As part of my sādhanā – or spiritual practice – I created the Seeker to Seeker platform. A hub for spiritual journeyers to find insights on the journey.
Sounds great, doesn’t it!
But what began as an earnest endeavor to further my practice – quickly decayed into just another ego trip.
It became more and more difficult to maintain awareness and presence when my mind was filling up with deadlines, schedules, planning, worrying…
The light of the present moment was overshadowed by all so many thoughts, fears, and ambitions competing for my attention. Instead of deepening my practice – I was beginning to lose it.
How could my efforts to receive and spread wisdom leave me less enlightened?
Did this mean I had to abandon my work?
Did enlightenment mean forsaking all action and retreating into complete passivity?
For weeks I wondered what I was doing wrong… And then it hit me.
Of course! I had fallen for the good ol’ ego trick again.
I had developed an attachment.
Attachment And Aversion
‘All major spiritual traditions have long understood that attachment binds the energy of the human spirit to something other than love…
‘In a spiritual sense, the objects of our attachments and addictions become idols. We give them our time, energy, and attention whether we want to or not, even – and often especially – when we are struggling to rid ourselves of them.
‘We want to be free, compassionate, and happy, but in the face of our attachments we are clinging, grasping, and fearfully self-absorbed.’Gerald G. May M.D., The Dark Night of The Soul
The primary function of the ego is to secure survival.
If we look at it this way, not only do we learn not to vilify the ego – we learn to understand its motives.
Attachments are a fantastic survival strategy. If we find something – be it an object, a person, or an experience – that proves valuable to us once, chances are, it’s going to be valuable in the future too.
The ego makes sure we cling to that valuable thing by investing it with positive emotional energy.
Aversion works in the same way but uses negative emotional energy. By creating aversion, your ego is trying to prevent repeated negative experiences.
Taken together, attachment and aversion are the two hands with which the ego shapes its most powerful creation – the dream of self.
The Dream Of Self
The greater number of attachments and aversions we have, and the more emotionally invested we are in them – the deeper we sink into the dream of self.
It works the other way around too. The stronger our sense of self is, the quicker and more passionately we fall into attachment and aversion.
You can always tell how deeply a person has succumbed to the dream of self by how strong their opinions are!
And though attachment and aversion help us orient ourselves outwardly – they slow us down on the path to inner growth.
Attachment and aversion are blockages of psychic energy. Just like clogged blood vessels constrict us physically – so a clogged psyche constricts us spiritually.
Our attachments and aversions weigh us down and anchor us to the plane of sleepwalking existence. To awaken, we need to cleanse our psychic system.
We need to let go.
‘We must learn to free ourselves of ourselves in all our gifts, not holding on to what is our own or seeking anything, either profit, pleasure, inwardness, sweetness, reward, heaven or our own will…
‘And the more we cease to be in our own will, the more truly we begin to be in God’s will.‘Meister Eckhart
I believe the ego is one of the greatest – surely the most reliable – spiritual teachers we have. Every time we try to cut corners on the spiritual path it trips us up and gets us back on track.
This is nowhere more obvious than in the practice of letting go.
When we begin letting go, we quickly experience spiritual growth.
The energy we had surrendered to our attachments and aversions comes back to us and saturates our life with newfound richness and depth.
We feel more present, more compassionate, we gain deeper insights into our consciousness.
In a word – life gets better.
We become ecstatic and we feel like we’ve made true progress…
And that’s when the ego sneaks up on us.
Progress is an ego concept – and one of the most irresistible at that. Progress means direction, direction means purpose, purpose means desire.
Desire means attachment and aversion.
‘We gravitate to the things of God, to things that we sense as good, true, beautiful, and loving. We expect these good things to satisfy us.
‘We do not realize that we love them not for themselves, but because they whisper to us of their Creator, the One we really long for.
‘We do not know […] that such things are only ‘messengers,’ and that our love, even for them, cannot be free without the grace of their Creator.’Gerald G. May M.D., The Dark Night of The Soul
Attachment to spiritual progress is one of the toughest challenges seekers face. This spiritual idolatry always sneaks up on you and it’s not something you overcome once and then forget about.
The ego haunts spiritual seekers throughout the entire journey and needs just the tiniest psychic leakage to enter in and form an attachment or aversion.
I am intimately familiar with spiritual idolatry myself. And it’s hit me the hardest through my meditation practice.
There is a fine line between meditating in order to let go and doing it in order to have a meditator’s badge on your ego. I’ve crossed that line all too many times.
Far too often have I become annoyed, worried, even furious at the fact I’ve not had my daily fix of the meditation cushion.
I’ve sometimes sat still for a full hour and in the end realized my awareness had only been clear for perhaps 5 or 10 minutes at most.
Similarly with Seeker to Seeker. What started as a way to take my practice forward quickly pulled me back into full-on ego mode through strong attachments to goals and tasks.
But then what’s left to do when you see yourself having become attached to your spiritual practice? Do you just abandon it?
If you do, you enter another paradox.
Why are you abandoning attachment and aversion in the first place?
