Anything can be a path to awakening
(Find the Big Lebowski references!)
What if a wiser person -- much wiser than I -- told you that anything can be a path to awakening?
Well… Sometimes, there’s a movie...
A couple years ago, I wrote this post on how even watching movies can be a practice, and a path to awakening. I’m well aware of the dangers of such a declaration. The popularity of that post should have maybe been alarming. (Unless the clicks were just in response to the glorious image of the Dude standing in his robe in the dairy aisle? In which case, I will relax.) If not, was I inviting people to abandon any effort in their growth and just watch TV instead?
Today, I forgive myself for any harm I may have caused and attempt to further explain my outlandish argument.
I do maintain that anything can be a path to awakening, which simply means anything can be a means to practise awareness skills (develop mindfulness), recognize and let go of clinging and aversion, cultivate positive qualities like equanimity, compassion, kindness, and sympathetic joy, and eventually lead to liberation from the tug-of-war of the mind.
That being said, I would never dream of suggesting to someone new to the path to skip meditation and watch TV instead. (If that’s what you were expecting, sorry, pal.)
Formal practice, or inner work, whatever that might be for you -- sitting in meditation, therapy, yoga, etc. -- is still necessary for those of us who don’t have the karma for spontaneous enlightenment. We need to turn off the TV, we need to shut off distractions, we must shelter and sweetly guide our skittish attention, in the early stages of training our mind, to strengthen awareness and concentration.
Then, after some time, when we are more firmly established in the practice, we can play with bringing that quality of attention to the more turbulent landscape of daily life, including more lively practices like mindful eating, conscious love-making, and even mindful movie watching. (My kinda date night.)
Finally, it’s not what we are doing, but how. It’s not in the material objects we choose to own or the actions we take, really. It’s about our relationship to them. It’s not what the doing looks like on the outside, but what the being feels like on the inside.
Naturally, yes, what we do, the objects we reach for, and the words we say do change. But it’s worth noting that we cannot always tell from the outside who among us is practising and how far along they are on the path -- best to abandon judgment altogether.
Eventually, we do realize that joy and peace and happiness do not spring from objects or places or people, or even experiences -- we are the source of all that we seek. (Big sigh.)
What if watching a movie was a sacred practice in observing the storyline without getting painfully entangled in it, much like how we hope to witness the storylines arising in our own minds? What if we observed feelings and judgments bubbling up inside us as we watched, every tightness in the body when we want the plot to go this way or that. Could we use this as a practice to let go of control and grasping and just let the spectacle unfold with a neutral, radically accepting mind? What if the spaciousness of watching so attentively, yet without attachment to or preference for any outcome allowed us to appreciate more deeply the aesthetic details of the movie? (Of course it helps if the movie is well-made with artful storytelling, lighting, camera work and sound to spark awe -- if you’re able to navigate a low-budget reality show in this way, hats off to you!) What if we were learning to empathize with the struggle of the protagonist, or (advanced practice) practising compassion for even the least likeable character and sending them wishes of loving-kindness, rooting for them to stop causing themselves and the other characters suffering? (Doesn’t that sound so fun? Or is it just the dharma nerd in me?)
If movies are not your thing, try applying the same attitude to anything else.
Washing the dishes. (No rush to get to the end, no resistance, appreciating the function of the dishes, the convenience of warm running water, gratitude for enough food to eat.)
A conversation with a random stranger, or a friend. (What if we listened deeply, as a witness, without opinion, judgment, or any agenda? What if we recognized every urge to speak back, and made an effort to wrap our words with kindness, understanding and compassion?)
You might wonder if operating this way lacks flavour or excitement. Personally, when I’m navigating experience -- any experience -- in this way, there is a sense of peace and softness in the body that is incredibly relaxing and enjoyable. I still experience the emotional ride of the moment, but from a safe distance. I often sense things and notice details I’ve never noticed before (even in the sights and sounds and people that are very familiar). There is so much more appreciation in this full presence. There is sweet freedom and space for a swelling of love in this radically accepting way of being.
But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.