Saturday, November 15, 2014

Coming Down from the Roof, by Michelle

Michelle Bradley, USA/South Africa
I used to live in this cozy little apartment on a rooftop in Tien Mu (Taipei). I’d come back from teaching yoga, and, often exhausted by what I saw as an impure world, spend most of my free time living, what I perceived, to be a very healthy lifestyle. Everything I intentionally did had a ‘deep’ meaning behind it, and I considered myself to be very much on the spiritual path.
My first Christmas in Taipei, my friend Debbie invited me to join her and some others I’d recently met at meditation class for Christmas brunch. I declined, because I was going to stay at home for three days and run my own very peaceful retreat.  About two months after that, as you’d say in Chinese, my karmic connection with my teacher Shang Rinpoche ripened, and my whole life changed. Another way of putting it is that my whole life seemingly came undone. Following Rinpoche’s advice left me feeling how the earth must feel after an earthquake. I remember once saying, “I feel like I’m dying and I don’t know what to do to get better.” Rinpoche said so gently and genuinely, “That depends on how quickly you can learn to change.”
Change is an interesting human experience. Most people are in a constant state of yearning for the things that change can bring (e.g. peace of mind, a healthier body, better relationships) but fewer are willing to face themselves and make the changes that they need to in order to overcome their specific combination of suffering (e.g. unfulfilled relationships due to stubbornness and a bad temper, poor digestion due to an inability to relax, etc.).
Rinpoche saw crystal clear from day one what I needed to adjust and internally let go of in order to really make spiritual progress.  The journey of studying with him has clarified my path in ways otherwise unimaginable. I used to feel like I was a victim of my own mind and life circumstances. I realize now that the unintentional anger, selfishness, jealousy and arrogance pervasive in my life before would never had the chance to come to light and start to transform had I, oh so healthily, just stayed up on that rooftop in Tien Mu. Or, for that matter, been in India with hundreds of other spiritual seekers on the banks of the Ganges making a fire offering, in the pristine Himalaya meditating at summertime dharma gatherings, or in downtown Manhattan attending daily meditation and yoga classes.

Almost seven years on, the hidden mental habits that controlled my life are now mental habits that I observe in my life. I’ve learnt that being on the spiritual path doesn’t mean denying or avoiding the dark side in you or in your surroundings. Anything that is there is fodder for the path, and practice means looking at whatever arises clearly. I hope that anyone in this modern busy world who is interested in genuine spiritual enquiry and truly helping others has access to teachings as pure, wise and effective as my teacher’s are.

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