I believe we have all gone through times when we had second thoughts about our spiritual activities. Am I performing it properly? Did that teacher understand what they were discussing? Does this method actually work?
Sometimes we reach a plateau, which is common. We believe we are progressing well because we look forward to our workouts, feel at ease and pleased, and see positive changes in our lives. Then, all of a sudden, nothing seems to be happening, and the joy and ease we were experiencing have been replaced with aggravation and struggle, or we feel as though we are operating on automatic pilot. Even though there will be temptation, now is not the time to give up. Be tolerant. There is a tale of a man who complained to his teacher.
He complained that his thoughts were dull, got restless, or just nodded off. This will pass, the teacher said with a smile. The same man saw his teacher a month later and reported that his meditations had been amazing; he had felt joy, bliss, and energised.
This will pass, the teacher said with a smile. We will all experience periods of boredom and ecstasy, but the key is to treat each experience fairly, avoid setting yourself up for failure, and keep in mind that your present circumstances are never where you will end up. As Mother Teresa once said, “Restlessness is only the surface level of a beautiful wellspring of energy within.”
The purpose of all spiritual practices is self-realization, to remember that we are not merely this limited mind and body with their stress, fatigue and emotional rollercoaster of pleasure and suffering. But that who we really are is a perfect, joyfully Divine, being of love and light, beyond space, time and all worldly limitations. The reason we suffer is because our true essence has been covered over and hidden. Our spiritual practices are then a process of peeling off the layers of physical, mental and emotional stress, fatigue and toxins so our full beauty and magnificence can shine through.
Spiritual practices are a detoxification or purification process. With balanced daily practices this cleansing is mostly smooth and comfortable, we release a little here dissolve a little there, allowing us to notice the benefits unfolding in our lives as blockages are removed. However, sometimes we may encounter larger obstacles, which take longer to remove, which can cause us to think that nothing is happening. Think of it like driving down a highway. You’re relaxed, enjoying the journey towards your destination.
Then you come upon a sign telling you that the road is blocked by a landslide and to follow a diversion. Now you’re going in the wrong direction, it feels like you’re making no progress, it seems like a waste of time. But, eventually the diversion brings you back onto the highway and on you go again. Even though you felt you weren’t making any progress, the diversion made it possible for you to overcome whatever was blocking the highway. This is the time for patience, to maintain regularity of your practices and not give in to the doubts and frustrations. Sometimes we just need to let things happen, or as Thich Nhat Hanh advised, “For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”
So, during these periods of drought don’t immediately panic and think something is wrong however, if they continue, at some point it might be good to ask yourself if it’s time for a change to your practice. This doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning something that has served you for years, often a small adjustment can make a huge difference. Let’s look at some possibilities.