Making the decision to follow a spiritual path is arguably the most meaningful thing one can do with their life. What more can be said of following the most superior path of them all, the path to enlightenment? Naturally such a path will involve overcoming obstacles and challenges, but surely such things should be truly welcomed when when aiming for the highest attainment of them all…
I woke up this morning not feeling that great. My mind was agitated, as it has been on and off lately (and come to think about it, if I’m honest…. ever since I can remember really). It’s funny how I find myself constantly focusing on different problems, and it’s led me to wonder why happiness is so elusive
And it was the same yesterday evening…. I felt some irritation towards my partner, which certainly isn’t unusual I must admit. Although he does have many evident good qualities, I have found myself regularly blaming him for things and getting frustrated with him
Of all the things I’ve focused on and gotten irritated about, the one thing that has appeared to agitate me the most is his lack of wish for intimacy. Clearly a personal topic but hey, I figure when you start writing a blog nothing’s off limits, so here we go….
The issue started to emerge quite early on in our relationship – that my partner didn’t have much of a wish for sexual intimacy. So to clarify, that meant he had’t been much interested in anything beyond cuddling. Seemed a bit unusual to me I have to say, and although he did offer some explanation, all in all I found myself struggling with it
Making a wish for the path to enlightenment
Rewind about two years and I was touring Australia engaged in some protesting (based on spiritual grounds, but I won’t really get into it)
Well on that protesting circuit a friend of mine was telling me about a teaching Gen-la Thubten (one of the senior teachers in the buddhist tradition I follow) gave back in the day. He said that in the teaching, Gen-la explained that the potential paths we can take to enlightenment as an individual are infinite
Due to this implication that the different paths I could take to enlightenment were infinite, I realised I could choose what I wanted to be part of that path and leave the rest up to my guru, or spiritual guide,… and that’s exactly what I did
Of course because buddha has a sense of humour then, as well as being happy to fulfil wishes coming from a pure motivation, he also decided to throw in a whole lot of things I didn’t expect (this issue regarding sexual intimacy being one of them). He’s like ‘here have the relationship, but you’ll just need to work through some things you didn’t expect’
And after all it makes sense, I mean if we were never challenged, how could we ever remove the obstacles from our mind that are preventing us from achieving this ultimate goal? And so our spiritual guide, or guru, gives us custom-designed problems or challenges to help us remove these karmic obstacles
Oh and maybe you’re wondering what I wished for? Well I just thought about what I really wanted, without worrying whether I was attached or not, and when I was honest it emerged that I wanted to meet a loving partner that would support me on my path and to be able to travel the world, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures…..
….. fast forward back to the present and that’s exactly what I got!
So I got my relationship and now I’m travelling the world, but did this bring me the happiness I had been searching for all my life? Well, er, no…. not really. Well not until recently it seems, when I decided to make a real effort to train my mind
The first step in my wish being fulfilled was getting a partner about 1 1/2 years ago. This was a surprise for many people as I had been single for about 10 years. I hadn’t specifically set out not to get into a relationship, although there was a period of a couple of years when I was against it I guess, but in general it was more just how things eventuated
It was wonderful getting into a new relationship and it brought with it many happy and exciting experiences. But like with anything we experience in an ordinary life, it also brought with it unwanted things too
At times it seemed like the solution might be simply to end the relationship despite all the good things it had going for it, and a couple of times I had suggested this, but we were able to work through it. I also tried to remind myself that I had made the decision to use my relationship as the basis for my path to enlightenment, which helped to encourage and inspire me
I knew intellectually at least, that basing my happiness on having intimacy in my relationship was coming from attachment, and yet the fact that it seemed to be such a reasonable expectation made it very difficult to overcome
Asking for help
Coming back to my waking up moody this morning and not having a very positive feeling towards my partner as a result…. my state of mind was exacerbated by his habit of not saying much. Already being irritated with him, I started to focus on the fact that he wasn’t saying anything…. finding yet another reason to be upset
However being a good spiritual practitioner I had correctly identified that my delusions (negative states of mind) were the true problem, however with this merely being an intellectual understanding, it did nothing to appease the negativity in my mind
So what was my solution? Go for a long walk and listen to the recordings of one of my favourite teachers!
