While it is up to us to discover and explore our personal path, no one is doing so alone.
As human beings in this world, we experience both joy and suffering. At times we feel happiness, fulfillment, connectedness, and peace, while at other times we experience sorrow, depression, conflict, or lack of meaning. Often we are buffeted by circumstances beyond our control and we try our hardest to create positive situations for ourselves, our loved ones, and all beings. While this maneuvering usually creates only temporary happiness for ourselves and others, in these unique times we have the opportunity and support to create lasting happiness and peace for ourselves and all beings. We can learn to be free from being vulnerable to changing conditions not through being in an artificial state of mind where we try to convince ourselves that everything really is okay, but through recognizing, integrating, and stabilizing our understanding of the true nature of our own mind and that of reality.
Most of us are not “sudden realizers,” meaning we don’t reach happiness or freedom from suffering in an instant. Instead, we tend to tread a gradual path, usually within a certain spiritual tradition. Working outside a spiritual tradition is possible, but it can be tricky and the end results can be elusive, as there isn’t the advantage of teachings and practices that have been developed and honed over centuries. But there are many skillful methods that have arisen in contemporary times that can be useful on our journey. This is part of the great opportunity that is here right now.
Most of us need a spiritual teacher or mentor: someone who can guide us on the path of awakening, or if we are in a theistic tradition, the path of coming to know God. As people who have already traversed the path and realized the result, teachers not only share with us profound teachings, but hold up a mirror for us to see our blind spots, those parts of ourselves or reality of which we are unaware. Teachers can steer us towards effective understanding and practice and away from pitfalls. They can nurture, support, and sustain us. Through our teachers loving us, we can learn to love ourselves and rest naturally in our openness. When we rest naturally in openness, especially in the company of a developed or awakened being, the door opens for us to experience the primordial purity and perfection which is not only our own nature, but the nature of all reality. They are one and the same.
At this point in history, we have the unprecedented opportunity to study from any number of ancient spiritual traditions. Teachings are available in ways that make many paths accessible to us. These opportunities are enhanced by the field of psychology and related systems of study and practice that have, over the last century, developed skillful methods for working with psychological issues that can block spiritual progress. It is not shameful to get support on the spiritual path by working with a good therapist in order to recognize and release untrue core beliefs and unwind and release habitual unwholesome patterns and trauma. Indeed, it is intelligent to do so. It is not our pure being, our awakened mind, or our nature created in the likeness of God that blocks us from realizing our true potential. It is our hidden false beliefs about who we are and what the nature of reality is that block our progress, as well as our entrenched actions of body, speech, and mind that are based on misunderstanding of what is. Therapy or inner work that does not blame others—but in a loving, nonjudgmental way helps us see our psychological and philosophical truth and be with the whole of who we are in order to heal and transform ourselves—can greatly benefit us and speed our spiritual journey. If we do not face our negative or unwholesome habitual patterns, they rise up in our life in ways that not only hinder us, but can hurt others.
We also have the opportunity to learn a number of physical practices to support us on our path. Yoga, tai chi, qigong, and many other systems promote health and vitality while opening and developing the subtle or energetic body, which supports and hastens awakening.
We currently find ourselves in a precious situation, one that abounds with opportunity and spiritual riches. It is up to us to find the path that we feel attuned to; no one can do this for us. We need to explore, read, listen to various teachers, try out what seems interesting to us, and tune into the knowingness of our heart in order to find the path best suited to us. We need to contemplate what will work best for us. Once we have firmly decided, we need to open ourselves to engage in joyful participation in the teachings and practices, and be willing to look in the mirror that is presented to us. But we do not have to do this alone. In addition to our primary spiritual teacher, other teachers, therapists, friends, and loved ones can support us. The power of combining guided spiritual practice with inner psychological work is incredibly exciting. Through this we can free ourselves from false beliefs and unwholesome patterns that keep us suffering, and experience the radiant clarity and openness—the unbound love, compassion, and wisdom—that is who we truly are.
Lama Palden Drolma, MFT, is the founder and resident teacher of Sukhasiddhi Foundation in California. Lama Palden’s teachings translate Vajrayana Buddhist principles and practices in ways that make them accessible to Westerners.
© 2012 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies