Janyananda will be conducting Mahalakshmi Homa at the University of South Carolina, Aiken, on Friday, November 22nd. More details to follow. If you would like to help sponsor the ceremony, please use the donate link. A $5.00 donation via paypal will cover a pound of organic butter to be clarified for ghee offering. If you live in the Aiken-Augusta area and can donate kindling or firewood, please let us know. You can use this form or subscribe to the newsletter on the main page so that we have your information.
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.
This dialogue with the deva transpired after intense puja, japa, and meditation. It is believed to be a trustworthy revelation from the Lord when received with sincerity and faith.
Janyananda: Master, teach me the method by which I may reach an end to suffering, the path by which perfection can be obtained.
Ganesha: The ignorant wrongly believe that by bowing in devotion they bring shame upon themselves. They think it a disgrace to bow before divinity, as though it were beneath the dignity of human beings to prostrate before God. I tell you truly that when you enter into praise of God, the divine presence enters into you, so that all fullness returns to you. No debasement of human dignity occurs during worship: rather, by exalting the devas, mortals enter into their highest expression of goodness.
Janyananda: I take you to mean that the world of the devas is above and beyond the human world, as a realm of perfection and beauty. In order to perfect human powers, we must strive to reach the deva loka. Through sadhana, we make contact with the deva loka, and, indeed, actually live in it while we simultaneously live on earth.
Ganesha: Yes, but you must never think of the deva loka as having a separate existence, for it resides within all things. The shining ones are never far away, never remote or unobtainable. The second you call my name, I live within you. I honor even the most selfish prayer: for health, for wealth, for power, for prestige. Through selfish desire many have come to me. Through selfish desire, many have become great saints. I use desire as my vehicle, to draw all things into myself. This is one of the meanings of the many-armed deities: the bottomless desires of human beings represent so many pathways to divinity. Our arms reach out to you though you know them not.
Janyananda: So everyone comes to God through the means of captivation that appeals to that person? Can we say, then, that all paths lead to God, that all paths are equally good?
Ganesha: Some means are, indeed, more efficient, and lead to a less prolonged search. Each day you leave yourself your own inheritance. Each day you harvest what you sowed the day before. In order to have an advantageous position tomorrow, you must do your utmost today. Make only the best sacrifices. Do the best work. Perform the greatest sadhana. Give of the best that you have. No effort, no matter how small, ever goes wasted. You are the direct beneficiary of every deed in which you engage. In this way, you create yourself day by day.
Janyananda: I know this intellectually, but my mind and heart grow dull. I know that I ought to maintain my spiritual practices. I know that I should think only good thoughts, but my strength fades. I fall in and out of love with spirituality: I falter so easily. The slightest distraction throws me off balance entirely.
Ganesha: Not for nothing did Shri Krishna teach the truths of the spirit through the image of the battlefield. Not for nothing did my father, Lord Shiva, clothe himself with ashes from the crematory grounds. You must remember that you fight for life and death, that you engage in fierce struggle. You must compete as though you wanted to win, to overcome, to triumph. The devas march at your side, but you must take up arms yourself. Half-hearted efforts lead to half-realized results. Be unreasonable in your devotions. Be like a madman. Go beyond respectability. Risk becoming a laughingstock for God. The greatest rewards come from the greatest efforts. Do not be deceived by those who teach a doctrine of moderation, who view spirituality as one more technique for self-improvement. Do not be deceived by the false grace which promises something for nothing.
Janyananda: Sometimes I wonder whether I have made any progress at all, whether I am not going in circles rather than advancing in the spiritual life. I wonder whether my practice is just an elaborate fantasy, whether you are just an imaginary friend.
Ganesha: You are not the judge of your own progress. Do not wallow in remorse, depression, or despair. Your only job is to lose yourself in me. Your only task in life is to journey further and further into everlasting bliss. It does not matter whether you succeed in your own terms. It does not matter who does or does not follow you. You must remain focused on giving your all.
Janyananda: I think that I am beginning to understand. I promise to apply myself to the utmost as long as you promise to remain with me.
Ganesha: All you have to do is call my name, and I will be there. I will be your refuge, and I will make you a refuge for many. You cannot imagine now the miracles that wait for those who hope in me. I will make the Satsanga my bulwark on the earth, and no evil will prevail against it. When times of doubt arise, return to these words of mine and draw strength from them. Gaze on an image of me and offer prayers. Make no mistake: I come to my devotees through such simple means. I will not fail those who trust in me.
Some aspirants offer material sacrifices to the gods. Others offer selfless service as sacrifice in the fire of Brahman. Some renounce all enjoyment of the senses, sacrificing them in the fire of sense restraint. Others partake of sense objects but offer them in service through the fire of the senses…All these understand the meaning of service and will be cleansed of their impurities. 4.25-26, 30b (Easwaran trans.)
