What brings us to spiritual practice? This is a very important question. On the one hand it asks us to recognize what we may hope to find through practice. On the other hand, by recognizing what we want, we’re forced to truly acknowledge what we think we don’t have. In this way, we must be very honest with ourselves. We have to actually deal with who we are in the present moment. This honesty is absolutely crucial. Our tendency, as thinking beings, is to project outward, to plan, to dream, and to fantasize. Very rarely, if ever, do we actually look at who we are right now. From a certain point of view, it’s much easier for us to dream about what it would be like to be at peace, or to fantasize about what it would look like when we finally ‘wake up’.

In a very real way, this game that we play with ourselves is a trap. It’s seductive to fantasize about what things ‘could’ be like. Oftentimes, this fantasy is more enjoyable than actually getting the thing itself. However, this fantasy of ‘could’ is dependent upon us not having what we want. Therein lies the catch. We think we are lacking, and so we dream about what fullness would be like, in order to fill the ‘apparent’ void. (In this way, our daydreams are a lot like a new car.) But, our dreams take on a vivid quality, and the only thing that gives the dream its imaginary power is our belief that we are exactly the opposite. Wishing to maintain this fantasy, we imprison ourselves in the idea of ‘not being good enough.’ So, in a very insidious way, our ‘escape’ from reality actually imprisons us in our ‘perceived’ state of lack. If we were, in just an instant, to perceive ourselves as whole and lacking nothing, the entire illusion of our pain and separation would shatter.

Interestingly enough, at this point, even if we understand this intellectually, we are so invested in our personal stories, that we are entirely unwilling to actually experience things in a different way. We may say that the truth is obvious, but deep down inside we still hold on to old beliefs and memories. There is the idea that “this is my pain,” or “this is my anger.” We feel entitled to our emotions, and because we are so unwilling to let them go, they become how we define our world. Eventually, we end up worshiping them.

Simultaneously, we play the game of neurosis. Realistically, this looks like “I like”, and “I don’t like,” or “I’m right, you’re wrong.” We have so many opinions and points of view. All of these serve perfectly to distract us and keep us occupied. We need all of this distraction, because, even though we so desperately want peace and understanding, the “Idea” of who we are doesn’t want us to understand our deeper selves at all. This is because we are entirely dependent upon this Idea of self, and we are terrified of loosing it. So, we come up with all of these elaborate diversions, and so many more that I won’t even mention here. Our pain at this point is very real. But, it is our pain. At this level, we distract ourselves from our pain, and we distract ourselves from seeing through it. We feel very trapped.

All of this might seem somewhat pessimistic, and not what we want to hear. However, if we’re going to find our way out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, we have to be brutally honest with ourselves about where we are. In order to become sane, we must truly see how insane we are, and not hide from it, or feel ashamed of it. In order to become wise, we must truly see how foolish we are. In order to find joy, we must understand and accept our pain. Only then can we think about what it means to move forward. After all, a map a map will do you absolutely no good, if you don’t know where you are.