Avoiding incoherent nibbling on the spiritual path (I)
by Maxim Hongell
This article is the first in a series of texts that are meant to be guidelines for anyone who wants to have efficiency in his or her practice and reach sustained, lasting results instead of just experiencing some states from time to time. It is born out of my own experiences with difficulties that we can encounter on the spiritual path as well as finding solutions to them. It will reveal some traps that make us stagnate on the path and discuss attitudes that help us overcome the obstacles and reach real transformation rather than dreams. In the end of this series will also be mentioned some practical key-elements for creating coherence in our practice.
Because of lack of direction, attention, goals and other important aspects we are many times just sailing with the winds instead of rowing in the exact direction where we want to go. Sometimes we stay comfortably in our lukewarm practice and actions and end up maintaining our level of being instead of transforming it. But walking the path is not about standing on an escalator that will take us to the top. The stairs that we are standing on are moving extremely slowly. If we don’t want to wait for eons to get to the top we have to ascend with the help of God.
Learning to navigate through the spiritual abundance
These times that are calling out for a spiritual revolution have brought an abundance of spiritual teachings available for everybody. There is a huge variety of techniques, teachers, seminars, lessons… It’s like a spiritual supermarket where everyone can find what he needs. Or what he wants. And if one’s attention and mental control have not been enough trained, meaning that one is predominantly on the level of the inferior mind with a tendency to be superficial, associative and jumpy, then there is a danger of becoming a nibbler on the spiritual path. What this means is that we approach the spiritual path in such a superficial way that we never see the end of the actions that we do.
We may adopt many new techniques but we never carry on long enough to have some real and sustained results. We just have a small bite to feel the taste and then give them up for another one that is more interesting for the inferior mind because it is new to us. We are giving in for lower temptations. The same can be done with different spiritual paths and teachers. One day one might go to a yoga course, the next day to a buddhist temple to meditate and on still another day to a lecture about a shamanistic style of healing and so on, jumping from one teacher to another without settling into anything. Of course in the beginning we have to search so that we can identify our own path and the techniques that we need for the moment. But if this search is endless, then we are becoming a nibbler.
Analogically speaking this nibbling is like floating on the surface of an ocean which we are trying to get to know and understand. We dive a little bit, a few meters into the ocean and come back up to the surface. Next we swim some meters in a random direction and again we dive a few meters and come back up and so on. Thus we never dive into the depths of the ocean or in other words we never do the technique long enough in a sustained and repeated manner to see what is hidden in the depths of it and we never get to know the ocean. Not to mention, to reach the bottom or in other words to really see what a technique can offer us or where a certain spiritual path can take us. Thus we become a nibbler, we just take a little here and a little there.
Curiosity and enthusiasm are important elements that take us further and encourage us to keep walking on the path but we should not let them become factors that make us drop too soon what we were doing just because we get curious and enthusiastic about a new thing. It is a common misunderstanding that whatever we do on a spiritual path, if it is a spiritual action, then it’s very good. In reality also the inferior mind manas and the structure of the ego, ahamkara, can use spiritual actions to amuse itself just like any other action that it finds pleasurable. Of course it is more beneficial to do spiritual actions than for example to sit from day to day on a sofa watching soap operas. But if the spiritual actions are not approached with the correct attitude and we are not able to choose the actions that we truly need then the transformation that the spiritual actions can offer us is very small compared with its potentiality.
Walking the straight line and connecting the dots
As an effect from nibbling with spirituality, our so called walking on the spiritual path becomes incoherent. This happens because this nibbling has no real purpose but the nibbling itself. It has no higher meaning, no goal. The string that connects the pearls to become a beautiful necklace is missing and this nibbling is happening simply in order to entertain the inferior mind. Thus from the spiritual point of view all those actions become incoherent because they are not integrated in a higher common goal that is the goal of any spiritual path: to reach the Absolute, God. Thus we don’t have a clear direction anymore but we start to wander around in circles. And we all know how it is if we are walking on a path to somewhere and suddenly we don’t continue straight anymore but we start to walk in circles: we will not reach our destination.
It is important to be very lucid about our own attitudes because the inferior mind can trick us. If we are doing the actions in a jumpy way, the inferior mind can fool us by suggesting that we are doing the actions for God. It proposes that whatever action I’m doing now, I’m doing it for God because it’s spiritual. But if we penetrate our motives with an laser-like attention, then we might sometimes notice that actually we are just following the impulses of the inferior mind and we are not doing the practices and actions that would truly transform us.
On the spiritual path we should aim to have a unity formed by all those actions that we do so that everything forms a coherent whole that reflects our path and everything that we do acquires a higher meaning. Even though there are intermediary stages on the spiritual path, still we should always have that Ultimate Goal in sight. We can do even very beautiful spiritual actions but if the divine attitude, the higher connecting motive for doing these actions, is missing, then our actions are incoherent. This is why we should always aim to see the whole and see how every single action that we perform contributes to the construction of that coherent whole.
For example, let us imagine that we are making a tapas for attention. We know that attention is of absolute importance on the spiritual path so we set up a goal to achieve perfect mental concentration. However, if we are doing it only for the sake of having a perfect mental control and we don’t see what we are going to use it for, then this action becomes incoherent. But if we see that when we have reached this capacity of mental concentration we can use it for going deeper into the meditative process which in turn allows us to connect to our innermost silence which in turn will lead us to God, then the action is coherent in our chain of actions that lead us to the Ultimate Goal, Liberation.
You may also read the second part of the article here