How To Be Strong Enough For Spiritual Practice

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In professional fighting—boxing or MMA—you hear this phrase: “Everyone’s got a ‘strategic game plan’ in the ring…until they get punched in the face.” Then “strategic game plans” go out the window. You find yourself resorting to really primitive shit. Spirituality is not all that different.

I am often full of passion for spiritual practice…until I get punched in the face. That is, until some gnarly purification happens—old traumas get reactivated. Implausibly painful emotions stage a fucking coup in my limbic system. And then all my game plans go out the window. Not exactly the noble spiritual hero on his grand quest I’d been just hours before. Here’s me, in those circumstances:

The thing is, real spiritual practice will always bring that shit up. And when it does, what you need—aside from oceanic Grace and unseemly amounts of help from your fellow humanoids—is strength. Lots of it. Strength then, in this context, is the ability to stay in the process, even when immensely hard stuff is coming up.

Strength has gone out of fashion in popular spirituality. Lots of other stuff is “in.” Compassion is in. Teachers telling us to allow, accept, and trust what is, is way in. And I swear, if one more author tells me to stay in the present moment I’m gonna reach for my revolver. (Don’t even get me started on the law of attraction.)

But modern Spiritual teachers seem fairly mum on the topic of strength. Adi Da was not. In one early talk he said that everyone has the capability for authentic Spiritual life. “But,” he added, “not everyone has the balls for it.”

“To do sadhana [Spiritual practice] is to pass tests. It is not to make an arrangement or a bargain with life or the Divine. It is not to persist in mediocrity. It is to pass tests, such that the body-mind goes through changes (progressively) and makes an always greater and new demonstration. It is a hard school. It is a difficult life, based upon the commitment of life to the Great Purpose of transcending life, transcending the body-mind, transcending the cosmic domain, transcending limitations.”

—Adi Da Samraj

Yes, surrender is the essence of Spiritual life, and it requires the starkest knowledge of our egoic insufficiency, of our ruinous need for Grace. But when we’re living a life of surrender, the egoic construct—the machine of the everyday me—is definitely going to freak the fuck out. It doesn’t (I don’t) like being out of control, or becoming searingly sensitive, or the messy indignities of purification. Disillusionment of our most cherished fantasies—about ourselves, about life, about Spirituality itself—is tough medicine. The rigors of being undone in the Spiritual process are no joke. That’s why in the East they call it the razor’s edge. And to endure all of that we must become strong. Adi Da says,

 “Paradoxically, the basic self-force, or ego-force, must be strong in you if you are to Realize the Event of ego-death. This is because ego-death is not the ultimate suppression or negation of the basic force of the individual being, but it is the release of that force from limiting identification with the body-mind.”

Paul Brunton echoes the sentiment:

“Such is the strange paradox of the quest that on the one hand he must foster determined self-reliance but on the other yield to a feeling of utter reliance on the higher powers.”

Adi Da says that only with this strength can we go through the “crises” of the spiritual process and keep on moving forward.

“The individual who is really using this process can be enduring this crisis almost continually, with great frequency and intensity—and, yet, like a soldier on the march, the person never misses a step, never becomes outwardly reactive. Such a person continues to function, and apparently only enjoys life. He or she does not get involved in an entire drama of upset.”

He or she keeps on walking through the fire of purification. Just like Buffy.

Stuff you can do

1) Psychological healing. Most of our apparent weakness was overlaid onto us in childhood. It is learned helplessness. Our little-kid minds made up beliefs that we were weak, impotent, even cowards when, in fact, the only real problem was that we were five and being overwhelmed by a full-grown adult (or larger sibling). We internalized all sorts of prohibitions against knowing and embodying our own strength and power.

So yep, you guessed it. I am—as usual—recommending therapy, as an adjunct to Spiritual practice. What can I say? I’m a fan. What I’m learning in therapy is that—maybe paradoxically—inner strength grows out of the soil of human connection, trust, and intimacy. That’s how the brain and nervous system rewires itself for rad safety and non-shameyness.

2) Imagining and visualizing strength, courage, bravery, tenacity and potency. Because you become what you meditate on. When you do this, see if you can feel any emotional resistance to your visualizations. Lord knows I can. (To mine, I mean. Not to yours.) Bring boatloads of unreasonable kindness to these parts of you.

3) Notice when you ARE strong. Don’t look for grand gestures. Let yourself fully acknowledge, receive and celebrate even small choices of bravery, tiny movements of tenacity. This makes them grow.

4) Just doing it. No matter how much your strength has gotten buried under historical baggage, it is actually still there, the proverbial slumbering giant. That’s why people are so often shocked at the wellsprings of strength they discover during times of crisis. Sometimes you just spontaneously decide to be strong. You just reach down and do it. I don’t know how exactly. But when it happens, write it down! That way you affirm your own strength. Again, you acknowledge it, claim it, receive it, and make it more real. And that, my friends, makes it grow stronger. So do like that. Sweet.

5) Practice not minding that it hurts. Adi Da used to say that yes, “sadhana hurts.” The trick, He said—quoting from the film, Lawrence of Arabia—is not minding that it hurts.

Speaking of strength, are you strong enough to subscribe to my email list? Prove it!