Stairway to Heaven

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him – Japanese Koan

Illustration by Marina CB

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the big realizations I had was to truly understand that my life here in this physical world is the main platform for my growth. As simple -or even as obvious- as it seems, having a profound understanding of this has really enhanced my experience -both in the physical world and in altered states of consciousness (fancy substitute for OBE).

When I was first delving into spiritual stuff, I remember reading about the goal of enlightenment, about having no desire and other concepts that at first sounded like something intangible, really. After much studying I found pretty much one thing that made sense to me: detachment from expectation. And I heard that from Eckhart Tolle. It made sense because it was of practical application and it didn’t deny my experience here. I can apply all my passion to something and practice detachment from my expectation to the results, which is otherwise at the root of my suffering.


I find that enlightenment and all other spiritual goals are not destinations. If there is something that I know well, it’s the wheel of life: that one that takes me through all the levels of experience around the few subjects I’m meant to learn from, again and again, in this life. And so I look at enlightenment in the same way that I look at perfection: it’s a muse, an inspiration. It’s a muse that inspires me to give the best of me; it’s a guiding light, a companion, something that is always with me, telling me: “carry on, there’s more”. It’s not something to arrive at and then you’re done. Sure, that can happen, you may become Buddha and then you may decide to not come back, to not reincarnate -and stay with Source. But I suspect it is something most of us don’t need to be concerned about, don’t you think?

For me spirituality is not about being high above, super enlightened and super awesome. It’s actually realizing how in so many ways I am not enlightened and awesome. That’s why I think that looking up at the goal of being enlightened actually distracts us from what we came here to do. We may forget where we actually stand, which is on earth, on the ground. I don’t mean to say that enlightenment is wrong: it’s the pursuit of it that is the illusion.

So to achieve enlightenment, what does that mean? That suddenly you know it all? Well… if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that when you think you know -think again! I remember how when I started to have realizations I thought I had really hit a nail, that I had discovered something and that I “knew”. But then every time, with no exception, I was shown that there was so much more, and that to think you’re done with something is very foolish indeed. That’s one of the ideas suggested by the Koan introducing this article. If you think you’ve met Buddha -that you know or that you’re enlightened- get rid of that idea because you are very mistaken indeed.

It’s about here

For me spirituality is receiving a slap in the face quite regularly, to have my mind stretched constantly, to face the truth of my ignorance and my shadow, to be challenged -again and again, and then some more. It is about here -on earth, and not looking up there, trying to attain some goal. “Up there” will be taken care of, if I apply myself down here -now THAT I know. Fundamentally, for me, spirituality is about accepting this experience -and not denying it. It’s understanding life as a meditation -and a mirror.

When I hurt, it’s yielding to the pain and learning its lesson. When I strongly desire, to learn from that too. I don’t sit down and meditate and say “I will not desire”. I do not deny myself the experience here and do not deny the human nature or what I have to deal with by being in this body. I do ask God however, to help me be better.
To want to have no desire is itself a contradiction. To reject aversion is a contradiction. To deny love is denying who I am. And yet, when I am blessed with grace , I know what they mean by having no desire or aversion -that’s the divine paradox that I will talk about in another post. But instead of denying that I feel those things or beating myself up because I do, I know that  I just need to be alert and open up to receive big lessons.

There’s another side to my spiritual practice which is the bliss of connection, the euphoria of impulses and also peace, incredible peace.

Spiritual practice, the way that I live it, is two-fold: preparation and experience. Many stay at the preparation level: books, meditation, endless list of workshops and charity. That’s what I call buying your Stairway to Heaven and staying at the level of wanting to feel good about yourself because you’ve done the good deed for the day. If you think you can define your spiritual practice in a to-do list of make-me-feel good actions, think again. First of all: think how the term “good” may vary from person to person. Some people consider teaching children discipline in their lives is “good”. Some consider it child abuse, that they should be free of restriction. You can see how this can get very complicated indeed. We all think we are good because we have what we consider “good intentions”. But that’s just not enough. Not to me. Not anymore.

When I’m in an OBE, and even here in the regular world, I don’t insult God by asking to feel good. It’s not about feeling good: it’s about dancing with God, having a conversation with the Universe, engaging the invisible worlds, revering life here. How dare I ask for more than that? I ask to be able to understand more, to accept even the most painful circumstances, to not forget reverence for this life. To remember when I’m in a lot of pain that even though I may not see it now, I am blessed to be taught yet another lesson. I’ve learned that this experience is a privilege. I’ve learned that gratitude is really about recognizing that. And to be able to dance, being aware of both sides is the greatest gift of all.

My mother and I

So yes, meditation and workshops -and psychology-  are all important. But the real deal is in how I apply what I “have learned” when I go back to my daily routine and deal with things. That is spiritual practice per se. We think spiritual practice is meditating and listening in at workshops. But what good is all that if I go back home and say something hurtful to my child or spouse? Or worse even: to not even realize that I do that! How does reading a thousand books serve me, if when I go and visit my mother I can’t be any better than what I reproach her to be with me?

I started to ask myself those questions when I saw that in some areas I was encountering the same challenges again and again. Spiritual exploration does have a function: to actually apply it and then seeing the changes in my life! Surely my progress can’t be measured by how many hours I can sit down and not have any thoughts, if after that I am not ready to face exactly the people and circumstances that challenge me the most. Because I’ve got news for you: that is exactly your mission in this life! But that’s a whole other conversation that we will have soon enough…

I want to be better

Spiritual practice is to prepare me to be better in this world, in the ordinary life. And it’s about BEING. It’s not about going through my feel-good to-do list and then going back to being mediocre and insulting my mother because “she hurt me when I was growing up and I’m so wounded”. To me it’s about wanting to be better and really applying myself for it. Now that can be a goal and a prayer: “let me be better, just a little bit better”. And there is the hard part, the lengthy part, the tedious part, the one that requires dedication, endurance and dealing with failure, disappointment and the ugly self. It’s not about trying to convert my mother and lashing out at her about how she should be better with me, and be more spiritual -just because I want to. Or being condescending and working at forgiving her when all she does is exactly what I’m doing: the best that she can with what she knows.

No: it’s all about me, seeing that she is my mirror and seeing that where I think she fails as a human being, so do I. And being shattered by it. And then working at healing myself and me with her; seeing that there’s nothing to forgive except in myself; that she did nothing wrong, that there is no wrong.
It’s working at being loving when I feel unloved. It’s forgiving myself in the shame of my resentment. It’s hanging in there when I feel so alone and have no one to fight for. It’s being brave even when I know I can be humiliated or hurt. It’s climbing a mountain every day, over and over again. That is spiritual practice, and it’s hard -so hard! It’s not meditating, going to a workshop, reading a pretty story, and then being a jerk to everyone, and feeling entitled, that others should treat me better or even accept me the way that I am because I’m Zen and I don’t want my Zen-bubble to be burst.

Spirituality is being aware that when I point a finger at someone, or my circumstances, it’s all about me -even if I don’t fully see it yet. It’s all in me. And I have to figure it out, by wanting to be better -one tiny, heart-wrenching step at a time.
It’s remembering that when I think I know: to think again.
But most of all it’s about love, the kind that slowly removes all the resentment I have inside and reveals the truth that we are all fighting a great battle and learning great lessons, that we are all the same and that we are here to help one another grow.
That we are one.

🙂 Marina CB – always be brave, be free

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