Struggle > Resignation

Welcome to 2017!

While this blog has not been updated in a few months, many things have been happening behind the scenes.  The first two books of a trilogy have now been released by Adams Media, now an imprint of Simon & Schuster.  These are A Mindful Morning and A Mindful Evening, both of which have pages on this site.  The third book in the series is called A Mindful Day and will be released probably in the fall of this year.  So I am now meditating and writing on the third book every day, with the first half of the book due to the publisher on January 17th.  Taken together, these books will be a good introduction to the philosophy and practice that I have been developing over the past few  years.

If you have read one of the introductory books and would like to take the practice a little further, I recommend that you study the Nine Gates lessons.  Some of these are available on this site, and some I have not yet uploaded.  The first nine of twenty-seven lessons are now completed, taking the sadhak through the first three ranks of the Satsangha in what comprises the outermost circle of three concentric circles.  If any of you would like more information about these lessons, please feel free to contact me.  I envision the first set of devotees to complete the lessons to become a sort of council that will guide the teaching and community going forward.

In other news, you may have noticed that I have written a few political pieces, which you may find confusing due to the spiritual and esoteric nature of my other writings.  I believe that meditative practice, properly conceived, will sometimes entail taking stances on behalf of justice in the political realm.  For that reason, I have found it necessary to speak on behalf of the rights of minorities and women and against the rising tide of nationalism and xenophobia on both sides of the Atlantic.  People of conscience cannot simply remain silent in this turbulent time.  We have to hold to spiritual practice while also remaining engaged in civic life, even if that means receiving criticism and harassment.

Struggle is greater than resignation.  This applies in our sadhana, as we seek to build the divine fire within the heart chakra.  It also applies to public life, as we try to make a more just world for all beings.  The inner practice and the outer practice are united in the goal of bringing about the Satya Yuga, or Age of Truth, that will dawn after this present moral decline has exhausted itself.  As spiritual practitioners, we do not sit idly by, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the New Age.  No, we wield the sword of Kalki, using our talents and abilities to bend the universe towards justice (paraphrasing Dr. King).  We work not only through our meditations but also through our actions to make the truth dawn.

So do not be discouraged in this dark time! Go ahead with your sadhana.  Take care of your well-being. Live a good life and care about others.  Say something when you see injustice. As we band together in community, our good actions are strengthened and multiplied many times over.  If any of you readers want to take a greater role in the Satsangha, please contact me.  We have much work to do in order to make this society a force for good in the world.  I see the very high readership from the site stats, but I don’t always know who you are.  Please feel free to drop a line.  I can be reached on twitter @DavidDillardWri or via email at writepage [at] gmail [dot] com.  And if you can’t take an active role, please donate via the paypal link on the main page.  I have so far maintained this site with my own funds, but I want it to one day be self-sustaining.

Peace and blessings to all of you in the new year!  I hope that the information on this site will lead you to greater peace and prosperity in the year ahead.  Aum Gam Ganapataye Namah! Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!

Janyananda

(David Dillard-Wright)

Bhagavad Gita Wisdom: Chapter Sixteen Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

yaḥ śāstravidhim utsṛjya vartate kāmakārataḥ

na sa siddhim avāpnoti na sukhaṁ na parāṁ gatim

One who acts under the influence of desires, disobeying scriptural injunctions, neither attains perfection nor happiness, nor the Supreme Abode (16.23 Trans. Prasad).

The sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita cuts like a blade for the ego forged in the fires of late industrial capitalism.  After all, we have been schooled in the delusion that “greed is good,” the mantra of the Reagan-Thatcher era, and in the belief that our desires are somehow sacrosanct.  Believe and achieve, Think and Grow Rich, and so many other destructive clichés come to us from childhood, so we do not question the prevailing assumption that the point in life is to actualize our desires.  Oftentimes, the goal of Self-realization can become confused with the mere actualization of desire.  This is due to the commercialization of yoga and Indian philosophy more generally: the timeless traditions of dharmic belief have become little more than wallpaper for various sales techniques.

