Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on December 24, 2014

Perhaps I am just beating around the bush, but hopefully this will be my last blog on this not-so-subtle point of going all-in with life. The subtle part of it is to register and acknowledge that we each have to do it and that "going all in" means just that, not a half-hearted try, but all the way. There is a point where shyness or false humility is not helpful.

I have told the story many times of when the great siddha Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was teaching me how to do basic mediation and he told me to breathe out. I was probably so nervous that I made some weak effort to forcefully exhale, to which he responded, "No Michael, let the breath go all the way out. Don't worry! It will come back." It was something like that. In other words, we have to try with all our heart, not just offer a token gesture. As obvious as this is, it took me a long while to understand this point. I thought that perhaps I could try but also watch myself try. That's not how it works.

We can't just make a feeble effort as if we were reading a list of instructions on how to live fully. Apparently there is no average or mean level of sincerity that's acceptable, but rather it requires all that we each are capable of, flat-out. This suggestion is easy to understand, but much harder to do for those of us who tend to be out-of-the-body types, as in: we would rather watch than be fully immersed. We feel self-conscious if we feel like an object that we can't monitor. And it's not just shyness, but also ingrained habit. We simply don't ask of ourselves all that we are capable of.

The image I often use to remind myself of this is that of a bobsled run at the Olympics. It is not enough just to push the sled with all our might; at some point we have to actually stop pushing, get in, and ride all the rest of the way down. We have to "be" in that number when the saints come marching in, not left behind because we didn't try hard enough.

It seems that much of the time I play both parts, that of being a subject and also being an object. That is what self-consciousness is all about, watching ourselves perform in the mirror of the Self. However, both dharma and real living require something more of us than that. At some point we have to stop watching, take the plunge, and just live. We have to trust that by not watching all the time, we will still know what is happening. And we can't take it on blind faith that if we go all-in that we will still be aware. We each must find this out for ourselves and, when we do, what a relief. It's like seeing in the dark.

And it is more than just an identity check, our taking the plunge into being without endlessly monitoring our own reflected image in the mirror of the self. It is conformational, even necessary, for us to finally know that we can live beyond the flickering self-reflected pale cast of our own thought. If this is on a need-to-know basis, then we really need to know once and for all.

All these words add up to say that if we intend to pursue life halfheartedly, even if only to provisionally check it out, then forget about it, because this will not work. Life (as well as dharma) is an all-or-nothing scenario. Going halfway is just that. It will never get us to where we need to be, which is all the way there.

I know... many of us are just not used to "living" except in controlled conditions, surrounded by tons of self-refection in our own little hall of mirrors. Plunging into life straight-out (without a doubt) is foreign to us, yet that is what is required here. The classic image of the old maid putting her toe in the swimming pool is appropriate. Here we are being asked to take the plunge and, at least momentarily, suspend our monitoring system in favor of a sincere effort of the heart.

"Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" was how the Christ intoned it, and I cannot but chime in. The simple truth is that our typically jaded (use your own words) view is just that, encrusted with obscurations that we can't see through. And that is just not enough. Somewhere, sometime we have to remove enough of our obscurations so that we can see clearly and pass through the "straight gate."

Sooner or later, some kind of purification has to happen, and this is what is meant by whole-hearted. And purification of the type suggested here is not the modern equivalent of a hair shirt. It is just the matter-of-fact psychological getting-in-shape that is needed in order to progress either in the dharma or in life. "Purification" is not a punishment for being obscured, but just the physical cleansing needed to remove the impurities so that our mental vision is clear.

All of these words are just to say that we cannot expect to see clearly through the fog that most of us are looking through. This is why much of what amounts to dharma practice is remedial, clearing away the fog, so that some kind of pure intent can be felt… by us. Imagine that.

So, perhaps we may have to learn to really try, to put our heart into it 100% and all of the time. We may have to choose between keeping our cynicism (or whatever filter we are using) and earnestly living with heart. As I mentioned earlier, if we want to be in that number when the saints come marching in, we are going to have to put aside whatever obscurations we have and devote ourselves to demonstrating with heart who we already are deep inside. We have to take off the mask of our catering to appearances" and just be counted.

I hope I am clear. Half-hearted attempts at sincerity are not sincerity. Trying a little bit won't do it. It is such a relief to finally put aside all that we have hung on to all these years for appearance-sake and get down on our knees (at least figuratively, but why not literally?) and give everything that we have whole-heartedly. This is only for the pure of heart.