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Using Obstacles As A Path To Awakening

Posted Dec 11 2010 4:03pm
"When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi (awakening)."
Lojong Slogan # 11

Tibetans believe in ghosts they call "dons" that suddenly attack you in order to wake you up.  I see my voices and the web of my psychosis as these dons.  Though they appeared to be evil and set on causing a great deal of trouble, pain and suffering, they were in fact a blessing.

Life is hard; we all face obstacles every day, but what if we saw our difficulties as the fertile soil of our spiritual path, as the ground we use to plant the seeds of well being?  Most of us are deep in sleep, so lost in thoughts about the past or the future that we don't see the present moment.  A lot of us feel guilty if we stop doing things and move into the being mode.  For those of us who do take the time to just sit and enjoy the view, we often feel our own restlessness or resistance to accepting things just as they are.  The root of that restlessness is fear, fear of acknowledging that we are not in control of our lives.  We and those we care about could die or get sick or hurt at any time.  This is why the present moment is precious, why life is precious.  This is why it is infinitely better to be awake now than asleep and on automatic pilot.

What wakes us up?  Problems wake us up.  We are fortunate in that we all have problems.  Without problems we would be lost in a bland complacency, a place of few changes.  Because of problems we get curious, curious about solutions to our problems.  Curiosity is the mother of awakening.  Even questions such as "Why is this happening to me?" lead to the beginning of a spiritual journey.  We learn by falling, by failing, by misunderstanding.  We learn by being persistent and flexible despite our mistakes.

So we all have problems, we all make mistakes and we're all in the same situation.  Life is precious.  Death comes for us all.  Actions have consequences (karma) and being dissatisfied with life as it is (samsara), is the first step towards spiritual growth.  In Tibetan Buddhism these are called "The Four Reminders" and we need these reminders because the sad fact is that we are continually forgetting.  We forget that our life is precious and fall into patterns of complaining and self pity.  We live in denial about death, saying to ourselves that perhaps it will come, but much, much later.  We skirt around taking responsibility for our actions which causes us a lot of personal suffering.  And finally we adapt ourselves to the sickness of the world, perpetuating wars and innumerable conflicts amongst ourselves, thus remaining spiritually stunted.

How many people are willing to stand up and say that all of humanity is family?  That we are all facing essentially the same situation?  Why do so many of us buy into the myth that some of us have it "easy" because of fame or fortune or good genes?  No one has it easy; we're all going to die.  So why are we killing or condemning each other every minute of every day?

Two things are certain -- life is about change and there will always be obstacles.  We will never live in a world where there is only pleasure and no pain.  Pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin.  So we must learn to cherish the pleasure and see pain and obstacles as stepping stones on our spiritual path.  We must learn to grow up.  This is difficult to do.  We are taught as children in stories that there are good guys and bad guys and that the good guys always win and go on to live happily ever after.  This good guy/bad guy, black and white thinking continues into adulthood with us as the "good" ones and others as the "bad" ones.  If we're honest with ourselves, we know that we all have our shadow sides.  If we can't admit to the fact that we've made a lot of mistakes along the way, we will never truly grow up.  To see these mistakes as lessons for growth is to bring obstacles to our spiritual path.  Mistakes precede successes.  We wouldn't even be able to identify success as success if we didn't make the mistakes in the first place.  Our language and our psyches are structured around yin and yang, opposites, because they complement and clarify each other.  The key is to change our attitudes about pain, to see it as a natural and necessary step in deepening our understanding of ourselves and our world.
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