I can’t say none of it helped, but I can say none of it led to awakening. I know this may sound contradictory to some, but one thing that was seen clearly upon awakening was that none of my practices awakened me and no progress towards awakening was really achieved by any of the practices.
Awakening involves seeing through the mirage of ego and the illusions/delusions of the mind. Not mentally, which can be very fickle, but in the heart and bones. Many of the spiritual practices and experiments that I did were focused on weakening this sense of “I” and ego. At the time, I did not really know that. I just thought I was overcoming fears and attachments and I was learning about acceptance (for example).
I spent years practicing detachment in various ways. To a certain degree I was able to let go of many of my attachments. Attachment is a figment of mind. In reality, we can’t be attached to anything. We can’t hold onto our possessions. They wear out. They break. They are stolen. They are lost. At some point, your cherished possessions will be gone. If you delve into this enough, you may realize for yourself that you can’t hold onto anything. With the newly realized understanding (if it is deep enough – again not just mentally), you may find that you are not as attached anymore. You just don’t see the point because you clearly see you can not hold on to them forever. It is a certainty, all things shall pass.
The sense of “mine” is a way the ego sustains and empowers itself. So as you weaken the idea of “mine”, the result is that the ego weakens. As the ego weakens, the illusion too may weaken. However, no matter how detached you become, this will not allow you to see through the ego. It is but one of many elements and tricks of the mind/ego. You can’t imitate your way into enlightenment. Trying to become detached will not lead to enlightenment.
Actually, there are two potentials for self-delusion as one tries to “practice detachment”.
Firstly, the ego could strengthen itself through the progress and achievements made in detachment. The ego will say, ‘look how spiritual and evolved I have become…I was able to let go of all these attachment. I am well on my way to awakening.’ So the ego has strengthening itself by putting on a spiritual cloak and claiming victories on the spiritual front. This may make it more difficult to see through the fictitious “me”…the illusion of a “me” that is winning has been strengthened. People don’t want to give up a “winning me.”
Secondly, the goal is not to imitate detachment (don’t try to be detached)…as if detachment is something that should be done and so we try to be detached. It is to investigate attachment and reality, and see through the idea of attachment. Of course, there will usually be some hidden attachments until awakening. Upon awakening, attachments fall away. You see through the fictitious “me”…and it is that “me” that says “mine” and has attachments.
Likewise, I performed many spiritual practices and experiments to eliminate fear. Of course, I was never totally successful in destroying fear. As long as you believe you are the body-mind and see “others”, there will be fear. But I was able to lessen many fears and perhaps minimize fear for myself. Fear is very egocentric…what will happen to me and mine? So to lessen fear is to weaken the mirage of ego. It does not let you see through the ego. It simply may weaken the illusion.
I also performed many spiritual practices and experiments to learn acceptance. The ego is strengthen by fighting reality…a denying of what already is. This should not be…it should be otherwise. And so problems of all kinds are created for oneself. The only problem we have in life is that things are not going how we think they should.
So I learned about acceptance…like it is pointless to fight reality. What is…already is. To deny it will just make yourself miserable. Just accept what is as it is and then act in the present to do what you can to change it. This takes off the mental pressure of resisting the world. This resistance fuels the ego. This dissonance sustains the separate me in the world.
Of course, I was not totally successful. But it did weaken the sense of ego and perhaps weaken the illusion. Only upon awakening was acceptance the norm…without any effort in trying to accept. Acceptance was the natural response to the world. The natural response for the ego is to resist and deny the world.
Really, we should not try to be detached, try to be without fear, or try to accept. Trying is something the ego does and will fail (never permanently succeeding). It is not a matter of trying…it is a matter of deep understanding. Delving into the attachment, fear, or denial that you feel and questioning its very existence. Seeing through the illusion of that feeling. Seeing that it is our own mind (thoughts and/or beliefs) that are creating the attachment, fear, or denial. If the understanding is deep enough, they disappear on their own and you don’t have to try to be detached, fearless, and accepting. If attachment, fear, or denying what is comes back, then the understanding was just not deep enough…and/or you are paying too much attention to the mind and believing it instead of sticking with your understanding.
I worked on other areas besides attachment, fear, and acceptance…and some were successful in weakening the ego and some were not. When I speak with people, I usually do not suggest exercises to work on these areas, because then it becomes a process to people. They try to do it and it becomes a mental exercise. Unfortunately they could do it for the rest of their lives and not reach the end…or awaken. The mind endlessly creates more things to work on…it is never-ending. Does weakening the ego help? Perhaps, but only to the degree it doesn’t become another trap of doing or achievement.
It is like when you want to fall asleep when it is important to fall asleep. Trying to fall asleep just keeps you from falling asleep. Needing to fall asleep seems to keep you from falling asleep. There is nothing you can do to cause yourself to fall asleep. All you can do is cease doing, relax, go into a quiet room, get comfortable, etc. Then you fall asleep…not by choice or effort…it happens to you.
Likewise, awakening happens to you…not by your choice nor by your effort. All you can do is make the environment more conducive to falling awake. Weakening the ego and the illusion may make the environment a bit more conducive to falling awake.
But not all conditions need to be perfect to fall asleep. I am sure you have taken a nap during the daytime. A strong ego is a relatively minor factor, so you don’t have to work on weakening the ego at all to awaken. In fact, doing things to weaken the ego can become a factor against awakening.
Again, with spiritual exercises, practices, and experiments, people focus on doing things. But this “doing things” is not conducive to waking up. There are more important factors. Being still. Being quiet. Ceasing to do is conducive to falling awake.
For me, it was when I quit my spiritual search – no longer reading spiritual books, no longer doing any practices, and no longer doing any exercises – and then a year later just being completely quiet and still for the first time in my life for a few moments…that was when I woke up.