Committing to a Spiritual Path

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Dear Still Water Friends,

What does it means to commit to a spiritual path?

For me, the term spiritual has implicit in it a deep aspiration or longing toward wholeness, ease, love, and understanding. It is expressed beautifully in D. H. Lawrence’s poem, Pax:

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of the master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

Our journey may begin with the recognition that we lack these qualities. We look inside and see suffering, alienation, despair, self-hate, and restlessness, and we have an inkling that things could be different. We may meet or learn about someone who possess the qualities we yearn for. We may have the good fortune to find a spiritual friend or teacher. Perhaps we are inspired by the natural world. Our sense of life’s possibilities is opened by an experience on a mountain or by an encounter with a caterpillar.

A spiritual path is an orientation and a set of guidelines for getting from here to there, from suffering to liberation.

In the lineage of mindfulness, we have the 8-fold path offered by the Buddha. Traditionally, it begins with the stimulation of morality, how we relate to others:

  • Right speech
  • Right action
  • Right livelihood

Then it focuses on how we utilize our minds:

  • right effort
  • right mindfulness
  • right concentration

And then turns to the cultivation of wisdom:

  • Right insight/understanding
  • Right thoughts

Commitment is about choices. First, the choice to acknowledge our longing for a spiritual life. Then, choosing one path from among the many that are open to us. And then, the choice to live it: each day taking steps along our path.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will share our understandings of and experiences with committing to a spiritual path.

You are invited to join us.

Readings on the spiritual journey by Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, and Sharon Salzberg are below.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


From The Heart Of The Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy, And Liberation by Thich Nhat Hanh:

A practice that does not concern our real suffering is not a path we need. Many people are awakened during a difficult period in their lives, when they see that living irresponsibly has been the cause of their suffering, and that by transforming their lifestyle they can bring an end to their suffering. Transformation is gradual, but once we see clearly the causes of our suffering, we can make the effort to change our behavior and bring our suffering to an end.

From Comfortable With Uncertainty: 108 Teaching by Pema Chödrön

You can hear the dharma from many different places, but you are uncommitted until you encounter a particular way that rings true in your heart and you decide to follow it. In order to go deeper, there has to be a wholehearted commitment. You begin the warrior’s journey when you choose one path and stick to it. Then you let it put you through your changes. Without a commitment, the minute you really begin to hurt, you’ll just leave or you’ll look for something else.

The question always remains: To what are we really committed? Is it to playing it safe and manipulating our life and the rest of the world so that it will give us security and confirmation? Or is our commitment to exploring deeper and deeper levels of letting go? Do we take refuge in small, self-satisfied actions, speech, and mind? Or do we take refuge in warriorship, in taking a leap, in going beyond our usual safety zones?

By Sharon Salzberg from Everyday Mind edited by Jean Smith

It is a great turning point in our spiritual lives when we go from an intellectual appreciation of a path to the heartfelt confidence that says, “Yes, it is possible to awaken. I can, too.” A tremendous joy accompanies this confidence. When we place our hearts upon the practice, the teachings come alive. That turning point, which transforms an abstract concept of a spiritual path into our own personal path, is faith.