Yesterday at the Kadampa Center, Geshe Sangpo’s teaching was about Joyful Effort. He told the story of Asanga (http://www.three-vajras.com/asanga) who was in search of Maitreya Buddha, and went into a cave to meet with this Buddha. He would give up every 3 years, and out in the world something would inspire him to return to the cave to practice. At first it was a man who was going to turn a metal rod into a needle by rubbing it with cotten; another time after feeling demoralized Asanga was inspired by a huge hole made by a tiny dripping of water. We discussed as a group the ups and downs of enthusiasm in any spiritual practice or any effort to “change our minds” so that they may become more peaceful, clear, and happy. An important insight is that these times of “leaving the cave due to frustration” were not negative but a natural and essential part of the cycle of effort.
Later while teaching at Chi Kung Class, I felt inspired to teach a more traditional and linear form of Chi Kung called Ji Ben Qi Gong, as taught by Damo Mitchell. A series of 8 moves of 8, it moves energy through the entire system and is a very balancing and empowering practice. I teach it occasionally to people that I feel it is suited for, and also as a simpler practice (half the moves of GoT I) for beginners or people looking to use Chi Kung for their health and preventative medicine.
The effect was beautiful in that I was able to contrast how the moves felt the last time I had done the practice and now! I was really happy with how my forearms felt more relaxed and certain hand positions felt more open and gentle.
Connecting the theme of my day together, I saw the importance of having side practices or experiences that one can “return to” to reflect on changes and find inspiration in one’s own growth. Due to my particular path and emphasis of cultivation of the Body, I return to Body based spiritual practices like Yoga and other Chi Kung forms.
To notice the subtle changes in one’s own system doing the same form every day (Gift of the Tao in my case) is difficult and not always apparent. Sometimes there is a huge shift, especially when practicing with a group in a workshop setting where the energy is easier to access. However in solo practice I believe it is beneficial to return to another practice, when the timing aligns and it feels right or perhaps as a conscious choice when one is feeling dissatisfied with their daily practice. I use these other practices as a way of reflecting on change-not as a change of vehicles.
The metaphor for the week has been trains, so if I equate my regular practice with a particular train I am always progressing along the track lines of the point of view that track has. Every once in awhile I’ll get off at a station and take a ride on another train, and it is from that track I may view better the progress my original train has made and appreciate my discipline in staying with it! This encourages me to return to my original train and continue on my path.
A concrete example would be drinking smoothies or juices for health: the first time I did it my body had been craving those nutrients and I felt amazing! The routine of making juice/smoothie can get tedious, and maybe two weeks in the tedium and the fact I don’t feel as amazing adds up and I grow lazy about this healthy habit. However if I hang in there for a month or two, and then say get my blood sugar tested and see how much I’ve improved I’ll be happy to commit to the daily juicing ritual! Likewise the effects of a spiritual practice are often cumulative, and its important to take time to restore one’s own enthusiasm.
This return back to the daily is important: do not confuse the progress you realize you’ve made with the side practice as “ah! Yes Yoga that’s what I need to be doing right now, look how good it feels” as this mindset is a trap to fall into. I have seen plenty of people abandon a main practice because “it was no longer working for me”-while this can be a valid insight it should not be made hastily due to the benefits of returning to a different practice. Rather, reflect on what are you doing to work for it! Rote memorization and “being asleep on the train” is missing out on the aliveness of the practice. Each day there is a subtle difference in the world, the sky, the atmosphere-however you may view it. By having a consistent practice (or one with a few different sets for some variety/adaptability to the flux of life) we can tune into these subtle differences and enjoy the process of change-the Tao.
Enjoy your path!