How can we tell if we’re receiving God’s guidance, or if we’re merely listening to the suggestions of our own subconscious mind?
It’s a very serious problem for the spiritual seeker – how to know if we’re being guided by God, or if we’re just being “guided” by our own feelings. And it’s very important to have enormous respect for the possibility that our “intuition” may be wrong.
In the forty-four years that I knew Swami Kriyananda, I hardly ever heard him say, “I feel guided to do this.” Very, very rarely.
More often, he would say, “Well, it seems like a good idea.” And then he would see if the idea would prove itself. If it was true, then it would work out.
For years, I never tried to develop my “inner guidance.” Instead, I focused on trying to do what made the most sense. And then if I had a good feeling about it, fine.
I said to Swami once, “People get in so much trouble when they follow their ‘guidance.’ I don’t even like to talk about it.”
He reprimanded me: “Asha, inner guidance is everything.”
So he didn’t want to dismiss the idea that we can ask God to guide us, and that He will respond.
But I had a healthy respect for the big mess I always seemed to make, when I thought I was following inner guidance, and I wasn’t.
If you want to know the right path to follow, the first thing you need to do is reclaim your destiny from the world around you. You can’t always be giving your power to other people, running around doing what they say.
You have to develop an inner reality of your own. So, even if you are following a lesser “guidance,” it’s better to commit yourself with courage to what you believe, than to lack the nerve to do that.
And the next step is to commit yourself courageously while listening sensitively and receptively.
In an inspiring book of Paramhansa Yogananda’s Gita commentaries that Swami Kriyananda edited, he suggests four points by which we can know if an action is right. There will be:
- An expansion of joy
- An expansion of inner happiness
- An expansion of sympathy
- A calm expansion of confidence
So – joy, happiness, sympathy, and confidence. These are four signs of right action.
The third criterion of happiness is an extension of sympathy. And this was a great lesson for me when I came to Ananda.
Many times, people imagine that they’re growing spiritually, but they aren’t actually becoming softer and kinder, so it’s not really working. And it’s not that you have to become somebody who hugs everybody. But a softening of the heart, and a lessening of judgment, and a realization that this world is a difficult place for all of us.
When your sympathy expands, everything changes. When you begin to look around and feel your soul expanding to include other people, and feeling what they are feeling, you can’t relate to the world the same way anymore.
It’s a completely different reality. It’s how you can tell if you’re growing spiritually – not by your great yogic powers, but that you are becoming aware of your reality in everyone.
And then the last thing Swami speaks of is increasing calmness. When this level of unshakable calmness comes, by meditation and by the grace of the guru, the ego doesn’t get you worked into such a frenzy anymore.
When you begin to experience that kind of calmness, you find that you are no longer dancing on the crashing waves at life’s surface, but you’re living ever more deeply in the ocean of Spirit.
And so, this is what we need to ask ourselves: “Am I developing the qualities of sympathy and calmness?” And, of course, this is what the guru can give you.
These qualities go together: calmness and sympathy. You can’t be calm if you’re shrinking your awareness, locked in your own reality and defending yourself against a hostile world. And you can’t be truly calm without having a certain all-satisfying joy. You have to have both, and then you will know that the grace of God is with you.