Q. I very much appreciate your observations and frankness. If I'm understanding correctly you’re making a big distinction between self-improvement and spiritual experience. This is something I find myself doing often; that is hoping spiritual experience will somehow improve parts of myself that I wish to change or improve (more patience, better listening, more compassion, clearer perception....).
This of course leads to self-rumination which in turn leads nowhere. Nevertheless these are life habits most of us have. So the question is how do we break these. I'm guessing the answer is just see whatever is there? Keep looking and do so without expectation…?
A In truth, I'm not really being 'frank'. My osprey-eye is focused on the 'fish' and I use people's words and responses for a sort of forensic work to help them identify it in their experience, which is the only place it is to be found. The actual living fish is not in the literature, or in talks and lectures; these are accounts of other people's fishing expeditions and success, or general tips about fishing methods which may or may not work for you.
But the fish is in you (so to speak!), living and darting about, mostly hidden, except when you learn where to look. I seize on the traces of it, glimpses, reflected in your words, and say 'Aha! There...! Keep looking there until you can discern more clearly...'
It is a training. You're not wrong to wish to improve those parts of yourself, or to feel that spiritual experience would manifest in those ways. It is all part of an incomparable training, but the (almost inevitable) deflection is losing sight of the fish and focusing attention on the peripherals as ends in themselves -- on ideas, concepts, ideals, behaviours, ambitions, and the many self-manipulations possible for seekers.
I think we're back to the issue of oral transmission, of the eternal lineage of fisher-folk, whose sole attention is on helping others to locate the place where they can know for themselves.
Why? For love of the fish.
The lineage snakes its way through history, east and west, like the fish itself sometimes appearing, sometimes hidden, sometimes orthodox, sometimes not.
Sometimes formulated into a 'teaching' or doctrine, sometimes frustratingly gnomic. I'm afraid I belong to the gnomic branch, having evolved this inter-personal method of working online with metaphor to try to pass on what is indescribable, because formulations are abstract. (Group-training is the normal interpersonal bit).
Sorry about all the fishy stuff. Hope the meaning is conveyed, even if your mind is spluttering a bit!
Now some fishing:
When you recommend yourself to "just see whatever is there", what kind of 'whatever' might that be?
There's all kinds of junk about, you know, like 'junk' DNA, or dark matter, which is there in a supporting role, but we're not clear what active function it performs. Just seeing 'whatever' sounds rather passive to me, and you need to keep your wholly admirable search-energy and determination focused.
Where is it coming from, this love of beauty, of compassion, of longing?
What is it you love?
You don't have to name it, but hold it, tightly. Don't let go of the fish when you have it in your sights.