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Sandpaper and Spiritual Practice

In early February, I had the honor of spending my Teacher’s birthday with 150 people from my spiritual tradition. As the event planners, my team and I managed every detail to create an experience we hoped would inspire deeper practice and encourage people to work together and learn from each other. Only time will tell if we succeeded, but everyone seemed to have fun.

Whenever we get together with our larger community (or “maha-sangha”), an interesting phenomenon occurs. Now this phenomenon also happens when we interact with society in general, but when you are around other spiritually empowered people, everything is a bit more intense. It’s an opportunity I often point out to my students, so I know they were prepared and used it to further their spiritual development. It’s what I call the sandpaper effect.

We rub against each other, sometimes with annoyance, but more often with confusion. If we allow the process to happen, all of our sharp points become evident. This can be exhausting and painful.

To soften the pain, one of the practices Rama shared was creating a life in which we are insulated from the world. More importantly this insulation allows us to work on our own hang-ups and attachments without the weight of everyone else’s issues. This is vital, especially in the beginning. Otherwise we drown in the suffering of things beyond our control.

By setting our life up in such a way where we modulate our environment and who has access to us physically and energetically, we reduce the number of variables. If we eliminate outside influence, then when we are in a lousy state of mind, there is no question: we put ourselves there. And that means we can redirect our focus and move back into high, bright states of mind conducive to meditation.

Since ancient times, monks have retreated to caves where they confront only their own mind. Some spend a few weeks, others a few years, and some their entire life isolated battling their internal demons. During this time, whether it’s in an earthen cave or a modern house, we get to know the workings our own mind. We watch its games and tricks. We discover the memories which trigger a descent into the lower worlds. We learn how to control and ultimately how to sit with our full being without attraction or repulsion. Through this process, we develop insight into the nature of existence. It’s an important part of practice we cannot skip.

My Teacher also pointed out that as we progress, “we have to leave the cave.” Rama told us a story about a monk who meditated in a cave and reached wonderful realizations. He thought he was Enlightened. So he left the cave. On the outskirts of town, the kids saw what looked to them to be a dirty beggar, and they threw rocks and insults at him. The monk continued walking into town, intent on sharing his Enlightenment, but the townspeople avoided him and said he smelled. He became angrier and angrier until he finally snapped and began yelling at people. In a flash, he realized he still had much work to do, and wasn’t Enlightened after all.

The rocks, the insults, the avoidance, and being told the truth about body odor (he did live in a cave without bathing for years!) – these are all sandpaper. We can use all of these unpleasant interactions to sand down the rough spots of our ego. Now I don’t recommend we go out of our way to find sandpaper; there is plenty available if we simply pay attention as we live our lives.

Again, if we don’t give ourselves “cave time” we can easily drown in the suffering we feel. Using sandpaper is a highly abrasive process, so we want to be careful in how we approach it. If you take an Emory board to your fingernails and start rubbing with too much gusto, you’ll reduce the nails to nothing and begin drawing blood as the protective layer of skin is worn away. This is not healthy for anyone and can create many unnecessary problems. Having the will power to make yourself a bloody mess does not lead to Enlightenment.

If instead we watch our mind as it interacts with the sandpaper, we can use it to consciously smooth the rough edges the situation reveals. If we can stay with it long enough, we will be like beach glass. Sharp shards that once cut anyone who touched them the wrong way become transformed into beautiful gems.

If instead we watch our mind as it interacts with the sandpaper, we can use it to consciously smooth the rough edges the situation reveals. If we can stay with it long enough, we will be like beach glass. Sharp shards that once cut anyone who touched them the wrong way become transformed into beautiful gems.

When we took up the challenge of organizing Rama’s Birthday Celebration, we knew there would be many opportunities to experience the sandpaper effect. After all, when we are around those we love the most we take down our guard, revealing both warts and beauty. Many of us have our own schools and students. We all have parts of the practice we emphasize, and we see the teachings from our unique perspective. We’re all exploring different facets of the Pathway to Enlightenment. I see this as a most precious gift that is unique to way Rama taught us.

From the beginning of the planning process, there were times when others pointed out how I could be more diplomatic and considerate. This has always been a weak spot for me, so I took the corrections with gratitude. Other moments involved the collective fear and anxiety of a group of mostly introverts being at a large event. And I’m sure there were things I did that people just plain didn’t like for their own reasons.

As all of this energy washed through me before and during the event, I used it. Every push, every pull – especially when it became uncomfortable – was a reminder to dive deeper into the Light. I allowed it all to pour through me, rubbing away the rough edges of my being. I let the sandpaper smooth me away to nothing.

I watched all of this unfold and realized I was not going through anything; everything was going through Me. We were One: the people, the planning, and the Light. At the event, I watched my spiritual brothers and sisters all dissolve into pure and perfect Light. Again, all of this was a tremendous gift.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to create this event. My students and I learned so much, energetically and on the purely physical nuts and bolts level. It was an honor to serve our Lineage and the Light, and I hope those who attended are inspired to continue coming together, and let the sandpaper which comes with meetings of the maha-sangha clear away all confusion. As I step aside to allow new leaders to step forward, I hope to continue dancing in the Light with my extended spiritual family.

How are you able to use the Sandpaper Effect in your spiritual practice today?


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Published inBuddha Lessons / Mindfulness

One Comment

  1. Shiva, another teacher from our lineage, calls this phenomenon the “Rock Tumbler.” Sharp, jagged rocks go in (that’s us), they knock against each other in the rock tumbler (the Samsara), and eventually smooth, polished, refined rocks come out.

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