I have just finished reading “Old Path White Clouds” written beautifully by Thich Nhat Hanh, for the second time. I recommend this book highly to anyone who is seeking a conscious life. It is the tale of the life of the Buddha and the way in which he walked his Path. It allows the Buddha’s humanity to be revealed and does nothing to shy from the difficulties he faced. It shines a light on being human and does nothing to avoid the darkness, but rather to embrace it.
There are so many tales in the story reminding us that suffering is real. It exists in forms and fantasies and all places in between. The Buddha himself walked hand in hand with his suffering for many, many years until his enlightenment. But perhaps the most stunning part of the story is the commitment that Buddha made to the Path, no matter the obstacles that crossed it. He always walked on; over mountains, through rivers and into territories that meant to kill him. We need not be Buddhists to connect with the importance of this piece – we find it in stories across religious beliefs spanning land and time, from Jesus to Mohammed and beyond. The leaders we follow always continue on their Path, no matter the struggles they face.
In a session with a client recently we came to the conversation of her Path. She is seeking – looking high and low, near and far, for the Path that is marked for her. She does the work. She commits herself. It is an honorable way to live, but still she finds herself struggling to feel as if she is on the “right” Path and among the community for which she belongs. As we spoke about her efforts I heard her emphasis on responsibility and expectation above all else. And as we entered the silent and supportive space of energy medicine, messages began to seep through. Most prominent was the question: Is it the high expectations she has of herself that stand as obstacles in her Path?
As we discussed the possibility that she relieve herself of the expectations and instead focus her attention on having faith that her Path will be illuminated, tears welled up in her eyes. She is undoubtedly on her path, where else could she be? And so there is nothing to be expected of her except to follow the signs, just as the Buddha did. And in this simple but profound realization, the energy began to shift. Even in the very recognition that she can rest in the truth that she is supported, her posture changed and space was created where the obstacles once were. It was as beautiful as anything I’ve seen.
This is not to say that we are excused from the work. We most certainly are not. Choosing our Path each and every day, even if today the Path is under the covers with pint of ice cream, takes commitment. And if that happens to be your path today, the work is in forgiving and allowing yourself the space to be in bed with Ben & Jerry. The key is allowing for space. Even when we are purposefully on our path, we must allow room for Source to do its work alongside us.
There are so many conversations to be had about the ways in which we walk our Path – including a range of topics - intuition, transition, trauma, circumstance, culture and on and on. But unquestionably, in order to have the conversation, we must be willing to admit that we are part of something larger. Our individual experiences create a journey that is unique; still we are connected through so many channels, making our journey part of a larger web of human experience. In Old Path, the Buddha often speaks the dharma of dependent co-arising - this is because that is; this is not because that is not. Essentially, the meaning is that all things are connected - my Path to yours, and your Path to mine. In this way, and in the spirit of the Buddha, we must support one another in choosing our Path again and again, no matter the obstacles we might face. And that might mean part of your work on the Path is to let go of codependency among other things.
Whether you have been following a devoted path for years or have only just begun to consider choosing a conscious path, the value of your journey is no different. If you are drawn to the work of living a more conscious life, no matter your capacity to engage, you are on the Path. You can be nowhere else. Honor yourself for that.
Still, here are questions you can ask yourself to understand where you are and what the purpose of your Path might be:
What level of sacrifice are you able to make for your good and for the good of others? And please consider that sacrifice is about giving something up, and that might just be your own expectations or the limitations you place on yourself and others.
Are you connected to your intuition? Do you know when something feels right and when something feels wrong? But most importantly, do you listen to those feelings and move forward with decisions accordingly.
Is there room in your life for expansion? Are you overly busy? Do you need space? Is your mind spinning on a regular basis? Do you have the tools to come to center and find calm so that you can see your Path clearly?
Are you focused on the opportunities or the obstacles? Listen to your inner dialogue and be honest with yourself about the focus – but please, try not to judge. Are you talking to yourself and others about all the reasons you cannot? Or are you engaging with all the possibilities available no matter the outcome? Can you gently expand your vision and open your awareness?
What is important to you? What are your priorities? Why?
In the end of Old Path the Buddha passes into Nirvana in a forest near a small, poor village of mud huts. His attendants beg him to wait for his passing until they can get him to a more suitable place for The Awakened One to move on from this world. But the Buddha is content to pass between two old trees knowing that he has walked his path honorably, through the whole of his experience, and ended in this place. And so it is perfect.
For me, this highlights the most important questions of all. When we have reached the end of our Path in this place, what will matter most? And how, despite all the troubles, have we honored that so that passing on is perfect?
Om mani padme hum.