Ram Dass taught it. So did his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. And Eckhart Tolle. And Mickey Singer. In my book, it’s the supreme teaching. This is it:
Traveling the spiritual path towards awakening needs to be the primary focus of our lives.
Before getting into that, a little background on why I’m writing about this. A few days ago I was in that place of “What should I be doing? Continue writing articles on Medium? Try branching out into doing video talks on YouTube? Create an online course? Try a TEDx talk?” It’s that macro strategy talk I have from time to time, usually when I run out of gas in coming up with Medium article ideas!
Spiritual work is the main thing
After lots of frustration, it dawned on me: What I do vis a vis writing, talks, courses, etc., is not the main thing. The main thing is to keep my own spiritual awakening front and center in my life.
What I, and many others do, is allow that focus to slip. This recalls the brilliant quote by the great Stephen Covey:
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
The reason my focus consistently falters on the primacy of spiritual work is because the compulsion to do and produce and be something “big” has always been my Achilles heel. As such, my ego lures me into perseverating over all the different paths I might pursue.
It’s insidious though because if I do succeed on YouTube or whatever else, more people will be helped by the spiritual teachings I put out. And that’s great.
My ego’s always lurking
But lurking behind, always, is my ego licking its chops with, “If video or the others hit big I’ll make good money! And maybe I’ll even achieve great notoriety. Maybe someday Oprah will interview me for Super Soul Sunday!” That’s the constant battle going on inside my whacked-out mind.
Why do I believe that the most important teaching of the great beings like Ram Dass, et al, was keeping the spiritual path front and center? Because all of their other teachings — staying present, not resisting life, nonattachment, impermanence, letting go of ourselves — won’t be realized unless we make them our life’s priority. It’s the sine qua non of spirituality.
So what do we do? We use our lives for growth. Here’s how Ram Dass put it:
“What I’m suggesting is that after a while everything in your life becomes grist for the mill for awakening, and your priorities change. Instead of, ‘Am I awakening through my work? Am I awakening through this relationship? Am I awakening through this drive? Am I awakening through how I take care of my body?’ The journey of awakening begins to dominate the terrain. There is clearly an inner shift of priority, and then you start to use your life that way.”
I’ve heard Mickey Singer say in several of his talks some version of, “This isn’t stuff you find time to work on and fit in with other pressing life matters. This is work you need to do every second of every day for the rest of your life.”
I’m putting this practice into practice right now. My wife’s mom, dad and sister are visiting for a few weeks. I don’t have any big issues with them, but the fact is that my life is upended when they visit. The parents stay in my office. I sleep at my brother’s house because there isn’t room for all of us at our place.
Using our lives to grow
So what am I doing? Using this situation as “…grist for the mill” as Ram Dass says. Taking more deep, cleansing breaths when I feel uptight and uncentered. Being present with the instability. Letting go of the impatient me when he rears his impatient head.
And also using the visit as an opportunity to serve. My father-in-law is 78 and not in great health. His favorite thing out here is a Balboa Bar, vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce and peanuts. I picked one up for him yesterday on the way home from my brother’s house and he was in heaven.
My mother-in-law likes my salmon so I fired that up last night for dinner. The good vibe this engenders in me makes me think I benefit more from this than they do. But again, it’s just daily spiritual work, in this case, serving others.
Do we need to plan and make decisions about where and how to focus our work? Yes. The mistake is allowing that planning/scheming, or anything else, to supplant the true main thing: Our basic, everyday spiritual work.
The good news is that when we do keep that main spiritual thing the main thing, everything else falls into place.
Just writing that makes my insides unclench and relax…
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