The Path of Avoidance: Clean Up Your Act

As I was walking along the creek today, I saw a log that crossed the river. I imagined that some kids would see that log and easily walk across it. Then there would be those kids who would search for a bridge because they’d figure they’d fall in if they tried to cross on the log. In a similar way, sometimes we found a way to circumvent the challenges before us, and we thought that we had gotten away with something. But then when we came to face a similar challenge the next time, our options were limited. We had already set a pattern that was going to continue for the rest of our life—a pattern of avoidance.

As a kid, falling off of a log and into a river with all your friends around was worth avoiding at any cost. So you avoided situations like that again and again. Now you are a candidate or an aspirant of a spiritual possibility. But you have this training that started when you were very young—the training of avoidance. You think you can actually get away with circumventing the small difficulties that are presented to you in life. We’ll avoid cooking something we haven’t cooked before. We’ll avoid talking to someone we don’t want to talk to. We’ll avoid activities that we’re not sure we’re competent in. We’ve come to believe that we can avoid these small—let’s call them apprehensions. We’ve come to believe we can avoid these things we feel resistance to—and that we can actually get away with it.

In school, I was a mediocre student at best. I actually thought that it was going okay. I was getting by, and it seemed alright. I’d look at the people who were studying and developing discipline, and it seemed foolish to me. Then some time later, I wanted to learn an instrument. I had some talent, but I couldn’t stick to it. I needed the discipline, and I didn’t have it. I thought that I had circumvented the need for discipline, but I hadn’t. It came back and it bit me in the butt. I didn’t know that it would bite me in the butt. I didn’t know that it would come back, just as you don’t know that everything you’ve avoided that creates anxiety for you will come back and haunt you. It’s better to face those things now.

I’m talking about this because there is a basic misunderstanding that people have about the spiritual pursuit. The misunderstanding is that traveling the spiritual path is sweet. Then, when it sometimes appears to be abrasive, people say, “This is not spiritual, this is not sweet.” Actually, the spiritual is sweet, but we’re not sweet. We’re a compilation of our avoidances. We’re like a pinball that has run into this bumper, then gone this way, then run into that bumper, and gone another way, and so on. Finally, we find ourselves here, not recognizing that our path has not been one of following our heart’s desire, but rather has been a path of avoidance.

We’re afraid to be alone, for example, so we hook up with other people. We’re afraid of other people, so we ended up being alone. We didn’t like the concept of ourselves doing certain kinds of labors, so we found ourselves in intellectual pursuits. We didn’t feel comfortable with intellectual pursuits so we found ourselves in other jobs. We were afraid of science, so we became artists. The point is, we didn’t seek out positive directions; we simply avoided what gave us trouble. Over and over and over. Avoidance, avoidance, avoidance. After so many years of avoidance we then call out, “Okay creative energy, God, accept me! Let me approach closer! Let me experience something of the purity of the vibration that is you!”

That energy looks at you, just as if you were invited to a formal dinner party and says, “We’d be delighted to have you as a guest, but first you are going to have to clean up your act.” Unfortunately, most people don’t look at the spiritual path as a path of cleaning up their act. But what if that were the case? What if that is indeed what we are called on to do? Maybe that’s all that we’re called on to do! The dinner party is already fully prepared for us. It exists for us. In fact, there is no other reason for this dinner party. We are extremely welcomed guests, but there’s shit on our shoes. It’s as if your best friend is coming over to your house and you really want her to come in, but there’s shit on her shoes. You’d say to her, “I’m so glad you’re here. I’d love to have you come in, but could you postpone your entry for a few minutes and leave your shoes outside? We don’t want that on the carpet.” What if that were the situation we’re in? I’m suggesting it is.

This whole party of spiritual upliftment is set up for us to enter, but currently we’re too dense. We’re too avoidance-oriented; we’re too corrupt. We’re not sensitive in the right ways. We’re only sensitive to our own needs. Entry into this spiritual dinner party requires only one thing—cleaning up our act. Now I know that this concept is not as attractive as the idea that we can walk directly into the party. In the direct method you think, “I’ll just close my eyes, pretend like I’m in the dinner party, and sing the song I imagine they are singing inside until I feeeeel like I’m at the dinner party.” But you are not at this party for the simple reason that you’ve still got shit on your shoes, and you can’t get in like that. That’s why there are never very many people involved in this pursuit. As attractive as it is, the efforts required involve cleaning up one’s act, and most people don’t want to do that.

