Practice Over Parables

Jason Garner

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Image of the WeekA Zen teacher once told me something interesting. We were meditating together at my home when my dog began to bark. He sensed my agitation and said in his rich Tasmanian accent, “Don’t be snobbish about sounds. They’re all just sounds.” Those words have stuck with me. We tend to get very picky about noise in meditation. We consider particular music, or chimes, or chants, “beautiful,” while the noises of everyday life are a “distraction.” It’s like another teacher told me once as he instructed me to open my eyes during meditation: “We exclude so much of life when we close our eyes.”

That tends to be a major theme for most of us in spirituality — trying to use spiritual practice or beliefs to exclude the parts of our lives we see as bad. In fact, if we’re honest, a desire to tune out all the stuff we don’t like is usually the motivator for tuning into spirituality in the first place. I learned to meditate for that reason. I wanted to be like the images I’d seen in movies where the blissful monk floats above the issues of the world seemingly oblivious to anything but the angels strumming a golden harp on his shoulder. It’s what I imagined I’d find at the Shaolin Temple until I got there and found monks with iPhones had the same hopes and dreams and fears as the rest of us. They just practiced skills to navigate it all.

There are lots of stories in the spiritual world about gurus with special powers. Most of my teachers were students of those gurus and many have amazing tales of what they witnessed at the feet of their teachers … miracles we might call them. I like those stories and I tend to believe most of them. But I also chose long ago not to make that the basis for my practice. I never wanted a fantastic story or magical belief as the foundation for my spirituality. It’s just too easy for it all to fall apart that way — with a scandal or exposé or a bucketful of cold reality. I chose instead to find teachers who I identify with as people and who live life in a skillful way that I wanted to emulate. In short, I chose practice over parables.

Excerpted from here.

Seed questions for reflection: What do you make of the notion that images of spirituality distract us from letting life in? Can you share a personal story of a time you found inspiration in humble practice? What helps you avoid getting distracted by parables and stay rooted to practice as the foundation for your spirituality?

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14 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jun 6, 2021 Urvi wrote:
    The sentence that resonated witm me the most is, " I chose instead to find teachers who I identify with as people and who live life in a skillful way that I want to emulate, In short, HI chose practice over parables."

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    On May 28, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    To me spirituality means relating to life with an open mind and an open heart.It meansfacing life with non-judgmentalawareness. In order to be free from my suffering I need to go through it with compassion. I pay my kind attention to my own suffering without being carried away by distractions. I follow the same way when I relate to someone going through hard times. This is the way we evolve to thrive personally, interpersonally and collectively. Spiritual evolution tales time. Having someone as a model in spiritual journey has been very helpful to me. In my culture such a person is called a guru. I was blessed to have my parents as my gurus. They not only believedin simple and humble living but they lived that way. Mahatma Gandhi also was model for my father and for me. Seeing people living modestly and humbly and learning from them provided a basis for my spiritual evolution. I am very grateful to them. Spiritual evolution is an inner work. Reading books and articles like this onewrit... [View Full Comment] To me spirituality means relating to life with an open mind and an open heart.It meansfacing life with non-judgmentalawareness. In order to be free from my suffering I need to go through it with compassion. I pay my kind attention to my own suffering without being carried away by distractions. I follow the same way when I relate to someone going through hard times. This is the way we evolve to thrive personally, interpersonally and collectively.
    Spiritual evolution tales time. Having someone as a model in spiritual journey has been very helpful to me. In my culture such a person is called a guru. I was blessed to have my parents as my gurus. They not only believedin simple and humble living but they lived that way. Mahatma Gandhi also was model for my father and for me. Seeing people living modestly and humbly and learning from them provided a basis for my spiritual evolution. I am very grateful to them.
    Spiritual evolution is an inner work. Reading books and articles like this onewritten by Jack Kornfleld, having a satsangawith like minded people, Introspection, meditation, and practicing mindfulness have been very helpful to me in my spiritual journey, It is a way of living.
    Namaste.
    Jagdish P Dave

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    On May 26, 2021 Lynn L Edwards wrote:
    I believe meditation is trying to reach the "good"...and often the good is just in the messy details of life...my place is to "be" in the calm center of that storm...life isn't going away

