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Modern Approaches to Spirituality

In recent decades, people have slowly begun to discover the applicability of the ancient teachings. Newly developed tools, based primarily on the Buddhist practices, are being adapted to secular life and are placed at the service of the Ego, shifting the focus from spiritual growth to the regulation of stress and performance. Stress-resistance, emotional stability, and mental clarity, which are the “side effects” of advanced spiritual practice, have therefore become the goal itself.

Usually unconsciously, customised practices, used as tools for secular spirituality, not only falsify concepts, methods and fundamental principles, but also neglect the goals of original teachings - wisdom and freedom from suffering.

Today’s fast pace of life is determined more than ever by the elaborated Ego strategies. As a result, people are chased by expectations and the desire for quick success, high performance and exceptional endurance what leads to increase of the mental and emotional burden. Intuitively, people feel need to reduce stress and mental discomfort, but usually reach to the familiar Ego-driven strategies – pushing harder or running away. In other words they chose strategies that stimulate, numb or interrupt the system, where the excessive consumption of sex, food, shopping, work or sports activities, acts as a mental and emotional stimulator; Alcohol, drugs, daydreaming, excessive television, and video games have stimulating and numbing effects; and Excessive sleep and illness are used as a strategy to numb and shut down the system.

Since these immediate strategies are only “the first aid” and not a cure, people are literally struggling to wake up in the morning and fall asleep at night. They feel that their energy level is falling faster and re-filling slower, and a burnout spiral gets accelerated.

Such a lifestyle creates a market of people who want to recharge their batteries more efficiently, hoping to improve physical, intellectual or professional performance. Simultaneously with the market, various offers have emerged promising to meet market objectives with minimal investment and immediate results. From the common perspective, the market and the offered solutions seem to fit perfectly. This impression arises because the same driver - the Ego, triggers a both sides, the market and the solutions.

But when the Ego is allowed to sit in the driver's seat, neither the goal nor the path to it is clear - the right intention and deeper understanding are lacking, and Life becomes a copy of the precious masterpiece. In most cases, the secular approaches are dictated by the Ego and are therefore not aimed at restoring the original, but at lending satisfactory value to reproduction, and so are incapable of transmittingthe energy of the masterpiece.

In other words, neither popular mobile applications, expensive motivation seminars, or meditation coaches with little experience can make you blossom, nor a few weeks of mindfulness certification program can give you the wisdom needed to reset your own system or teach others. After all, shortcuts and instant solutions are like a promise to reach the other side of the ocean with a rowboat – you may feel safe and confident in the beginning, but soon the sun will burn your skin, the water reserves will disappear, big waves will shake you and the wind will keep you from going in the direction you want. You will lose confidence and patience very soon, but is that really surprising? No matter how sophisticated and colourful the boat may be, it remains just a small boat.

One should bring more objectivity into play, bearing in mind that the practice that builds on “immediate results” is nothing more than a relaxed flirtation with meditation and mindfulness. And since flirting rarely ends in a lifelong relationship, superficial practice cannot reach the depths necessary to gear lasting effects. As a result, mental and emotional discomforts persists, resistance to stress only seems to exist in stress-free times, and Life still feels out of balance. This can create disappointment, hopelessness and depression leading to a loss of confidence in the ancient wisdom and its practices. Without the necessary objectivity, people lack understanding and have false expectations what causes a distorted assessment of the applied approach and misinterpretation of its effects.

But to be objective means to face “that what it is”, sincerely, without judgement and excuses - something what most people are not doing. Rather, they live in a paradox that tears them apart: they do not want to be imprisoned, but build the protective walls at the same time; they want to flow freely as a river, but without losing the safety of the riverbank. The Ego is always ready to offer the solutions to this paradox, but its solutions are always bounded by limitations. It is like catching the river in the pot – once caught, it is held back by the shape of the vessel and stops flowing. The freedom and flexibility of the river that you admired a minute ago cease to exist.

From an early age, people are trained that the way to happiness leads through extraordinary efforts and ego-defined success. It is therefore not surprising that they find difficult to accept seemingly controversial statement that happiness, but also high performance and success, are attainable only when the walls that the Ego has built over the decades, are broken. Only then does everything fit in the right place and Life begins to flow freely like a river that finds its way to the ocean as soon as the walls of the vessel are broken.

However, this cannot be achieved by modern approaches that lack essential principles. It is not about discrediting modern methods. Certainly they can have some positive effects: raising awareness, relaxation, motivation, or even triggering changes and transformation. Nevertheless, sustainable resistance to stress, the release of toxic mental and emotional states, or spiritual growth can only be achieved through a practice that liberates original Self from Ego chains.

