Beginning the seekers journey

My wife has recently taken up a short-term teaching position in the Middle East. It is a challenging role, not least because her reception aged children speak almost no English. But it is a position that affords challenges, cultural insights and unique experiences that her willingness to embrace will good as guarantee her evolution as both a teacher and a human. I am very proud of her, not to mention a little in awe.

While on a recent visit, I took a tour of her school and met her new colleagues and friends. One conversation stayed in my mind, prompting me to take to the keyboard to write.

A lady told me about her husband who had recently taken to the feel good wisdom of the self-help, motivational and ‘new age’ genre. He was smitten by the positivity imbued, and feeling both inspired and hopeful, committed himself wholeheartedly to new ways of thinking and being.

He read everything that he could about the subjects, immersing himself in ‘must have’ literature as well as serendipitously finding himself coming into ownership of other important book titles.

He changed his diet for the better and started to guard against negative chatter about the world, instead opting to look at the bright side and silver lining in every cloud. He is making substantial efforts to walk a mile in the person’s shoes that he is on the verge of judging. He is forming friendships with like-minded folk all wanting to make a positive contribution to our ailing world and is listening attentively to advice from those who have walked this path a little longer than he. He is a man turning his life around, or at least, redefining it with the intention of finding greater meaning.

So what did his wife think of his efforts to live a more pleasant life? “It’s all mumbo jumbo nonsense,” she spat venomously. I was a little taken aback at her forthrightness, but not surprised at the content of her complaint; it is a common one. Her rant gathered momentum:
“Do you know what the silly fool has done?” I hadn’t,
“He’s gone and left his job and is listening to some advice from his guru friend who has told him that he must live the life of his dreams.” So far, it sounded ok to me,
“The dope has taken to reading out affirmations and just sitting on the sofa waiting for things to happen. Idiot. I told him he would have to do more than that if he wanted his dreams to come true. Life’s not magic you know. It ain’t easy.” She went on,
“He’s now so disillusioned with the whole ‘positive’ rubbish, that he’s now gone the other way entirely, and is totally depressed. I’m worried he might throw himself under a bus!”
I have heard this type of story many times and in many variations. I  had to face it myself before my critics realised that I was serious and committed to positive change and not mad bat crazy.

But this couple is still living the early chapters of a narrative that is causing them considerable pain and both, I think, are correct, and misguided in equal measure. Their example raises some important questions:
Is it naive to believe and then strive for a more fulfilling, abundant and kind life?
Is the paradigm of ‘no pain-no gain’ certain?
How can we avoid the fanciful claims of the ‘self-help’ zealots, while simultaneously benefiting from the tit-bits of information that may be of use?
Is life just a hard, unforgiving and ultimately lacking slog?

It was a similar experience to the story above that eventually prompted me to walk a pilgrimage (rather than just read others’ books), and search for answers to these, and other, questions. Although I elaborate further in my book, ‘The Hardest Path’, I hope you will allow me to share some of the insights here.

Before looking for a ‘better way’, it is almost always preceded by the faint hope and sense that there is, indeed, one. This instinct is somewhat primal, intuitive and difficult to quantify but it is powerful and real enough to start us off on the seeker’s journey. Once bitten, so to speak.

With our modern lives driven by the need for empirical evidence, we often ignore our instinct, no longer trusting that which cannot be sufficiently proven. We have lost faith in our innate wisdom and turn immediately to others thoughts, words and teachings for clarification. Often this help is found on the shelves of the mind, body spirit sections of bookshops or via online searches.

In these heady, early naive days of the beginning seeker, it is easy to lose judgment and sense. As an over excited child at its birthday party, our enthusiasm can quickly turn from pleasant to problematic. I remember doing precisely the same thing; I became the spiritual proselytiser; the boring savior. We must breach this rookie mistake if we are to reach the opposite shore of heightened experience and regulated passion. As we calm ourselves to the genuine cause of living a gentler and more meaningful life, we can start to see the wood for the trees, sort the wheat from the chaff and the snake oil salesman from the good teachers.

Although the reality checks of these early progressions can indeed bring us down with a bump, they needn’t suggest that life is a constant and ever painful chore. Needless to say, there will be difficult times on our travels, but how they determine the outlook of our life is up to us. Life is not guaranteed toil.

When walking a pilgrimage, particularly a circular one as is the 88 temple pilgrimage in Japan, the pilgrim can experience, in one circuit, a concentrate of all that they would experience in a lifetime. By seeing a snapshot of life’s emotion and circumstance in one introspective and reverential journey, it is possible to learn lessons a little faster than through years of day-to-day existence. After all, there is little time to introspect when washing the dishes, taking the children to school, feeding the dog or ironing the clothes.

What I found to be true, for me at least, is that the spiritual path is most certainly a valid one. Of course, we should guard against becoming a Pollyanna, but even if we stumble into this bear trap, as the ladies husband has, it should not discourage us from searching further. We need not become embittered, as I am afraid she may have become, by observing the dashed hopes that have come with her husband’s journey. Instead, it is better to pick ourselves up, remember our goal and set to walking the long and winding road once more, just this time with a little more experience and personal wisdom accompanying us.

And while others condemn our failed efforts; we should be mindful that our scars are proof that we are, at least, trying. Like the image of the overweight jogger in running vest and shorts, they are already further along the road of self-mastery than the people on the sofa mocking them.

“Do not seek to walk in the footsteps of the masters,
seek what they sought.”
The Hardest Path

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