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Continua of Practice: Ascent to Descent

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Teacher: Rodney Smith
Date: 2015-11-17
Venue: Seattle Insight Meditation Center



The spiritual path seems to offer a true perspective on life by pinpointing our exact location in time and place. It points to the body as a vehicle for discovery, and once the body is explored, we find our true ground of being. We now know where are in time (now) and in place (here) and no longer have to apologize for where we are or what we are doing. The coordinates of our location are determined and we cannot lose our way. This is the spiritual ascent of our journey. Life starts to make sense in ways it has not before, we see more clearly, and our actions conform to this new perspective. We actually begin to like ourselves as if we were coming out of the shadow of our own judgment. It is like journeying up a mountain with each new vista providing insight and perspectives on how far we have journeyed and where we still need to go. Our confidence grows accordingly and we no longer fear our abilities to make this journey.

There is great joy in climbing this mountain, and we feel at the top of our game. Somewhere near the summit, we gain a view of the whole surround, and realize, perhaps for the first time, that one very important task remains. In order to descend the mountain, we have to step out of ourselves. This did not occur to us as we were ascending. We were too engrossed in the perspective the mountain was offering and too enamored in our new-found confidence and the rooted ground under out feet. The ascent gave us meaning and purpose beyond anything we had imagined. We were advancing on the true and natural relationship to life and felt the beginning of that contentment. At the crest of the mountain we suddenly realized that this true relationship was never about my perspective on life as a bystander. This new view is a union without a watcher. Now we feel a hesitation. Is this what I want? It seems as if just when we have found our footing, the mountain is asking us to jump off the cliff.

This is the counter-influence, and the descent seems much harder than the ascent only because we did not expect to have to let go of our gained ground. Why not delay this next move and frolic among the peaks? We peer down the mountain and look over the life we have ascended, but now we know we are being asked to descend back into that same life without acclaim. The exquisite views from the mountain top were a false nirvana, and we are asked to reenter as no one special.

Both the ascent and the descent of the journey are essential and equally important. In the ascent we are shoring ourselves up, building our confidence, and perceiving ourselves with the love we deserve. Then the descent, and the relinquishment of all that has meant so much to us, returning to zero. The journey is a complete circle (ensō in Japanese) returning us to a world that until now, we have never fully understood.


The ascent on the spiritual path offers a firm sense of our place in life, grounds us, and gives us the foundation of the
body for focus. The descent shows us the emptiness of self and removes all forms of identification. To ascend is to gain
ground; to descend is to surrender the ground we claim. Both are essential but sometimes come into tension with one another.
Explore the conflict between finding your true location on earth and surrendering that location to move deeper into your


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