Do you expect to gain something from this?
If you have a goal in mind, you are simply surrendering superficial attachments to satisfy a deeper one. Then your whole spiritual journey becomes an ego trip and it turns out there was nothing spiritual about it in the first place!
Could all spiritual seeking be ego gratification?
Are we all better off just getting on with the ego’s program rather than fooling ourselves we are resisting it?
I believe this riddle’s answer lies in one of our most well-known scriptures…
Nike’s marketing campaign.
JUST DO IT.
‘You have the right to the action alone. You never have the right to the fruit. Do not be motivated to act because of the fruit of your actions.
‘But don’t be motivated to not acting either.
‘Give up attachment. Look upon success and failure equally… Seek refuge in this wisdom. Pitiable are those who crave after the fruit.’Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita
When you are doing something – just do it. Don’t do it in order to have done it.
As the Buddha said, ‘your actions are your only true possessions’. So don’t overstep your bounds and become possessive of the results of your actions. Those are the Universe’s business alone.
How do you make sure you act just for action’s sake? How do you dispel all attachment to the fruits of your practice?
Be Here Now.
The ego is averse to the light of the Now. When you act in full presence, you are impervious to the ego’s attempts at forming attachment and aversion.
Your actions also become imbued with a new kind of vitality.
Can you feel the difference between being with somebody because you want something from them – and being with them because you want to be with them?
In both cases, you are outwardly doing the same thing – spending time with somebody. But the quality and depth of your experience change completely based on your inner presence.
Think of all your actions the same way. Whether you’re washing the dishes, practicing your hobby, working in the office, or doing your daily meditation. Do it for the doing, not for having done it.
In the light of the Now, even the simplest action becomes miraculous – and not even the most miraculous action can form attachment or aversion.
So be here now.
Just do it.
A Child Of Earth And Heaven
‘The just person acts precisely as God acts, without a Why, and so as life lives for its own sake, seeking no Why to justify itself, in the same way the just person knows no Why to justify what they do.’Meister Ekchart
Does letting go of the fruits of your actions – your Why – mean entering a purposeless existence?
Does it mean losing yourself to a mindless wandering from one random action to the next?
You are a child of time and space just as much as a child of eternity and infinity.
The spiritual journey is one towards union, not the abandonment of one half of your nature for the other’s sake.
If anything, true spiritual practice fills your earthly existence with a greater sense of purpose. But this purpose is not born out of egoic striving – just the opposite.
The more fully you surrender to the present moment and let go of attachment and aversion – the more your actions become not your own, but the Universe’s.
What you do becomes born of a consciousness fully present – not of a sleepwalking ego.
You become like nature: your works become completely effortless manifestations of the will of Being.
This is what Taoists call wu wei – effortless action.
You force nothing, you chase nothing, you act only for the sake of the act itself. No attachment, no aversion, no why.
If the results of your actions surprise you, you may still feel disappointed or ecstatic, but you recognize this as a natural egoic reaction – you don’t identify yourself with it.
You understand success and failure are a pair of opposites only on the level of relative truth.
In absolute terms, each of the two is so vital for the reality of the other that they are essentially indistinguishable.
Us being egoic creatures – we need lots of philosophy and practice to reach wu wei. But it’s enough to look at the works of nature to see perfect wu wei in action.
As Jesus said, ‘consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these‘.
Free From The Start
So here we are, another new Seeker to Seeker piece is out – clearly, I’ve decided not to abandon the project. I’ve discovered a way to act without fully succumbing to attachment.
But there’s one more insight that’s helped me approach my work with more humility.
I’ve realized none of my work is really my work in the first place!
My actions are the result of an unimaginable wealth of circumstances, experiences, and character traits – none of which I’ve had any control over.
My ego is quick to identify with all my experiences and turn them into a self. But in reality – this whole life I’m living happens of its own accord without me having to do anything at all.
The Universe already practices wu wei in complete perfection, including through this body and mind I call my own.
The words you’re reading now have arisen just as effortlessly as the wild flowers Jesus spoke about. And you too have been led to reading these words out of no effort of your own. Your consciousness and mine meeting in this article is the Universe meeting itself.
This realization, I think, is the ultimate cure against attachment and aversion.
When none of your actions, experiences, fears, and ambitions are your own – what is there to attach to in the first place? You are bound to none of your successes and failures – as none of them are your own.
When you realize you are part of a living, complex, infinitely fine-tuned system – of Being unfolding – you become free. You realize you’ve been free from the start.
The Universe is already enlightened, the beatific vision is already occurring.
All that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy the show.
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4 comments / Add your comment below
Amen! I love this piece because it comforts me in that I am not alone in balancing life and achievement in this material world without desire – how to live in this world but not of it.
Thanks Sam! I’m glad to see my work brings comfort.
And yeah… the scales are hard to balance but such is the art of life. We live and we learn 🙂
I enjoyed this immensely. The choice in texts was refreshing. The open-heart to various traditions & presenting them to the reader adds much flavor & variety to assist in understanding. Thank you.