of Vedic India, a tradition that doesn’t seem to logically fit too well together with Buddhism. And yet, it works beautifully for him. He has his home base, and all his other practices simply take him further in the direction taught to him by his teachers.
This is not just a modern phenomenon. Without going into it at length, it is worth mentioning the Tibetan tradition of Ri Me, where the master would send their more advanced students off for years at a time to work with completely different, often even rival schools of thought and practice! I am finding more and more that these days, a Ri Me approach is a very helpful one for many of us.
To summarise, first we look and read and listen and see. We explore potential paths, we try on different systems, until we find a path we respond to, at least provisionally. We then look at our entire lives, especially our practice life, and find ways to bring it all together in the same direction.
Then we walk.
By Bernd Windhofer