Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Honoring the Journey

It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.
--Ursula LeGuinn

Life itself is the journey. Learning the hard lessons of life and improving ourselves is a never-ending process. Often the lessons we are given appear as mistakes, misunderstandings or failures, but in truth the only mistake, misunderstanding or failure is not learning the lesson itself. If we don’t learn it the first time it is very likely that the lesson will be repeated over and over until we actually do learn it. We only realize that we have finally learned a lesson when our behavior and actions begin to change. Changing our actions and behavior takes place when we convert the knowledge we gain from the lessons into wisdom that we can apply to new situations. For some this process of conversion from knowledge to wisdom lasts a lifetime. For others, the wisdom gained moves them along the path more quickly until they reach a point where they need to go deeper within themselves in order to make further progress. 

The deeper journey takes place within the self once we have reached a point where the wisdom we have gained from the lessons tells us there is more work to be done. It is a journey that in which we become a seeker of a deeper wisdom that lies at the core of our being. The journey inward can be a perilous and frightening trek. In this journey we must peel away all of the masks and illusions our ego has created and look into our soul. We must start to realize that all of our actions and behaviors have consequences that may not be apparent at first glance. Many people are very good at fooling themselves and pretending what they do doesn’t have any real negative impact on their lives or the lives of others. Once we start that journey inwards we can no longer accept that illusion.

Most or us know that eating fast food, smoking cigarettes, and watching television are activities that can be detrimental to our body and mind, while strip mining, pesticides, and pollution are detrimental to the environment, but many people engage in these behaviors and fool themselves into thinking they are not actually causing any harm. They convince themselves their behavior is not bad enough to actually cause a problem or that they are personally strong enough to resist any negative vibrations that might result. It becomes too difficult to really look at their behavior and admit the truth of what they are doing to themselves or the planet we live on. The reason it is difficult is because if they were to admit that truth to themselves it would become impossible not to take action to change the behavior…and too often the behavior is easier, economical or pleasant than the alternatives. Instead they choose to pretend to be ignorant so that they can continue their behavior and perpetuate the illusion. However, admitting the truth to ourselves is, in fact, the only way forward on this journey.

Until we are able to turn our attention inwards and own what is ours, we are merely fooling ourselves. Yes, we may be fooling everyone else as well, but that doesn’t really matter. It is our self that we must live with. And the only way to do that is to wake up. It is time to wake up to ourselves. When we wake up to the present moment and our place in the world, we are truly on that journey inwards.

Waking up comes at different times for different people. Often it comes at a time when the path forward, continuing the same behavior, is no longer possible. People who have heart attacks from poor diet and exercise choices are a good example of this. They have reached a point where they must either change their behavior or their progress forward stops…dead. In this type of situation the journey becomes much more difficult because their body has abandoned them. And life only lasts as long as the body continues to function.

Waking up before there is no other choice is a much more agreeable option. If you are reading this it is likely that you have already made that choice. Recognizing that we have a choice and choosing to wake up takes place for many people when they have spent enough time in practices that develop mindful awareness of the present moment. In those practices we are able to find ourselves. The most effective practices for cultivating mindful awareness are meditation and deep, conscious breathing.

Meditation calms the flurry of thoughts in the mind and settles all of the hectic noise that seems to pervade every moment of our day. It gives us an opportunity to cultivate clarity of thought. Regular practice teaches us to create space between the thoughts for mindful awareness to blossom.  The simplicity of sitting in meditation belies the profound benefits of the practice. It provides a solid base to begin the process of waking up to the present moment.

Breathing is a fundamental action of our physical body, something we are doing all day, everyday, throughout our lives. For the most part, breathing is unconscious and shallow. The more we are able to become aware of our breathing, the deeper it becomes. With deeper breathing we are able to center ourselves. Conscious breathing is a practice done with both the body and the mind. The body executes the action while the mind brings quality and depth to the breath. This connection between the body and mind is essential to the journey inwards.

As our journey continues, we can begin to explore other practices that assist in deepening our experience. Meditation, tai chi, yoga, mindful eating, ceremony, ritual and communing with nature are all methods moving further along the path.

No matter what your practice, no matter where you find yourself along the path, take a moment to honor your journey. It may be a struggle at times and there may be demons you have to face, but the courage to face them grows stronger the more you use practice.

Your journey is unique. Embrace it and travel onwards.

Wishing you much peace.
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