Embracing Personal Disappointment as the Path to Awakening.

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Nov 7, 2011
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Buddhism is not about wishful thinking or academic speculation. The Buddhist path is about learning to participate in the expansion of your true life. In short, it is about learning to love your Self.

Buddhist spirituality is not a theoretical endeavor. It is a first-person exploration of what it means to truly be your Self. Buddhism is about awakening to the immediacy of our life. Ideas do not awaken people, experiences do. So, the Buddhist path is an experiment that emerges in response to the question, “Who am I?”, and ends with a direct experience of Being that precedes any speculation. The aim of Buddhist spirituality is to move beyond the realm of internal dialogue so that our personal confusion maybe unraveled in a flash of insight.

In order for this experiment to be relevant, we have to be willing to be honest with ourselves. This means that any attempt to engage in wishful thinking is a waste of time. We have to get our hands dirty. Currently we are standing at the threshold of the spiritual path, and no one comes to spirituality for shits-&-giggles. We come to spirituality because of personal dissatisfaction, and the Buddhist path begins with the first noble truth, the truth of suffering. The first noble truth is an invitation to relate to our personal disappointment.

The Movement of Suffering.

There seems to be a gulf between our true Life and the life we are living. This gulf—the space that separates the sub-conscious intuition of our true Self from the limited self we pretend to be—is consciously interpreted as a void or a feeling of incompleteness. This void is called pervasive discontentment—the absence of fulfillment or content. In order to fill this vacancy, we cling to busy-ness. Busy-ness creates the illusion of purpose because it enables us to create conceptual vouchers or identities that provide us with a fleeting measure of purpose. However, it doesn’t take long for this contrived sense of purpose to expire. Once our fabricated role reaches it’s expiration date it is revealed to be nothing more than a distraction, intended to divert our attention away from the truth of our underlying dissatisfaction. Then the job or relationship that was once a source of entertainment becomes an object of frustration. This oscillation between satisfaction and dissatisfaction is called the suffering of change. Now we find ourselves right back at square one—unfulfilled. Only this time, we have the added frustration of having failed, yet again, to find lasting happiness. This is the suffering of suffering.

Over time, our frustration accumulates. Eventually,the situation becomes explosive, and we take action. This is what brings us to the doorstep of spirituality. The extremities of personal dissatisfaction vary from person to person—some reach a point of complete self-destruction; while others are merely disillusioned with the reality of their less than satisfying life. Regardless of the extremities, the tipping point for everyone is when they admit that they cannot continue to live the way they have been living, but realize they know no other way to live. At this point, there is no plan B or escape route. We are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths surrounding our personal dissatisfaction. This is the first noble truth.

When we look at the first noble truth we can do so in one of two ways: as scholars or practitioners. Scholars study the principles conveyed by the Buddha in the first noble truth. Practitioners use the principles of the first noble truth to study themselves. It can be entertaining to study spirituality from a far, but often times this proves to be another example of busyness meant to provide us with some fleeting sense of self-importance. Chogyam Trungpa called this Spiritual Materialism. Walking the path is far more terrifying. It demands that we look at our life with uncompromising honesty, and accept some things about our circumstances that are inconvenient.

The Heart of Spirituality.

When we truly relate to our personal dissatisfaction we realize that our life is a pattern of learned behaviors revolving around a center that is inauthentic and uninspired. We thought that life was about becoming our own person; rather than learning to embody the creative nature of our individuality. As a result, our every action was transformed into an attempt to become what we were not. This left us feeling empty and inadequate. Furthermore, when we look deeply, through the practice of meditation, we realize that we created the false self that our barren life has been obsessively revolving around. We see that we are the creators of the world we inhabit. We have divided ourselves against ourselves and made ourselves into slaves, chained to the task of filling the void that we created when we tried to become what we thought our friends, family, or society wanted us to be.

It is difficult to accept that we are both the prisoner and the guard. First of all, because, if we are responsible for all of our dissatisfaction, then we must also accept the sterile nature of one of our favorite past-times, blame. The futility of life, as we have been living it, is not the fault of our upbringing; we cannot blame it on society or the insufficiency of religion. Truly relating to our personal suffering means that out of all the assholes we have met, we are, perhaps, the biggest; out of all the bullies we have faced, no one, other than the one we created, so ruthlessly suppressed that silent voice of authenticity that always asked us to be true to our Self. Second, it puts us in a very compromising position. We are forced to learn to love ourselves, even the part of us we hate for having created this terrifying situation. On the spiritual path it is often said that we must be compassionate and loving toward our enemies. But when we realize that we are our greatest enemy will we be able to grant ourselves the same loving space that we would grant a dear friend?

