To take the hard path?

Geoff Livingston

Various things this week have made me think about challenges, the spiritual path and yielding softness. Social researcher Brene Brown was talking in a podcast with Krista Tippet about moving towards having conversations where it isn’t ‘either/or’ but a ‘yes and …’ responses. The point is that it can be misleading to think in binary or black and white terms where everything has a definitive answer, we miss all the subtle nuance differences in the middle (or as some of the ashram teachers say when they start an answer ‘it all depends…’).

So I’ve been pondering do I need to take the hard path in my spiritual journey? Is it part of the process to accept that life is tough at times? Is it possible that in these uncomfortable moments, with a little grace, they can also become critical turning points. Me and my teacher Gyan Dharma debated this last time I saw him. I used the phrase ‘a mixed blessing’ to describe difficult things that ultimately turn out to have a positive impact on your life. He turned to me absolutely unequivocal and stated that I was wrong. They are without a doubt, pure blessings.

In hindsight, after a storm has passed, this may seem perfectly logical but does that idea have relevance or value in the midst of trouble? The word ashram literally means a place of refuge. But at certain moments ashrams can feel anything but that. What I didn’t realise until this morning when i talked to Krishnapremananda is that another root of the word ashram means hard inner work and at times that feels more true.

There is a washing machine effect of being tumbled with my stuff from my pockets literally falling out all over the place. Sometimes it is even possible to imagine that people or places are deliberately provoking – as an attempt to deal out some of those so called blessings, or in other words tough love. In these moments I am often fighting back with all my might at the perceived dealer of these so called miseries. 

I’ve also been busy this week reading UnearthingVenus by Cate Montana  which is an exploration of feminine qualities in the format of an autobiography. She ponders that “no one seemed to realize that a head without a heart was as unviable as a heart without a head” (p298). Suggesting that too much yang or masculine (but not limited to men, rather the masculinity all human beings exhibit at times) causes that pushing, striving, achieving energy which suppresses or ignores the need to yield and be open to kindness and softness also. Heart … yes and head. Not one or the other.

From my relatively short experience, I think ashram life is often about compromise and letting go. Learning to use ‘yes and…’  rather than doggedly sticking to what you have always believed in. It feels to me like a lot of people in the World are already well versed in self punishment and that almost blind striving. So it’s easy to fall into a sense of victimhood or injustice, feeling we don’t need more of that punishment to be reigned down on our heads.

The truth is that try as I might I can’t control what the World is up to. So perhaps I should focus on my response instead, which I have a better hope of exerting some control over. Whether I fight or yield may be the difference between taking the hard path or not. Yielding isn’t about being inert and rolling over to every request but rather having a more fluid response according to what feels right in that moment, rather than blindly following old habits. As Gyan Dharma would say its about everyone feeling into their own strength to say yes and no in every situation.