“The spiritual journey involves stepping into unknown territory with a hunger to know what is true. One of the essential elements of such a life is the understanding that everything we encounter - fear, resentment, jealousy, embarrassment - is actually an invitation to see clearly where we are shutting down and holding back.” Aura Glaser, Tricycle Magazine, Spring 2012
The end of week four and the appeal is biting. The novelty has worn away and this has been the week when, for some of us, the demons have made themselves known, tears have flowed, and the real work - on ourselves - has begun.
Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I must say that I didn’t see this coming. In the first week or two, I was on my guard, watching out for the upsets and discomforts, ready for the reactions against my self-view. There was some discomfort in role play, and some nervousness on the doors, perhaps even a slight reaction against the compromises needed when living in community. But there was nothing big. I was getting direct debits from my area, I was meeting my personal target, I was even enjoying the training.
It was all good. Too good.
Then on Tuesday Amalavajra spent some time on the doors wirh me, listening and observing, and giving me feedback. I was confident, saying the right things, and engaging, he told me. That was good, of course. But something was missing. There seemed to be an abundance of energy but where, oh where, was the spaciousness? He observed that there was plenty of male energy (virya) but not too much female energy (ksanti) and though I was doing well as a fundraiser I could do much better if I made an effort to stand back, take in the people, the houses and the gardens. If I stopped to smell the roses and enjoy the moment. Maybe, he said, I should read some poetry before I began knocking.
It seemed like helpful advice from a kind friend, which of course it was. But as the evening wore on I became resentful. My ego became bruised and self-righteous. So what was wrong with being assertive? How could being more relaxed, more spacious help me get more direct debits? Okay, I thought rebelliously, I’ll do exactly what you say and, you’ll see, my sales will suffer…
Sometime in the early hours of Wednesday I saw clearly what had happened. In my enthusiasm to raise support for Karuna I had fallen back into old patterns, into the old familar rut of setting targets, needing to achieve, wanting affirmation. My demons had been leaping around me, telling me that, I needed to prove myself, telling me that I was only any good if I was ‘being useful’/working hard. Worse, out there on the streets, I realised that, in the rush to prove myaelf and appease my neuroses, I had lost my awareness of the Dharma. Instead of developing my Buddhist practice, I was turning back into some kind of sales person - and a sales person with rather masculine qualities at that. It was humiliating. I cried.
Wednesday was painful. I spent my morning meditation with a real sense of having let myself down. I ‘snuggled’ up to the pain as much as I could, accepting how I felt and reflecting on what had happened. Later, preparing lunch with two of my friends, I cried again and managed to talk about my experience. Their response was generous and helpful and the hurt began to take its place in a wider perspective. By the time we all checked in with Amalavajra my demons had lost some of their power, but other demons were emerging with some of my friends. I wasn’t alone in my pain. The appeal was working its transformative magic on all of us and the demons were emerging into a space where they could be dealt with
That evening, before hitting the streets, I sat in Queens Park, listened to some Vivaldi, and watched all the people relaxing, playing games, running and walking dogs. Then as I went from door to door, I took my time, pausing between houses, admiring the gardens, trying to get a feel for the person who might answer the door at such a house, and then trying to be softer, more responsive when I finally met them. It still seemed unlikely that this was a better way of signing people up, but I could recognise that it was much more in line with my practice and the Precepts.
The results weren’t good at first. To be honest I felt wounded and my confidence had all but disappeared. It was as if I had removed my armour. The demon on my shoulder was asking why I was doing this when I could be doing something much more pleasant. Another one, running ahead of me, was telling me that I was useless. I was okay being a bit pushy…but soft and responsive? Uh do me a favour! How does that work, then? Yet somehow I managed to keep going. I stopped occasionally when the fear got too strong. I stayed with the sensation of wanting to go home.Then I returned to the doors. In the end it wasn’t a bad night. I got some good second appointments and I was pleased that I had faced up to the demons.
As the week progressed, I continued working on my approach, sitting in the park, appreciating the beauty of the world around me, softening, and trying to take the Dharma with me to each door. By Friday evening, interesting things began to happen. Some of my conversations at the door got easier - and longer. The call-backs I was arranging seemed weightier and three of my recalls resulted in firm promises of direct debits next week. Of course, this may just be coincidence but, somehow, I don’t believe that is.
This week has been painful but the teaching seems profound. My practice is central to my life yet I know that when I get caught up in a ‘project’, I find it very easy to become over-focussed and to see the world through blinkers. In my efforts to ‘achieve’ I lose contact with the richness of life, with my connection to other people, and to the world around me.
How much better it will be if, instead of just following the Dharma, I try to make sure that everything I do is suffused with it. That there is a flavour of the Buddha’s teaching in everything I say, speak or touch. If everything I do has a spiritual and ethical dimension and an interconnection with all things.
It’s a big ask, of course it is. But then no-one ever said that this practice would be easy…