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POSITIVE, WISE & LOVING LIFE

Why spirituality is not a quick fix, but a matter of life long learning

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Taking an occasional yoga or meditation class? According to Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Miles Neale, if you really want to achieve your full potential, there is so much more to discover about spirituality. He opposes what he calls ‘McMindfulness’, and advocates lifelong learning. 

It strikes Miles Neale how many people are seeking refuge in new, secular forms of spirituality. Unlike fifteen -let alone thirty- years ago, mindfulness, meditation and yoga are accessible to everyone now. You can take a yoga class at the gym, or do a YouTube meditation that only takes a few minutes. You ask if there’s anything wrong with that? 

Mindfulness is not enough

Well, there is, according to Miles, who’s a psychotherapist and Buddhist psychologist teacher. He named the fast, easy forms of spirituality ‘McMindfulness’ – yes, inspired by the fast food chain. Miles, a friendly, open guy, tells all about it through Skype. ‘The thing is: in our western world, it often seems like mindfulness is a panacea to cure all our modern maladies. But mindfulness is only one of the pillars of the Buddhist path to freedom. The other two are virtuous activities and the wisdom of interconnectivity. Mindfulness practice, to develop awareness, is a good start, but it’s not enough. ‘We have to develop a more accurate worldview that appreciates how we are all connected and then live more harmoniously with each other and the planet’, says Miles.

To him, McMindfulness means spirituality as a ‘quick fix’, that instantly makes you feel better. In the moment, it’s fine, but what does it bring in the long term, especially for our societies and the environment? ‘Life isn’t always fun, and growth doesn’t always come fast. Some processes take years, and growth continues throughout your life.’ He knows what he’s talking about. Miles has been studying Tibetan Buddhism since he was twenty (in 1996), he visited India and Nepal many times, and took courses with various teachers, including Geshe Tenzin Zopa

  Buddhist nuns at Kopan Nunnery in Kathmandu (Nepal). Proceeds of Miles’ book go to the nunnery

Buddhist nuns at Kopan Nunnery in Kathmandu (Nepal). Proceeds of Miles’ book go to the nunnery

Make the world a better place

Miles' book 'Gradual Awakening - The Tibetan Buddhist Path of Becoming Fully Human' is a handbook consisting of thirty spiritual themes and contemplative practices. The author guides his readers on the Gradual Path to Enlightenment, which originated thousands of years ago in Tibetan Buddhism. The message: we can all develop into exceptional human beings, given the training, support and enough time. Miles says, authentic spiritual practice is not only for this life, but the next. Not only for oneself, but for others. Not only for temporary happiness, but for complete liberation. 'If everyone starts working more deeply on themselves throughout their life-span, the world will be a much better place. Solutions for the political, economic and environmental challenges are all within reach if we cultivate our natural capacity for wisdom and compassion, with as much determination as we seek wealth, fame and success.’

Not for everyone

A book filled with ways to discover your innate qualities and purpose, is probably not likely to be a bestseller. Miles is fully aware of that. ‘This book is not for everyone,’ he says. 'It’s for mature people who already know a little about mindfulness and spiritual growth, who are a little skeptical of or disappointed with the shallow promises of modern materialism, and who are ready to take things a step further than ‘McMindfulness', but don’t relate to the complicated, ancient Buddhist classics.’ Miles’ book uses neuroscience, psychotherapy and modern examples to make ancient wisdom more accessible to our current mindset. ‘And it's a book refer to for the rest of your life – not a book to work through in a few days.’ 

Miles says he had to write it, regardless of how many people would read it. Simply because he wants to convey his message - an alternative to quick, bite-sized forms of spirituality, which provides direction and depth. But of course he’s hoping many people will read it, if only because the proceeds have a special destination: Kopan Nunnery in Kathmandu (Nepal), one of the largest Buddhist women's monasteries in the world. That’s where he presented his book, in October this year. 

The future is female

‘For centuries, women could not pursue the full course to receive the equivalent of their doctorate in Buddhist studies - until the Dalai Lama insisted that nuns should have the same opportunities as monks. Many of the  Kopan nuns have experienced unimaginable hardships – cultural genocide, displacement, poverty, and being orphaned. And yet they find the perseverance, grace, compassion and humor to keep pursuing their dreams, studying for twenty-five years to become Geshe-ma, or masters of Buddhist philosophy and practice.

They are a great inspiration to me. They show how we can all overcome tremendous difficulties if we have the right motivation and goal in mind. And the fact that the women in Nepal and throughout the Himalayan region are now able to study, shows that something is changing. Women are empowering themselves all over the world, their era has come. The future is female.’

Text: Dorien Vrieling - Photography: Phil O’Leary