Please give me my enlightenment in an easy to check off 10 steps. You’ve seen ‘em, right?
10 Quick Ways To Enlightenment
7 Easy Steps To Bliss
8 Keys To Ultimate Contentment
And so on. We’re talking about the step-by-step plan, bullet-pointed instructions for living. It’s as easy as ___. Is it? What’s wrong with me? How come it feels more complex than that on my practice path?
Look around in your yoga magazine, facebook stream, and the top-selling books in the spirituality section: “10/7/5 step” programs abound. Steps and stages are all the rage for those seeking inner bliss and enlightenment, all while remaining sexy and hip.
Does this mean we all want the path pre-packaged and sorted out for us? Sure, who wouldn’t want that? Don’t make me grope around in the dark and find wobbly step after wobbly step that leads to who knows where, because that might be too much like living. Uncertainty is the great magic of this life, yet we run from it. We find, even in our spiritual practices, ways to hand it over to someone else to do the work, figure it out, and then give us the Cliff Notes version of how it’s supposed to go. Place it in an easy to read graphic. Give me a system to ease my suffering.
Along this journey, I have found practice to be anything but an easy 10-step program. It’s a non-linear evolution that encompasses my life circumstances, the bumps, the warts, the pure streams of light, the moments of sheer forgetfulness. All of it. The swerves, swoops, lifts, and tumbles have kept this practice alive, dynamic, and constantly in motion.
Oh, but wait, I practice and teach within the 8 limbs. Voila, there it is again; follow these ancient yogic steps and you will be enlightened. So, you got me. Look, we’ve been doing it throughout time and within this great practice, systems, steps, and stages appeal to our mind’s desire to systematize, order, and progress. They’re especially handy for those of us in the weird position of trying to teach spirituality. In the great messiness of living, everyone likes a list to return to, to remember how to do it.
If any of these lists can lead us back to the acknowledgement of the pure potency of one breath, well then, I’m all in. But most of them seem instead to incite a feeling that waking up is a 1, 2, 3, easy to DO journey. In my experience, we’re working on undoing, and it can be messy, grimy, and really unsexy to show up day after day for the wholeness of this life. And it can be beautiful and wonderful and periodically amazing, too. It can be—and it is—all of these things. What if we put the list down for a moment and get really quiet? Can we hear the innate wisdom that we can tune into and follow on this dharma path?
So here’s a step I recommend without reservation: put the list down, sit still for a moment, and listen to the space between the breaths. Step 1. Inhale. Step 2. Exhale. Repeat.