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    On May 25, 2021 Merritt wrote:
    My mom was a mystic. That is the soup I grew up in. A one on one with a mystic. When I came to her with a personal reality, a problem or challenge her answer was esoteric. “You must change your state of consciousness or this pattern will keep repeating.”
    How does one change ones state of consciousness?
    ” By meditating. By realizing the world is an allusion. By not buying into the world of mind. By connecting only to the divine.”
    She had fallen trap of the spiritual bypass or spiritual senile.
    It took me 5 decades to figure this out. That’s how brain washed I was. No wonder I went off and studied shamanism & became an herbalist.

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    On May 25, 2021 Eleanor wrote:
    Do images of spirituality distract us from letting the present (life) in? I agree that comfortable images can be used to excludethe parts of life we think of as bad. They can also be used to help get through the difficult parts. St. Paul said, "Test everything, hold on to that which is good." That's what I hope that I do with parables.
    I'm eighty with chronic health issues. In the hospital recently I was faced with accepting that I have to give up striving NOW, not later, if I expect to stay alive. Parables about the grace freely available from Christ helped me actually get excited about dropping a ten year project.
    I'm sad about dropping that project and others, but hopeful too. I found something else to do that doesn't involve striving. I plan to develop a mindfulness practice.

    2 replies: David, Amy | Post Your Reply
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    On May 21, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    I often see my thinking or images, be they images of spirituality or whatever, be they created by me or by the other, instead of seeing what is and letting life in. What comes to mind regarding "humble practice" that results in inspiration is efforts to see what is, such as to be in the present, put aside thinking, preconceived notions and created images, and let go of trying to control. When I do that even to a small extent, I find inspiration, surprises, aliveness, intimacy. Such practice is an important part of the foundation of my spirituality. What helps me stay rooted in such practice is the satisfaction I get from it. I like parables. For me, parables aren't distracting and I don't avoid them. Parables aren't about magical beliefs but are fantastic stories containing wisdom and lessons about rightliving. I have learned from parables and they have enhanced my practice. They tend to stick with me and I find myself reflecting on them.

    3 replies: David, Eleanor, Shalom | Post Your Reply
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    On May 21, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    As I understand meditation is not avoiding distractions but mindfully facing them, processing them with compassion, courage, and commitment. Meditation is not chasing the shadows of pleasure and fantasies to use the word od Jason Garner "parables",but facing pain and suffering. It means not looking away or seeking distractions. It is by facing clouds of suffering compassionatelythatwe we can see the light clearly. Life gives many opportunities to us for mindfully working on our sufferings. It's a question of turning our face towards sufferings or turning our face away from sufferings. It is easy to turn my face away form all kinds of pain and suffering rather than facing them fairly and squarely. I have used avoidance technique instead of facing them. I have learned from my personal experience that aversion and avoidance do not work for me. I have learned to hear the music though it could be painful. By following thispath I have been able to reduce the noise of music and ... [View Full Comment] As I understand meditation is not avoiding distractions but mindfully facing them, processing them with compassion, courage, and commitment. Meditation is not chasing the shadows of pleasure and fantasies to use the word od Jason Garner "parables",but facing pain and suffering. It means not looking away or seeking distractions. It is by facing clouds of suffering compassionatelythatwe we can see the light clearly.
    Life gives many opportunities to us for mindfully working on our sufferings. It's a question of turning our face towards sufferings or turning our face away from sufferings. It is easy to turn my face away form all kinds of pain and suffering rather than facing them fairly and squarely. I have used avoidance technique instead of facing them. I have learned from my personal experience that aversion and avoidance do not work for me. I have learned to hear the music though it could be painful. By following thispath I have been able to reduce the noise of music and have been able to listen to the harmony of music. This is a shift from avoidance to embrace.
    It is not easy to make such a shift. Old habits die slowly. Recognizing what is going on in my mind and heart compassionately and non-judgmentally is the first step towards transformation. The second step is patience and perseverance. And the third step is my daily practice of mindfulness meditation.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'
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    2 replies: Sahara, Yasemin | Post Your Reply

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