Notice that in the course of life, some individuals tend to fare well, exceed expectations, and go on to greater peace and prosperity, while others continuously struggle and suffer lack and deprivation. Some of this variation can be attributed to socioeconomic factors and natural ability level. But these factors that lie outside of individual control do not account for all of the gap between success and failure, for two people with essentially the same background can have vastly different outcomes depending on the choices that they make and the attitude that they take toward life. Not everyone who tries really hard succeeds, and not everyone who succeeds tries really hard. That is to say that some individuals work like dogs their entire lives and don’t get anywhere, while others are born into wealth or simply get lucky. It can be easy to fixate on the unfairness of it all and simply give up any hope of creating a better life for ourselves, to slide into passive resignation. But this depressive, forlorn attitude (which sometimes masquerades as spirituality) does not improve life one iota. In fact, it can lead to missing opportunities that could otherwise be used to great advantage in improving quality of life.
Observing high-functioning individuals in any field leads to certain general principles that can be followed in order to escape from the vicissitudes of fate and craft a better life. What counts as “better” will vary from one individual to another. A religious saint, a scientific genius, and a motivational speaker all might have different value systems, but they have similar habits that enable them to succeed in their fields. They understand the creative process and how it works, which enables these high-functioning individuals to channel energy in effective ways. These individuals know when a strategy has reached its maximum effectiveness and when to change tactics. They know how to push through slumps and obstacles. They know how to preserve momentum in any environment and how to take advantage of both the good times and the difficult times. For these individuals, exterior conditions have ceased to matter, for they have learned the most difficult lesson of all, how to control their own behavior.
Understand the Creative Process
Any person, no matter how realized, will have oscillations in the degree of enthusiasm that they feel for their work. For the saint and for the CEO, these oscillations will be so subtle and slight that they might not be noticeable, but the oscillations are present nonetheless. This enthusiasm really amounts to background energy, whether that energy is expressed as money, health, well-being, or some other external factor. Different forms of energy can be traded for one another, but they are all manifestations of the same inner supply. All of nature unfolds according to cycles of variability, like the seasons, the tides, and respiration. Throughout all things runs this tendency towards change, a cyclical repetition of up and down, in and out. Hinduism refers to the three gunas or qualities: rajo guna (assertiveness, action) tamo guna (depressiveness, lethargy) and sattva guna (mindfulness, clarity). It should come as no surprise that our creative projects go through this same variability, which should not be labeled as either good or bad.
The innovators in the world recognize that these cycles exist and do not get discouraged when the down-cycle comes. They do not quit when the money runs dry, the idea won’t work, or colleagues abandon the project. The existing literature on personal development usually recommends a certain pig-headedness, a stubborn insistence on continuing with the work. Certainly willpower has its place, but a finer understanding of the principles involved will make it easier to move forward when the going gets tough. A simple diagram will aid in explanation:
When things are going well in a new career or in a new business, it can be pretty easy to invest money in joining a professional association, in buying a new suit, or any other tangible expenditure that will improve the prospects for success. When the bank account has a positive balance and emotions are running high, it is a good time to spend. But when finances and emotions run low, temptation can be exceedingly great to simply abandon the endeavor. This happens to the vast majority of new ventures and explains why it can be so hard to shift from one state of prosperity to another (using prosperity in the broadest possible sense to include all forms of wellness).
Rather than simply walking away during the down-cycle, a wise person, one possessed with the quality of sattva, will see the down-cycle in its reality as part of a larger trend of ups and downs. This person will find some way to keep the project going in the midst of difficult times. The down-cycle is an excellent time to perform routine tasks or research new possibilities. If the down-cycle feels harsh and severe, simply folding laundry or mowing the lawn can be a good way to keep life moving forward. Anything that keeps the mind and body busy will be better than wallowing in despair and losing momentum. Anyone can perform at peak capacity in the up-cycle, but true masters know how to work with the down-cycle. The three gunas still exist even for the saint, but he or she uses them as tools rather than being used by them.
If the quality of sattva can be preserved in the low periods, the dynamics of the situation begin to change. The cycle begins to come back around again, and the whole curve begins to vibrate at a higher frequency. Another diagram will illustrate the change:
The period directly before the transition will feel the lowest of all, a sure sign that the change in tactics needs to occur. Oftentimes, physical or mental illness manifests during these junctures in the life journey: the mind and body have ways of indicating that something needs to change. The change in tactics may be a small adjustment, or it may be a completely new development. By keeping the momentum going, the spiritual adept gains an insight that propels the project to a whole new level, one that offers a greater degree of peace and prosperity. The adept stays active and open—active in keeping the project going and open to new insights. Indeed, the adept expects to find new ways of thinking and doing that will prevent life from tanking. A project that evolves may seem totally different by the end of the journey, but it differs completely from a project that simply dies.
Human emotions (and not external circumstances) represent the biggest challenge to overcome in crafting a more peaceful and prosperous life. Meditation works effectively to manage the emotions without repressing them, opening new channels for personal development. A mind with negative emotional valences will also fail to notice positive aspects of external reality, which will, in turn, negatively impact performance in a very material sense. The time invested in meditation and spiritual growth pays dividends many times over in the form of myriad small changes in the way that life unfolds. The person who does not meditate feels more depressed and actually contracts more physical illness than the person who has a solid regimen of meditation and spiritual growth. The person who does not meditate misses opportunities from a lack of awareness. Meditation strengthens the sattva “muscles,” which makes the bad situation conquerable.