The Buddhist path requires bravery and courage. We are put in a vulnerable situation immediately, but if we should choose to sit with our darker side, we will see, in a flash of insight, our basic goodness—the heart of enlightenment—break through that karmic cloud of darkness.  It is only by digging deep into the silence of our inner-being that we are capable of recovering the unlimited capacities of our own enlightened potential. And it is within this untapped inner-resource that we will find the answer to the question, “Who am I?”.


About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


34 Responses to “Embracing Personal Disappointment as the Path to Awakening.”

  1. Well done, Benjamin! I need to read this again to absorb all your wisdom. Posting to the elephant facebook page this AM. Cheers!

  2. fivefootwo says:

    I agree with the above comment. People go away somewhere for days hoping to learn what you very generously have shared here.

  3. Billy says:

    No plan B? I use the term “being fucked”. The enlightenment usually happens when the illusion that I will always have a plan b to use, like a trump card, doesn’t exist. Therefore fucked! Only then am I willing to face an alternate path. Thank you.

    Billy F

  4. lee block says:

    Thank you. I really needed this insight. After a long sleepless night, I received this.

  5. BenRiggs says:

    Thanks a lot, Lynn. I am glad you enjoyed it.

  6. BenRiggs says:

    I am glad you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends. I think this message, if absorbed, would truly revolutionize our society, especially within the realm of political activism.

  7. BenRiggs says:

    Awesome. I am glad you got something out of it. Please share it with your friends.

  8. BenRiggs says:

    Thanks, Billy. I am glad you got something out of it. I hope that you will share it with your friends.

  9. BenRiggs says:

    Thanks, Lee. When you wake up for your much need sleep, I hope that you will share it with your friends 🙂

  10. Valerie Carruthers says:

    Powerful message Ben. Our false selves will show us up in every obsessive thing we do, even—and especially in—our Yoga practice.

  11. Cena says:

    Dense. Lush. Weighty. Great post. Great summary. I'm going to print this and leave in my bedside table. Thank you.

  12. Laura says:

    Wow… simply amazing. I think you just changed my life. 🙂

  13. Ben says:

    I am glad you liked it, Laura. Please share it with your friends!

  14. Ben says:

    I am glad you liked it, Cena. Please share it with your friends!

  15. Ben says:

    I am glad you liked it, Valerie. Please share it with your friends!

  16. Thanks for this. It made absolute sense without pandering, and at least briefly restored my sense of clarity.

  17. Fabulous piece, Ben. Really hit home, on so many levels. Everything you described is exactly what brought me to yoga and Tantric philosophy. I'm sharing your piece on my fan page. https://www.facebook.com/JeanniePageWriter
    Peace, Jeannie Page

  18. Benjamin Riggs says:

    Thanks so much, Jeannie. Have a great day!

  19. Kate says:

    Such a beautiful piece of writing – and very wise words. Thank you.

  20. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    So beautiful.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  21. Pamela says:

    I think you need to write a book.

  22. BenRiggs says:

    I have written more than one… Getting them published is sooo difficult.

  23. clare says:

    Excellent Benjamin.

  24. Lojohn Elia says:

    We study the self to lose the self!

  25. Victor Shiryaev says:

    This is a beautiful article, thank you!

    However, I am not sure that it is a Buddhist injunction – to ask "Who am I?", and even less Buddhist to "be your Self" or to "love your Self", since Buddhism says there is no self 🙂

    My point is, yours is a beautiful article on spirituality, but different branches of spirituality have different vocabulary (while supposedly pointing to one reality/experience), and I am not sure why you link this vocabulary with Buddhism, when it is not. A post-modern confusion is not always helpful.

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  28. Beautiful and powerful piece, Ben. I posted to my fan page: https://www.facebook.com/JeanniePageWriter

  29. greenbless says:

    Posted on EJ Health & Wellness Facebook

    Jessica Stone Baker
    Co-Editor, Elephant Health & Wellness
    The Mindful Body

  30. BenRiggs says:

    This is very consistent with the teachings of vajrayana Buddhism. The emphasis on emptiness is only half the path. Having fallen into the emptiness the emphasis shifts to the luminosity that emerges from the experience of emptiness. It is also very consistent with Zen, which speaks of the difference between small mind and Big Mind. Sorry for the late reply 🙂

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