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July 26, 2020

The Problem With “Pick & Mix” Spirituality.

We live in an age where information is available in abundance; perhaps even in excess.

Be it through books, documentaries, or a quick Google search, we have centuries, maybe even millennia of spiritual teachings at our fingertips.

In some ways, this is of course wonderful. It allows awakening to be the pursuit of not the few, but the many. The fact that we are increasingly hungry for spiritual nourishment can also be seen as an evolution of our collective consciousness.

However, it also presents a problem.

The overload of cross-cultural spiritual teachings available to us in combination with our starving souls makes us like children in a sweets shop.

We run around excitedly filling up our paper bag wanting to try and test it all. At first, this is no bad thing. It is exciting to explore and it allows us to get the feel and the flavour of many different practices and traditions. It perhaps should lead us, over time, to find a good fit. But more often than not, this is not what happens.

Just like a sugar high, we become spiritually giddy, and just like with any addiction, we chase transcendence, become obsessed with the next high, and collect experiences like trophies. Escapism masquerades as spirituality.

Fear of missing out (FOMO), an ever-present cultural phenomenon, seeps into our spiritual pursuits and drives us to bounce around from Tantra to Taoism, Wicca to Ayahuasca, Reiki to rainbow healing, Kundalini to Christianity, shamanism to Shakti dance and back again.

We have issues with commitment.

Even within one tradition, we can do the same thing.

We move from one meditation technique to another, or obsessively over-educate ourselves. The spiritual journey becomes a pursuit of the ego.

We read book after book, text after text, take one course or class after another, devouring all the information we can get our hands on. Some spiritual knowledge can, of course, be useful as it provides a framework for our experiences to be held in, and opens us to that which was not previously part of our view. But wisdom and information are simply not the same thing. Wisdom cannot be obtained, only opened to. And at a certain point, too much information can begin to obscure reality and block us from any authentic and spontaneous awakening as we become too attached to ideas that were only ever meant to point us in a general direction.

Our attitude of “more” is unsurprising. We are a consumer culture. We have been trained to seek outside of ourselves, and as a result, never feel satisfied. We are driven by fear and shame—the sense that who we are, how we are, and what we do is never enough. Our desperation for healing and freedom keeps our eyes always on the horizon looking for the next solution—the illusive technique, teaching, or spiritual experience that will be the quick fix we are searching for.

But jumping from practice to practice is a little like travelling up many different pathways and wondering why you never manage to climb the mountain and reach the peak. We can only get so far if we insist on continuing to taste test the basics of different traditions and never commit to mastering any one way. All paths lead to one Truth, but trying to walk many paths at once doesn’t get us very far.

Spirituality is also commercialised in the West. I think that teachers—myself included—often feel the need to produce new, exciting, and inspiring experiences for their students. We perpetuate the idea that variation is of most value.

I am not suggesting that as seekers or teachers we become dogmatic and cut ourselves off from the many treasures of the different traditions and deny ourselves of or cease to offer eclectic, uplifting, and illuminating experiences entirely. But I am suggesting that maybe we need to slow down and simplify.

For example, I experience immense power in the sacred sound currents of the Sikh tradition. I know the healing and release that dancing and drumming have to offer my body. But, Tibetan Buddhist practice, teaching, and tradition are where I increasingly feel the most at home despite having explored Indian yogic teaching for years. I do not need to deny this reality or cut myself off from these different traditions I have connected with. But I also find that the more that I simplify and refine my practice, the more fruitful it becomes.

I find that the more I commit to one simple method daily, the deeper into myself I am able to go. I find that the less occupied I am with intellectual accumulation, the more I relax into realisation. I find that the more committed I am to one path, the further I am able to journey.

Perhaps it is useful for us to remember that historically, a student would be gifted one practice for life, and that mastery comes through repetition, not restless pursuit.

This is boring to the ego; it sounds dull and uninspiring. And that is exactly why the greatest spiritual progress can perhaps only be made in such a way.

The ego is cunning, it wants us to remain in spiritual limbo, distraction, and indecision.

What is doesn’t want us to know is that it doesn’t matter what technique we choose, only that we do. It doesn’t want us to know that we don’t necessarily need to become highly literate in any spiritual philosophy, teaching, or tradition because with persistency, consistency, and time, our chosen practice—whatever it may be—will reveal anything and everything to us that we ever needed to know.

What it doesn’t want us to realise is that although occasional heightened experiences may support evolution in our consciousness and expand our awareness, awakening itself isn’t somewhere “over there;” it is right here in the beauty and monotony of our day-to-day existence. Reality is ever-present in everything.

The ego loves complexity; the soul craves simplicity. Perhaps “less is best” should be the mantra of modern awakening.

So how do we chose one path and one practice? My experience is that we don’t; the path and the practice choose us. One practice—one path—already speak to you more deeply than the rest. It might take you a metaphorical minute to realise this, but once you have, walk that way, stay on track, stay focused and unfaltering. In time, awakening will find its way to you.

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