Our spiritual journey is based on knowledge, experience and intention. Intention is a critical component of the path, and it often changes based on our own wisdom and understanding. We progress along our path as we gain knowledge and experience, and the wisdom of that experience informs and evolves our intention. This interplay between knowledge, experience, and intention forms a virtuous cycle of development and spiritual evolution.
In search of better
The beginning of the spiritual path starts with the seeker in search of a better life. The seeker is looking for something authentic and true. They are looking to escape their situation, to discover freedom and tap into opportunity, they yearn for purpose and meaning in their life.
The fundamental feeling of the seeker is dissatisfaction. There is something that isn't quite right. Outwardly, conditions might appear to be just fine, good even. But inwardly, there is a sense of discontentment, that things could be better, or that life isn't what it could be, or should be.
For the seeker, the current circumstances and the reality of their present situation set them out on a path to a better life, a better situation. They seek out teachers, teachings, books, all in a search for a path to fulfillment. The seeker always looks outwards, searching for something to latch onto and identify with, something that promises to fulfill that which is missing.
Every seeker comes to an important crossroads in their journey: do they continue looking outwards in search of solutions to their problems and challenges, or do they recognize the significance of their own mind, emotions, hopes and fears, and turn within.
The allure of the outward facing journey is enticing. There are so many options to explore, so many things that might actually work. The curious seeker loves to dabble in all of the different philosophical traditions, taste the fruit of a thousand merchants, but at the end of the day they often find themselves hungry. The better life they are looking for is always just around the corner, just over the next hill; always just out of reach, just beyond themselves.
Getting tired of this constant striving and recognizing the significance of their own mind and mental states, the seeker turns within and begins an inward journey, exploring the inner landscape of their own heart and mind. They start to commit to the inner work of examining their own reactivity, learning to let go of attachment, aversion and ignorance.
By engaging in the inward facing journey, the seeker starts to encounter their own peace, happiness and contentment within. They begin to discover the natural freedom and ease of their true nature. Their goal, which was a better life, is no longer seen as being outside themselves in a different space or time, but rather is something which they have begun to discover and explore as their own natural condition.
The spiritual path of the seeker leads to the discovery of our true nature. This might be a natural stopping point for many on the path, or it could be a tipping point in which the wisdom of our experience reveals a greater intention.
Learning to inhabit freedom
The seeker that we have come to know begins to be left behind as they learn to inhabit and occupy the freedom of their natural condition. The goal of the seeker was largely freedom from the dissatisfaction and discontentment of their every day life. Having gained knowledge and experience along their journey, they now have confidence that freedom is not found in outer circumstances, but rather is discovered and recognized within the context of their true nature. As they learn to inhabit and occupy that freedom, the questions begins to shift: now that we have freedom, what is freedom for? Amidst a field of seemingly infinite possibility and choice, we have the freedom to do whatever we want to do. So what will we do?
Learning to occupy our freedom is no longer the path of the seeker. It is the artist's way. It is the path of becoming in which the possibility of being is often at odds with the way things are. There is a gap that must be filled, a gap between the potential that is recognized and our everyday lived experience.
The artist aims to understand the human condition and master the arts of generosity, kindness and compassion. They struggle to use their freedom and opportunity not only for their own benefit, but to be of service to others. They recognize that they have a gift to share with the world, and it is their work to share it.
And yet there is a gap. That gap is their own inner resistance, poverty mentality, and the fantasy of what perfect looks like.
The fruit of the seeker's journey are carried into the artists practice, which they continue to explore and deepen as they work with resistance. Central to the artist's practice is the inner work of freeing oneself from momentary emotional veils and the confusion of rigid thinking.
The artist doesn't look outside themselves like the seeker, they recognize that the limitations of their art, their work, are within themselves. They recognize the struggle and resistance as being something that they need to overcome on their path to occupy their freedom for the benefit of others, in order to share their work meaningfully for the benefit of others.
This struggle and resistance point out that for right now, at this time and place, the artist isn't quite ready. They may have flashes of insight, creativity, and inspiration in which they share generously, but they are often beset by challenges and obstacles on their path.
