In our Yoga classes, retreats and workshops we often encourage students to join other retreats and courses from different traditions and teachers that we consider to be very beneficial. Generally, we feel that there are a multitude of wonderful practices that all provide powerful tools to develop awareness, mindfulness, concentration, presence, compassion and love, and aim to soften the limiting boundaries of personality and ego so one can experience more freedom, presence and connection.  What has been surprising for us has been the number of times that students returned less than inspired and rather confused, having been told that they should drop all other practices and stick to the one they were taught in that specific retreat or course. The age-old ‘spiritual’ analogy often used to strengthen this point of view is expressed as ‘digging one well’. The basic premise being that one should concentrate their energy and go deep with one path, rather than disperse their energy digging superficially and never really reaching a source of water. In principle, this seems valid and like good advice, but when you dig below the surface, there is much more to be seen and found.

Of course there is something powerful in consistency and focusing one’s time and energy singularly. Great mastery can be developed through such directed efforts. And, hopping from one practice to another can definitely become a pattern and a hindrance to developing proficiency in anything. However, what is often forgotten is that the technique is merely a tool. Awakening and Liberation have occurred for a multitude of individuals, from a diversity of backgrounds, who were practicing techniques from various traditions…or while not even ‘practicing’ any particular technique at all! One can definitely use one path and one tool to reach the source of the well of Self, as is the intention of spiritual practice. But, this is not the only way. This is what is sometimes forgotten. As I have clearly seen over the years, there is not one practice that is ´better´ or more powerful than all others. Different practices suit different temperaments and different situations at different moments in time. Also, it is necessary to understand what the technique actually aims at. There are techniques to develop concentration, there are techniques to develop mindfulness, and there are techniques that aim to cultivate very specific qualities of being and energies. All can be of equal value. The merit is not inherent in the technique itself, but is found instead in the intention to sincerely dig deep into the well of Self. If that purity of intention is affirmed in one’s heart and the wisdom of discernment is clear in one’s mind, then any tools and even a myriad of tools and a combination of paths can be used to assist on one’s journey home.

If we are to stick with the analogy of the well, it would make the most sense to start digging with a shovel, to adapt and use a crowbar, a pick, or even dynamite once we hit a rock, to employ the use of other individuals and hands if needed, to hire an excavator if the job gets too big, and all along the way to be entirely committed to digging the well using any means possible! Now, in comparison, if we were handed a shovel and told that that was the only tool to use, and that the spot marked X was the only place we could dig our well, we might find ourselves endlessly digging for an entire lifetime without ever reaching a spring. You get my point. Growth is an organic development that takes us through an ever-changing inner universe. Obstacles of different kinds arise that require different approaches to overcome them.  I am not promoting giving up or abandoning a path or a tool simply because of impatience or because the way down gets challenging, but what I am purporting is an openness and a presence to life as it arrives, and an allowance in which the gifts of various traditions and techniques can be equally valued and honoured, all in service of truly digging into the core of our being.

All paths, all traditions, all religions and all people at their essence have the same longing…to know their own truth of existence and to live from the joy that resides in their hearts. Why would we ever deny ourselves full access to the wealth of amazing tools that have been tried, tested and made available over millennia? Why would we not support every student to fully attend, absorb and be inspired by any teachings that speak true to their core? May we all truly discover unity in diversity, and release any fear, competition or dogmatism that keeps us rooted in our spiritual egos and paths, so that we can dig the wells deeper and mightier than ever before.