Human beings do not lack the means of spiritual liberation: they only lack the proper resolve to see a particular path through to its conclusion. Shri Krishna here offers many ways (read the entire chapter for more) that individuals can move beyond duality and into the bliss of God-consciousness. Restraint of the senses, control of vital breath, selfless service of others, and study of scriptures can all bring a dedicated yogi to the very edge of human understanding so that enlightenment can dawn. Spiritual aspirants do not see the results that they desire not because these practices are ineffective, but because of wavering consciousness, the propensity to fall in and out of love with Self-realization.
Imagine if, reading a novel, you were to read the first chapter over and over again rather than continuing with the plot. This would quickly get aggravating, because you would never get to the climax of the story. Or imagine if your car tire had gotten stuck in a ditch, and, rather than freeing the stuck wheel, you simply revved the engine over and over again. Such an approach would only lead to an empty fuel tank. Or suppose you wanted to paint a room in your house but used the entire bucket on only one square foot. It would be better not to paint the room at all! Progressing in the spiritual life requires a certain expansiveness, a willingness to pass beyond pre-established boundaries that we set for ourselves.
I am reminded of one of the Analects of Confucius. If I can paraphrase, one of his disciples said, “Master, I want to follow in your way, but it’s just too hard for me.” The Master replied (again, paraphrasing), “You should go on doing good until you fall down in the road. You, on the other hand, are setting the limits beforehand.” In other words, we say that we believe in these lofty spiritual and ethical principles, but when it comes down to living them, we act as though we did not believe. We apportion a small amount of our effort, but not all of it.
One of my favorite poems is by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the first stanza reads, “My own heart let me have more pity on; Let / me live to my sad self hereafter kind, / Charitable; not live this tormented mind / With this tormented mind tormenting yet.” And later down in the poem, a great phrase reads, “leave comfort root-room.” I think that we do ourselves a disservice by penning spirituality into this notion of what we think it should look like and how it fits into some flow-chart of an ideal life. The roots of comfort just need a little more room to grow.
Using probably way too many metaphors, let’s return to the car image above. We can keep doing the same spiritual regimen over and over again, expecting always to get better results from the same thing. This is the “revving the engine” part. But to really get unstuck, we have to use a jack or wedge some boards under the tires. This is where the Satsanga and the teachers enter the picture. We don’t have to go it alone: others have tread the path before us, and others are with us along the way. We just need to band together to increase our overall capability for moving beyond the difficult spots.
I think that some of the difficult spots arise from a certain attitude of mind that is part grumbling and part procrastination. We say to ourselves, “I will make room for meditation (or yoga, or writing, or gardening, or my marriage, etc.) as soon as I have a little more money in my bank account” or “as soon as the kids are out of school” or “as soon as I get my career up and running.” Meanwhile, days, months, years, and decades pass by. There is always time to start again, and yet there is not always time to start again. Circumstances will never be better than they are right now.
I don’t mean this as one big guilt trip, but only as a reminder to 1.) get started and 2.) keep going. Amazing experiences await if we can tune into non-duality, into the unity at the heart of everything. It’s not here tomorrow or next week. It’s here now. In the state that Shri Krishna describes in chapter four, work and contemplation are one, self and other are one, and the world and heaven are one. It takes a little bit of effort to realize this state, but it’s definitely worth it. It is also easier in a way than the perpetual anxiety that characterizes everyday existence. So we should believe in the effectiveness of the practices, and believe in them enough to just keep going.
Honor and cherish the devas as they honor and cherish you; through this honor and love you will attain the supreme good. All human desires are fulfilled by the devas, who are pleased by selfless service. 3.11-12 (Easwaran Trans.)
Eknath Easwaran has decided to leave untranslated the Sanskrit word, devas, which can be translated as “God,” “gods,” or even “angels.” The word deva (m) or devi (f) is derived from the Sanskrit word div, which means, “to shine” (see further discussion in Swami Bhaskaranda’s Essentials of Hinduism, p. 73 ff.). The devas are the shining ones, manifestations of the powers of nature who assume form in order to serve humanity. In religion, it can be easy to get caught up in disputes over divine reality and such terminology as monotheism, polytheism, henotheism, animism, and other labels invented by scholars of religion. We should keep in mind that number doesn’t really apply to divinity, as divinity ultimately transcends form. Trying to count divinity would be like trying to count the number of drops of water in the ocean, that is, impossible. Even in monotheistic Judaism, the word for God in Genesis, chapter one, “Elohim,” is plural. The strict monotheism of Islam allows for the recitation of ninety-nine names of God. And, of course, Christianity allows for three “persons” of the Trinity.
Whether we speak of one, three, ninety-nine, or three hundred thirty million divine beings makes no real difference. The terminology used to refer to religions also makes no difference. Religious orthodoxy can be a trap, because it seems to suggest that what matters is having the proper opinion or belief. The notion of a “correct” belief can also be used like a weapon to denigrate those who disagree. Nothing could be further from the true purpose of religion, which is to overcome divisions and strife among human beings and between human beings, Earth, and other creatures. Beliefs are basically inert and lifeless unless they are put into action, and that is why Shri Krishna here places the emphasis on service. Whether serving the deities directly through puja or serving other people selflessly, God accepts it all as worship.
