What to Do When Spiritual Complacency Sets In

I found myself saying words the other day that shocked me. “I’m not seeking right now” were in response to a friend’s questioning me about my interest (or lack thereof) in meeting her friend, a South American shaman who guides people in self-investigation.

That line, “I’m not seeking right now” came up from an unconscious orientation of complacency. I had recently turned my outward attention to the plight of gender equality in the developing world, to girls and women who suffer physical and mental abuse and even death because they are female. I had turned my attention so much to this cause that I no longer felt obligated to continue my own self-investigation or continued cultivation of self-compassion.

Then I re-read Shantideva’s, “The Way of the Bodhisattva” a classic Buddhist text on awakening one’s heart to help alleviate pain and suffering in the world. In its beginning passages I re-discovered the value of seeking, ad infinitum. By seeking I mean the continuous process of self-investigation, the fine tooth combing of one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, to discover their origins and to set and re-set a course of daily living.

The task of self-investigation is twofold: discernment and direction. By discernment I mean the development of a discerning eye as to the origin of thought, feeling, and deed; by direction I mean setting is a course of action (intention and action) that stems from a compassionate heart. These two components create bodhisattva, the awakening heart active in the world.

So to “not seek” is to evolve without intention, without conscious direction stemming from an awakening heart; while “to seek” is a never-ending process of investigation — to refine discernment and strengthen direction. It is analogous to shining a mirror everyday because dust can and will accumulate. To seek is to align and re-align one’s course of action to match discernment and direction.

I had to come to grips with why these words had found their way to my mouth. I had fallen prey to an old habit of mind that haunted me for years — a sort of complacency, a false sense that I knew what is needed to be known so why look further. As my attention had turned toward a new outward commitment — to help women and girls gain equality globally — I forgot the need to continue my own self-investigation.

Of course there are times in life more rich in self-investigation than others (and times when even rest and stasis is likely healthy), I had fallen into one of my dysfunctional habits of mind — a closing down of my own inward journey.

Thanks to re-reading “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” this time with editorial commentary by Pema Chodron in her book “No Time to Lose,” I discovered the origin of my words “I’m not seeking right now” and have let that sentiment pass by like a dark cloud in the sky. I’m so grateful to my friend’s inquisitive nature that brought these words to the fore as she helped reset me on the right path to inner freedom.