…Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it…. Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. (Matthew 7:14 and Luke 13:24, KJV)
Not to worry! You have not stumbled into a Sunday morning church service….
I just thought that the above verses offer a good introduction to something that’s been brewing in me for a couple weeks.
It has to do with the choice with which we are eventually confronted along the spiritual path: Do I go that way, toward the world with its demands, responsibilities and challenges? Or do I go this way, toward the within, with its demands, responsibilities and challenges?
Is my life to be built around my spiritual practice, or is my spiritual practice to be tucked into my “real life” schedule as best I can?
Is my entire existence to be a moment-to-moment commitment to meditation, mindfulness and Dhamma study… or will my so-called “spiritual life” continue as just another social activity while I show up at Sangha (Satsang, Church, Temple, etc.) when time allows, with the occasional 15-minute meditation thrown in when it happens to occur to me?
Will I make it a priority in my life to squeeze through the strait (i.e., small) gate, and then follow the narrow way… or will I join the herd, bending to its externally-imposed expectations, hoping for the best?
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Assuming that this blog has attracted at least a few who have chosen the strait gate and the narrow way (or who are at least standing before the gate, scratching their chins and wondering if this is the long-awaited moment)… now what?
I’ll tell you what:
On the narrow way there are few travelers.
“Wait!” you say. “I’m part of a wonderful sangha, so I’m not alone at all!”
I pat you on a knee and reply, “Even in the midst of the biggest sangha in all the land… you are alone.”
When you choose to get up before sunrise to meditate (even if you have a partner who joins you)… you are alone.
When you beg off from joining your coworkers at lunch so you can grab some lying down meditation in your car… you are alone.
When you leave the party at eight-thirty (just when the “fun” begins) so that you can go home to your before-bed meditation… you are alone.
When you are walking down the street practicing mindfulness of that little yellow flower off to the left… you are alone.
When all the other kids are playing Frisbee in the street and you are settled at a table on the front porch, spiritual books spread everywhere… you are alone.
Somewhere along the way, your family and friends notice that there’s something “off” with you.
Due to the effects of a rigorous and skillful meditation practice (which ideally gives rise to bliss, joy and ecstasy every time you hit the mat), adhered to over months and years (such that you are saturated in meditative absorption 24/7), you have become tranquil and equanimous.
Your family and friends are now convinced that you’ve “lost your ambition,” that you are “contented” (as though that’s a bad thing), that you are no longer a total stress-cadet because the sky is falling and who’s going to take care of you in old age?
They are working overtime to keep their heads above water, and you seem to be wandering around in a bubble of conscious awareness, unconcerned for anything other than the present moment.
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?…. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. (Matthew 6:31,34, KJV)
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Now, I’m not saying that everyone who chooses the narrow way is doomed to a life of grinding poverty and hopelessness. I’m not saying that the narrow path necessarily leads through physical wasting and depletion.
I’m not even saying that the wide path is any less isolated than the narrow way.
It’s just that those who choose the narrow way are very, very aware of their lone-wolf status.
A life that is built around a rigorous and skillful meditation practice leading to bliss, joy and ecstasy is a life spent in conscious observation, both within and without. It is spent in the constant and persistent realization that “this” cannot be shared with anyone else… other than to help her come into “this” for herself… assuming she is ready to enter through the strait gate in order to follow the narrow way.
The choice to enter through the strait gate is a choice for solitude.
There’s no point in pretending otherwise.
Whether you live in an ashram or in a broken down van on some lonely street at the edge of town, you as a dedicated contemplative are ultimately alone… and you become more and more aware that this is the case.
The good news?
The good news is that, instead of waiting until your dying moment to realize your spiritual aloneness, you get to grapple with it now.
And… you get to further embrace your practice, since your practice is the one thing in this world that alleviates your isolation.
Because your practice, which leads to saturation and absorption in bliss, joy and ecstasy, is the one thing that authentically (i.e., beyond the shadow of a doubt, beyond some book’s conceptual description, beyond wishful thinking) connects you with That which knows no separation. Call it Holy Spirit, call it Fanaa, call it Samadhi, call it Jhana, call it Kundalini, call it ECSTASY… call it whatever you want… and then let it consume you, as it will propel you along the narrow way to true Union, rendering your solitude obsolete.
So yes, I am alone in this thing… but I’m not the only one who has walked through the strait gate and is ambling along this narrow way.
It’s good to know we’re all heading to the same destination, and that the way has already been walked by some mighty pioneers who were good enough to leave behind a trail marker or two.