However, to free yourself from Ego restrictions, you do not have to become a monk or commit yourself to a monastic life. The depths and heights you reach do not depend on the garments you wear. Suit or monk attire is irrelevant when it comes to the intensity of your intention, the depth of your knowledge and the consistency of your practice. You can cross the bridge in whatever you wear, and no profession or status symbol can restrict or help you figure out who you really are.

But just as the short bridge is not suitable for the broad river, also any other goal can only be reached with the right tool - the cosmic equations can not be solved with elementary mathematics, and likewise, the nature of mind and consciousness can not be understood with a mobile applications. Of course, not all people are interested in cosmos, mind or spirituality, but knowing nothing about rockets does not lead to depression, while without understanding one's own nature, the chance of achieving lasting happiness and functionality is negligible.

A clear perception of one’s own nature is not as easy. It is often hidden by the Ego structures that prevent people from understanding their own abilities, assessing their own limitations, or finding the way to unleash their own potential. Without clarity, the dream of reaching the highest peaks can only remain a dream, trying to realize itself through competition with others and oneself. In general, mountain and spiritual summits are only two ends of the same existence, except that at one end the Ego gains a seemingly absolute affirmation of its power, at the other end all power is withdrawn from it.However, we live in a time when people are considered more prestigious when they are listed as members of the "Seven Summit Club" than when they join these (still rare) individuals "who have thus gone" (tathā-gata) (1).

And yet, it is up to you how much control you want to delegate to your Ego, - whether you want to fly with the autopilot or use your skills and choose your own routes. Whether you want to live as an existence or as a mental projection. If you decide to walk the path of existence, you must come out of the familiar footsteps and learn to harmonise your breath with the breath of the entire cosmos. Only then can you discover your inner stillness, which is like a fertile ground for everything you want to grow.

But, if you live in the city, that inner space is initially challenged by occasional sirens, church bells, street life, laughter and speeches in the hallways, or quarrels in neighbouring apartments. You may be disturbed by your back pain, neck posture, mind chatter, drowsiness, sub-optimal breathing or impatience. You can get suspicious when the teacher assures you that all these distractions will fade away as soon as you learn how to let go and be present; as soon as your state changes from “I think” to “I am”, from “doing” to “being”.

But slowly, with consistent practice, you will understand that skill and patience are required to overcome all physical, mental and emotional obstacles. You will grasp how difficult and yet so easy it is to “do nothing”, “ just breathe”, “just sit”, “being present”, “being mindful”, or “coming home”. But most importantly, you will stop taking life for granted or wasting it on useless thoughts and fears.

And although it may seem like a hard work in the beginning, you should remember your first writing lessons and how you learned to write one letter after another until you finally mastered it. Likewise, you have invested many years in studies and practice to learn your profession. So why should you expect that mastering of a complex system that you call Self, could be quick and easy? With simple mobile application?

Should you give up modern tools? Did you give up your scooter or bike so you can drive the car or did you learn that the scooter is only useful for short distance and is definitely not suitable for the highway? Similarly, it is also important to consider why you use secular approaches and what restrictions they have. You should be especially careful when your Ego begins to whisper, how great you already are, how established and spiritual, how wise and omniscient. Remember, the easier the application, the sooner will Ego begin to praise you.

However, if you are seriously interested in developing all aspects of your being, get rid of shortcuts and quick solutions. Make nature be your teacher. Learn to hear the voice of your inner stillness. Participate in the practice offered by experienced Buddhist monks and nuns. Make awareness be your everyday companion, and your best friend, who helps you to reside in presence.

You may initially be unsure about sufficient practice duration, but be advised by the Buddhist saying: “If you have time, practice 30 minutes, if you do not have time, practice 1 hour”. Usually, people tend to do the opposite, without noticing that the feeling of “not having time” is the first sign of stress and dysfunction of the mind that automatically requires more time to calm down.

As your awareness progresses, you will learn to meditate according to your state, your experience, your spiritual and emotional maturity, your karmic residuals and your stress levels. However, every day practice (even if it is short) will bring you further than a long practice that is done only occasionally. Still, do not take the practice length alone as a reference, expecting that long sitting will always be effective. Your reference should be the quality of the practice that is measured by the level of your presence. And finally, regardless of tool or approach you use, only one-thing matters - how present, mindful and conscious you are, during and after use.

Everything else has no real value.


(1) attaining enlightenment

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