The artist has the strong aspiration to be of service, to help other beings or even the world. They are motivated by compassion and generosity, but they are often at odds against themselves.
Another challenge the artist faces in their practice is poverty mentality, the idea that they currently do not have the qualities or resources available to them to carry out their intention.
The seeker's path opens a doorway to recognize our inner wealth and the abundance of our true nature. The seeker can recognize those qualities within their own practice, but often those qualities are not fully evident in our daily lives. When the going gets tough, as it often does, the artist may find themselves holding back, hesitating, waiting for a better time to act. They have the aspiration to be present, kind and contribute meaningfully to the world around them, but right now, they are at a loss and feel they have nothing meaningful to share.
Poverty mentality is based on misperceiving the significance of our presence, time and attention in the world. We may not always have the right answers, good ideas, or even anything meaningful to share, but we can be present, pay attention, listen, look people in the eye, and give others the dignity of being seen and heard.
Notice when you are hesitating on the sidelines. Pay attention to when you have an idea or something to say, but then hold back and stay silent. Recognize the significance of your contribution.
Fantasy of Perfect
The last obstacle on the artists path, and maybe the hardest to overcome, is the struggle with perfect. The artist pictures an ideal form of expression, what they imagine their life will look like after they have embraced this path. In many ways, the artist can fall back to a seeker, always in search of better instead of working with what is.
The fantasy of perfection is bound by attachment to the result, rather than attention to the process. This attachment to the potential possibility of the way things could be ends up degrading our actual accomplishments and wisdom. Rather than expressing gratitude and appreciation for their progress on the path, they get caught up in rigid thinking and critical either-or perspectives.
This rigid thinking is based on projections of the ego. The ego wants to be expressed and recognized, it seeks out confirmation, affirmation, and the certainty of a label. The ego wants the security of knowing it controls its state, rather than being perpetually vulnerable in the openness and flexibility of our true nature, which is always unfolding.
The developmental path of artist is to move from one of cultivation to one of readiness. At first they are not ready– they need to prepare, gather their materials and resources for the journey ahead. They have a glimpse of their true nature and the wealth of their innate potential, but it is not fully evident in their lived experience. There is uncertainty and doubt about how to actually be in the world. There are still too many layers of habitual tendencies, cognitive and emotional veils that are obscuring that true nature from seeing the light of day.
In many ways, the spiritual path of the artist's way is always evolving and changing. The artist's way is to embrace their true nature and to generously share compassion, kindness and insight. They have gained deep familiarity with how to occupy their freedom, and the significance of the opportunity it presents. They have a strong intention to be of service to others, and recognize that the inner work of freeing themselves from negative emotions and bondage, affords them the freedom to work not only for their own benefit, but the benefit of all beings.
As the knowledge and experience of the artist grows and develops, there comes a point at which their intention reaches another tipping point. They experience a subtle shift in which the resultant state is no longer in the future, but discover it as the ever-unfolding present, waking up in this life just as it is.
Waking up in this life, as it is
The focus of the artist's path is learning how to occupy freedom. Initially, they find themselves struggling with resistance, poverty mentality, and the ideal picture in their heads about what could be. As they learn to embrace the way things are, they find resolution and wake up to readiness and preparedness of meeting the world as it is. The path of resolution opens up to the path of the Buddha, or the teacher.
The path of the teacher is not the Buddha as a transcendent lord amongst men, but one of a householder being at home in the world and working with things as they are. The teacher sees what is possible and the opportunity available in this life. They recognize the space within time in which that potentiality may unfold, and are patient enough to simply plant seeds and nurture the ground.
The path of the teacher is one of abundance, readiness and preparedness. They already have all the resources they need. They are ready to face adversity, pain, suffering, and even death. They recognize the opportunities for understanding, growth, and development across a diaspora of situations.
The knowledge, experience and intention of the teacher is that all conditions are suitable for awakening. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "The path around our home is also the ground of awakening."
The secret of the Buddha's is that everything that they need is present, here and now. There is no doubt, no uncertainty; only confidence in freedom and the opportunity it presents in this life to be of service.