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Shambhala Sun | July 2012
You'll find this article on page 64 of the magazine.

Signs of Spiritual Progress

The concept of success on the spiritual path is pretty suspect. After all, isn’t it a journey without goal? But there are some ways, says PEMA CHÖDRÖN, we can tell if our practice is working. 

"As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find compassion."

It is tempting to ask ourselves if we are making "progress" on the spiritual path. But to look for progress is a set-up—a guarantee that we won't measure up to some arbitrary goal we've established.

Traditional teachings tell us that one sign of progress in meditation practice is that our kleshas diminish. Kleshas are the strong conflicting emotions that spin off and heighten when we get caught by aversion and attraction.

Though the teachings point us in the direction of diminishing our klesha activity, calling ourselves "bad" because we have strong conflicting emotions is not helpful. That just causes negativity and suffering to escalate. What helps is to train again and again in not acting out our kleshas with speech and actions, and also in not repressing them or getting caught in guilt. The traditional instruction is to find the middle way between the extreme views of indulging—going right ahead and telling people off verbally or mentally—and repressing: biting your tongue and calling yourself a bad person.

Now, to find what the middle way means is a challenging path. That is hard to know how to do. We routinely think we have to go to one extreme or the other, either acting out or repressing. We are unaware of that middle ground between the two. But the open space of the middle ground is where wisdom lies, where compassion lies, and where lots of discoveries are to be made. One discovery we make there is that progress isn't what we think it is.


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