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Why Following a Spiritual Path is Not a Picnic

Adapted from Everything Mind by Chris Grosso

Not too long ago, I found myself contemplating the whole spiritual-path thing after a relatively harmless incident I witnessed at a stoplight. It couldn’t have been more than two seconds from the time the light turned from red to green when all of a sudden an extremely agitated driver in a Jeep the next lane over yelled, “It’s a green light, asshole!” at the woman in front of him. He obviously startled her, and she proceeded to dart off. And, while I felt bad for the poor lady, I couldn’t help but laugh as I read the “Life Is Good” tire cover on the back of the pissed-off guy’s Jeep as he drove away.

Later that day, I remembered that rageaholic driver, and this, for whatever reason, led me a few moments later to thinking about the scene from the movie The Matrix where Morpheus offers Neo the red pill—you know, the one that if swallowed would show him “just how deep the rabbit hole goes.” As I thought about that crossroads where Neo found himself, I related it to my own life and wondered, what if I had never set out on this spiritual adventure?

I considered how much easier things might have been if I didn’t give a shit about others and lived from a completely selfish and reactionary place, acting impulsively on my emotions just like that pissed-off Jeep driver had. It was at this point that the reality of my situation set in, and I realized that, just like Neo after swallowing the red pill, once we’ve encountered Everything Mind, there is no forgetting it.

There was definitely a time in my life when I didn’t give two shits about yelling at other drivers, or about other people’s feelings at all—unless they were friends or family, and even then it wasn’t all the time. But these days, things are different. I find that having traveled the spiritual path for awhile, I feel significantly less compelled to act out old behaviors like yelling at cars or holding anger in my heart toward others. (Damn you, mindfulness, and your subsequent sense of responsibility.)

Trust me, though; I’m no saint. There are definitely still times when I’ll catch myself acting out, but thanks to working with various traditional and nontraditional spiritual practices, I’ve found it is so much easier and more natural to be kind to people—including myself.

Still, this process of opening our Everything Minds can be difficult and requires a lot of patience. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche broke it down for us like this:

My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path.
It is too difficult, too long, and is too demanding …
I would suggest … you ask for your money back, and
go home now … This is not a picnic. It is really going
to ask everything of you … So, it is best not to begin.
However, if you do begin, it is best to finish.

Now, I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea and say that embarking on the spiritual path is not worth it, because in my own experience, no matter how difficult it may be, it absolutely is worth it. I’m sure those of you reading this, who are walking the walk—be it the first nervous step or the last leg of the marathon—know exactly what I’m saying. But I’m also sure that you too can relate to how extremely tough it can be at times.

The great Sufi mystic Rumi writes, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” We make these changes by taking little steps inward each day: we find the practices that are suitable for us, the ones that open our minds to the deeper meanings of life, the ones that show us how to lay our heart armor aside. As we do this, we connect to a deeper space of love and understanding within ourselves, one that all sentient beings share. The place Hindus refer to when greeting one another with namaste—“I see the Divine in you”—or meditators experience when all sense objects have fallen away and all that’s left is a perfect, all-inclusive stillness. It’s the place of Everything Mind.

To reemphasize Trungpa Rinpoche’s words, “This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you.” But the thing is, I truly believe that if you take into consideration the alternative, which is to say the humdrum dullness of a life lived grasping at external objects for fleeting happiness, it will be clear that there really never was much of a choice to begin with.

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Adapted from Everything Mind: What I’ve Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening, and the Mind-Blowing Truth of It All by Chris Grosso. Copyright © 2015 by Chris Grosso. Published by Sounds True in October 2015.

Chris Grosso is a public speaker, writer, recovering addict, spiritual director, and author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Atria Books/Beyond Words, 2014).

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