June 5, 2010

How do we measure Progress on the Spiritual Path?

Joy vs. Happiness.

Suffice it to say, whatever metrics we embrace for our own progress tend to be subjective.

There are inner hints of sticky situations handled with more grace than muscle, clarity of thought and purpose, compassion and acceptance of yourself and others.

In the last Anusara yoga immersion weekend with Kenny Graham, we took a good look at some of the more obvious qualities that we inevitably adopt as we spend more and more of our time practicing yoga. Things like spiritual centeredness, greater wisdom, understanding, and ability to give and receive love, gratitude for all of life’s gifts…

Depending on the day, these things seem attainable —even embodied.

On other days, in other moments, the list glares out at me like some over-done, cotton candy, cheerleader-esque caricature that shouts in the most obnoxious way; ‘Beeeeeeeee happy!’ A picture perfect, bright and shiny new…it sometimes makes me want to turn on my heels and reclaim my edge…I rather like my edge, thank you very much.

As the discussion progressed I discovered I wasn’t alone—when the ideals of ‘progress’ don’t reflect the messy turmoil life throws our way the fall-back is to ask; really?

My mom years ago explained to me the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness, she described, is a transitory state of mind that is entirely contingent on external circumstance. (i.e. I’m eating a cookie and it makes me happy). Joy asks us to take a step back from the whim of our knee jerk emotional reactions to see the greater picture and thus find joy, trust and comfort on the path of life (i.e. I would rather my daughter be a lawyer than a circus performer, but I find joy in knowing she’s following her heart). At the time, this distinction was revolutionary.

Like joy vs. happiness, semantics come in when we interpret things like ‘wisdom, love, understanding, and compassion’ in their brightest, shiniest light – which is super easy to do because that’s how those words are usually used – without diving into the subtly they carry.

Let’s take ‘love’ for example. It’s no secret that our society is absolutely infatuated with romantic love in all its forms. But love is setting boundaries and communicating those boundaries. Love is about loving yourself, first. Love is letting go of what doesn’t serve. And love is brave enough to hold on. Love is fierce, protective and expansive all at once, and we work along this spectrum of the shades of love every single day.

The same fluid spectrum applies to all our metrics of growth. Tantric yoga teaches that, like Newton’s law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

We live in world of contrary compliments. We embrace the dark with the light as necessary partners. Before we get discouraged and bogged down by the seemingly unattainable list of positives that classify us as better people, let’s remember that all we’re really doing is participating in a grand dance along the spectrum, the shades of reality and interpretation. Let’s focus on finding the big picture, that joy, in every given scenario—and that doesn’t mean you’re super-humanly happy all the time.

Let’s not reject and ignore the dark as a way to attain the light. We participate in this dance of witness consciousness, so that we can better understand and embrace the multi-faceted, evolutionary Self.

So that we can look back at the end of the day and say,

Hey, I’ve made some real progress.

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