Spiritual practice needn’t be a joyless tedium or a painful ordeal. Rather, as Deepak Chopra puts it in Metahuman, “it’s the pitfalls that are painful.” While there are many pitfalls to be sure, authentic spiritual practice is designed to help us weather those pitfalls with more and more grace and humility. The pitfalls Deepak Chopra is talking about are our all-too-human traits of greed, jealousy, laziness, arrogance, hatred, etc. What we are aiming for is not to avoid or deny these very human qualities at all costs. No, we are in fact simply seeking to recognize them for what they are: attachment to fleeting perceptions of a transient world.
Undertaking a spiritual retreat can, at the outset, seem like a daunting and hyper-religious task. When I first started doing retreats, my friends would ask, “Do you stay awake all night? Are you allowed to eat? What do you DO all that time?” Of course the popular perception of retreat is a monk in his cell, subsisting on one grain of rice a day, and one sip of water, never laying down but rigidly sitting in za-zen for hours…days on end.
While that kind of austerity does have its place in history and tradition, that is not what we are up to here. The purpose of our retreat is to deepen the habitual, behavioral pathways that increase our patience, forgiveness, sense of connection, empathy, and ultimately our happiness. The depth of your undertaking usually coincides with the depth of your success: the longer you practice, and the more sincerity and clear intention you bring, the better the outcome.
The methods proposed in this format are non-denominational, or offered in a spirit of universality of purpose and love; and are designed to be easily integrated into a modern, non-monastic setting.
So…where is your joy?
May you approach this day with the question, “Where is my joy?” and may you ask this question again and again. When you wake up, where is your joy? When you are in traffic, what is your joy? At work? Cooking dinner? And falling asleep…where is your joy? Allow this to be an open-ended question. Invite the answer to arrive, rather than imposing logic or an impulsive answer. If open-ended questions make you uncomfortable, acknowledge and honor that discomfort, and just observe that sensation for a moment. If the answers don’t make sense, sit with the confusion, ask further questions.
When we bring a sense of openness, curiosity, and play to our spiritual practice, joy will spontaneously arise. May this joy carry through your retreat, and spread to everyone you meet.