The Hard Beauty of the Path


 By Susan Piver

When it comes to the spiritual path, it seems there are two schools of thought. (Well, three. The first school says there is no such thing as a spiritual path.)

The next school says that there is a particular path for you. Find it. Stay with it. Work it.

The final school says there is something of value in all paths (which lead to the same place anyway). It is good to take from each what resonates most for you and create something unique and personal.

I am firmly in the “work it” camp. I believe in ancient wisdom and depth and, truth be told, I believe in pain to a certain degree. If we don’t become uncomfortable at some point in our spiritual life, we’ve probably gone off the rails.

If we seek a new context every time our habitual patterns awkwardly come to light, they will become stronger.

When we pick and choose and then project our interpretation onto the various teachings and practices (as opposed to developing an understanding through experiencing them), our path goes in circles. There is always a new and exciting thing to learn. There is always a new practice to try. There is always an opportunity to hone in on what delights  intellectually or emotionally while pointing us away from the deep. And invariably, somewhere someone is promising us bliss in 3 or 7 or 21 steps. When our ego does the picking, it always chooses to skate rather than dive.

(That said, there is a tradition of people for whom tradition is anathema and for them, a proscribed path is a distraction. Thus they must find their own way with less guidance. Such people are very rare. It must be quite lonely and quite beautiful—and quite difficult—to be one.)

I actually don’t believe that all paths are the same in that they are not the same for you. Thinking so is like saying that anyone you love would make a good spouse. If only this were so. You can love many different kinds of people (and I hope you will), but there may be only a few with whom you could actually make a life that you love.

In relationships, dating does not bring you face to face with your capacity to love, only in your capacity to fall in love. Commitment, however, does. This also applies to spirituality.

Susan Piver is a long-time Shambhala practitioner, and an award-winning New York Times best selling author of seven books who teaches around the world on communication, creativity, and relationships. Known for her directness and warmth, she has been a guest on Oprah, the Tyra Banks Show, TODAY, CNN, CBS Early Show and others. You can read more of her work at