We can scarcely conceive what it might be like to act without the influence of desires, so alienated are we from the sublime philosophy that Shri Krishna propounds.  The purpose of work is to get paid. The purpose of love is pleasure.  The purpose of art is commerce.  This line of thinking eliminates any intrinsic reward in the everyday aspects of life.  We can never do anything for its own sake: we must always be looking to gain something else when we pursue an interest, a relationship, a hobby.  The reward, too, must be calculated in advance: for this reason, we struggle to achieve anything of enduring significance.  Our time cycles have become very short as we become more and more accustomed to instant gratification.

It is easy to criticize social media or global capitalism or another bogeyman for this desire-oriented outlook on life.  It is much harder to understand the dynamic and move beyond it.  It will do little good to sermonize on the evils of capitalism and globalization if we cannot tame the beast of desire in our own hearts.  First, think about how miserable it can be to live our lives always one step behind the eight ball, so to speak.  The mentality of desire gratification lives in the mode of future-directedness: I am always looking for the next fix, the next acquisition, the next score.  I must get to the next level in the game.  I must get a burger and fries.  I must reach x number of followers on social media.  This treadmill effect never ends, and the first step is to just notice that it will not wind down of its own accord.

Potato chips

Think about eating a bag of potato chips (crisps).  This food has little nutritional value, and it does not fill your stomach in a normal way.  So you eat a few chips, they taste salty and delicious, and it is hard to stop eating them.  If you just listen to sense gratification, you will not stop until the bag is gone.  But if you can start talking to yourself, you can begin to release the desire to eat the whole bag. You might say, “you’re not going to feel any better after five more chips, so you might as well stop now.”  Or you might think about how sluggish you will feel afterward or the healthy dinner that you will have later.  The desiring impulse can be overcome: it just takes a lot of work and persistence.

Consumer culture has a lot of junk food, a lot of junk thought, a lot of junk news, and a lot of junk entertainment.  This crap content works by just catching our attention for a few seconds or minutes at a time.  This would not be a problem if we were not barraged by crap content twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  The trouble is that our lives are made out of time, and we can easily squander time by succumbing to the quick fix.  And the quick fix always wears off. The more we cave to the desire for the quick fix, the less satisfying it is.  The diminishing returns kick in pretty quickly: the next potato chip will not be as good as the last.

So rather than being motivated by desire, we might think more about our duties.  This is really the point behind the whole Bhagavad Gita, that we must act in accordance with duty without regard for the fruit of our actions.  Only the Western notion of duty has been warped by the notion of the atomic individual, the idea that my primary duties are to myself and my rational self-interest.  Rajiv Malhotra helpfully distinguishes between synthetic unity (the prevailing view in the West), in which the individual is primary and the social dimension must be fabricated from there, and integral unity (the prevailing view in the East), in which the subject-object dichotomy is thought to be illusory and union is the norm.  This is a quick summary: those unfamiliar with Malhotra’s work should take a look at Being Different.

The typical westernized person acknowledges duties to self, to family, and to a circle of friends.  Perhaps a church or some charitable organization might also be included.  But the dharmic tradition teaches that we have five duties, the pancha rina, which break down as follows:

  1. deva-rina: debt to God [or gods]
  2. rishi-rina: debt to the sages [or gurus]
  3. pitri-rina: debt to the ancestors
  4. nri-rina: debt to [human]kind
  5. bhūta-rina: debt to the [non-]human beings

(adapted from Swami Bhaskarananda, Essentials of Hinduism, p.102)

If we take this more expansive view of duty, the shortcomings of the typical westernized view will be thrown into relief.  The usual way of thinking about duty relieves the individual from having to think about the rest of human society and the non-human and natural world.  The gods, gurus, and ancestors usually don’t even make it into the picture.

If we think in terms of the pancha rina, it will be easier to achieve the desire-less state, for we will be thinking of the good of all beings rather than only thinking of ourselves and our immediate associates.  And if we acknowledge God, gods, gurus, and ancestors, we provide a way to carry on the living tradition by setting a good example for the coming generations.  The paradox of paying attention to tradition is that it actually safeguards the future better than points of view that focus only on the present.  By honoring the past, we make way for the future.  And this is why the sixteenth chapter focuses so much on the importance of following scriptural injunctions.  If we just make things up as we go along, we will be extremely vulnerable to whatever fad happens to come along at a given moment.

