Hooked on Seeking: Mistaking the Map for the Territory. ~ Stuart Watkins
We all have our own dance to dance.
As humans, we’re all seeking to feel the oneness that is our birthright. Whether we’re (intentionally or unintentionally) seeking it through spiritual practice, or by being in nature, making love or going to the bar to have some drinks, we’re all seeking divine connection.
We all want to feel peaceful and whole. Yet very often external seeking for satisfaction and fulfillment causes us suffering.
Relying on an external situation to bring us back into presence often results in us being clingy, quick to blame and unconsciously reactive.
A common human drama is getting that “Ah-ha” feeling every now and then. It’s sparked externally, and then we get unhealthily attached to the stimuli because we keep falling out of present moment awareness and back into the turbulence the mind often creates.
In seeking spiritual liberation we often mistake the map for the territory.
What is your spiritual practice about? What is life about? What are you actually seeking? Rather than letting the map or the teaching define who you are or exactly what to do, honor the map.
But it’s just a map—be authentic to what your heart is calling for.
Let me make this clear before I go any further. I have nothing against enjoying external sensory pleasures, and externally seeking wisdom. I love external joys and the richness of learning from many different teachers and an array of different methods and philosophies.
What I’m talking about is balance. This isn’t about pushing the world away or running away from it in order to wake up to our true nature. It’s about totally being in the world and at the same time being deeply in our spiritual heart.
“A being whose awareness is totally free, who does not cling to anything, is liberated. Wherever there is attachment association with it brings endless misery.” ~ Gampopa The Jewel Ornament of Liberation.
This omnipresence, this state of true balance or enlightenment, is the very essence of our being. Yet, it feels far away for most of us. The essence that is us, that is born into this temporary body, tends to get continually cloaked with perceptual illusion and baggage, and before we know it, our true nature is deeply buried beneath the conditioned clutter.
It can often seem impossible to find a way out of the thickness that’s not just a temporary “high.”
Spiritual awakenings are often called so because that’s the common experience. It’s like waking up from a deep dream. Many people still feel that this state of true balance is only for the rare few and takes a certain amount of seeking, a certain amount of study and even a certain amount of suffering.
These experiences may help us wake up to truth, but not necessarily. They can also thicken our illusory perception. It is our choice in how we perceive and respond to any experience.
Too busy overcomplicating?
Many of the profound teachings the masters and sages have left for us are so simple in their actuality that most of us get very lost and confused along the way because we’ve become so “heady” and complex.
We’re so busy trying to be the best, trying to be known, trying to know it all, or we’re so busy constantly doubting our potential that stopping to see through our thoughts, to just be mentally quiet and in the present moment has become an esoteric practice.
We’ve collectively been insanely driven by thought and by egoic values. Of course with this thick mental veil constantly clouding our perception, something like enlightenment would seem like a huge mountain to climb. For most of us it does take many life lessons, much study, much unlearning and suffering to soften those layers of debris so we can open up to what is.
But it doesn’t have to be the case.
Regardless of the past, and of our mental conditioning, if we are truly ready to be present and awake, then we can be. It’s who we are! It’s our natural state.
All we’re doing is seeing through and releasing all the outer layers that most of use to cloud our perception of reality. To our conditioned mind, this is tough and scary business, and it can often feel like a death.
In a way, it is a death.
It’s a death of what we thought was reality, and of all those old stories onto which we were holding. It’s a death of who we thought we were.
Many people seeking enlightenment are looking for big, mystical, altered states of consciousness. One most likely will experience mystical, altered states of consciousness at some stages along the journey, but these states aren’t to be confused with being truly awake.
To be in the egoic trance is really the most altered state one can get, so if you want constant altered states, stay identified with ego. The ego creates all kinds of altered states that simply aren’t real.
The enlightened state is always present.
Rather than chasing enlightenment, practice bringing awareness to all the ways you un-enlighten yourself. Bring compassionate observation to all the ridiculous and often insane stories the mind often creates. As you observe the stories, you are present and have an opportunity to deeply learn, or unlearn from the past. You have a potent opportunity to shed some more layers.
Maybe ask the question now, “How do I un-enlighten myself moment to moment, day-to-day? Am I un-enlightening myself right now?” To honestly answer this might be refreshing, but it might also be like a sword cutting through your ego. I invite you to have the courage to go within and check it out.
Whole-hearted embrace with non-attachment
There are many different teachings and methods that can help transcend these illusory mental states and remember our true nature. But a common experience is getting hooked on the teaching conceptually and physically without relaxing fully into the actual teaching.
It’s very common to try to wrap only our minds around the often-paradoxical teachings, or around life’s predicaments or challenges, very commonly getting frustrated with not knowing how and why.
Of course we’d try to use only rational linear thinking to deal with these things. As a society, that’s what most of us have been conditioned to do.
Relaxing whole-heartedly into not knowing can be a wonderful and powerful entrance point into one’s essence.
It can be very useful to have teachings and methods of spiritual liberation available, but unless one is willing to relax into the space in between the words, the teachings can get very heady and the words can be left quite lifeless in one’s mind.
Feel the intelligent tool of conceptual learning at the same time as feeling the juicy aliveness of not knowing. Allow yourself to be the reality behind the teaching rather than being just the learner. Let wakefulness and meditation flow into every aspect of your life.
Rather than always striving to find the answers in the future, simply relax into the real you that is already delightfully awake now. It’s up to you to make the choice and remember the real you.
I know this relaxed attitude towards staying awake can be frustrating to hear. Yes, it takes focus, practice and discipline to see through the sometimes very cluttered mental states we humans get, but as you keep practicing to bring conscious attention into every moment, the clutter will clear.
A common question is, “How long will it take for me to be able to bring this kind of focus and clarity into daily life?” That’s really up to you and how ready you are to truly be present, to truly be you.
“You’re not the image your mind has of you.
There’s something more intimate than the next feeling or thought.”
Let the aliveness of the amazing teachings that you’re drawn to pulse fully with your being by not just thinking about it and learning it, but by letting the teachings sit in the fertile terrain of your inner silence.
Maybe even while reading this article, just pause every now and then, bringing attention to your breath and your body, and feel the energy behind the words (the silence from where the words arise) rather than getting caught up in the words.
This kind of practice used to drive me absolutely nuts until my mind just gave up. When my mind eventually gave up I finally felt the teachings. Let your seeking be a soulful celebration of evolving, a celebration of shedding layers so the heart can fully blossom into union.
Embody the awakenings, rather than just seeking awakening moments and learning methods of waking up. Unless of course the adventure of constantly looking is what you actually want to do, then by all means, go for it.
It’s all here now. Are you ready to say yes to it?
Be authentic to what’s arising in your life. We all have our own dance to dance. Seeing and being who you really are is always available. It’s the simplest thing ever—that’s what often makes it so challenging. As we individually make courageous and conscious choices and come into balance, it makes it easier for the world to do so. Let the truth flow.
Stuart Watkins is a yoga teacher, holistic life coach, and health and wellness expert based in Perth, Western Australia. Stuart is known for his inspirational style of teaching that incorporates both eastern spiritual philosophy and western techniques for mental, physical, and spiritual transformation. He teaches and writes with raw yet compassionate honesty and is a constant student to life itself. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Assistant Ed: Stephanie V.