Warning!!! This article contains the words: poop, crap and shit. If these words are offensive to you, or if you still say doo-doo or kaka, please do not read on. If you are a dedicated, curious, spiritual seeker who wonders what the heck spiritual training and toilet training have to do with each other, then by all means, carry on.
First, let’s talk about the “spiritual” part.
For a long time I thought that being enlightened meant getting somewhere (but I was never quite sure where). I thought I would achieve a certain state or attainment, and along with it would be the elusive bluebird of happiness (probably in the form of the perfect job, the richest most handsomest man, or winning the lottery).
I had some notion that there was this place where everything turned out OK, bad things didn’t happen any more, and I lived in some high, altered state of bliss where I could just sort of hang out. Boy was I wrong!
Rumi, the great Sufi poet said:
“Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.”
Rumi knew the scoop. If we arrive anywhere, then there is no Infinite. How could there possibly be an end? Or even a beginning for that matter!
So I have to admit, I’m disappointed. The spiritual journey, it turns out, is a training that never ceases. Just as an Olympic athlete doesn’t one day say, “OK, I’m trained, I’m ready for my Olympic event, I don’t have to train anymore,” we can’t one day say: “OK, I’m enlightened. I’ve got it now. There’s no more for me to do.” In true spiritual training every moment is our “Olympic event”.
We never know what life will bring. Our whole life can change in a heartbeat. Even boredom or having nothing to do requires a response. How we respond in the moment is dependent on our spiritual training.
Let me clarify something. By spiritual training I do not mean how many books I’ve read (lots), how great my understanding is of esoteric texts (it’s pretty good) or even if I can channel some wise spirit entity (I can’t). Spiritual training is having the courage to keep looking at what gets in the way, what pops up, despite my best intention to be kind and mindful.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to be loving, kind and compassionate. So why aren’t we? That’s the question that training brings up over and over.
Spiritual training asks us to look at the mess of conditioning, programming, habitual patterns and wrong ideas and beliefs we have, to bring them into awareness and then let go of them (flushed down the toilet, so to speak – remember, we’re going to be using those bathroom words!). Spiritual training asks us to purify our heart. Then our true nature naturally comes forward. We’re more likely to respond with good will, benevolence and wisdom.
This can get translated into some pretty mundane events. How do I respond when I’m really hungry and the waiter forgot to put in my order? What goes through my mind when I see someone homeless and drunk, begging for money? Do I listen to that still, small voice inside and stand firm with what it tells me or do I give in to pressure and social convention?
No one has personal control over what the next moment is going to bring. It could be something wonderful, maybe something really awful. Or worse, maybe nothing happens. My spiritual training is what determines how I respond. Do I take things personally? Do I get defensive? Do I rationalize and justify myself? Or can I pause for a brief moment and come from a different place?
As I go along this path, there always seems to be another piece of wrong understanding for me to bring to awareness, to refine and to clear (some small, some big and some humungous!). Or, as I often think to myself, “Oh no, more shit to deal with!!”
If we are driven to live a heart-based life, if we have the courage to grow and look inside, it’s for sure we are going to find the “crap” that keeps us from being truly free.
Which brings us to toilet training….
Keeping with the kaka theme… I’ve noticed that the stages of spiritual training – of bringing forth awareness and letting go of what we no longer need – are the same as the stages of toilet training. Really!! Stay with me here.
I’ll make a leap of faith and say that every one of us has been toilet trained. Some readers will also be parents (as I am) and have some experience with the joys and perils of toilet training their kids. (People with children who are still in diapers likely don’t have time to read this!).
So, here are the six stages of toilet training and how they mirror the process of spiritual training.
Stage One: The first thing that happens with newborns is they poop in their diaper. They don’t know they are doing it. No one expects otherwise. They eat; they poop. It’s automatic. We just clean up the mess.
On this journey, before we realize there is something missing and the place to turn is inward, we go through life kind of on automatic pilot. We react in an instant, from an unmindful place that really comes from our conditioning. Not always, but usually. And we can make a mess of it. Watch any soap opera and it becomes clear how this works!
I remember when I was teaching at the university level. My upbringing did not include instruction and programming in how to get along in the political world of higher education. I was taught that Daddy would take care of everything. So, even though I was a mature, well-educated, intelligent person I reacted to the head of the department as if he were my father. It got me into a mess of trouble.
The thing that is tricky about this first stage is that the “shit” we have to deal with is completely unconscious. Like the newborn baby, we don’t know we are doing it and we can make quite a mess. Also, like with the baby, other people do know!
Here are some examples. My ex-husband could see how I was like my mother. He told me every time we had a fight. He was right, but I couldn’t see it at the time.