Ultimately we have to eliminate desire in order to achieve liberation, and that can be a very daunting goal.  But if we place ourselves within the larger context of dharmic tradition and dharmic society, we realize that we don’t have to go it alone.  We have many others who have gone before us, who have walked in the right way and teach us how to do the same thing.  We just have to follow their example, which leads us to have compassion for all beings, to reverence the illumined ones, and to live a life of true service to others.

Baba Lokenath Meditation

baba lokenath cropped

A biography of the realized sage, Sri Baba Lokenath (1730-1890), has just been published in English.  This book, the first of its kind, is written by Baba’s disciple, Shuddhaanandaa Brahmachari, who established a Baba Lokenath temple at his personal ashram in the Himalayas and spent many years meditating on Baba and collecting historical research.  Baba Lokenath is known for severe austerities, for his travels with Trailinga Swami, and for his many miracles.  For beginning seekers, the stories of extreme asceticism can be intimidating, but Shudhaanandaa does a good job of including meditations that anyone can practice at the end of each chapter.  Here is one meditation from the book:

Sitting comfortably erect for meditation, offer all that you are into the rising and falling of the light within the breath.  When you are deeply relaxed, see yourself before you were born, as a spark of diamond-white light in the Divine Heart.  Feel the pure, sweet, nurturing energies of the Divine all around you, like a womb.  Feel the pure essence of the Divine as your own essence.  This is home, where you come from, who you are beyond form.  Allow the golden-white, Divine Light to flow through you now, informing and forming your life today in ways that are beyond your understanding.  Wrapped in the Light that is your true home, know that you are safe, that you can always return to this Light, because it is who you are.  Everything else will one day disappear.  Only this Light will be left.  Whenever you are beset with difficulty, remember this simple, brilliant spark of Light that you are.  Offer your troubles into it.  Let the Light burn them away until they disappear into the Light (from the end of chapter two). 

I was struck by the feminine image of the womb in this meditation and also by the practical aspect of releasing problems into the Light.  If any distractions or worries remain after the opening part of the meditation, one has an opportunity to deal with these at the end.  This could be a good accompaniment to pranayama, for those who wonder what to do mentally when completing the breath work.  Through this exercise, we can all get a small taste of the life of this amazing ascetic.

A brief review and excerpt of The Incredible Life of a Himalayan Yogi: The Times, Teaching, and Life of Living Shiva, Baba Lokenath Brahmachari, by Shuddhaanandaa Brahmachari, edited by Ann Shannon.  Kolkata: Lokenath Divine Life Mission, 2014.  The Amazon Kindle edition was used for this post.

Gita Wisdom: Chapter Twelve Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

śreyo hī jñānam abhyāsāj jñānād dhyānaṁ viśiṣyate

dhyānāt karmaphala tyāgas tyāgāc chantir anantaram

The transcendental knowledge of scriptures is better than mere ritualistic practice; meditation is better than scriptural knowledge; renunciation of selfish attachment to the fruits of work (Karma Yoga) is better than meditation because peace immediately follows renunciation of selfish motives. 12.12 Trans. Prasad

This chapter outlines four different paths to approaching God (in ascending order): ritualistic practice, knowledge of scriptures, meditation, and renunciation of the fruits of action.  First of all, we should notice that none of these practices are at all condemned by Shri Krishna, as all of them are effective paths to liberation.  Each person should take the path that suits his or her past karma and present disposition.  It should also be noticed that these paths are not mutually exclusive.  One may meditate while performing ritualistic actions: indeed, the original purpose of puja and homa is to guide the worshipper into meditation.    Also, one may undertake such activities for unselfish purposes, as when one conducts sadhana for world peace.

There also seems to be an ascending degree of difficulty here.  A street vendor may reach complete liberation simply by selling newspapers or snacks, provided that the street vendor makes each sale as an act of devotion to Shri Krishna.  The same could be said of any profession or any way of life.  Sanatana Dharma insists that the state of mind, the disposition of the heart really matters, as opposed to what may be happening outwardly.  Any action can become a kind of worship when it is offered with a loving, reverential spirit.  We might be tempted to wonder why we need rituals and meditation at all, if the path of renunciation is enough.

