My training was tough at times. It was confrontational and challenging, and I left exhausted but forever different. For years afterwards I questioned the intensity of Karaj’s exacting approach, but in 2014 he and I met again and began a series of conversations about the whole adventure. Time and again we touched on the question of my progress compared to that of the others in the group, but we had so much to talk about that the question repeatedly got lost. Earlier this year he raised it again.
I offered suggestions around commitment and desire, as well as the suffering I had endured prior to my time with Karaj, but they did not satisfy him. He went away to reflect on it further and finally came back with a simple and powerful answer: the others had returned too often to their lives. In the post, ‘It’s Your Playground’, I make the point that they were fortunate for that reason, but in this piece the view is that I was the lucky one because we need persistent confrontation and long-term discipline to be able to see the truth and follow it.
It’s too easy to go about our lives and be pulled along by the familiar elements of existence and habit which create within us the semi-slumber of automatic pilot. We do things without being fully conscious. We learn specific behaviours so early on and repeat them so many times that our awareness of them becomes muted. Our family conditioning, for instance, goes back generations; our cultural conditioning goes back centuries; and society’s conditioning has been with us from the beginning of time.
Therefore, to recondition ourselves according to our own desires, we have to find a way to stay on our chosen path despite the pull of the world around us. It’s difficult because we are so caught up in living our lives that we forget to do what we know is good for us. It requires discipline and practice to remain resolute and avoid being swept effortlessly along by it all.
It’s not just the external world either. It’s the same on the inside. Look at what happens in meditation. With every breath we are distracted by our mind. Our thoughts arrive uninvited, sneak off with our attention, and we don’t even notice! It’s our attention, which by definition is something we should notice if it goes somewhere, but we don’t. Even though there is nothing going on and we sit in silence with our eyes closed, we are distracted. Is it any wonder, then, that we are so distracted in our everyday lives?
I listen to podcasts (mainly from the Be Here Now network) because they do the same thing for me as Karaj did all those years ago. They remind me of what I want to be doing. My writing does the same for me. Retreats offer people something akin to my training: a concentrated form of reconditioning or remembering, away from the familiar. We need reminding on a daily basis because otherwise we lose ourselves in the accustomed and mundane. Or we need a daily timeout – a quiet pause, no matter how short – to sharpen our focus and see more clearly. As Karaj said when I spoke to him about this yesterday, ‘It only becomes visible in the silence.’