Many times I’ve ran into the question of what exactly is a spiritual process, and how is it different from other conscious raising processes. From my own experience I can say that one very significant ingredient in the spiritual process is that it is a process that brings deconstruction, not construction. We shed conditionings, belief systems, opinions, views and perceptions. Differently from the psychological process, the spiritual process deconstructs our identities, deconstructs what we know about ourselves and who we think we are, and it challenges us to live with this emptiness, with this unknown, without trying to build new identities and new constructions of self. The spiritual process attempts not to build a better, more solid, more coherent self, but to help us release our grip on the self, on the ego. My teacher Yogi Amrit Desai (fondly called Gurudev) used to say, “You need a healthy ego in order to let it go, but eventually – all will have to go, even the spiritual identity”.
In one of her Dharma talks, the Vipassana teacher Shaila Catherine talks about a sutra where the Buddha speaks about releasing our entanglements with views, and then not picking up another view. She says that’s where the mind is free. It’s not a matter of getting a better view, or a better opinion or right answer. “It’s abiding at ease, without grasping the next view”.
In meditation retreats we intentionally cut ourselves off from all our familiar distractions – television, newspapers, family, friends, etc – and we turn our antennae inward that are usually directed outward. The deep silence that a meditation retreat provides enables us to encounter, perhaps for the first time, ourselves, with no distractions, no excuses, no masks. If we muster the courage and allow this – then a meeting occurs, a meeting with something deep inside that is truly the closest thing to us, the most authentic, most precious, a meeting with a voice that is very faint yet is always present, but usually there is not enough silence around us and inside us to hear.
We often hear we should be wary, suspicious about the desire to be liberated because it comes from the ego; the ego wants to wear it like a medal. Generally I don’t like the word “ego”, as it is usually used in a derogatory, demeaning connotation, as if there’s something wrong or unspiritual with the ego. I see ego as the arising of sense of self. As such, the ego is not an obstacle to liberation, especially if we don’t identify with it, if we see through it, and see its rising and falling like anything else, the way it is described in the Maha Satipatana Suttra. Let’s not care so much about the ego when we feel the longing to be awake. Much like a rocket, when sent to the moon, is not concerned with who sent it – the Americans or the Russians; the rocket is only thinking, “Wow! I’m going to see the moon!” In a similar way, when we feel a deep longing to be free, let’s not concern ourselves with where this wish is coming from; the only thing that matters is wanting to be awake.