Well, precisely because the mind is so difficult to tame do we need these other practices.  I can easily become heedless, performing actions without the intention of Self-realization.  I can get caught up in the veil of Maya, in which I forget to regard everything as a manifestation of the ultimate reality.  So I need gods in order to take me to God.  I need personal devotion.  I need to offer fruit, flowers, incense, flame, and water before my ishta devātā.  I need meditation, so that I realize that this murthi really is my point of contact with that manifestation of divinity.  It is not an inert object: it is the living presence of the divine in my life.  I then need scriptures to make sure that my head stays “screwed on straight,” as my dad would say, so that I see my activities within the context of the whole.

Then when I arrive at work, wherever that might be, I come to the job with this frame of mind that everything is worship.  I can look at the phone, the computer, the broom, the vacuum, the street, the clients, the students, the customers, as the context in which divinity unfolds.  I can tear down the dividing wall between the sacred and the mundane and behave as I would in the temple.  I can keep silent within and renounce the fruits of action.  Shri Ramakrishna was fond of using the image of water sliding off of a duck’s back.  He would also talk about walking in the rain without getting wet.  In other words, we should complete worldly actions with divine intent.  This is the most difficult yoga, but it is also the most rewarding and the culmination of the other types of discipline.

Perhaps we can begin to stay in this state for just a few minutes each day, and then a few hours each day, and then a whole day, and then whole weeks, and so forth.  This requires an odd combination of toughness and gentleness, self-discipline and self-forgiveness.  It requires a willingness to keep trying when the negative emotions overpower the wisdom within.  The work is certainly worthwhile, because things can be so beautiful when seeing the world from a point of view where no payback is desired or required.  Suddenly the world pops into brilliant color and life, once we stop the game of passion and anger.  Today let’s begin again to begin again, to strive to put our charioteer’s advice into practice.

 

Activating Your Inner Genius, Part Four

Ganesha figure with offering

 

In order to more fully discover what keeps us stuck in life, we must take a look at what we withhold from the universe.  When a plan or project doesn’t move forward, either effort has not been put forward or the effort does not match the scale of the obstacles in the way.  Hindus pray to Mahaganapati, Lord of the Ganas (Servants of the Gods), also known as Vigneshwara, Remover of Obstacles, in order to get the flow of energy moving again, to break the cycle of low return on a low investment.  The philosophy of the Vedas, otherwise known as Santana Dharma or Hinduism, teaches the relationship of cause and effect.  Those of us who want a big return must also make a big investment.  Wherever there is stasis, lack, or privation, there must also be some corresponding ill use of resources.  To use resources (like time, money, and relationships) in the best way requires that we first align our use of these resources with our most deeply held beliefs.  If we knowingly or unknowingly commit resources to projects that do not align with our values, we experience lack and privation.  Second, the resources committed must match or exceed the obstacles in the way.

In order to overcome obstacles, we must either put our own resources towards overcoming them or partner with others who have similar interests.  We can partner with other mortals, with the devas, or with our ancestors in seeking to advance ourselves down the right path in life.  The skeptic will say that prayers to gods and ancestors can’t make any difference, but our tradition teaches otherwise.  In order to stop withholding our gifts from the universe, we must first feel ourselves to be in a safe space.  Fear causes the action of withholding, and this fear has its roots in the sense of insecurity.  The person who feels more secure will commit more resources to the cause than the person who does not feel secure.  The person who believes in a secular, materialist, autonomous, isolated self will feel less secure, for he or she believes that it really all does depend on the individual. The person who believes in greater values, like the Satsanga, the lineage, the ancestors, the community, etc., will feel more secure, for the responsibility of living according to dharma is spread across the generations and across a dense web of relationships.  Practicing the rituals of the tradition affirms the link between generations (sages and ancestors to progeny), between orders of nature (human, animal, vegetable, mineral), and between metaphysical orders (divine, subtle and material reality). By giving the mind a firm foundation in these differing layers of reality, the practitioner of dharma begins from a position of strength.  From this position of strength, the Work of inner and outer transformation proceeds more smoothly.

