“Where the Rubber Meets the Road”
I have been on a spiritual quest since my early adolescence. My mother encouraged spirituality but was never quite sure about how to direct me, so she just opened the door and said, “Go explore and see for yourself.” I went with friends to their churches, synagogues, temples, tiny rooms in strip malls, and various other consecrated spaces where individuals sat as a congregated group devoting their time to religious study. I tried Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, Presbyterian and Methodist Christianity, and Judaism. I had discussed finding a religious path with friends who were Sufis, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, and atheists. Where did I belong?
In graduate school in the late 90’s I spent a small stent of time with a Buddhist monk in Blowing Rock, NC. I had never been to a monastery, we met in his home and walked the labyrinth in his yard. I started to learn meditation and ask questions about posture and breathing technique. The spiritual connection, and a new found peace was evolving but was coming from inside of me, not from an external source. This was new, refreshing and scary. It requires you to sit still. Yikes! And examine your thoughts and emotions. Double Yikes! But the more I leaned in, the more I began to trust myself in the face of happiness and deep despair.
I began to realize that I was looking for a religion that told me exactly the best way to do everything. Chogyam Trungpa says that if a religion provides a complete home we get spoiled. It’s like wall-to-wall carpeting. “We don’t have to put out any effort or energy, so our dedication and devotion have no fiber. We wind up complaining because we didn’t get the deluxe toilet tissue that we used to get. “
So rather than walking into the Four Seasons or Ritz, I had to be willing to start on the primitive level. How am I going to live within my everyday existence willing to encounter myself? This is the personal level of Buddhism. Extremely personal level. No scapegoats.
When I took refuge to become a Buddhist this past weekend this is the vow you take. You become responsible for yourself to walk the path. Alone in the sense that you recognize that the cavalry are not coming to save you. But awake and with comrades who are doing the same thing. “The world is no longer a place of salvation. It is just a mirage, maya. It might mock you, play music for you, and dance for you, but nevertheless the path and the inspiration of the path are up to you.” –Chogyam Trungpa
I had no doubts. I had to do this. I am fully dignified in my deep wish to be happy, just like you. I have discovered that the way to that happiness is not outside myself, but inside. The way out is in. The warrior path of the untethered soul. The beginning of an odyssey without an anchor to the ship. Perhaps of loneliness, but of inspiration of being more open. And, when my heart feels secure and safe and strong, because I had skin in the game of building that from the ground up, I automatically, freely and gracefully can turn it toward others without getting blown away by someone else’s intensity. This is the training. This is what I have prepared for.
My practice wasn’t always so committed as it has been in the past 5 years, but after so much searching I decided to finally make the commitment and take the refuge vow and become a Buddhist. The credential isn’t really that important, but it’s the intention. I was making a formal commitment and this increases the intensity of the work and the path.
“Where the Rubber Meets the Road.” A phrase I heard twice this weekend by very important (Serious VIPs) people in my life. The creator and founder of the Compassion program at Emory, Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, said this upon completion of my CBCT Compassion Training practicum.
Then I left that monastery to drive to another to take my refuge vow as a Buddhist, where I was greeted by Acharya Richard John who said the EXACT SAME THING. (I know!!) Two monasteries in one day and on my birthday (which may or may not be serendipitous). What were they trying to shake up in me? This is where the real work happens! This is THE crucial moment of action. The heart of the matter lies within me. WHAT is most important, and WHERE the magic is. This is the GAP between being effective and ineffective. So where does the rubber meet the road in our lives?
Let’s pause….this might be a moment of TRUTH.