One of the problems with our “act” is that, over the course of time, we have filleted our life—removed the bones. We hang out with certain people, we work with certain people, we socialize with certain people, and with others we do not. We have eliminated certain people and accepted certain people in our lives in order to help us maintain the illusion that we are something that we want to believe we are. If we want to think that we’re kind and someone thinks that we are unkind and our attempts to convince them are not successful, we fillet that person from our life. We pick them out of our life. After you do that for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years, you have a working unit that you call your friends. These are people who accept the story that you want them to accept and that you want to believe for yourself. The challenge is gone. You have a package that you’ve worked for years to develop. It is this package you’ve created that we have to reexamine.

Billy K. was somebody I met when I was maybe 18 or 19 years old. I met him around the race track. He thought I was an asshole. Nothing I could do worked with him! I tried everything! I tried to impress him, I tried to invite him, I tried to be nice, everything. He was a respected person and I wanted him to like me. If there were 5 people in the room, he would talk to everybody, but he wouldn’t look at me. How long could he have possibly lasted in my life? I eliminated him from my life. He didn’t eliminate me. I could have remained there and endured his opinion of me. But that’s not how people operate.

You’ve spent years and years promoting yourself as you want to be seen and avoiding anyone or anything that challenged that image of yourself. Then you meet me and we have the job of reexamining this package together. We don’t examine this package for psychological reasons, nor so that you can be a happier person. We examine what you’ve created only so that you can enter into that party. Unfortunately, it is tremendously confronting for you to admit that there might be something in the way of you moving forward.

We have been brought up with the concept that there is a direct line to anything we want. That’s what we’ve been taught. You want a car, you get the money together, you buy a car. You want to go to San Francisco, you drive there, you fly there, you take the train there, whatever. You want to learn how to make clay pots, you take a class in it, you find somebody who teaches it, and soon you’ll be making clay pots. And so on, and so on, and so on. Then someone presents you with the idea that there is an obstacle between you and your spiritual possibility that you are going to have to address. You can’t go directly there. I don’t care how much you meditate, chant, who you know, where you travel, how many shrines you’ve visited, or how many books you’ve read. It doesn’t matter. All the remedies you’ve tried in order to feel okay are just more methods of avoidance. They are futile attempts to cover over your feeling of disconnection from the energy that keeps you alive. There is something in the way, and it’s you, and we’re going to have to contend with that. Once you come to grips with that, everything can change.

I’ve found the dynamic of a group of people to be particularly effective in bringing obstacles to the surface. Things come out. Obstacles are revealed—old habits, old assumptions, and old concepts. When that first happens, a lot of people react by saying, “No, I don’t want to do this, I want a spiritual pursuit. I want to feel good, I want to feel bliss.” Well I can tell you from my perspective there are two possibilities: You can either remove these obstacles—which is a gritty process—or you can imagine. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there really is a party, and it’s worth all the effort.

When the first bit of grit comes up, the question arises, “Is this worth it?” Anybody who’s traveled in third world countries knows they’re in for some tough experiences. You’re likely to get a little sand in your food. You’ll probably have some stomach troubles. The mosquitoes will be unbelievably aggressive. Even before you go, you’ve got to get the shots. At some point you’ve got to think, “Is this really worth it? Do I even want to get on this airplane?” So to keep yourself motivated you read the travel books. You say, “Wow, wouldn’t it be far out to see this? Wouldn’t it be far out to see Machu Picchu or the Taj Mahal?” You develop a taste for it, a picture of it, a romance, a passion. Then when the unpleasant things come up, you remember, “Ah, the Taj Mahal. Soon I’ll be there! Totally worth it!”

Similarly, whatever you’re going through in this process, you need to remember, “Yes, this party is worth it. It’s worth it to clean up my act.” If you don’t have a picture of what’s possible inside that party, then the first time that grit comes up you are going to start to question and doubt. You need to have that picture. You need to have a sense, an intuition that the experience of the life inside you is all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it’s more than it’s cracked up to be. The actually experience of connection to the energy that keeps you alive is more than worth the grittiness you have to face on the way. I can tell you—more than worth it.

The good news is you don’t have to make this party. You don’t have to imagine it. You don’t have to chant it into reality. It’s already there, and it’s waiting. You’re wanted in that party. You may even be needed in that party. It’s not that we’re being asked for credentials, or that we have to convince, or even that we have to purify—because that takes place in the party. All you have to do is dress appropriately. Diminish your level of fear. Diminish your level of avoidance of things that one should not have to avoid. Diminish your need to control every moment and every action. Learn to relax in an actual sense, not just as relief from tension. Decrease your quota of bullshit, manipulation and, deception. Then, the doors to the party will open and you’ll be drawn straight in.