My Recent Struggles
Given my position as writer of a blog discussing my journey into yoga, meditation and spirituality, you may be inclined to believe that I have something figured out. The truth is that I don’t. My journey has led me to cast away some old beliefs while accepting and integrating new ones into my life, but it’s a constant process that I can only describe as a struggle.
This past weekend I met a man at a festival who was completely devoted to his spiritual guru. He described the teacher as love personified and named him as one of five teachers on planet earth who could lead you closer to god. He had a shrine devoted to his guru, shared rice with me that was blessed by his guru, and told me some of the more profound things that his guru had shared with him. And then we chanted the sound of ‘Om’ together. So that last part was really nice, but I’m not sure about the rest of it.
I often think about how nice it would be to blessed with faith or devotion. Nobody has any proof of anything on the spiritual side of things, but we still meet people along our path that know without a shred of doubt that what they believe is true. The man I met had a beautiful energy about him and he seemed to be genuinely happy. And I think that’s what a lot of us are looking for on our spiritual journey. When things get difficult on our search for truth, we can easily turn towards a belief that makes us feel good inside rather than continuing the quest to understand who and what we are. Part of me hopes that one day I’ll meet a guru who looks me in the eyes and in that moment I cast off all of my current beliefs and follow him/her towards my own spiritual happiness. But the other part of me knows that it will never happen. I’ve always been a truth seeker. Not a comfort seeker.
The challenge with seeking truth is that truth doesn’t always make you feel good.
Sometimes it makes you feel really really bad. But given the way that I’ve seen the world work, that seems more true than being blissed out and floating on a cloud all the time. The sweet is only sweet in relation to the sour.
And so far this year has been a bit on the sour side for me. I don’t want to go on a narcissistic rant about all the things going wrong in my life at the present moment, but I do want to share some of my struggles with you. And I don’t seek empathy or compassion, although it is greatly appreciated. I only want to let you know that your spiritual journey doesn’t lead you to a secluded meadow of wildflowers where the birds sing and the sun shines. It often leads you through dark tunnels and up terrifying peaks. But I tend to think that these are both parts of the journey.
Earlier this year I ended a relationship with the first partner that I ever thought I could spend my life with. We connected on deeper levels than I think I had ever done so before and we shared some experiences that were previously unknown to me. When times were good they were amazing. But when times were bad they were downright awful.
So at the beginning of February I did one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and I walked out. I left the apartment that we had moved into, and basically cut ties with this person who had my heart in their hands but at times was poisoning my soul. They tend not to tell you that it’s just as difficult to break up with someone as it is to be broken up with.
During the first two weeks of the split, I didn’t go to yoga once, and I had to force myself to sit on the meditation cushion every day. Just fifteen minutes of sitting still in the morning was way too much for me and I often ended my sits much earlier than I had planned to. The first time I made it back to a yoga class, I gave up and laid down just as the physical aspect of class started to pick up. I had no energy for it.
I didn’t feel like working on myself because I didn’t love myself.
I was the asshole that had left my partner to fend for herself. I didn’t deserve the yoga high everyone always talks about and I certainly didn’t deserve the enlightenment that I sought on my cushion every morning.
I then sought out a Kambo ceremony. For those of you unfamiliar, Kambo is a medicine that comes from tree frogs in the Amazon. A shaman will use incense to burn small holes onto your skin and then cover the holes with the poison from one of these frogs. You will then purge quite aggressively. Now, I had done a Kambo ceremony before with this practitioner when I had first decided to leave my job and work for myself, and it had been an excellent experience as far as an intense purging can go. But this time was a bit different. The first time I was so ready to let go of my past life that as the medicine started to work, I gave up everything and let the medicine course through my veins. By the end of the ceremony I was floating. This time, when the medicine began to work, I had my ‘oh shit’ moment and I hung on for dear life. I wasn’t ready to let go. I fought the medicine the whole way through and was left feeling no better than when I had started.
Next, I tried a three-day meditation retreat. My favorite zen author is a man by the name of Brad Warner. He’s an old school punk rocker and comic book guy who looks nothing like what you’d expect a zen monk to look like. I think his complete lack of marketing to that community is what leads me to trust him. He holds a retreat at the Mount Baldy Zen Center in which you arrive on a Friday, leave on a Sunday, and fill the time between with silence, Zazen (his sect’s particular practice of meditation), and meals.
I went in with the intention of releasing my grasp on the past. The problem is that this type of meditation has no goal or intention setting. It’s simply sitting and becoming ok with anything and everything that happens around you. Your knees hurt? Keep sitting. Your nose itches? Keep sitting. You’re feeling crushed by the guilt of self-sabotaging your relationship and the existential dread of never finding a partner that you could connect with as deeply as her? You guessed it. Keep sitting.
Zazen sessions last about 75 minutes, and during our fifth or sixth session on Saturday my inner monologue was out for blood.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something so incredibly intense and incredibly boring at the same time.
It was the same cushion I had been sitting on all day, between the same two people I had shared the space with all day, staring at the same damn wall I had been staring at all day.
And yet it was completely different. My breath was not calm. My thoughts were not clouds passing by in the sky. My gaze was not soft yet focused. In this moment the angel on my right shoulder had been replaced with another devil who simply agreed with the one on my left about the worthless piece of shit that I was. And since there is nothing else to do but stare at that same blank wall, the voices just get louder and more aggressive and tear down every part of you piece by piece by piece.
When the bell rang signaling the end of our session, I hurried through the ceremonial bowing and shuffling out of the zendo into the cold mountain air. I stared out at the looming shadow of Mount Baldy and in the first bit of silence that I had felt over the past 75 minutes thought that this was my Buddhism. A silent mountain beneath a sea of stars.
The next day when we finally broke our silence and Brad asked me about my experience on my first meditation retreat, I shared that I had come here to feel better. I had come to get over something that was causing me pain every single day. And I told him that I didn’t actually feel any better, but I felt that that was alright. Brad’s not the type of teacher to cheer you into thinking that you’ve made some amazing revelation, but he did nod in agreement. So there’s that.
It’s almost August now and, to be honest, in a lot of ways I’m still pretty shook.
Sometimes I can’t tell if the choices I’m making in my life are choices that are in alignment with who I am and who I want to be, or choices that are in line with who I should’ve or could’ve been for her. And this question comes up in my meditations more often than I’d like to admit. But I just sit with it. The answers are always evolving, and who I am today is not who I was six months ago.
So we don’t really have to dedicate ourselves to gurus or beliefs. We could if we wanted to, and it would probably be pretty comfortable following directions and passing off the responsibility of our spirituality to someone we think knows better.
But as I said, I’m not in the business of comfort. I’m in the business of truth. Even when it’s ugly and even when it hurts. Because if I continue to sit with myself every day, there’s no guru in this world or the next that will know me better than I could.
That’s just something I’ve been sitting with…
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Kevin Davi considers himself a jack of all trades. His journey as a healer began when he became a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Yet, the cannon of western medicine wasn’t enough. He had to look deeper. An avid yogi with a daily meditation practice for 10 years running, he continues to explore bridging the gap between mind & body, in hopes we can all learn to intuitively treat ourselves with the love and care we deserve. / Visit Kevin online and on Instagram.