Step 7: Become the teacher
Pada pada, step by step, you have been proceeding into the cleared space within which meditation is possible. Now you have arrived.
In Step 2, we called the teacher and had him or her come and sit across from us, remaining a presence through all of the exercise. This visualization practice is the final step of the Preliminaries. It is a ritual, really, a rite of passage marking the transition that you have been working toward all this time.
Watch as your teacher floats up off the ground, becomes small--about the size of your thumb--turns around so he is facing the same way as you, and comes to rest on your head.
Then draw the teacher down through the crown of your head, through your shashumna nadhi and into your heart center. When you need support or guidance, during your meditation practice or beyond, simply bring your awareness to your heart space, the home of your teacher.
In Step 2 of the Preliminaries, we saw the teacher as an authority. Now that authority rests inside of us. The reverence that we felt for someone "out there" is now directed inwardly.
In the seminal Yoga text, the Yoga Sutras, Master Pantanjali tells us “A spiritual practice has a firm ground when it is pursued incessantly, with reverence and for a long time.” (YS 1.14) I earned the first and the third quality practicing the Preliminaries every morning for almost 5 years. Incessant? Check. Long time? Check. The second quality, reverence, is more nuanced.
I actually had a deep sense of reverence from the very beginning, but a different kind than I developed over years of doing the Preliminaries. At first it was a kind of superstitious, almost fearful, reverence. It did not come from a deep understanding of the practice or from a knowledge of the reliability of its source. It came instead from desperation. I had been a young woman long lost and weary out at sea, and this was the lifeline that was thrown my way. In the beginning I clung to my teacher, my community and my practices out of fear that I might slip back out there into the cold, dark, hungry vastness again.
But now I appreciate the Preliminaries with a reverence that comes, not from fear of the dark, but from an open-eyed love for the whole experience. I have started to take the power from Dumbo’s feather and replace it with a sense of the science behind means of flight.
Like the oldest mythical stories and the most enduring world philosophies, an ancient spiritual practice is likely to contain a comprehensive universe of wisdom. I believe that these practices, myths and belief systems last through centuries and are effective across cultures and climates because they have come from somewhere so deep within the beings that taught them, that they touch on a part of us that is universal. And if we find a story or practice that speaks to us, if we return to it again and again with regularity and an attitude of earnest seeking, it will reveal new layers, new insights, new connections.
The Preliminaries, eventually, put me in touch with the place within me that is never disconnected from universal wisdom. But I now try to keep with me something that I didn’t grasp when I first fell into the Tibetan Buddhist lineage. That no practice, story or system gets the whole truth right, however comprehensive, however sound, however enlightening it might be. Truth itself is beyond words and stories. The whole Truth belongs to the whole Universe, not just to the speaking human--certainly not just to one tribe of speaking human. It cannot be captured and clung to or doled out and disseminated. Like a firefly in a jar, if you try to snatch Truth out of the air and claim it as your own, very soon its light will dim and its living essence will disappear.
I thought that my savior was something out there, reaching over to pluck me from the dark mess I had made of my life. That belief was the seed for something that might have grown into fundamentalism: “This is the thing! This is the way! This is the guru! We all must practice the Preliminaries to be saved!!!”
But I see now that my savior had been within me all along. It is the voice that wrote the answers to the yoga training application. It is the part of me that was compelled toward meditation. It is the aspect of me that is posting this blog, even though another, harsher voice tells me that there are already too many blogs out there about yoga and meditation and "life." It is the deep center that keeps allowing me to leap, to mature, to crumble, to build, to connect, to transform, and to release the firefly back out into the night.
I am no longer part of the Tibetan Buddhist lineage that taught me the Preliminaries. The guru that I have committed to doesn't teach meditations with complicated steps, he doesn't have us bow many times or give gifts. He considers his main job to be reminding me that my inner teacher is what led me here and helping me grow my trust in Her.
His name is Adyashanti and after working with him for a couple of years, and through trusting him, I have learned to trust myself, to connect more deeply and more frequently to that nurturing, freeing, love-soaked part of myself.
Working with the right outer teacher gave me some practice in listening to wisdom and love. When I listen to recordings of Adyashanti--and even more so when I get the opportunity to work with hime live--a particular inner environment starts to coalesce, one that is conducive to truth and trust.
I realize that this is exactly what the Preliminaries are meant to do. Finding the right practice and finding a great teacher function in a similar way. Each one is like a boat that helps us from one shore to another. The thing is, once we get to the other shore, it is likely that we won't need the boat anymore--or at least not in the same life or death way.
True meditation is being ok with just being. It's a state of feeling at home in Reality. True meditation is actually our natural state. The Preliminaries and the guru are meant to help you remove obstacles to this, to help you locate and release all the ways that you resist What Is. By the end of the Preliminaries, you have dropped the egoic perspective, the fearful one, the one that thinks is is a foreigner in its own skin. You become the teacher. A more enlightened perspective has begun to operate at the center of you.
I don't do the Preliminaries every day anymore because, after years of this practice, I have finally begun to learn to trust my own heart. And now, when I sit, I just watch my breath for a bit, and then turn my awareness to my heart and listen deep. But I am forever grateful for these practices for clearing the path, for setting me up and teaching me how to trust myself and my universe.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey. May you continue to discover that you're already home.