Our popular contributor Kara-Leah looks at the importance of surrounding yourself with a supportive community of friends - people who understand the spiritual path and can help you along it with honest and compassionate feedback and support.
by Kara-Leah Grant
Author of Forty Days of Yoga ? Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice.
One of the joys of being serious about yoga and meditation practice is the community of like-minded friends I've built up around me.
Traditionally, a serious aspirant on the spiritual path would have a teacher or guru to turn to for help, guidance and assistance. However, for many of us living ordinary householder lives, while walking a spiritual path, we don't have access to a serious teacher or guru.
Instead, in my life, this teacher or guru hows up in my life in the guise of friends and family - many of whom happen to be yoga teachers.
This kind of like-souled support is so crucial because walking a spiritual path is not easy.
One could liken it to the difference between sticking to life in the village, where day to day living revolves around gossip at the water well, caring for family and getting the chores done, and leaving the safety of the village to go on a quest. Once the safety of village life is left far behind, the traveler encounters obstacles and strife, and must battle to overcome the dangers along the way.
Think Frodo in Lord of the Rings - a task is thrust upon him, and with his small group of friends, off he must go to complete his quest.
Giving up is not an option, and as much as one might dream of the easy life back in the village, it is impossible to go back to the village knowing that there is another world out there, and that the quest has been abandoned. Indeed, in Frodo's case, the very survival of his world relies on him completing his quest.
Just like Frodo, when one embarks on a journey of spiritual growth and discovery, one leaves 'ordinary' life behind.
Once the decision has been made to wake up to the full potential of life, it's impossible to fall back asleep again and be content with ordinary day-to-day life. And to a degree, the survival of our world could possibly depend on us waking up to the Truth - that peace and contentment lies within, and only when we live this we will we create peace on Earth.
Once one has stepped out of village life, the trials and tribulations of life take on a completely different hue.
No longer are the conflicts all about the other, and what they did or didn't do, but all about what one is holding on to deep within. Those who are still in the village don't understand this, and so when circumstances seem to create strife and struggle, their natural inclination is to advise to change those external circumstances.
Kinda like telling Frodo to stay away from Mordoor because he might run into trouble, rather than helping him become strong enough to travel into it.
The spiritual path is the same - everything we encounter that seems to create struggle and strife is an opportunity for us to grow and change. And as we grow and change, we discover that circumstances that once caused us to struggle no longer affect us at all. We realise that it was our own thoughts and attachments that created our misery - every last ounce of it.
For example, I remember once catching up a with a friend for coffee. It was a delight to sit and share our experiences of life from our spiritual understanding. I was grateful for Kelly's compassion and understanding.
Most of all, I was grateful for her insight. I had been wrestling with a particular issue for a very long time, and as I lamented to her over our tea and OJ:
I just can't wait until I'm through all of this.
Kelly nodded and thought for a moment and then replied:
Maybe it's not about when it all ends, but being in a place where you no longer want it all to end.
It was a simple sentence, amongst many that late afternoon, but it struck home.
Of course! In wanting something 'not to be', I was resisting the moment. And it is in resisting what is that we create misery because we are no longer in harmony with life.
The issue wasn't that I had these awful feelings coming up to deal with, the true issue was that I wished they weren't coming up.
When we stay stuck in resistance, in wishing something wasn't, we are paralyzed, and unable to move forward. Moving into a place of acceptance creates the space we need in the moment to be able to take action to create different feelings and thoughts.
There is something so very powerful about saying:
Right, this is how it is... and that's cool. Now, what am I going to do about it?
Being friends with people like Kelly, who can discern these simple truths and gently reflect them back to me, is truly valuable thing.
It is the support of these friends and family, that has made it possible for me to keep walking the path I am on.
It has been a tough path to walk, yet paradoxically, as Kelly reminded me on Friday, I am the source of much of the misery and struggle. It doesn't have to be tough at all.
After all, I am also the source of my joy, peace and contentment - with a little help from my friends.
So if you've decided to embark on a search for self-realisation - for this is what the quest is all about - find friends that share your vision, and stick close to them because when the path twists and turn and the way turns dark because your friends will make all the difference. Like the ring in Frodo's quest, the ego is a tricksy thing, always there to tempt and confuse us. It is our friends that can see the truth and remind us of the quest we are on.
And if your friends prefer to stay in the village and enjoy life there, have the courage to step out on your quest anyway, knowing there are always new friends to be made.
There are many, many people around the world seeking truth, all you need do is take that first step, and you'll find that someone is always there to offer a helping hand.
Kara-Leah is a writer and yoga teacher who has always been infinitely curious about the make-up of the human psyche and body. Regular yoga helped her heal and recover from chronic back issues, including a spinal fusion at age 16, and two episodes of psychosis at age 29.
Her daily home yoga practice began in earnest when people kept asking her to teach them yoga. She?s since trained as a teacher with Shiva Rea, and immersed herself in practicing, teaching yoga and writing about yoga. Kara-Leah lives just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand with her son Samuel.
She?s the publisher of The Yoga Lunchbox and has just published her first book, Forty Days of Yoga ? Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice. She?s also a regular contributor to the Elephant Journal.