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#2901 - Tuesday, August 14, 2007 - Editor: Jerry Katz 

The Nondual Highlights  

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Here is another chapter from Roadsigns On the Spiritual Path, by Philip Goldberg. An excerpt was also featured in issue #2896:

The link to order this book is    







The seeking after God is an endless process,

even for a saint.

—Yacub ibn Sahid

Jason was in a hurry. A long-time Buddhist meditator

and sporadically observant Jew, he felt that his voyage

to nirvana had stalled, and he was determined to speed

things up. He calculated that he would need to take a oneor

two-month retreat, twice a year, to achieve what he

called “maximum spiritual propulsion.” To accomplish

that goal, he would have to earn as much money in the remaining

eight to ten months as he usually did all year. He

set out to do just that, supplementing his private physical

therapy practice with workman’s compensation cases. He

ended up working so many hours that he had to skimp on

the daily practices that had always sustained his spirit. He

grew so tense from overwork and sleep deprivation that

he lost his joy and alienated his family. To top it off, one

sleepy afternoon he goofed up with a patient and is now

being sued for malpractice. Instead of gaining spiritual

propulsion, he’s headed for spiritual burnout.

Jason is an example of what I call the Barry Gold-

water approach to spirituality: extremism in the defense

of liberation is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of enlightenment

is no virtue.


The promise of supreme wisdom and God-consciousness

is intoxicating. We want it ASAP. And, as we saw in

Chapter 22, a sensible amount of eager restlessness can be

a good thing. It’s when the yearning crosses the line into

impatience and urgency that we run into trouble. The hellbent,

goal-driven behavior that succeeds in business is not

the proper prototype for a holy quest. The spiritual law of

diminishing returns seems to be: the harder you try to

speed up, the more you slow yourself down.

The very notion of being in a hurry calls up a multitude

of paradoxes. We are told we have eternity to

awaken to timeless being, and that eternity is now, right

here. “There is no here, no there,” said the Zen Patriarch

Seng Ts’an. “Infinity is right before your eyes.” Ah, but

before our unenlightened eyes, here is clearly not quite

there, and everything appears infinitely finite. All such conundrums

resolve in the Oneness that transcends time and

space, but the transcendent Reality is not really beyond

anything, it is in everything. More accurately, it is everything.

But once again the snake bites its tail, because

awakening to the timeless Self takes time.

How much time? No one can say. On the spiritual

journey there can be no estimated time of arrival, if “arrival”

is even an appropriate term. What is the distance

between ignorance and illumination? How long does it

take to tear down the veils that obscure the light? The

normal arithmetic of time and distance does not apply.

Nor do calculations of probability. A doctor can predict

reasonably well how long it will take for you to heal from

an injury. A linguist can estimate how long it will take to

learn a new language. A biologist knows how long it takes

for a pregnant female to come to term. But no one can

predict how long it will take to heal the traumas of a lifetime

or to learn the language of the soul or to give birth

to a new, enlightened identity. Liberation, the sages tell us,

can strike at any moment like a lightning bolt. Or it might

unfold gradually and barely perceptibly, like the dawn.

Or, it must be said, not at all.


Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise,

because of impatience we cannot return.

—W. H. Auden


In the early days of the TM movement, someone

asked Maharishi Mahesh Yogi how long it takes to reach

enlightenment. He said he’s noticed signs of higher consciousness

among those who’d been meditating for five to

eight years. Somehow, this vague remark was turned into

a formula. “Five-to-Eight-Year Program” even appeared

in TM literature. It was retracted, but not quickly enough

to spare impressionable meditators from taking it literally,

as if it were a degree program one could complete in a

specified time frame by taking a sequence of classes. The

rush was on. Anything to get there closer to the five-year

end of the continuum than the eight. It was spiritual

avarice of the highest sort.


At one point in the 1970s, I fell victim to this racetrack

mind-set, signing on for a six-month retreat on an

Alpine mountaintop. It had been presented as a kind of

Concorde flight to cosmic consciousness, and I could not

bear the thought of missing it and falling behind my

fellow travelers. To pay for the course I begged, bor-

rowed, and . . . well, I didn’t steal, but I have to confess, I

did do telemarketing. The sojourn was at times achingly

dull, at others blissful. Sometimes I wanted to take the

first train to Paris; at other times I wouldn’t have left my

cushion if the room were on fire. Ultimately, it was among

the most transformative experiences of my life. But it

came at a price. I returned home in debt, with no place to

live, no job, and no car (I’d sold it to pay for the trip). I

was so stressed out from the difficult adjustment that I

probably undid many of the gains I’d accumulated on the



Now, when I see some wild-eyed seeker looking for

an express train to nirvana, I get nervous, because I’ve

seen such haste make waste in people’s lives: Their marriage

goes sour and they end up brokenhearted; their

work suffers and they lose a job; friends get turned off by

their fanaticism and drop them. Not, on the whole, a way

to create good karma. Some get so fretful over their spiritual

pace that they grow heavy with anxiety. Needless to

say, this is the antithesis of the peace of mind they’re

aiming for.


When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there

is only one eye left with which to find the way.

—Buddhist saying


Yes, there are things we can do to speed our progress.

