Alan Clements

Evolving a realistic attitude

With Alan Clements

The Dharma life, that of following our instinct for freedom requires involvement in everything. Every emotion, every mind state, every expression of being is valuable, important to know and learn from.

Evolving a realistic attitude, a realistic Dharma attitude helps to keep these things in perspective. At times the process is arduous and all-consuming, requiring heroic patience, courage, and determination.

At other times, the way is silent, intuitive, and imperceptible. It can be a magical process, whereby we smile as we absorb life’s delicious blend of beauty and intrigue.

Then, without notice, a storm of torment, origin unknown, sweeps over us and takes us to our knees. Being alive and engaged with all dimensions of reality is an odyssey no one can prepare us for.

No amount of training or spiritual practice makes direct experience any less daunting.

By embracing freedom as our most treasured quality, we empower an uninhibited exploration of the mysterious realms of human consciousness; we integrate these discoveries, come what may, into all the domains of our life.

With discernment and intelligence as our guides we’ll be required to enter the fiery mouth of many strange and terrifying circumstances. Life is simply too vast and unpredictable to assume that the unthinkable will not occur.

As realists we stay alert and ready to enter sadness, loneliness, and even terror.

We may expect to be thrust into the darkest abyss, where hopelessness and depression overwhelm our value of life and our motivation to continue the work of liberation. Sometimes it may bring us to the edge of madness.

Realistic spiritual discovery is an involvement in everything we hoped to avoid.

I’m not suggesting that you defensively brace yourself for the crisis to come, or even anticipate torment and pain, but the heart will not genuinely open until all of life’s realities are admitted.

Loss and grieving are not only natural but divinely honourable. If you risk loving life and others, you will inevitably confront the truth that all things must pass.

Fostering realistic Dharma attitude helps to counterbalance the forces of spiritual grandiosity, idealism, and false expectations. Each of us must learn the consequences of our actions.

The allure of transformational insight, psychological harmony, and unbound freedom are compelling goals.

Rather than thwart these beautiful impulses or temper our enthusiasm for these noble aims, we should appreciate them as points of light in a vision, and skilfully use goals to release ourselves into the open space of natural freedom.

We must be both relaxed and attentive, able to rest and play at the same time. We must strive to sustain a vital hope and an even peace in each moment.

To name and strive for personal goals while keeping a mind free of conclusions is a stunning accomplishment, one that must be attempted over and over again.

Equally, it is important to disavow ourselves of unreasonable spiritual ideals and developmental expectations.

The Dharma life is not free of conflict. To hope that your spiritual work will rid you of all unwanted problems or satiate internal disharmony is an alluring but erroneous goal.

Rather than gliding smoothly along, you are likely to struggle, curse, and cry your way down the road of freedom along with the rest of us.

No matter how sincere and profound, you will continue to experience periods of suffering until you die. No one is beyond it.

No one has completely rid themselves of the inherent tensions and conflicts within the psyche. No one is abiding in an idealistic state of perfect psychological harmony.

No one has removed the tormenting emotions of greed, anger, and delusion. The ocean of consciousness is simply too vast and too complex to fully explore and wisely understand during the brevity of a single lifetime.

Perhaps the full mapping of consciousness and the cosmos will never be achieved. Perhaps it’s not even necessary. Living with existential uncertainty can be wonderful.

With realistic Dharma attitude we are more concerned with declaring our willingness to face situations openly and learn what we can in the most basic, human ways.

Being human is a destiny fraught with every conceivable obstacle.

We realise progressive liberation as we begin to allow ourselves to feel the terrible burden of our honest inner life. By acknowledging inner claustrophobia we act to expand our space.

A realistic Dharma attitude is an ongoing vow to willfully align ourselves to freedom, refusing to be held in the safety of the familiar or the comfortable.

It requires courage to challenge the bond-age and addiction to frictionless lifestyles and narcissism. We must see the difference between the “ease of being” and the “struggle for excellence”.

Following the instinct for freedom requires knowing that there is no wrong time to learn.

At moments the Dharma life will feel like an exotic adjunct to our life.

At other times it will seem that there is nothing separate from the process. It’s a journey of experience that begins and ends right now — everywhere, always.

Fundamentally, the language of the Dharma is not found through the intellect; it’s transconceptual. This requires feeling your way into reality.

The Dharma is an intuitive opening and often clumsy and erratic. It is not precise or mathematical.

We are called upon to walk the thin line of accepting our imperfect humanness without compromising our ideals and goals.

It means always walking into the future knowing that birth and death are present. It is a journey inward and outward, simultaneously. Each moment contains the forwards and the backwards.

We are called to live in the sacred space of being full and broken at the same time.

Excerpted from Instinct for Freedom, by Alan Clements.

Originally published in Here & Now magazine.

Find out more about Alan and his WorldDharma at

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