There's an old Taoist saying that if you're encountering lots of rough turbulence, constantly stopping or starting, find yourself digging your heals in, and not really developing any forward momentum in ones spiritual life, its probably because you're 'planing the wood against the grain.' This can make 'planing the wood with the grain' sound a bit like taking the less challenging easier route. but imagine you are trying to make something of yourself, you're the raw unfinished lumber, that needs its rough bark removing, its surface planed, sanded and varnished to reveal the beauty of the underlying grain. Well, practicing the spiritual life is more like that to me, I'm trying to bring out the underlying beauty, and that wont happen if I'm planing against the grain all the time.
This flow diagram below, is one way of visualising the basic framework of my practice, how I can more effectively 'plane with the grain.' of my life experience.
Rather than setting my sights on some remote 'enlightened' horizon, my working ground is right here in my every day life 'to discover the jewel in the dungheap.' And within that my principle areas of practice are three:
MY PRINCIPLE PRACTICES
1 - The Allure of Beauty
Whatever I do has to be beautiful, be attractive, be alluring, to draw people in, to engage them on a more deeper level with things. I also need to be drawn in, to engage with beautiful things, because without them imaginatively I turn into a desert. If I'm to maintain creativity I need to feed and nourish my heart and 'soul'. I've always done that through art, theatre, cinema that's emotionally and imaginatively rich, and through contact with nature. Its vital I do this, otherwise I feel increasingly impoverished. I don't get enough of this sort of nourishment, so I come perilously close to running on empty. I have to give this a higher priority.
2 - Kalyana Mitrata
I've talked about how important this is to me before. How I imagine it's scope has expanded in recent years to pretty much incorporate everything I do - all forms of interaction with others, from rituals, art projects, friendships, relationships. Being a Kalyana Mitra is ideally to be a 'beautiful friend' to cultivate the attractive, alluring, engaging, virtuous spiritual qualities of the 'beautiful friend.' I need to constantly check out how I'm doing with this, sometimes I do go into auto-pilot with it. Essentially I'm cultivating spiritual beauty.
3 - Prattitya Samutpada
It took me a while to settle on this term. Initially the quality I was struck by was a need to feel connected, which manifested itself in my enthusiasm for collective practices, communities, sangha and kalyana mitrata. But it also cropped up in my love of biographies, oral and conventional histories, archaeology,nature. So it stretches from connectedness in the immediate present experience, through to a sense of empathy and connectedness with cultures and people from the past.
Then it seemed inter-connectedness was a better term, and then prattitya samutpada, sometimes translated as 'interdependent origination' or 'conditioned co-production.' A term that incorporates both connectedness and interconnectedness, the smaller individual perspective and the larger universal perspective. I've found my thoughts and writing dwell, and get excited by the theme of prattitya samutpada quite regularly. In reflecting on my experience, on how I could cultivate beauty or Kalyana Mitrata, I inevitably coming up against my self, my conditioning, my limitations,my disconnectedness, my loss of the larger perspective when focus narrows to my smaller self preoccupations.
I've given these three principle practices an imaginative description in that they all behave 'Like three shoals of golden fish' alluring, fascinating and yet fleeting. The flow diagram has two further levels practice, each triadic group of practices interacts and supports each other. One can never practice one without encountering the others. There are also cross connections between The Allure of Beauty, Kalyana Mitrata & Prattitya Samutpada, and the practice of Sila(ethics) Samadhi(meditation) & Prajna(wisdom) - 'Like a book with three covers' - and the practice/fruit of these, my Pure Land, that would be recognised by the presence of Stillness, Simplicity & Contentment -'Like three silver spheres on a mirror' each individually perfectly poised, stable and stationary, yet each reflected and absorbing itself into the universe that surrounds it.