I have always been a very talkative person. Therefore, the idea that the saints spend a lot of time in silence posed something of a problem for me.
I decided early on – only half-joking – “That’s not the kind of saint I’m going to be. I’m going to be a saint who has lots of people over for tea in the morning and we’ll talk.”
I realized, “This is what I’m made of. I can refine it, but I can’t simply cast it aside.”
On the spiritual path, it does not benefit us to be at war with ourselves. We may think that the way to change the undesirable qualities in us is to consider them our enemies. But they are not our enemies. They are the clay from which we must mold a better self.
If we’re divided against ourselves, it’s good to remember that God never judges us harshly. Trying to get rid of our weaknesses by “beating them up” only makes our inner atmosphere tense. In more than forty years on the spiritual path, I’ve never seen it bring anyone any good. It only brings more and more tension and inner conflict, instead of greater clarity and resolution.
This is not to say that we can drift into God-realization like a leaf floating in a stream, under the guise of “self-acceptance.” It requires an enormous amount of energy, introspection, and self-understanding to grow closer to God.
But in the process of self-transformation we are not at war with ourselves. We are working together with God with the raw material of who we are right now, to make it what we want to be.
Now then, the source of many of our self-doubts and inner tensions is our feelings – especially those feelings we wish we did not have. How can we change our undesirable feelings – for example, of anger, hopelessness, rejection?
We need to understand that feeling is the fundamental quality of the universe. When we talk about God, we are speaking of bliss – and the essential quality of bliss is a feeling. It’s not merely an idea. When we experience God’s presence, it comes to us as a feeling. It is not a dry idea. It’s ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss – satchidananda.
The tool that God has given us for knowing him is intuition. Swami Kriyananda said, “Perfect intuition is perfectly calm feeling.” The feeling aspect of our nature is not something we’re trying to leave behind. Reason without feeling won’t take us to God. And feeling that is emotional, instead of being “kept in a state of reason” as Yogananda put it, also will not take us to God. Both feeling and reason are essential.
People who are very intellectual on their spiritual path, who just like to read books and ask complicated questions that have little practical application, don’t ever progress very far.
I had an amusing conversation with .sk. Somebody mentioned that Paramhansa Yogananda has said that he could remember his past lives all the way back to when he was a diamond.
We were discussing this, and someone said, “How long does it take to get out of being a diamond. And where do you go next? Is the diamond the highest stone? Do you become an emerald after that? Do you become a redwood tree? Is a redwood tree more advanced than an oak tree?”
Just all sorts of silly questions. I said, “I have no idea. But if I have a chance I’ll ask Swamiji.”
I was sitting at breakfast with him and we were talking a casually, so I brought it up the question.
He looked at me and said, “That is the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.”
But I was not deflected. I said, “I thought it was really interesting, Swamiji.”
He sort of went back to his eggs and toast for a few minutes. And finally he said, “In eternity, there is no time. So if it takes a long time to come out of being a diamond in order to become a Self-realized master, that time was a dream anyway. It’s always eternally ‘now’ at all times, and it just appears to be a long time.”
His second answer was, “What will you do with that information? How will that information actually help your spiritual life?”
Now, there are many questions fascinate the mind. But when we get too intellectual about our spiritual life, there isn’t enough feeling – because, you see, it’s the feeling quality that causes us to move forward.
“How long did it take us to stop being a diamond?” There’s no hunger in that question. You’re entertaining yourself, but there’s no urgent hunger for God.
If you go to a restaurant and study the menu, all of the food may look delicious. But no matter how long you read the menu, you won’t even walk in the door unless you’re hungry. It’s purely an intellectual interest until there’s a feeling that moves you.
Strong feelings are what ultimately move us to seek God. There comes a point on the spiritual path where you don’t need to understand very much because you’re so hungry that you just don’t care. You don’t need to know this one compared to that one and this and that; you just want somebody to feed you.
Yogananda’s Guru, Sri Yukteswar, was a great gyani, a saint of tremendous dispassionate wisdom. Yet in his book The Holy Science he says, “Without the natural love of the heart, it is not possible to take a single step forward on the spiritual path.”
Without that hunger of the heart, you won’t reach out and ask for something to eat.
Now, the problem in life is that we’re hungry, but we’re not hungry for God. We’re hungry for all sorts of things, for excitement, for self-justification, for control over others, for the opportunity to express ourselves, for the need to be heard.
It goes on and on. We want to be depressed, we want to be elated. A lot of the same pure feeling that would draw us quickly to God in fact spins us out in all kinds of directions.
The solution is not to dress in white clothes and carry a little book around and sigh and then read it all the time, and any time something annoying happens cite some little aphorism and then go sadly off on our way.
Because sooner or later, if we’re suppressing our true nature, it doesn’t work. It would be great if we could all go down to the casting department and get our little saint clothes on and wear them like a body suit. Instead, we have to make our sainthood out of who we are. And all of the roiling, tumbling, confused feelings within us have to be lifted, focused, and refined until they become that perfect love for God.
Relax! Accept that this is what we’re going to have to do. And being at war with ourselves is of no use. Yes, we’re striving to bring that which is not helpful in us under control. But there’s no value in revolting against it, or hating the way we are made.
Women tend to be more emotional than men – though not necessarily. Women tend to be more in touch with their emotions and feelings. And often for men the project is to understand their feeling nature, and usually for women the project is to redirect that feeling nature.
But that doesn’t make the project any more difficult for either side. It’s just the way it is.
Because feeling is, you might say, the central reality of the spiritual path, it’s only makes sense that the masters would offer us effective ways to change our feelings. They include chanting, Yoga postures, Kriya Yoga, diet, prayer, and above all, asking for the help of Guru and God in the moment.
Begin where you are. Be completely open and honest with God. And you will find that He is on your side, ever understanding, never judging, and always eager to guide and inspire your efforts to change.