We have been falsely led to believe that power comes from asserting oneself over others, and that we have to push our own agendas on the world. The person who acts from the basis of separation and individualism suffers a loss of true power, which comes from a profound sense of respect for the divinity within all things. For reasons that we cannot understand in ordinary terms, God has chosen to take myriad forms, and this divine play pervades all existence. By respecting others, we respect God, who is the hidden life of the universe. Some people will prefer to refer to God as Mother, some as Father, some as Spirit, some as Higher Power, some as Energy, and some as Light. Some will prefer to avoid concepts of divinity, and that, too, is fine: after all, the highest divinity in Sanatana Dharma (the eternal, natural Way) is called “Nirguna,” without qualities (very similar to Buddhist emptiness). Again, terminology does not matter: selfless service does.
Shri Krishna teaches an avoidance of a prideful, egotistical attitude, which assumes that I have the answers and I know what’s right. Bowing in worship curbs this egocentric attitude and restores the proper sense of yielding, of flexibility, of giving, which brings some sanity into the world of “me” and “mine.” When I was a Christian minister, I used to notice how polite worshipers would be as they queued to receive consecrated bread and wine during communion. I thought how nice it would be if we could act that way in a traffic jam! I think that Shri Krishna is saying here that it’s all service, it’s all worship. We cherish God when we worship the devas, and we cherish God when we respect one another.
You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind. 2.47-48 (Easwaran Trans.)
Shri Krishna here propounds a most strict and severe discipline, but it is also a discipline that liberates. Who can claim to have not engaged in work for the sake of reward? Most of those in Western culture and even in global culture take it for granted that the purpose of work is to earn a paycheck and that such rewards are just desserts. We have bought wholesale into the idea that the world economy functions on enlightened self-interest, which can basically be read as selfishness, plain and simple. It doesn’t take long to realize that this paradigm inevitably produces dissatisfaction. The faith of Wall Street that “greed is good” produces suffering around the world in the form of exploitation of the earth and laborers as everything, even life itself, becomes a commodity. But even supposing that one is well paid and that one engages in ethical business does not guarantee that a paycheck will be satisfactory. We easily get used to material rewards, and as soon as we regard them as deserved, they cease to satisfy.
Krishna advises Arjuna to perform his duty as a warrior without regard for the consequences and without seeking power or material gain. Arjuna’s nature as a warrior is to fight, and he should concentrate on this task alone. If he focuses on anything other than duty, Arjuna will not be able to bring his whole mind to bear on the task at hand. And, we are told, the person who works for earthly rewards will reap the fruit of rebirth. The person who leaves any unfinished business on earth will keep returning again and again, to make a little more money or indulge in a little more pleasure-seeking. Real liberation must move beyond temporal rewards. And yet, if we still have these desires, it will do no good to suppress them or engage in feelings of guilt and remorse. Desires must either run their course or be transformed into something higher and purer. The spiritual disciplines of puja, japa, meditation, and asana are designed to transmute base desires into higher ones in a process of spiritual alchemy. This is the “fight” to which most aspirants are called.
Even on a more mundane level, we can examine how attachment to the result can be paralyzing. Suppose a first-time writer sits down at the computer and says, “I will now write a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.” Every phrase and sentence that makes its way onto the page will seem all wrong, and the would-be writer will most likely never make it to the first chapter, let alone a perfectly crafted novel. But suppose he or she says, “Let me just sit down to write each day and see what happens.” Such open-ended exploration will be much more likely to produce a high-quality product. Trying too hard to be a success can paradoxically be a sure road to failure. Krishna advises cultivating indifference to the results and simply getting lost in the task itself.
Some people have the opposite problem and are attached to inaction rather than action. Using the novel-writing example above, such a person might say, “It would be rather presumptuous of me to try to write a novel, so I will just daydream about it instead.” This person will not be satisfied in life, for, as beings caught in the world of name and form, we have been given the vehicle of action. We should seek to use that vehicle in the very best ways that we know how rather than sit on our hands. We are entitled to work, to engage our hopes in concrete projects. We are not guaranteed that those projects will succeed, but we are bound by duty to try to make them succeed.
In the Chandi, a prayerful recitation of the deeds of Goddesses Durga and Kali, the Mother fights against many demons who are grouped together in pairs. I am often reminded of two demons in particular, Self-Deprecation and Self-Conceit. In the spiritual life, and indeed in any pursuit whatsoever, we must avoid these twin tendencies. One is the temptation to regard ourselves more highly than we ought, and the other is the temptation to put ourselves down. Both of these tendencies are forms of insecurity, of a lack of true self-love. If we see ourselves as manifestations of the one eternal Self and concentrate on duty alone, we will be able to defeat these demons. Both Shree Maa and Swamiji are fond of saying that we should regard God as the doer, and this attitude frees us from many kinds of mental self-torture. If I operate from the perspective of ego, I will always be afraid of getting things wrong. But if I operate from the perspective that I, myself, am nothing more than a tool or instrument that the Universe uses, I will be free to simply do the work.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.