At the last buddhist dharma celebration I attended, held at Kadampa Meditation Centre Australia, Gen Rabten gave teachings on overcoming attachment. I decided to listen to these whilst walking in the local Tempelhofer State Park in Berlin (an old airport that has been transformed into an open space for the public)
As always, I was really inspired by his teachings. It’s been evident to me for a long time that the clarify of Rabten’s teachings arise from the wisdom of experience (and that’s why following them works)
He gave a commentary to the practice of White Tara (the buddha of swift compassion) and highlighted the deceptive nature of attachment, giving very clear examples and analogies. This helped to clarify the nature of my problem and led to my generating a strong determination to overcome my attachment
It’s not like I hadn’t generated a determination to overcome my attachment before, but I could feel there was something different about it this time. It was like finally that, not only could I clearly see the problems attachment was causing me, but in my heart I truly wanted to be rid of it
I knew I couldn’t do it by myself however, and asked Tara for her blessings and help. I’ve found it’s times when I’ve realised what I needed to do and sincerely ask for help that magic happens, and on this occasion it was no different
Happiness is a decision
When I returned to our temporary apartment in Berlin (we’re going to Mallorca, Spain in a few days) we had a chat about everything and explored how in particular my own points of view were causing me pain. ‘Is there anything actually wrong?’ I asked myself
We talked about the issue some more and both decided to apply effort to move towards more balanced and others-focused perspectives. I think I’ve always known that once I was able to overcome my attachment (or at least the more manifest aspects of it), that the outer problem would most likely resolve itself
And that’s what making a decision to use our relationship as our main path to enlightenment means: working through painful feelings and abandoning delusions using wisdom. Even though it can be hard, and I’ve definitely struggled, it means sticking with it (within the realms of common sense of course)
The problems that arise from whether or not we’re getting what we want in our relationships come from our own attitudes and perspective, whether that be with regards to emotional support, sex, money…. whatever. And although I knew I needed to change my attitude, it hasn’t been easy
But I felt inspired…. and drawing on his own experience, my partner was able to help me see that, in truth, there was nothing wrong. It was then that I felt a shift in my mind, and a deep happiness started to emerge, one that I hadn’t experienced before. I knew it didn’t really matter any more whether the external problem was resolved, because I felt at peace and my happiness was no longer dependent on getting what I wanted
Don’t get me wrong, there have been times in my spiritual life when I’ve experienced happiness and been free from problems, but this time it was different. It was different because it was arising from a new wisdom within my mind which clearly identified that I don’t actually have any problems and that there isn’t actually anything wrong
It was at that moment I realised that throughout my life I had been sabotaging my own happiness without even realising…. like being happy was something, at a subconscious level at least, that I hadn’t allowed myself to be
It might seem like a bit of a jump, but the truth is that happiness is a decision, and yet we just don’t realise it’s that simple…. and that’s what society tells us. But if we check, we’ll see that there are so many examples of people finding happiness in the light of very difficult circumstances, so why can’t we?
I’m not even sure why we have a tendency to sabotage our own happiness (at least one reason is likely to be because the existence of our self as we know it depends on being in a constant state of conflict). But when we explore our problems objectively, then it becomes clear that at least the vast majority of them aren’t that big of a deal, and that there’s space to have them in our life and be happy
The bliss of choosing happiness
Finally I found myself starting to experience some freedom in my mind. The moment I gained some experience of the fact that it’s possible to be happy, independent of external conditions, I felt an expansion of the self….. there was an awareness that I was beginning to let go of this small, ordinary, limited being and moving towards something bigger and more meaningful
Ever since I met buddhist teachings they’ve resonated with me and touched my heart. On one level or another I had always believed that it’s possible to find a stable and lasting happiness, but this experience today has taken that belief much deeper
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m never going to have any problems again (the problems of unpleasant feelings that is). But I can now see much more clearly that my problems, which before seemed so real and concrete, are in reality nothing more than thoughts
When we understand that the true nature of our problems are the unpleasant feelings, and unpleasant feelings come from thoughts, then realising that our problems are merely thought means we can get rid of our problems by simply ignoring unhelpful ways of thinking and replacing them with positive ones (or as we may realise further down the path, abandon them altogether)
Now I wouldn’t want anybody to think that I’m trying to trivialise anyone’s problems here and can only talk about my own experience, but think about it – if we didn’t have any painful feelings, negative attitudes or beliefs and our mind was peaceful all the time, could we really say we had any problems…. even if from an external perspective many things were going wrong?
If we take the definition of problems I’m talking about (inner, painful or unpleasant feelings), then I don’t think we could. This is because a mind that is always at peace can’t experience the inner problem of unpleasant feelings
In one sense there’s been nothing remarkable about today, but on the other hand it feels like an immensely positive shift in my mind. I feel a deep and sustaining happiness starting to arise from within, a happiness that in once sense I can recognise has always been there, yet I also feel very ordinary and content…. but at peace
All that being said and done there’s always more work to do when following a spiritual path and one mustn’t become complacent. But I feel a new confidence arising from within and feel encouraged in knowing that I’ll be in a much better place to deal with the inevitable challenges life continues to throw at me in the future
And for the first time I can kind of relate to the Kadampa practitioners of old who would wish for more problems so that they could more deeply train and purify their minds. As crazy as that may seem to some, I can imagine myself being like that one day. Just think what our life will be like when we no longer fear anything it throws at us and we’re always able to face adversity with courage. How wonderful