Thursday, October 17, 2013

Obstacles to choosing a path of spiritual practice

I have been hiking in the Palm Springs, Desert Cities area, and while walking on many different kinds of paths, I have been thinking how a hiking trail is a metaphor for obstacles to choosing a path of spiritual practice.  The first thing I noticed is that three mental states get in the way of being present to the path I am walking on.  The first obstacle on the path is assumption. The assumption that what I see is where I will be going.  Often the path never leaves the forest, even though the mountain beckons.

When I focus too much on the distant view, I do not see what is beautiful and special right in front of me.  This walk along the Ernie Maxwell trail outside the mountain village of Idyllwild  never rose to lofty heights, but always gave an easy slope and shade from the high mountain sun. 

The second obstacle I experienced was complacency.  This hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Bernadino Mountains seemed an easy stroll, with nothing much to be concerned about.  But then the trail abruptly took a turn and presented a new view.

Sometimes our spiritual practice can lead us right to the edge of a dramatic new experience or sense of self, and if we are not paying attention, we miss where to step next.

The third obstacle I discovered to choosing a path of spiritual practice is what I call false courage.
Highway 74 is a winding switchback road into the Santa Rosa Mountains with many spectacular curves and overlooks.  And yet if one speeds through this terrain as a spectator, the real courage it takes to put one foot in front of another becomes instead just exercising the car.

These switchbacks on the Pacific Crest trail, as it drops down into the Whitewater Canyon Preserve is a wonderful confirmation of all these obstacles to a spiritual practice overcome.  The journey is in each moment,  each step requires our full attention,  the courage is in doing the work ourselves.

 As I was experiencing these hikes as metaphors for obstacles in choosing a path of spiritual practice, I kept thinking of a quote in Philip Ferranti's excellent hiking guide for the Palm  Springs area that he titled The Prayer of the Tired Walker:  "If you pick 'em up, O Lord, I'll put 'em down."
May you have a happy path,  from the Journey Oracle.