Practicing at Your Edge

What does it mean to go “to the edge” in your spiritual practice?

The edge is the point of your maximum ability—it isn’t something beyond your capability. Still, when you’re approaching your edge, you may be unsure of how much farther you can go.

One place you may experience this type of precipice is during your formal practice. Practicing at your edge may mean going for longer retreats, sitting longer, sitting without moving, sitting with pain, or sitting with steady loving-kindness. You could choose to challenge yourself during any part of your practice. At home, simply carving out time away from family obligations may be your edge. Or maybe for you the edge of your practice is living the dharma on a daily basis.

Your edge might be renouncing wanting mind, coming to terms with the fragility of life, being present, truly accepting “don’t know mind,” or abandoning a piece of your old lifestyle. There are so many possibilities you can explore. You may be tempted to choose an “edge” which really isn’t your edge because it feels good to do something you’ve already mastered. The problem with not working toward your true edge is that your spiritual practice will stall.

Consult Your Internal GPS
When you’re truly at your edge, do not take unnecessary risks. You’re already at your edge so there is no need to compound it. As you approach the edge, pay attention to your body and mind. Are you going too far? Do you feel fatigued? Ask yourself if you’re really committed to this level of edginess. If you’re not, pull back. At this point, pushing yourself to keep going is just ego creation and is harmful to the self. Beware of artificial pride keeping you on the edge. Do you know you should pull back but you’re too proud to do so? Is fear keeping you frozen on the edge?

Leave Out Expectations
Likewise, make sure that going to your edge is not something you’re doing to feed your ego. You don’t go to your edge in order to get a certain outcome, because lots of time when we’re at the edge, the outcome isn’t what we expected.

Pay attention to the “here and now” in your practice and avoid wishful thinking: “If only...” or “Why can't I..." or “When I am able to...then I will....” This leads to comparing mind, and lots of self-judging, which in turn cause tension, self-loathing, and fatigue. You may also experience feelings of disassociation, self-absorption, and lethargy, which may lead to entropy in your practice and may mirror a pattern of avoidance and non-growth in your life. It's as if nothing really happens and everything is enveloped in a kind of ennui that prevents access to the edge. Instead, explore what you are capable of, and learn to be with yourself with compassion and clear thinking. There is discomfort at the edge, and part of spiritual practice is getting comfortable with discomfort.

For your reflection

1. Observe whether fear of disappointment stops you from going to your edge.

2. Identify how you would work toward your edge. Is something preventing you from moving forward?

3. Do you ever feel a sense of artificial pride? When and where does this happen?