But spiritual practices are not like notches on a belt or

points on a scoreboard. They are not quantitative items

with a predictable payoff. They are more like the things

we do to draw love into our lives: We cultivate certain

qualities, we change traits that get in the way, we put ourselves

in the right place at the right times. Our job is to

create conditions that are conducive to Self-realization.

But, as with falling in love—or falling asleep for that

matter—if you’re too eager to reach a goal or try too hard

to achieve it, you’re likely to defeat your purpose. “Uncontrolled,

the hunger and thirst after God may become

an obstacle, cutting off the soul from what it desires,”

wrote Aldous Huxley. “If a man would travel far along

the mystic road, he must learn to desire God intensely but

in stillness, passively and yet with all his heart and mind

and strength.”


Being excessively goal-driven not only slows you

down, it can also destroy your peace and rob you of happiness

in the here and now. “In my youthful beginnings on

this path I was wildly enthusiastic,” one spiritual veteran

wrote to me. “I rode bright waves of discovery and

freedom, sure that any day now I would be enlightened.

Now, after almost 30 years, I feel my heart pressed upon

and my spacious mind obscured. This concept of how at

some time in the glorious future I shall be enlightened and

then I can live my real life has been an obstacle to living

in whatever light I have now.”


It can also suffocate your sense of humor, which is as

vital an asset for seekers as a good place to sit. The spiritual

path should be taken seriously, but not solemnly. It is

a razor’s edge, but it’s also a pie in the face and a slip on

a banana peel and a good priest-minister-rabbi joke.

If, as G. K. Chesterton put it, “Angels can fly because

they take themselves so lightly,” then impatience and excessive

fervor are lead weights.


Hasten slowly and ye shall soon arrive.



Once again we turn to “on the other hand.” The

danger in taking too literally a maxim such as “The

journey is the destination”—or, for that matter, “Don’t

hurry, be happy”—is that it can easily lead to negligence.

I’ve known aspirants whose go-with-the-flow demeanor

seemed on the surface to be a relaxed, unpressured, and

cheerful approach to spirituality. In actuality, they were

spiritual sloths. They paid lip service to metaphysical concepts

but they had no discipline, no commitment, no sense

of purpose. Make no mistake, there is a forward looking

aspect to spirituality. If there wasn’t we’d have nothing to

strive for, nothing to move toward, and as we saw,

growing into that liberated state takes fortitude and perseverance.

But it can also be fun.


Why not make it a joyful journey? “Joy is the unmistakable

evidence of the presence of God,” said Meister

Eckhart. Take the scenic route, and blast your favorite

music while you relish the views. There is nothing unspiritual

about taking pleasure in the delights of the world,

for “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof”

(Psalm 24:1). Make time for activities that enchant you.

Do things that make you giggle, no matter how trivial or

silly they might seem. They’re not taking time away from

spiritual things: They are spiritual things. Maybe that is

part of the innocence Jesus referred to when he said we

have to be like children to enter the kingdom.


I once heard someone ask a guru, “Does it take a long

time to get enlightened?” The teacher laughed. “Only if

you’re in a hurry,” he said. It is worth noting, however,

that the same teacher urges his followers to be diligent

with their practices, attend weekly gatherings, and make

pilgrimages to his ashram. And there it is: Hurrying is a

detriment, and so is dawdling; impatience is a hindrance,

and so is nonchalance. As with any journey, the spiritual

path is most happily and productively traversed by those

who can fully enjoy where they are at every moment and

still move forward purposefully. It requires knowing yourself

well enough to set an appropriate pace. Perhaps, like

the bush in which Moses found God, we have to burn

with desire for the Holy without being consumed by the



Persevere. Lighten up.

Be diligent. Take it easy.

Get serious. Be happy.



1. Do you have a spiritual goal? Write down exactly what you

are after.

2. Do you often feel a sense of urgency to achieve something

spiritually? Look deeply into the origin and nature of that


• Is it a deep, abiding, stop-at-nothing longing for the


• Does it stem from dissatisfaction with your life and a

wish to be delivered from it?

• Is it mixed with feelings of spiritual inadequacy?

• Do you envy people you think are further along?

• Are you being as gluttonous about spirituality as others

are about money or sex?

3. If you’re worried that you’re not advancing quickly enough,

make a realistic assessment of your attitude. Ask yourself:

• Am I looking ahead to a goal at the expense of present


• Am I focused on future rewards to avoid facing difficult

issues now?

• Am I hoping that a spiritual breakthrough will solve all

my problems or heal all my pain?

• Is my commitment to spirituality in danger of becoming

an obsession?

• What am I afraid will happen if I were to lighten up?

• What’s my hurry?

4. If you think you might have become spiritually lethargic, ask


• Are there ways I can give myself a booster shot? Should I

modify my practices; go on retreat; talk to a spiritual

advisor; attend services more often; change my lifestyle?

• If there are ways to enhance my spirituality, why am I not

doing them?

5. Contemplate this famous Zen story: A young man approaches

a renowned martial artist and asks to become his disciple.

“If I work very hard, how many years will it take me to

become a master?” he asks.

“Ten years,” replies the teacher.

“If I work even harder, how long will it take?”

“Thirty years.”

“But I am willing to undergo any hardship to master this

art in the shortest time.”

“In that case, 70 years.”


Roadsigns On the Spiritual Path, by Philip Goldberg.

The link to order this book is    

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