One of the things that independent seekers face on the spiritual path is loneliness.It’s inevitable if we are committed to avoid taking on other’s belief systems and yearn to experience what is true for ourselves.
In fact, succumbing to loneliness and trying to relieve it is sometimes the reason people become blind followers. They would rather trade in the comfort of being in the crowd of religious homogeneity than the insecurity of the solitary quest. There is a certain value of joining a sanga or community but when we give up our own discernment of what is true and not true to avoid loneliness we can become a perpetual student of dogma rather than the source of our own realization. Its often a requirement of the committed spiritual seeker to leave the pack for awhile to achieve this.
Even if we are not on a spiritual path, the experience of loneliness is part of the fabric of life. It can happen when we move to a different city, lose a job, experience the loss of a loved one, leave a relationship and break-up with a friend. In the grief a part of ourselves can go with that person, location or job and we can feel like that piece is missing. Or we can judge an aspect of ourselves harshly and push it aside and then feel an emptiness inside.
Years ago when my daughter was young, she liked to watch a children’s TV show on CBC called: The X. The show was famous for the weird, creative antics of the childhood stars. One month, in the late fall they organized an outdoor concert and show in Toronto. The main event was cooking the world’s largest batch of Poutine.
There are times in life when things can get tough.
We can lose a job or a family member. An investment can go down the tube or we can get in an accident that can affect us physically. We never know when we can fall on hard times.
This happened to me in 2010. My wife and I decided mutually to seperate and I lost my marriage and a beautful rural property that I'd spent many years building up. A good friend of mine gave me a room in his house to stay in for a while. I began a new relationship and then moved into a smaller rental house with other roomates. It was rough because I was country boy, used to a lot of land and trees and a river flowing by.
The other day a client of mine after a one-to-one self-inquiry session asked me a very important question: "What do you think is the one thing that stops people from having a better life?"I paused for a moment to consider this and let my mind flip though the filing cabinet of memories of working with people over the years. A commonality came up and I said,
Last week I had a long conversation with an individual in a religious movement. When he suggested that I was a fool for not accepting his beliefs that were embraced by millions of followers for thousands of years, I ended the conversation. This often happens with people in a fundamentalist path. When they cannot convince others of the veracity of their religion they resort to insult.
But this did bring up an important question. Is a religion true because of its popularity for thousands of years?
Are the words of God true in a religious book because millions of people believe in it even though it’s been translated and altered by men over a 100 times? Am I more spiritual because of the way I dress because the founder of my age-old tradition says so? Will I go to heaven if I kill the infidels because thousands of people believe this is true?
About 20 years ago when I was on Clearing Practitioner training course in California, I went out for a meal with some of the students. There was a Mexican couple waiting at their table for lunch with their little son. While they were waiting for their meal I observed their little boy get up and wander around the restaurant.
He would stand in front of some tables silently watching people talk. When no-one noticed him he would go and do the same thing in front of other tables. But no-one paid attention to him. Perhaps they imagined he would interrupt their conversations.
He came and stood in front of our table and I decided to pay attention to him.
When I looked at this 5 year old boy I could see that he was so inquisitive and so excited about his life. He had the deepest brown eyes and was so amazingly open, innocent and loving. He reminded me of the way I used to be when I was his age and the state of being I was in then. I was trying in my spiritual growth to get back to that state but only with more self-consciousness.
I playfully looked in his eyes and said "I see you".
When I was in my late teens I was a hippie (or at least I tried to be one.) I thought I was rebelling and I put on a good act but underneath the act, I really did believe in Truth, Love and Peace and I was intensely examining the basis of our culture and society.
Now as a parent I have gone through three 3 teenagers. I've concluded that the adolescent rebellion that many parents experience is not really seen for what it is ...it's much deeper...
It's really a search for self.
You see them trying on different ways of being: the preppie, the jock, the rapper, the punk-rocker, the nerd, the whigger, the emo, the hippie, etc. They become part of a little tribe of individuals trying on different "clothes". They really don't know who they are, so they look outside themselves trying on a way of acting to see if it fits. They become part of a little hub of kids with a certain protocol of acting. What socks in the pattern, is one thing: acceptance. They get love and acceptance from their group.
Unfortunately they get stuck thinking that the way to be themselves is to be a reasonable facsimile of someone else, the first step in their socialization. They learn that their happiness is outside themselves in adopting an act, a persona or a mask, even if that mask is the rebel.
After that, the next steps are logical, continue to get socialized
"To be religious is to be sensitive to reality. Your total being - body, mind and heart - is sensitive to beauty and to ugliness, to the donkey tied to the post, to the poverty and filth in this town, to laughter and tears, to everyting about you.
From this sensitivity for the whole of existence, springs goodness, love; and without this sensitivity there is no beauty, though you may have talent, be very well dressed, ride an expensive car and be scrupulously clean...there is an immediate response to that which is lovely and also that which is ugly, the response of pleasure or pain, and we put that feeling into words saying: "this is beautiful" or "that is ugly".
I don't know about you but I have not met too many people that are consistently happy. Life is full of ups and downs, times of elation and deep peace and times of loss and difficult challenge. There are so many things we don't want: the pile of bills on the desk, the extra weight, the long commute, the difficult boss, the cold winter, the dishes that always have to be done, etc. The list goes on and extends even to the tendencies in ourselves: the self-judgement, the procrastination, the perfectionism etc.
All these irritations in life are like one of those children's big punching balloons with the weight at the bottom and the perverse smile. The more we push it away and punch it the more it keeps popping back up. We hope that by ignoring or pushing aside all these undesirable conditions that they will go away. In most cases they don't. They keep coming back.
What if the non-acceptance of the things we don't want is actually preventing us from achieving the things we do want? And what if the acceptance of those very things we are not happy about can in the end bring us greater happiness?
That is a pretty amazing paradox.
Let us examine this.
A number of years ago I owned a retreat centre called the Ecology Retreat Centre in the beautiful Hockley Valley near Orangeville. It was a very fulfilling time in my life even though I overworked getting stressed out creating a stress-free environment.
In my tenure there I received a great personal education of many spiritual and growth practices almost every weekend and met many well known spiritual teachers. I also developed a keen radar for groups that were liberating and others that were more cultish and entrapping. I got to experience the effectiveness of many of the transformational practices either by outside observation or by directly participating.
“I had this feeling in my chest - my chest was very big and spacious and wide and open. Everyone and everything was beautiful. It was a wonderful feeling, and I felt so me, like I was residing in my own groove, that I was home, and that everything was just as it was supposed to be, comfortable, warm, safe”
—Beth Clark,Yoga/Meditation Instructor, Kingston, Ontario
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