This originally appeared in June of 2008 as “No Shortcuts” from the book, Awake in This Life.
I’ve mentioned that I began my meditation practice asking teachers if there might be a shortcut to any of this work. The answers I got all came down to what I’ve so often repeated in these pages: simply practice a deep surrender into stillness and then let your activity consciously arise from this place. The thing in me that wanted the shortcut is the thing in all of us that wants to manage the experience of Awakening. No matter how great our teacher, how extensive our reading list, or how supportive our spiritual friends, no one can do any of this work for us. This means that we must orient all of our choices around the generous intention of letting go of everything, including whatever spiritual flavor we like the most. This takes courage, fortitude, and discipline.
If we find ourselves in situations where we just can’t let go, we’re in good company. Even the Buddha himself went through a rather significant process of clinging when he began to deny his body through extreme asceticism as a way of reaching what his ego defined as Awakening to Truth. His intention was to get past the desires of the flesh by starving it into submission. The problem was that his choices were killing him, thereby undoing his intention of becoming Awake in this life. Over time, a realization arose pointing out that this denial was yet another attachment, and as such, it was an inappropriate response to what was being offered. He chose to let go of his attachment to this particular view, and the surrender of this view allowed for an even deeper opening within. The Buddha’s experience offers each of us a great lesson on how we are led astray when the process of spiritual evolution becomes ego driven. Whenever we think that some activity, vow, or choice will show us a shortcut to Spirit, we will perpetually miss the mark, or “sin,” as the archers of old used to say. All spiritual work, be it meditation, chanting, prayer, silence, or anything else, is offered to us so that we can ultimately see that we are not separate from God, nor have we ever been. God, like the present moment, like our breath, like our beating heart, like Infinity, is always right here.
If there is any attachment to the idea that freedom exists as any external circumstantial form instead of as an internal release, then enlightened awareness will be profoundly hindered by ego. This hindrance is exactly what forces us into the role of seeking. As long as we perceive enlightenment—God, Allah, Brahman, or Spirit—as existing outside of our experience, we will never Awaken to the Truth from which our experience originates. Similarly, if our intentions and corresponding choices are driven by anything other than deep generosity for all beings, we are hindering everyone’s potential for this very realization. If there is a deep longing to Awaken arising within you, this is wonderful. But do not get caught by this longing. Don’t deny it and don’t look for shortcuts, but rather choose to become intimate with the wanting. Then vow to live a life from that open, surrendered observation. Living in this way, of course, is infinitely supported when we sit still with a committed generosity of purposeful choosing, when we don’t harm, and when we can allow ourselves to be deeply curious about every circumstance that we meet.