This is the fourth time I have had the opportunity to guest blog. In reflecting on the last three, I realized that I got something out of the exercise that transcended just “sharing” my own experience. Writing these blogs has forced me to practice at a deeper level. In the process of articulating my internal practice for others, I have had to test my own understanding of it. I am now convinced that moving beyond a passive familiarity with both the theory and the practice of “walking home” requires this form of reflection.
At school, I could read a poem a few times and memorize it. But that poem might as well have been in a language I did not speak; knowing the words did not correspond to knowing their meaning. Even when I obtained a superficial sense of what the poem was about, it remained a mere collection of words. Only when I took the time to engage the poem fully, breaking it down line by line, word by word, testing myself to ensure that there was no portion of the poem I did not grasp, did I begin the process of really understanding and owning that poem for myself. To this day, I can recite key portions of poems on which I performed such a close reading nearly two decades ago. Those poems started as Shakespeare’s or Shelley’s, but I felt connected to them once I engaged them.
This affinity for textual engagement has served me well as a lawyer. The practice of law requires intensely focused interpretation of words and actions alike. While a legal code with its seemingly infinite provisions appears daunting at first, it becomes increasingly manageable and ultimately comfortable after repeatedly wrestling with those provisions. Just reading it cover to cover, even a hundred times, would likely yield less value than working to understand the ins and outs of a few key provisions and how they apply in different circumstances. For example, I can explain, referencing article numbers, exactly how the statute for the Iraqi High Tribunal was supposed to function on paper and what went wrong in practice, even though it is at least seven years since I last looked at that statute. That statute, like the poems, took on new life for me as I deepened my relationship to it by wrestling with the text.
It’s easy to obtain a passive understanding of spiritual practice. It doesn’t take a huge effort to know some of the fundamentals. In a matter of days, one could memorize various tenets of major mystical traditions and even be able to retell some of the famous teaching stories. But none of that corresponds to experience. Just as it is easy to memorize a few words in a foreign language but have no idea how to put them together into a comprehensible sentence, knowing principles or stories does not translate into knowing how to live them.
In the process of guest blogging, I have learned a lot. Most importantly, I have learned what I did not understand. As I began to write about something I thought I knew well, I realized that I had a partial understanding of the subject, though I arrogantly had thought I was more advanced. In writing about “nirbija sadhana,” for example, I thought I could easily explain how it was that I perceived an analytical parallel between seedless samadhi and the need for seedless sadhana. But when I started to write about it, I discovered I was missing some of the pieces to be able to articulate what I meant. Indeed, I was missing some of the foundation. I had read the relevant texts dozens of times, and while I could certainly reference them, I had not sufficiently engaged with them to make them mine.
It strikes me that it’s possible to sit in Rohini’s classes, year after year, and develop a fairly sound passive familiarity with various texts, principles, concepts, and tools. But without rigorous engagement with the material, there is a great danger that the words of those texts, principles, concepts and tools remain just words. Guest blogging has certainly helped me to move from knowledge to understanding on a few different issues, but I have also begun to pursue such a transformation more privately, writing in a journal every day. So the point is not to guest blog, but to recognize that to really grog the practice and take ownership of it, we all have to engage with it as dedicated, disciplined learners.
Share this Post