If we want to know why we are “stuck” in one particular area of life, we must ask ourselves, “What am I withholding from the universe?”  This line of questioning will undoubtedly lead to some form of self-sabotage in which we have not given ourselves wholeheartedly to a spouse, to an artistic project, to an employer, to a spiritual vow.  You might object to this form of inquiry, saying, “But I am afraid that someone will take advantage of me if I give myself fully.”  This fear is certainly legitimate, and it is one reason why we invoke the protection of the Satsanga.  When we give to the community, we also receive its support in return.  At the same time, if the fear persists, we must ask whether the situation is dharmic in the first place.  If we live in constant fear of exploitation, something must be amiss.  The dharma does not require us to stay in a place where someone continually takes advantage of our labor.  But we always must inquire into whether it is merely the ego that is at stake or some larger sense of justice.  We are not required to protect the ego, but we are required to protect justice.  Discerning between the two can take a lot of personal and communal struggle, and very few rules of thumb apply that can give us the answers in all situations.

Provided that no exploitation has taken place, and provided that we really believe in the goal that we profess, their can be no remaining excuses for not applying ourselves to the task fully and completely.  Once that is done, the battle is almost over.  When the victory in the mind has been won, the victory in the world will soon follow.  The results may not be as grandiose as we expected, but we will certainly be better off than we would be if no effort had been made.  To give a silly example, let’s say that I have a headache that I rank at a ’10’ (meaning the most pain) on a scale of 1-10.  If I take a medicine, and I now rank my pain at a ‘7,’ do I say that the medicine did not work?  No, because I reduced my level of pain by 30%.  Should I go ahead and take the whole bottle of pills?  No!  I should only do what is proportional to the situation, working according to my path in life and what that path allows.  Spiritual practices are most efficacious in the life of the individual when they do not fall above or below a certain recommended dose.  How much should I exert myself?  To the point that it causes me some pain, but not to the point that it causes major disruption in my life.  Householders must behave like householders, and monks like monks, but there should be a certain “family resemblance” between the two paths of spirituality.

We can say then, that if we exert ourselves in sadhana, we will also exert ourselves in mundane ways, and vice versa.  Failing to exert oneself, to give of oneself in a spirit of generosity, even extravagance, will not yield the desired result.  Reality will be harsh and unyielding in this way, and yet, if we can really understand this law, we have a chance of succeeding, in spirituality or in any other area of life.  I must not only give but give to the greatest of my ability, and then my new Self can emerge from hiding.  This is a difficult teaching, but it also holds great promise.

Activating Your Inner Genius, Part Three

Suspension Bridge

The Element of Risk

Highly adaptive and creative people also possess a third quality, a certain tolerance and even love of risk.  A life without any element of risk would also be a life without happiness, for as human beings we seek to face adversity and overcome it.  Mountaineers face the hazards of frostbite, of avalanche, of disorientation, and the like, and these dangers, far from invalidating the endeavor, actually make climbing the mountain worthwhile.  A great musician must take to the stage and perform, knowing the possibility that he or she could make a mistake in front of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.  Venturing into the spiritual life also necessarily entails some risk: in the silence of meditation, we have to come face to face with ourselves, with our true motivations and intentions.  We run the risk of losing the good life that we have for the sake of something that we dearly hope will be better.

This does not mean that simply any risk will do: a risk that leads to avoidance of duty or harm to others will not lead to advancement on the spiritual path.  A good risk will lead to a more rewarding life if the “gamble” pays off and will have a minimal downside if the expected gains do not materialize.  Of course, taking the example of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, we must not consider the fruits of action, whether positive or negative, when acting in the course of duty.  As a parent, I do not control every aspect of my children’s lives, especially as they grow older, but I must nonetheless seek to provide for them in the way of material comfort and ethical guidance.  My responsibility changes not one bit whether they become Nobel Prize winning scientists or, God forbid, end up in jail.  I still have the inalterable duty to love them and care for them.

Good risks stem from trying something new, like learning a musical instrument or a new language, where the downside might be nothing more than a little bit of embarrassment while the upside is a substantial new area of knowledge.  Good risks produce butterflies in the stomach accompanied by a feeling of pleasant expectation.  We all take such a risk in joining a community, a satsanga.  We forego some of the privacy of being a solitary practitioner in order to join with others in order to find some wisdom that we would not be able to find alone.  Such good risk-taking can be a way out of a slump or depression.

