Let's Grow Up

Growing into our fullness, into true human maturity, is the primary function of authentic spiritual practice. If we live long enough or pay attention carefully enough, we will inevitably meet the universal, unanswerable questions such as—“What is this life?—Why am I here?—What am I supposed to do with this life?—What happens next?”

Willingness to respond to these core questions without contracting or fleeing, while cultivating the capacity to tolerate responding without the satisfaction of ultimate “answers” are hallmarks of maturity. Here is a quote from Suzuki Roshi:
We want to be fooled by something. That is maybe why we say that human beings do not like something real. But human beings like something unreal. That is very true. You don’t like anything real.
This may be a difficult message to hear. Secretly or at least unconsciously, most of us would rather relinquish full responsibility for our lives and forgo the demands of growing up. We would rather relax into a dream of false comfort and apparent safety, hoping it will all turn out OK. We are terrified of the “real” and yet suffer because we don’t or won’t look. We enter spiritual practice wanting to know the truth and then flinch at what we discover.

Here is a fierce poem by Jennifer Welwood which speaks to this dilemma and the requirement of disciplined practice. A “dakini” is a figure in Tibetan Buddhist iconography and mythology which is often depicted as a female warrior—telling the truth and taking no prisoners.
The Dakini Speaks — Jennifer Welwood

My friends, let's grow up.
Let's stop pretending we don't know the deal here.
Or if we truly haven't noticed, let's wake up and notice.
Look: everything that can be lost, will be lost.
It's simple—how could we have missed it for so long?
Let's grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings,
But please, let's not be so shocked by them.
Let's not act so betrayed,
As though life had broken her secret promise to us.
Impermanence is life's only promise to us,
And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.
To a child she seems cruel, but she is only wild,
And her compassion is exquisitely precise:
Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,
She strips away the unreal to show us the real.
This is the true ride—let’s give ourselves to it!
Let's stop making deals for a safe passage:
There isn't one anyway, and the cost is too high.
We are not children any more.
The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost.
Let's dance the wild dance of no hope!
One final word for those who have been harmed by the loud voice screaming—“Grow up!” There are ways in which this injunction is communicated in violent and unhealthy ways. That is not the teaching here. Many people find themselves in a psychological bind as they attempt to navigate the conflicting messages they receive in their families. These are the messages that are often received from immature parents, partners, friends, and even spiritual teachers. The paradox is set in place when you get the message—“Don’t grow up,” along with the message—“Don’t be a child.”

Very briefly, here are the core messages and the antidotes which were expanded and amplified in the Inquiry itself.

Don’t grow up: The person in power communicates in some way—“I want you to remain immature so I can remain in control.” The underlying message from the person in power is—“I’m actually a frightened child. Don’t ever leave me.”

The practices that liberate you from this message require:
  1. A willingness to find your own voice, especially in the service of individuation from the unreal dependency that is being encouraged.

  2. A capacity to learn about appropriate boundaries, especially if you want to be deeply intimate.
Don’t be a child: The person in power also communicates—“You are not to have your own feelings. I can’t handle them. Don’t be a child and have needs. Above all, don’t need me. I need you.”

The practices that liberate you from this message require:
  1. The courage to allow and accept your feelings and to learn how to navigate them self-responsibly.

  2. The skill to become attentive to both your intention in relationships as well as your impact in all situations.
Maturity: Fundamentally this is the capacity to think and feel at the same time, to accept your vulnerability and limitations while, at the same time, owning and embodying your authority and responsibility. In other words, a willingness and a capacity to tolerate what is real.

Inquiry audio: