I liken the spiritual journey of man to a baby turtle, newly hatched, braving the burning hot sand and encircling predators to reach its destination in the sea. This turtle has two important qualities we can learn one-pointedness and motivation. Even with these his chances of success are minimal, but he is compelled to keep moving until he reaches his home in the cool deep ocean. It is instinct at work, of course, but I believe that humans are also born with an instinctive need to find their way to the ocean of bliss.
It is a very special gift if one can live in the present and remain unaffected by past or future to experience the journey of life and the ever-changing landscapes that rise and fall. I sometimes see the scenery, the gardens, houses and other buildings, as cardboard cut-outs on a stage, and this helps to remind me of the transient nature of things.
The journey should be full of fun, adventure, difficulty and endurance. We should avoid calculating the goal, because we taint the transcendental reality with our conditioned concepts. But I feel strongly that the purpose of this life should not be forgotten even for a moment. All the world may be collapsing around you but in the very core of your heart should live the spiritual aspiration.
Suffering is a study in itself, and if one makes an effort to understand it, this awareness and knowledge helps greatly in bearing the inevitable suffering of life whilst treading the spiritual path. I have found the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali very interesting and informative on this subject. It is a valuable exercise to practise sitting in meditation while one of the kleshas is affecting you, and to observe its impact. Take, for example, dwesha, the avoidance of unpleasant things. If you close your eyes you can perceive the workings of dwesha on your mind, i.e. which vrittis are being activated, the impact on your subtle energies, and the state of your physical body. This helps to alleviate the reactions and develops a greater understanding of the nature of suffering.
Suffering and pain are great teachers on the spiritual path and their lessons have been invaluable for me. One step wrong, one conclusion wrong, or thoughtless actions bring pain instantly to your side. In spiritual life the vividness of pain is very confronting. And although inner suffering is hardly welcome, its grace is seen in retrospect. In honour of pain I write:
Bless me, that I may grow strong,
Whip my mind, my heart, my failings.
Though I cry at the hardness of your hand
Death won't catch me lagging by the road.
Spirituality is beyond the social conditions of good, bad, right or wrong. These conditionings cause all sorts of neuroses, distortions and confusion in the mind of an aspirant. There needs to be a code of conduct in society, but for one to grasp the essence of spirituality, I feel that every last concept existing in the mind must be discarded. Otherwise we keep on superimposing our own ideas and lose the experience itself.
The profound questions which emerge with spiritual awakening carry a powerful energy that propels the aspirant onto the spiritual path. No stone remains unturned for the adventurous soul, and the search for answers builds in intensity over time. However, looking back at my own experiences, my search began not for answers in particular, but for the mysterious ingredient which could fill the overwhelming emptiness inside me. Intellectual questions came later, and I enjoy them, but basically I came to the spiritual path to fill the need of my heart.
It is true that one comes and goes alone, but I only consider this from a physical viewpoint. At a deeper level we are all interlinked with each other and the realm of pure consciousness. At the last barrier, where we meet the ego, perhaps one feels most intensely alone due to the isolation of individual identity and who dares to knock that stability away? It is the guru who provides reassurance and gives the courage to leave behind the illusory ego.
I used to dive in the ocean, and often I was alone, pulling myself slowly along the anchor rope, descending deeper and deeper. Sometimes it was very dark and I could barely see a foot in front. My only guide was the rope and I knew that it would safely lead me to the seabed.
Similarly, the guru provides an anchor line on the spiritual path. I hear people say that they do not need a guru, and I also used to feel that I could manage quite nicely on my own, but I realize now that he is a necessity. Perhaps one day he waves goodbye but by then he has put you in safe waters.