Today’s blog explores the WORK that is required if we want to have peace, contentment, joy, love and fulfillment in our lives.
Coffee with a Friend
Yesterday, I had a long overdue coffee with my friend and spiritual brother, Steve. Steve and I have been friends and fellow sojourners for nearly 20 years. While our temperments differ greatly, especially in regards to spiritual practice (Steve is a Christian Zen practitioner, my practice tends to be more active.), we are 100% alike in our commitment to our respective spiritual practices and our passion about the value of contemplative living. As we sipped our mutual beverages of choice, we shared the ways in which our lives have been dramatically altered because of the commitment we have made to our spiritual practice. As we mused on about the fruits of diligent practice and the many ways our lives have been enriched through contemplative action, we couldn’t help but wonder, “Why don’t more people practice meditation, contemplation and mindfulness?” We nodded our head in mutual agreement when the answer presented itself: “Because it requires WORK!”
Herein Lies the Rub
As Steve and I arrived at this conclusion, it answered the question that I have been struggling to answer for at least 15 years. Since first learning the rich traditions of Christian Contemplation and realizing the benefits of this practice, I have sought to share these practices with others. Those who have said yes by attending the classes and meditation gatherings that I have offered have experienced enormous benefit. Many have gone on to embrace a daily, if not at least a weekly practice and have experienced the fruits of their practice – greater peace, increased fulfillment, a deeper experience of compassion and love and the motivation to serve. The struggle for me has been to get more than just a handful of people to say yes. And I have never understood why this is such a struggle. Doesn’t everyone want more peace, joy, fulfillment and love in their lives? Of course! But, in order to have these things, we have to work for them. And it seems that the hard truth is that we want these things, but we don’t want to do the work that is required to obtain them.
Peace, love and joy require WORK!
The common search among human beings is for fulfillment. We begin that search by looking outside of us to people, money, material possessions, fame, power, etc. We soon learn that even in the aquisitions of these things, fulfillment is fleeting at best. As all spiritual teachers have come to know and eventually teach is that the only way to achieve fulfillment is through spiritual practice (defined by me as any activity that helps us to connect with peace, love, joy, leads us to the knowledge of our gifts and compels us to nurture, cultivate and share these gifts in service to the world for the good of humanity.). And just like any other goal, inner fulfillment requires WORK! If we want to lose weight, gain strength, learn a task, we have to work at it. Spiritual Practice is the same…..which is why it is called PRACTICE. If we really want peace, love, joy, fulfillment in our lives, we have to WORK FOR IT! We have to make a commitment to our practice and we need to STICK WITH IT. This, in and of itself is probably enough to keep most people from even trying meditation, let alone making a commitment to it.
Our Greatest Fear
If making a commitment to the work isn’t hard enough, an even bigger obstacle to beginning and maintaining a contemplative practice is that which strikes the greatest fear in human beings. And this is not the fear of death, but something we fear even more. And that fear is: CHANGE. More than death itself, (and maybe public speaking), human beings fear CHANGE. Being creatures of habit and seekers of pleasure, we enjoy the perceived security in familiarity and predictability. And if there is one thing for certain about embracing a spiritual practice, you and your life will CHANGE. Ah yes, the changes that you experience will all be for your highest good and it will all be for the better…..but as we all know, CHANGE is NEVER easy! It isn’t easy to give up our compulsive behaviors, our control dramas, our attachments, our entanglements, our habitual behaviors and thought patterns. Let’s face it, our inner critic, martyr, dictator, perfectionist, glutton, sloth, slave, victim, miser, performer, worrier, control freak, etc. etc. etc. serve us in some way. Giving up who we have thought ourselves to be and the life that we have known is not easy and as we move along the path of spiritual growth, change is 100% guaranteed.
The Few, The Brave, The Contemplatives
The realization of humanities’ resistance to change and reluctance to work invites a different tool for measuring the work that I do. Which brings me full circle in yesterday’s conversation with Steve as we pondered the question, “How do you measure success in spiritual endeavors?” As I have sought to share the gift of contemplative practice, I have been tempted to measure success using the traditional, capitalistic, Western model. Numbers and money = success. The answer, it seems is not in the numbers or in the money. Instead, it seems that the measurement of success (if we can even use the word “success” in regards to spiritual work) is in a single life. If a single person has grown in peace, released compulsions and fears, found comfort, support, healing, etc. then I have done my job. The invitation for me then is to remember that it is only the few and the brave that will say yes and that my job is to let go of my attachment to the outcome, numbers, money, etc. etc. etc. SIGH….And here is where I am invited to do more WORK! 🙂
Authentic Freedom Ministries