Barry over at Ox Herding made a good point I'd like to comment on a little more. First he asks a question worthy of consideration for all of us: "What do we hope to discover when we set out to discover ourselves?"
Doesn't it seem important to know what you think you want, so that maybe you can move past that, or not cling so hard to it? And if you don't know what you want at all, it's probably very helpful to at least have some direction. Contradiction here? Maybe. I keep thinking of Dogen's instructions to the cook to prepare for the next day, but let it all go because the next day is completely unknown. There's direction, or intention, and there is also a dropping off of all desires to pin it down.
After Barry poses his question, he then writes the following:
Turn to most any spiritual magazine and you'll find articles by authors who have discovered bliss, love, compassion and other wonderful states of consciousness.
How's that working for you?
I'll never get published in those magazines - my practice feels more like archeology, like the excavation of some ancient rubbish midden. No one wants to hear about that.
I subscribe to a few of those magazines: Yoga Journal, Shambala Sun, Buddhadharma. All of these have definite merits, and I'm grateful to have them around as resources. But sometimes, the shiny, happy people on the covers, and the stories/articles linked to those people just don't do much for me. They seem almost like slices of cake: sweet, crumbly, and filling in the wrong way. In some ways, these particular magazines at least aren't presenting as squeaky clean imagines of people and their spiritual lives as, say, books of Catholic saints do. Even so, I often find the most compelling and useful for my practices the writings where the shit of our lives is examined thoroughly, and no pretense is made by the author that they have somehow moved beyond it all. Every one of the magazines I mentioned has had writings like this, and yet I wonder if the editors sometimes feel they need to include something more cake-like to feed our collective sweet-tooth?
I actually think Barry is selling himself short at the end of the quote. When someone can write about their rubbish in a way that presents it as it is and transforms it into a possible teaching for anyone who connects with it, that's gold. I, for one, want more of that, and less of the sugary sweet spirituality that gives a quick hit of good feeling, but does little to tap the deep well that sustains us.