I previously identified up-cycles and down-cycles as characteristic of any creative endeavor.  In order to move to a higher energetic vibration, we must embrace a certain level of risk.  Take a look at the diagram below:

inner genius diagram five

Risk can be the elevator that takes a discouraged individual into a better state of mind and better circumstances in life.  Nothing ever changes without this element of risk.  The diagram may oversimplify things a bit by suggesting that risk and change happen all at once, since change can sometimes take a long time before coming to fruition.  This does not change the fact that risk must be present in order for advancement in life to happen.

The law of karma is often described as an archer shooting arrows.  We all “shoot” the “arrows” of action each day, some landing nearby (in the immediate future) and some landing far away (in the distant future). We have to choose what sort of arrows we will shoot, whether they will be good actions or bad.  Either way, we will always experience the natural outcomes of our actions.  The risky part stems from taking an action that lies outside our previous areas of experience, from venturing into the unknown in order to obtain a desired result.  Such risk-taking will be rewarded, since no action can fail to produce a result.  We may sabotage ourselves through abundance of timidity but not through committing ourselves to a good cause.

When the element of time is added to the mix, the need for risk-taking becomes clearer.  A good risk today will be worth more than a good risk tomorrow, since the effects of good actions will compound over time.  Think about a person who waits until adulthood to start brushing his or her teeth.  Such a person might not have any teeth left to brush!  But a person who began brushing as a child will have no  trouble continuing the habit. Money invested in the stock market today will be worth more than money invested tomorrow, provided the investments are sound.  In the same way, investing in spiritual practice today produces compounded results tomorrow.  As we act, so we become.

Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter One

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

O Krishna, I see my own relations here anxious to fight, and my limbs grow weak; my mouth is dry,  my body shakes, and my hair is standing on end.  My skin burns, and the bow Gandiva has slipped from my hand. I am unable to stand; my mind seems to be whirling. 1. 28-29. (Easwaran trans.)

Arjuna sees his relatives and teachers arrayed on the battlefield before him and strongly desires to withdraw from the fight.  The evocative language here suggests not just distaste, but a powerful sense of dread.  Philosophically inclined readers might be reminded of Kierkegaard’s analysis of the binding of Isaac (or Ishmael in the Muslim tradition) in Fear and Trembling.  Isaac is the son of the promise, the one through whom Abraham will be blessed, through whom his descendants will become a multitude.  And yet Abraham, the “knight of faith,” is asked to kill this chosen son for God in an intense paradoxical situation.  Abraham ultimately doesn’t have to go through with it (because of the ram in the bush), but the ordeal certainly stings.  Arjuna does have to go through with the battle in the end, and Krishna’s discourse steels his frayed nerves for the fight.

For us today, the first chapter serves as a reminder that even our friends and relations can stand in the way of spiritual progress.  This can be a real, active resistance, as in abusive or manipulative situations, or the obstacle may be more psychological, as when we impute thoughts and feelings to our associates that may not actually be present.  Shri Ramakrishna was fond of saying that the guru may not be recognized in his (or her) own household.  Just as a lamp (deepa) casts a shadow directly below it, so those who take shelter in us may not see the light.  The path of duty prescribed by the Gita reminds us to press onward, regardless of whether or not anyone pays attention.

Fortunately, we do not have to actually take up arms against our families.  Most of the time, the feeling of resistance will be subtle, a case of one duty conflicting with another.  We may be tempted to give up spiritual practices out of a fear that they will conflict with family life.  If we press onward and let the chips fall where they may, we will find that the conflict was illusory.  Puja, japa, and meditation enhance family life as we become more patient, kind, and tolerant people.  The whole household receives blessings from the home shrine as we attune ourselves to divinity.  As we read the Gita, let us steel our nerves along with Arjuna for the “fight” ahead.

