Many spiritual methods are astoundingly simple.
“Watch the breath.”
“Repeat a mantra.”
What could be simpler? The problem is, their very simplicity can be deceiving. We think that for something to be powerful, it must be complicated.
If it’s full of complications, if there are many things to remember, if you have say it just right to make it work, then it must be very grand and important and effective.
But the most powerful techniques are utterly simple. Practicing the presence of God is simple. But of course it’s not easy.
Practicing the presence is a profound way to develop awareness of God’s closeness in our lives. The more we practice, the more we break the bonds of ego, and the more we become identified with that ever-satisfying reality.
Toward the end of his life, Swami Kriyananda challenged us to keep our minds on God for five minutes every day. I was embarrassed! He was asking that we try to think of God for such a short time, without thoughts of food, desire for things, and worries.
We all know how it goes. You’re saying the mantra, and you’re somewhere else. You can’t remember when you stopped, but you wake up and realize your thoughts have traveled far away. That’s why we practice the breathing techniques and mantras, to get our minds in the habit of attending to what’s important without wandering.
What are you doing when you walk or ride to an appointment? What is happening inside your head?
Nothing ever happens except inside our heads. Where your awareness is, that’s what you experience. If you’re blissful, you experience bliss. If you’re angry, you experience anger. You can be planning and remembering, daydreaming and reviewing regrets. But then you’re not being here, where you are.
With all the thoughts in your head, you’re experiencing a mundane reality. But if you’re remembering God, then you’re remembering who you truly are.
Yogananda said that if we take care of the minutes, the incarnations will take care of themselves. The trouble starts when we think we have to take care of something big and grand an important. But if we can focus our awareness, minute-by-minute, on what matters, then everything in our lives will improve.
The methods for practicing God’s presence are simple. One reason the masters tell us to chant is that the words and music absorb our hearts and minds. In time, we realize that the chant is the reality, and everything else is unreal.
We can chant silently, and make it simple: “Aum Guru,” or “Divine Mother, reveal Yourself,” or “Om Ma.”
For eight years without ceasing, a monk in Paramhansa Yogananda’s repeated “I love you, Guru” all day. At the end of that time, Yogananda one day turned to him and said, “I love you, too.”
There are many wonderful spiritual affirmations.
“I possess the creative power of spirit, the Divine. The infinite intelligence will guide me and solve every problem.”
“The sunshine of divine prosperity has just burst through my dark clouds of limitation. I go forth in perfect faith in the power of omnipresent good to bring me what I need, at the time I need it.”
When the laundry list of trivia starts to fill the cavity of our minds, we start saying our mantra or phrase, and everything becomes different. Soon we find that we are indeed practicing the presence of God.
There’s a little book called The Way of a Pilgrim, written perhaps 100 years ago by a Russian peasant. This simple man read in the Bible that we should “pray unceasingly.” In his simple way, he set out to discover what it meant.
He took the “Jesus prayer” as his mantra: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” And as he spent more time with his practice he began to discover that his breath, his heartbeat, and everything in the universe was the same. His prayer became all of creation, and he became nothing but the prayer. That is the ultimate practice of the presence of God.
There are many wonderful stories of saints who have prayed unceasingly. They open the parameters of your mind to startling new possibilities. We realize that we can pick up two little God-reminding pebbles and so much can happen.
We think we have to go somewhere, change our job, or get money so we can go on pilgrimage. But none of those things need to happen. You just have to step out your door and start saying “Ram, Ram, Ram.”
No matter what happens, you can still practice the presence of God. If you’re in a prison, or if you become ill and can’t meditate, you can do it. If everybody in your family is making noise and won’t give you a moment’s peace, you can silently practice. It’s the secret weapon of the lovers of God.