A path, a journey, a long climb to the top of the mountain….all are analogies used to describe a meditation or spiritual practice. The implication is that we are trying to get somewhere. We start HERE and we get THERE, wherever THERE is. We are moving on a path toward enlightenment, union with god (however we define that), or at the very least a reduction of stress in our lives.
But the idea of movement and a path paints a misleading picture. If there is a path, then certainly we are on the wrong part of it. We have to get away from HERE to THERE where a shiny something awaits us. Imagining a path sets us up to be constantly frustrated because HERE is not good enough.
In reality the practice is a shift in awareness. The shiny prize is right here in each moment when we are able to open to it. And the cool thing about a shift in awareness is that the possibility exists right here right now, not after the long slog up the mountain. It is true that effort is usually required to create the shift. This might be through meditation or other mindfulness practice, and like any practice, we will improve as we put time in. However, the opportunity to shift our awareness is always available here in the place we are standing. And the effort that is required is more of a getting out of the way then a hike.
If we stop and think for a moment, most people have experienced the shift at certain times in their lives: the birth of a child, a near death experience, visiting an ancient cedar grove or the Grand Canyon, staring at the stars in the night sky. Our busy thinking brain steps aside (or is possibly knocked out of the way) and we are flooded with awe and a deep connection to something bigger than our individual human egos.
Each time we have this experience, even for a few seconds, we increase the possibility that it will happen again because our neural pathways deepen each time they are activated. So how do we achieve that experience on a more regular basis? First, we accept that it is possible right now. And second, we find practices that work for us and make a commitment to do them. A formal meditation practice is a great way to anchor the experience, but any activity practiced with deliberate awareness can activate the shift. For me, the reminder that I am not trying to get anywhere, but am simply tuning into what already exists is very liberating.
A closing note: Shifting our awareness does not make the moment perfect, at least not in the human sense of perfection. Life is messy. There are unpaid bills, serious illnesses, loss of loved ones, challenging relationships and more. Shifting our awareness allows us to accept the messiness in the moment (maybe even giving us insights for how to deal with it) and simultaneously helps us maintain wonder at being on a small rock traveling through infinite space, our bodies sustained by the mystery of breath and a myriad of internal processes we can’t even name.