“The attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain.” ― Gabor Maté
A long time ago a wise man told a story to illustrate a point (as all stories do). Like many, if not all, of his stories, they were not really understood in his life time and, for the most part, are not understood even today.
I am bold enough to say, though, that I think we have gotten to a level of spiritual maturity that we can get the drift and that I even say that I do get it. I think the lesson contained in it is, not only insightful, but highly practical and contributes to the kind of self-understanding that leads to self-forgiveness. Which is not a bad payoff.
There was once was a prosperous man who owned a large wheat field. The crop was coming in nicely that year but, in the middle of the night, his enemies snuck into the field and planted the seeds of tares. Cue the villain music.
The deed was discovered by his workers who asked the boss if they should pull them all up.
Now tares are a rather noxious and persistent weed that have evolved an interesting, cloaking ability. While growing they are virtually indistinguishable from wheat. But, as they mature, the wheat turns that golden brown while the tares turn an ugly, spindly kind of brown.
Wisely, the prosperous man said, "Nay verily! Let them grow together until the harvest and then we will gather the wheat into the barns and the tares will be burned."
A more recent and simpler rendering of the point is the adage, "Throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
All of us start out as this pure, pristine field of golden potential. Gradually, over time, In all of us are planted the seeds of pain; self-doubt, disillusionment, limitations, prejudices, fears, worries, shame and guilt. These don't belong in us. They are not natural to us. But just like the tares that stole into the pure field unbeknownst to the owner, so did all sorts of self-limiting and painful assumptions, behaviors and conditioning get planted in consciousness without our knowledge or consent.
But one day, if you are fortunate, the evil deed is discovered. But... now what?
In real life the this recognition doesn't happen so throughly. At first we don't suspect it has been planted in us. Nope, we first assume it is something inherent in us. We assume ourselves to be flawed or broken in some way and thus start out on the hopeful path of self-improvement. And Our modern spiritual marketplace is filled with all sorts of practices and processes and teachings that one can adopt. There is an endless, all you an eat smorgasbord of options to choose from. If one meal proves unsatisfying, try another... and another... and another...
Eventually we do tire or the self-help buffet and long for a real meal.
There was never anything wrong with the farmer or the field or the seed or the tending. Something foreign had been planted in it. Something artificial was growing there. It has never become the wheat. It was just rowing next to it and was indistinguishable from it.
This represents the growth into spiritual wisdom, the capacity to discern between the false and the true, between what you were taught was you and what is really you.
You see, mixed up in all of the various kinds of conditioned patterns and limiting thought patterns that were planted in you are genuine, beautiful, natural inclinations and aspirations. But, due to all of the programming and enculturation we can initially or automatically tell the difference between the natural impulse (the wheat) and the artificial programming (the tares) in our consciousness (the field.)
So we have to wait and prepare for the harvest. Yes, wait.
Siddhartha became so austere and extreme in his pursuit of truth that he almost killed himself. He stopped wearing clothes, bathing, sleeping with a cover, living inside and it is purported that he only ate one grain of rice a day. He was not only throwing out the baby with the bathwater, he was drinking the bathwater and chewing on the tares.
He realized his mistake and, shortly after, realized the Truth of Being. He became the Buddha, the Awakened One.
Every desire, aspiration, feeling of love and passion arises naturally, innocently and has the potential to reach full fruition. But the original innocence of those desires is often choked by beliefs, impositions and cultural limitations imposed through law and ignorant education.
So, at the beginning of our spiritual awakening, we most certainly will not be able to tell the difference between the wheat and the tares. We can't discern which is the baby and which is the bathwater. This is where spiritual practice comes in, not spiritual rules, theologies, commandments or dogmas, but practice.
And the best practice is your ordinary, everyday human life.
Every action we take, be it thought, feeling or behavior, has a consequence, a natural consequence. I emphasize "natural" because a consequence experienced that is man-made and the result of some kind of belief system is an artificial consequence.
Case in point: I believe that God doesn't like gay people and they need to be shown the error of their ways (for their own good, of course.). So, wonderful, unfeeling monster that I am, I am going to torment them. Then I tell them that they are being tormented because they are gay. Truth is, they are being tormented because I am tormenting them and, if I would just stop, they wouldn't be tormented anymore. This is an artificial consequence.
Ideologies like that are the most destructive creation of human beings. Even more than the obvious suffering they inflict on the innocent there is something much darker that they engender. In the believer of such such ideologies they cripple and oftentimes kill the one thing that could save them; empathy. Empathy is that amazing human capacity to actually feel what someone else is feeling to such a degree that you simply cannot cause them any harm and instead seek to alleviate their pain. This is called compassion and there are few human qualities higher.
Without empathy and compassion one will never know the effect of natural consequence and thus have the capacity to discern between what is truly valuable, noble and life giving and what is destructive and life taking. Or rather, without empathy, the only measurement of what is life giving is what benefits me. Kind of sounds like our world right now, doesn't it?
OK, so before this blog turns into a book, let's try to sum it up:
Life is messy
We are living with things we didn't create and are not natural to us
We have to learn to distinguish between wheat and tares; gather the wheat, burn the tares
And we need to cultivate wisdom and empathy to do that
This, in a nutshell, is the whole purpose of spiritual practice. But which spiritual practice?
I can't tell which is right for you but I can give you some guidelines. You can be confident that it is genuine if it:
Emphasizes compassion and empathy
Is corrective not punitive and never threatens punishment only points out natural consequence
Never demands obedience, promising neither reward or threat
Never demeans, degrades or judges you or anyone
Allows you the space to find out for yourself
Points the way and never claims absolute authority
Then you can be confident you have found a true practice and maybe a true teacher.
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