 

Activating Your Inner Genius, Part Two

Home movie theater cables

Forging Connections

Highly functioning people understand the creative process, but they also join networks larger than themselves to bring their plans to fruition.  In truth, the creative leader transcends the limited self and engages with the Self of the universe, also conceived as God, nature, or the All.  Friedrich Nietzsche, in his brilliant interpretation of Greek tragedy, sees the poet as the “Genius of Nature,” who draws inspiration from Life itself.  The poet doesn’t work from the limited self or ego, but becomes a channel through which the forces of nature surge.  The artistic genius, the saint, the entrepreneur all have in common the ability to see themselves more as a hallway or transit station for features of existence that are larger than the limited self.  These leaders have the ability to join with other people, join with nature, and join with the Divine.  The person who restricts creativity to the limited self or ego will necessarily suffer a diminution of power, while the person who opens herself to the All will harness much greater influence.  The self in isolation is weak: the Self in connection is strong.

The network that the adept harnesses should be more than just an immediate circle of acquaintances.  The expanded network includes non-human animals, the natural environment, departed ancestors, and spirit guides.  Tremendous things happen when inspired individuals transcend the usual boundaries of social groupings, national affiliation, and even species membership to create a better world.  Connection with the All shatters boundaries and limitations, so that the individual merges with the Cosmos itself.  Such a person cannot be defeated, for the limited self has ceased to become a consideration.  This amounts not so much to self-abnegation or self-denial but to an expansion of the self to include the whole universe.  This deliberate expansion becomes the goal of guided meditation.

Physical space will also manifest an individual’s inner sense of constriction or expansiveness.  A depressed person trapped in tamasic, depressive and destructive energies, will also have an atrophied relationship to physical space and the physical body.  A diagram will help to illustrate this point:

inner genius diagram three

This diagram illustrates what depression and lethargy look like in relationship to geography.  A person trapped in such a state has a diminished ability to interact with the physical environment and a diminished ability to use his or her body.  Most likely an individual with such a lifestyle will also have a whole host of limiting beliefs as well as many physical and mental health deficiencies.  In order to address aspects of health, the individual’s map of physical and social space must be expanded.  Rich surroundings and a rich social, intellectual, and emotional life produce a healthy mind, which, in turn, produces innovative and interesting work.  An atrophied psycho-social-geographical network will eventually manifest itself in poor physical and emotional health.  One can live in such a diminished state for years, even decades, but eventually the penalty must be paid, usually in the form of chronic health problems.

By contrast, a healthy individual gets into touch with his or her surroundings, in terms of both inner and outer “landscapes.”  The healthy individual lives in a variety of contexts, pursues varied interests, and interacts with a variety of people.  The difference can be illustrated as follows:

inner genius diagram four

This individual will be factually busier than the one pictured above, but will feel much less exhausted.  This is due not only to the rejuvenating effects of physical exercise, but also due to the more stimulating environment provided by social situations and contact with nature.   The activities pictured here are used as examples only: the actual activities may vary.  What counts are the number and quality of connections that the individual makes with his or her surroundings, to include connections with people and with non-human nature.  Notice as an aside that when individuals have expanded relationships with physical surroundings, the community will also grow stronger as the overall number of connections increases.  The effect on mental health cannot be overstated, as the individual with a varied and interesting environment will be smarter and more creative.   The brain functions best when it receives adequate stimulation.

The implications for personal development should be clear at this point.  The person who has an atrophied relationship with physical space and embodiment, who suffers from an overdose of tamasic energies, will not be able to muster the enthusiasm necessary to change careers, to start a new business, to write a book, or to go back to school.  His or her projects will suffer from a lack of inspiration and a lack of social backing.  By contrast, the person who has an expansive psycho-social-geographical network will feel more buoyant and receive more inspiration.  When the person in the first scenario fails at something, he or she will be much less resilient and will have no space in which to retreat when things go wrong.  The person in the second scenario has many resources on which to draw in times of trouble and will be more likely to find the next strategy to move things forward.  Of course, both of these sample networks exist in a state of flux, and all networks will expand and contract.  The only true problem comes when an individual cannot move out of a diminished network and gets stuck there permanently.  As a side note, the physical size of the network doesn’t matter: someone could stay within a city block and have a highly expansive network or travel the world and have a highly diminished network.  The quantity and quality of connections count the most, not the geographic “spread” of the network.

Activating Your Inner Genius, Part One

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.

frame on wall

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:

inner genius diagram one

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:

Inner genius diagram two

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.