Being A Warrior AND Enjoying Our Exploration
Cultivating a skill of any sort of requires a certain kind of effort: the decision to embark upon and remain faithful to a process; to apply our intelligence and energy to the creation of a new state of bodymind. There will be challenges that arise, that need to be met with patience, determination and courage; with a willingness to face and skillfully transform various levels of egoic resistance. What’s important, in these moments, is our “warrior’s attitude” – our willingness to be (open-heartedly) fierce.
Also important, however, is to find and nourish a genuine sense of enjoyment of the process: to find pleasure in our exploration, delight in our continual unfolding, in its moments of ease and challenge both. Our passionate or perhaps just curious interest generates a kind energy, or “perfume,” which nourishes and empowers our practice, keeping it fresh, and allowing for a feeling of effortlessness, even when a lot “is happening.” Advaita teacher Francis Lucille describes it in the following way:
“Effort is noticeably different from an action we accomplish out of interest, love, or celebration. Such a deed stemming out of interest may be taxing for the body or the mind, but it is accompanied by joy and perfume. Whatever we do on the spiritual path should be effortless. Our meditation, our investigation should arise out of an invitation from the Ultimate---out of interest and love for the truth. In this way it is never mechanical, but always new, always different.
If at any moment we feel that we have fallen into the "efforting" trap, that our investigation has become a practice, automatic and therefore meaningless, we should clearly become aware of it and stop it."
This, I believe, is very good advice. If we notice our practice feeling like a chore, a burden, a duty, a drudgery – something we’re doing only because we “should” be doing it, or something we do out of a sense of needing somehow to “justify our existence” --- stop. Let go of the practice, for a breath, for a day, for several days or perhaps even several weeks. Find/invite/allow once again that childlike curiosity, that wonder and awe, a genuine interest in what you’re doing – and from here, begin again, with gratitude and celebration as your new foundation.
The Dance Of Opposites -- Playing With Polarities
One way that I've found useful in maintaining this kind of freshness is to stay tuned into the play of opposites within my chosen practice forms: to notice, for instance, the dance between stillness and motion within a qigong form.
Certain forms -- e.g. sitting or standing meditation – seem mostly to be an expression of stillness, quietude, calm. Other forms – e.g. Shaolin kungfu or some of the more active qigong techniques – include much movement, lots of vigorous and complex action.
Yet even within the “still” forms there is always movement: the movement of the breath, of thoughts and emotions, of blood flowing through the arteries and veins, even as our physical body is externally motionless, in sitting or standing meditation practice.
Similarly, the capacity to skillfully perform complex external movements depends in large part upon finding and staying connected with an internal still-point; and the most powerful performances of these forms seem often to be something like an expression of Source-energy -- the potency of a formless reservoir, appearing in/as the arising and dissolving of movement.
Which practice(s) we choose to engage with will depend upon our individual circumstances: our interests, inclinations and curiosities; in concert with the availability, in our geographical region, of teachers, dojos, meditation centers, etc.
Whatever form we choose to practice, there will always be this dance between the active/external and the more passive, quiet or internal aspects of the form – a dynamic worth paying attention to. Here are some of the polarities whose dance may be informing your practice:
expression – receptivity
passion – quietude
effort – surrender
action – tranquility
motion – stillness
contraction -- expansion
excitement – calm
enthusiasm – acceptance
tension – relaxation
complexity – simplicity
When one half of the polarity seems particularly prevalent, see if you can find at least a hint of the other half. Be curious about their relationship. Welcome both sides, regardless of the ratio in which they’re currently appearing. Invite one side, playfully, to turn into its opposite. Notice how each supports, contains and/or nourishes the other.
If you notice a strong personal preference for one half or the other -- motivated by attraction/repulsion, good/bad, right/wrong or similar thinking -- it might be useful to sit down and do a “squares” polarity process, to bring yourself back to a place of acceptance and welcoming. Explore in detail your desire for and fear of each side of the polarity; as a way of coming back to a place of neutrality in relation to their arising and dissolving.
Remember: It's not about finding some kind of watered-down, bland, non-committal and boring static mid-point between the two sides of the polarity. Rather it’s about letting each express itself fully – which can only happen when its dependence upon its “opposite” is fully acknowledged, and celebrated.