How not to get lost in spirituality – or Ariadne’s Golden Thread

When I was in my early twenties I was deeply involved in turning myself over, diving into spiritual/emotional transformation head first. I loved the image of Ariadne who had to find her way through a maze. I took that maze to be the maze of emotions that had to be worked through. The golden thread was Impartial love, love for every human on the planet. I don’t know how I got so cocky. But then I was 20. Right now I’d hardly dare claim to even get close to such love even though in the shape of bodhicitta it’s still my ideal.

However, I did have a point. Despite the mistakes I made, and I made some serious ones, I did find my way out. Was it love or just plain luck?

I guess that experience is partly why Michael Mirdad’s ‘You’re Not Going Crazy, You’re Just Waking Up’ resonated with me.

A fellow author on Squidoo sent me a link to his page the other day and it resonated. What rang true isn’t so much his conclusion as the path he walked. I think he made some very common ones.

Here’s my summary of mistakes shown in that page – mistakes I made myself.

Deciding to go after what you want, with no regard for whether it will work.
Specifically Terence went after a former girlfriend not because the relationship ever worked, but because he wanted a relationship. As Terence hints: it takes a LOT of self knowledge to be able to go directly from a dream to an experienced reality. It also takes humility: let the universe tell you where what you want is to be found. It’s not likely that you know precisely yourself.

Going overboard in Buddhism
Since I’m now a Buddhist this one rings especially true. Terence writes about problems I won’t quote here. Let’s just say that he went from pretty heavy on the sin-side to cold turkey. And of course that hurt. There is a reason why slow change is more likely to stick.

I’ve written before on how hard it is for people to find balance in spirituality. Since Buddhism is being imported from Asia it’s even harder to find balance in Buddhism. On the one hand the culture shock can help trigger necessary (and healthy) change. On the other hand trying to adapt to that alien culture can be forced and unhealthy.

I found myself writing something about guru yoga the other day that I don’t think would fly with many of my readers here. So please be kind in the comments if you do check it out.

There is a reason the Dalai Lama doesn’t try to convert Westerners to Buddhism. There’s a reason he tells them to stay Christians – however impossible people like me may find that assignment. The reason isn’t merely that the Dalai Lama is humble. It’s also because it’s one thing to take on a few Buddhist practices, like meditation. It’s quite another to try and take on the culture wholesale. And yes, I’m in the second box with a teacher who is both very traditional as well as compassionate. It’s often disconcerting.

Mistaken ideas about helping people
Everybody who gets into spirituality wants to help people. That’s great. However, who says you’re ready to help anybody? Unfortunately the only way to figure out that you can’t yet really help people is by trying and failing. Terence made the rookie mistake of forcing his opinions on people whether they wanted to hear them or not. Yes, I’ve been there too.

A friend of mine recently expressed the opinion that it’s all or nothing: once you decide to become a Bodhisattva, you have to help people day or night, reasonable question or not. Fortunately real wisdom isn’t about doing the impossible or the unreasonable. You get to use your wisdom. In fact: you have to, in order to avoid Terence’s mistake as well as others.
If someone asks for something unreasonable you get to decide for yourself whether you think that giving them that something will in fact help them. You also get to take into account whether you are able to give them that.

I know how she got the idea: our teacher gave the example of beggars in India. Some beggars in India really are worse than you could imagine. When I went to India a decade ago I gave myself a beggars allowance. That is: I budgeted generosity in. In the end I didn’t spend ANY of that money on helping beggars because the whole situation disgusted me. I’m not proud of that, but the point is that beggars in India are a breed you can’t imagine till you’ve experienced it. However, I will try to sketch the situation.

We went to a tourist location outside of the city and our Indian Guide had prepared us: gypsies (as he called them) would try to sell us shoes that looked fine but were made of paper and would fall apart on first use. They would also flock us and once anybody gave them anything, they would be unstoppable. One person in the group disobeyed the advice. Well, they were pretty unstoppable. No regard for personal space. Small, dirty, and insistent for more once they had received anything.

Geshela said: try and practice generosity in that situation without losing your temper and you’ll know what stuff you’re made of. Well, I guess I failed miserably.

I did give money to the workers on the theosophical estate – some of whom were poor enough to steal batteries – and I did tip according to Indian standards, but that was it.

That probably did disqualify me from being a Bodhisattva in this life. After all, a Bodhisattva is simply thrilled at every chance of giving. Read Jiddu Krishnamurti’s biography to know what I mean (Krishnamurti: The Years of Awakening).

However, what I did learn was that for now I believe more in helping through institutions than by giving random individuals money when they ask for it. And I do think for most of us it’s best to train in wisdom in combination with generosity even if that means not being a Bodhisattva just yet.

So how about that golden thread? I think for me it’s about kindness as well as wisdom and common sense. It’s about being realistic, thinking for yourself and having respect for others. It’s also about being true to your own vision, and your own feelings without forcing yourself on anybody for any reason. Be open to other perspectives. It’s about trying, accepting that you’ll make mistakes and trying again. Finding that balance is what makes it hard, but interesting.

3 thoughts on “How not to get lost in spirituality – or Ariadne’s Golden Thread”

  1. /That probably did disqualify me from being a Bodhisattva in this life./

    The Buddha was a Bodhisattva for 500+ lifetimes before becoming the Buddha. This “great devotion” is often interpreted as a requirement (or lack of it if you choose not to pursue the path of the Bodhisattva), rarely that the Buddha failed five hundred times before becoming the Buddha. This is very funny actually.

    So, maybe there is some magician that comes to your village. He performs a magic trick that nobody understands. The villages elders want to know how the trick was done, so during the night he demonstrates the trick 500 times until finally someone sees how he does it. At daybreak one of the children from the villages comes in, observes the last performance and knows immediately how the magician is doing the trick.

    So, maybe some people need to be a Bodhisattva for 500 lifetimes, others maybe for 1 lifetime, and some others only need 30 minutes of Bodhisattva action before they understand. What you learned while trying to be a Bodhisattva in India is the most important.

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