Letting Go of the Spiritual Fairy Tale - Nalandabodhi International

Growing up, I thought a spiritual path would rescue me from my boring life.

I didn’t want to be an average kid from a small town in Texas. I wanted to meet yogis, gurus, wizards, alchemists, and adepts from the mystical traditions of the world. I wanted to know what they knew. I wanted to have a special “spiritual” experience, to find my “True” self, my “Higher” self, God, or enlightenment. I wanted to peel back the veil of this illusory existence and wake up from my life. I wanted to be the hero in my story of enlightenment.

But fairy tales are for children.

When I first learned meditation from my teacher, Ponlop Rinpoche, my reaction was, “That’s it? Just sit and look? No, no, no. This is boring and awkward, just like me and my life.”

“This isn’t special enough to be a spiritual experience,” I thought. “Where are the angels, the chakras lighting up, the soaring into the astral plane, the voice of God or ancient masters telling me the secrets of the universe?”

I did not like meditation.

Reluctantly, I sat anyway. A few minutes each day. Slowly, I noticed how I was using “spirituality” and the quest for something to separate myself from others, to hide from my problems and pain, and to hide from myself. I was trying to be someone else, someone special. Rather than waking up from the Matrix of self-deception, I was burrowing deeper into a fantasy.

Through meditation practice I discovered that, like some of the original German fairy tales, a genuine path of awakening is a little messier than the stories I knew as a kid. Seeing this was like having the rug pulled out from under me.

Yet this sobering insight was deeply transformative. Having fallen on my face, so to speak, I had finally found ground I could stand on. I began to let go of my spiritual safety blanket and open up to myself and those around me. I felt raw and vulnerable, but also more spacious and kind. I could laugh at myself. Rather than giving up on a spiritual path, I was starting one.

It turned out that those early instructions I had haughtily dismissed were three basic principles of meditation: simplicity, authenticity, and presence.

Simplicity means to drop the story about past, present, and future and connect directly to your experience right now. Personally, I do this through my body and senses. In a meditation session, that means connecting with what I am seeing, feeling, tasting, etc. It means feeling my body in space and the space in my body.

Authenticity means not trying to be anyone or accomplish anything, even meditation. No agenda and no pretense. In meditation, that means not trying to improve, reject, or change the present experience. You drop thoughts of higher and lower, spiritual and mundane and stop looking for a “better” experience outside of the present one.

Presence means to be undistracted. It means to rest in this honest, open space and just let all sensations, thoughts, and emotions come and go. In meditation, you regard all sensations, thoughts, and feelings like waves on the ocean or clouds in the sky. Whatever is happening becomes a support for staying undistracted.

After I had practiced this for a while, Ponlop Rinpoche’s words in Mind Beyond Death took on a new importance for me:

Do not be afraid of being who you are in any moment, or under any circumstance. That is the message of all the teachings of the buddhadharma […] 

Ben Mikolaj
Ben Mikolaj

Ben Mikolaj has been a student of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche since 2009 and currently serves as COO of Nalandabodhi International. Ben enjoys traveling, reading, hiking, jokes, the mysterious, musical theater, and movies. He can often be found running around Green Lake in Seattle with his fiancée and their dog Kraken.

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