Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on October 14, 2014

This blog is about those stones in our pathway that we call doubts. I have talked a lot about obscurations, mostly referring to self-imposed blinders that make it difficult to intuitively see, and these are, of course, obstacles to our spiritual development. But we also have plain-old "obstacles," external obstructions (events, conditions, or whatever) that appear in our life-path seemingly from the outside, and these can be harder to internalize, much less realize; they are something we can't do much about, except in our response to them.

Putting this a different way, every day is not sunny, and good times are not the only times we have. Stormy weather and hard times also present themselves, and they can tend to slow us down big-time. We seldom are ready for the bad times and, as often as not, don't even see them coming, much less welcome them. Yet suddenly here they are.

Moving forward in the good times is something that most of us can manage. Feeling that we are progressing in hard times is not so easy. Yet we live in a world of cycles, of ups and downs, such that whatever goes up (i.e. us) is certain to come back down sooner than later, and usually too soon for our comfort. Why we don't get used to our ups and downs, I don't know, because we are used to them factually, i.e. they happen all the time. After all, this is Samsara.

When I look back at the hard times I have had, especially the worst of times, many of them marked turning points where I usually learned a lot, and fast. Perhaps I had no choice. These are times when life shuffles our deck and deals us a new hand, like it or not. As the old song "Gambler" by Kenny Rogers puts it:

"We have to know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run."

And these kind of obstacles don't just appear as life-changing blockage, but can also occur in smaller and smaller versions (doubts and what-not), like the old adage:

"Great fleas have little fleas,
Upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
And so ad infinitum."

At the level of doubts we are talking about moments of hesitation, pauses that as Shakespeare's Hamlet Said:

"And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

"On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever," of course, but what about those cloudy days when we have a swarm of doubts swirling about our heads? Sure, we can monitor and own our reactions, but where do all those other thoughts come from, not that it matters? There they are nevertheless. We have them to deal with.

Must I follow out each doubt and uncertainty that comes to me into a full train of thought to the point of having to sit down and think on it, and then struggle to let it go and not take it to heart? Does my wish to be honest with myself extend to entertaining every doubt the universe suggests until the last dog dies? Am I that liberal? And when does our distracting train of doubting thoughts become the only train we're on?

All this doubting takes up precious time. On the purely mundane level I have learned to just drop doubts (and thoughts like that) in favor of doing the best I can with my life. I do my best to just move on. Endless doubts distract me and then doubts about the doubts send me into a recursive thought-spiral from which there is no escape except perhaps taking an Ibuprofen and lying down until it passes.

A more effective mind-training approach is to not so lavishly entertain such doubts, but to immediately look directly at their nature, in which case they vanish. However, that takes some real practice and mind training. Most folks can't do that yet. However, we can do our best to just drop the doubt-thoughts once we become aware of them.

Taking doubts to heart is not in-essence different from reading the newspaper headlines each day. There are some good things reported that can be uplifting, but for the most part the news is about the bad stuff that happens. Must I dwell on that to the point that it weakens whatever good things I am doing? Do we owe the bad stuff our entire lives or can we just get the general gist and leave off with dwelling on it? And can we do this with doubt?

Right or wrong, I am doing my best to tread a path. To constantly entertain each doubt to the point of distraction, especially on a dark day, is to give up the path. It is counterproductive. It eats up whatever forward motion we have going for us, slows us down to a standstill, and eventually walks us back toward where we started from. This is a real problem for many of us: how much credit to give criticism that arises from outside (or even from within ourselves)?

As mentioned, like all of us I can be distracted by doubt. Then I am distracted further by doubting the doubt and suddenly I am in an endless recursion, a hall of mirrors – much ado about nothing. I am reminded of when my dog brings home some dead rotting thing. My response to him is "Leave it!" I feel the same goes for most doubts. Just drop them.

Doubts can be difficult to parry, much less remove. They hang around for a long time and every time we peek, there they still are, just beyond the periphery. Beginning meditation is not impervious to doubt. Dropping doubts is like sticky tar. The more you try or struggle, the harder it sticks, but we can do our best; More than that we cannot do.

The Tibetans do teach another method to handle doubts, one based on Vipasanna Meditation, which is also called "Insight Meditation," but it takes training and in many cases a teacher who can point out to us how to do it. However, it has the virtue that it actually works. I call it the "thought zapper."

Insight Meditation zaps thoughts, with no sticky residue left behind either. One shot and they are gone. The best part is that we are not rolling the doubt around in our mind for hours, and therefore not recording all that doubting as karma. Insight Meditation is clean-burning and efficient. I very much recommend it, but it has the drawback that we have to learn how to do it.

If we couldn't read, it would be worth our while to take the time to learn reading. In my opinion, the same is true for meditation, both of the resting kind (Shamata) and the insight variety (Vipasanna). It might take you a year or too, but you would have it working for the rest of your life 24x7.

[Graphic created by me from a photo.]