Practicing When Things are Good

Hello, everyone!
Here’s a clip from an exchange with someone recently that you might find interesting. They asked this question:
I was thinking of asking you what spiritual practice looks like when you’re not reeling from a crisis. I don’t think I know. I decided to look on Facebook and your website for some resources. Ironically, your post from today was the first thing I saw. The part below really resonated with me:

“Over time, however, I have come to realize that I long for a deeper experience of life and of practice than one that involves perpetually dismantling conditioned mind. In order to be free of conditioned mind at some point we have to just let it go and walk away. When we do, or whenever we can, we get to simply Be; we get to simply live within divine intelligence. That’s the deepest desire of my heart.”

I’m so tired of deconstructing, working towards something, planning ahead. Life is rushing by feverishly and I’m standing here watching it happen, but can’t tell you much about it because I’m so busy examining what’s gone wrong and how to get things right that I can’t enjoy it. I want to just be.

My reply:
The way I look at this, there are two fundamental aspects to spiritual practice. (And by the way, last week I recorded a talk about this very thing for Unity of the Triangle in Raleigh, NC. They’re going to broadcast it as a part of their services on Sunday morning, April 11, and I’ll likely send it out as well). They are two sides of a coin rather than two separate things, but it’s helpful, I think, to look at them as two distinct paths, with the understanding that the way we practice and where we’re putting our attention depends upon what is going on in our lives and what we need in a given moment.
If we’re not in a crisis, not triggered, not involved in some unconscious process in conditioned mind, then what practice looks like is just being here–just simply attending to our experience moment by moment as it happens. That’s what I’m practicing, at any rate. In the talk I described it as “being aware of being aware”. Thoughts arise and pass away, as you said, and our attention remains (as much as possible) on our simple experience in the moment, without self-consciousness, and the fact that we are aware of that.
If we’re triggered or struggling in some way, however, then there is work to do. We have to get out our spiritual tools in order to deconstruct the illusion we’re trapped in so that we can let it go. We need to examine the narrative happening in conditioned mind, question the assumptions being made there, look to see what identity is believing the conditioned story, and so on so that we can step out of the fiction and into a place of clarity. When we’re triggered we won’t be able to simply be aware of being aware, and so we have to do this work in order to free ourselves. We can let it go without deconstructing it only when we can see it for what it is. If we can’t–if we’re confused in some way–then we have to do the work until we’re clear.
This is really different, though, than deconstruction that comes from conditioned mind, where we are basically beating ourselves up for being who it says that we are. True spiritual looking is energizing and feels good, even when we’re looking at difficult things. Conditioned self-criticism is energy-sucking and just a total drag.
Once we’ve let go then we need to put away the tools. It’s tempting to keep the tools out and keep looking for places to use them, but that’s exhausting over time. If there’s something to work on we need to work on it, but if there isn’t then it’s oh so good to be able to let go of the work and just relax into the beauty and peace of the moment.
I know what you mean about the striving and critical/judgmental self-analysis. Wow what a great big waste of time that is, isn’t it? Of course there’s nothing wrong with working towards some goal–that’s a good and useful thing–but there’s a big difference between that and being driven to accomplish in order to compensate for some imagined flaw or inadequacy, or in order to escape from our lives. Whenever this sort of thing is going on, of course that falls into the “I  need to get out my tools” category. We (I share that karma with you) need to question all of it and let go of the unconscious drivers so that we can simply be here, content and happy with the lives that we have–so that we may enjoy the pleasure of simply being.
Let me know if you have comments or if anything in this doesn’t make sense to you. Be well, friend!
Gassho,
David

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