“The Path is Down and In, Not Up and Out”

The Second Veil


















On the spiritual path there is an agonizing, frustrating, terrible and perplexing obstacle that comes up for people after about five years of spiritual practice. After five years or so (this amount of time can vary greatly), practitioners discover the limitations of form. In short, their own limitations. In the beginning of the path, we are full of zealousness and jubilation. We find the that the more spiritual practice we do the faster and more we grow. We feel, often for the first time, that we are getting somewhere. This period of time is fantastic, for awhile.


Then one day, it stops. Our spiritual energy dries up. We aren’t even sure why we practice anymore. We see how things are and therefore we realize that everything, including us and our path is impermanent. So, it all seems futile, even pointless. However, the vivid memory of those beginning years is still vivid within our minds. We recall with great delight the spiritual experiences, the satoris, the bliss, the excitement and the power of those first years. And so, we press on.


Over the next few years, we press on in practice. We may even practice harder. Then, slowly, it dawns on us…nothing is happening. We are basically the same person we were. We are in the same life. We seldom experience spiritual elation anymore. We don’t even know what it is we’re trying to achieve.


If you have reached this point and many of you have, it is time for a new approach. You have reached the phase of the path called the Second Veil. Making this change will be harder than any spiritual practice or retreat. Adopting this new attitude will feel like dying. It feels like dying because you are. You have to die to being a spiritual practitioner. Dropping this persona is very, very difficult…most spiritual practitioners never do. What must be done is a complete and total surrender to the conditions of your circumstance…and it won’t be pretty.


The real problem, at this point, is that we are still operating under dualistic programming. We are driven by hope and fear. As this realization begins to dawn on us, all the joy of seeking begins to drain.


So, how do we step beyond this veil of dualism? Maybe you remember the Matrix films. In the first film, Neo wakes up to the matrix of conceptual thought that has been his prison. As he wakes, he grows at an exceptional rate in his ability to work with (i.e. fight) and transcend the conceptual mind. This first film is analogous to the Hinayana stage of practice in Buddhism. It’s all about getting free.


In the second movie, Neo is focused on saving others. He is strong and capable now. He feels relatively free so now he shifts his focus to the wellbeing of others. He is helping others wake up and he is trying to protect the ones he loves from the machine and from death. This film is analogous to the Mahayana or Bodhisattva vehicle. It’s all about purpose.


In the last film, Neo struggles deeply with the truths that he cannot save Trinity (death is inevitable regardless of how awake you are) and the truth that Neo’s ego, represented by Agent Smith, cannot be destroyed. This film is all about that final approach to the nondual. This is the phase of the path we’ve been discussing.


Notice, I said “approach to the nondual”, not the nondual itself. This is because it is still dualistic until the very end of the movie. At the end of the movie, Neo accepts Trinity’s death, accepts his lack of control over life (i.e. has no path/goes blind), and finally surrenders to Smith who only gets stronger the harder he fights him.


This surrender to the nondual, which in the movie is represented by the transfiguration of Neo into light in one final messianic surrender, is much less romantic in real life. In fact, it could be said this is the true beginning of the “path”, not the end. Now, the practice becomes a moment to moment surrendering. Every moment of surrender is a moment of awakening but we will find ourselves engaging Smith again and again. When we notice we are struggling, we surrender. Notice, that these are basic meditation instructions,”Notice you are thinking and return to the breath”. The only difference between this practice and traditional meditation, is that instead of returning to the breath, we now return to life. We don’t collapse our attention onto an object. We rest in naked open awareness with no defenses, no immortality, no knowledge of the future, in other words… no hope, no fear.


In order to be successful in this phase of the “path”, your every way of relating to life must change. Anytime you have a thought about should and shouldn’t, gain and loss, success and failure, samsara and nirvana, hope and fear and indeed of enlightenment itself; you must use that thought to trigger an immediate act of surrender. In the very moment of recognition, drop the struggle and surrender to the present. Rest in the now.


There are some tools the traditions have provided for reorienting our lives to surrender. We usually need these tools because “just dropping it” is just too hard. If you’d like to learn some methods for enabling your own surrender, shoot me an email and we’ll talk. I wish you all the best in your journeys.



Much Love
Damien Abel