I know a guy who everyone can tell is really needy. Like a smelly diaper, it keeps people away from him. Except he doesn’t see it.
Remember the Ann Landers’ advice column? People wrote to her hoping their mother or boyfriend or co-worker would see themselves in the letter and change. She always said, “I’ll print it, but they won’t get it. They’ll think it’s someone else.”
Stage Two: When parents realize the little tyke is starting to understand, they begin to point out the event. It might go something like this: “Oh, whew! You made a poopy diaper!” (just insert your own family euphemisms here, OK?). The baby still doesn’t really get it, but feedback is the first step to realizing an event of some import has happened!
It’s the same in Life. It isn’t until we’ve made the same mistake over and over, and we get some feedback it’s not working, that we begin to get the idea that maybe it is something we’re doing! But definitely we need the feedback.
If everything is going well, life is happening just the way I want and no one is holding their nose, then why would I want to change?
Stage Three: The baby is a toddler. There’s a dirty diaper. Family and guests can easily discern the event. But the baby insists nope, there’s no dirty didy. We change them anyway and prove them wrong. It doesn’t matter, the next time they deny it again. It’s just not uncomfortable enough, and besides, they’ve got other more important things to do.
The denial of the dirty diaper looked like this in my life: “No, I am not like my mother!!”
I remember when my therapist asked how my ex-husband was like my father. “He isn’t,” I replied. “Not at all.” She didn’t say a thing. Eventually I did show up with a list as long as my arm!
The point is this. People do not begin or continue the spiritual journey unless something in life really isn’t working for them. If the “dirty diaper” isn’t uncomfortable there is no reason to want it changed.
Stage Four: The toddler doesn’t feel so comfortable anymore with full pants, but hasn’t totally figured out how it feels before the big event. Once in a while they might even ask to go potty but you wouldn’t want to count on it. The wee tyke doesn’t deny the dirty diaper anymore and may even ask for a diaper change.
For many years, people in my life told me that I was too hard on them. They found me judgmental, critical and never satisfied. In other words, I was just like my mother.
Eventually, like the toddler, I left denial and knew it was time for a change. I slowly became aware of a certain tone of voice, a tendency to give advice when no one asked, an energy that wanted to kind of push people to do more or be more than they were. Not much of a surprise that they didn’t like it.
But here’s the problem. Just like the toddler, I often couldn’t feel it coming. It was only after the words were out of my mouth, or when I saw the expression on someone’s face, I realized I’d done it again!
But I was determined to change. I asked people to let me know. I wrote in my journal about it. I made an intention around it. I kept going and didn’t give up. For a long while I had to say to my friends, “Sorry, I know I’m like that and I hate it but I can’t seem to do anything about it. But I am trying.”
This is the key to spiritual practice. You just have to keep going.
I like to swim and I usually manage to get to the pool 3 or 4 times a week. I work out. It keeps me healthy. But I don’t train. There’s a woman who often swims in the lane next to me. She’s there every day and she puts in an hour after her run and weights and yoga. She trains. Based on my few hours a week in the pool I sure don’t expect to be in shape to keep up with her.
Yet many people on the spiritual journey do just that. They put in a couple hours a week, read a few books, maybe have some kind of an altered state experience and expect to be enlightened. Worse, they think they are. Like the newly toilet-trained toddler, don’t count on it!
Stage Five: Finally, the young child lets someone know they need to go potty before the event. They get it!! (Though sometimes, there are still accidents.)
Back to the example of the relationship to my mother. I’ve simplified it considerably to use as an example here. But here’s what I finally got.
I had in my blood and bones, so to speak, the imprint “if you love someone you have to push them to do better and be all they can be”. This, of course, meant telling them all the ways I thought they could improve.
Now, if you’d told me that, I would have denied it. (Remember stage 3?) Logically, it doesn’t make sense. But there you have it.
Once I got it, really got it in my cells, then I no longer unconsciously acted from that program. In a sense, my whole way of looking at life and at relationships changed. (And I send apologies to friends and family who were in on the actions this wrong belief created!)
Like the stage five toddler, I can still make a mistake, which is why stage six is the most important of all.
Stage Six: There’s always more poop. As long as our bodies function, there will be toxins and wastes that have to be eliminated. It’s the same with the spiritual journey. There will always be another delusion, perhaps more subtle, perhaps a different facet of the ones we know. There’s always more to purify. We just have to keep going.
By turning within and facing what needs facing over and over, more and more of our heart shines through. It’s like a fresh wind blowing away clouds that block the reflection of the full moon. When the clouds of our conditioning drift away, we can reflect the Truth of the Light, the Love, we truly are.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom!