When my mother’s ailing body threatened to make her feel depressed, she would say, “Getting old isn’t for sissies!”
“Still,” she added, “it’s better than the alternative.”
The spiritual path isn’t for sissies, either – but of course, it’s much better than the alternative.
In fact, the spiritual path is for warriors – it’s no gentle walk in the park. Swami Kriyananda said that the most essential quality for a devotee is courage.
A friend of mine would measure the quality of her spiritual life by the depth of her meditations. One day, God sent her a health challenge that made it impossible for her to meditate. Still, she continued to sit before her altar every day and gaze at a photo of Paramhansa Yogananda while asking him to help her overcome her test.
After several months, she succeeded in transcending her health issues and was able to resume meditating again. Her courage and perseverance in the face of her serious health issues drew God’s grace and carried her through.
In the spiritual life, it’s important to know that there is always a way forward. When we pray sincerely for God’s guidance, we find that He comes to our aid, often in wonderfully creative ways.
At one time or another, we all fall short of our aspirations. When we fall, we really have no choice but to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and start over again.
Years ago, I faced a difficult test. Finding myself in the presence of Swami Kriyananda one day, I decided to unburden myself.
Tears streaming down my face, I explained how my life was going very well except for this one problem. “If only I didn’t have to face it,” I said, “I would be happy and free.”
Swamiji said nothing – there wasn’t even a hint of sympathy in his face! “Expressionless” is the only way I can describe it. He let my words hang in the air without relating to them in the least.
We sat in silence for a while, until at last the phone rang. Swamiji got up and answered it without even a glance in my direction. The call was about a doctor’s appointment. When he hung up, it was clear that our “conversation” was over.
As unhappy as I was, I knew that his response was perfect: “Enough of this self-pity!”
I understood that I needed to fight the battle that life had put before me, because it would make me stronger and more inwardly free.
I don’t like to think what might have happened, if Swamiji had coddled me. Of course, he was far too wise for that. He knew that I would have seized on his sympathy as a drowning person grasps a log. And I wouldn’t have gained strength of fighting a difficult battle.
I’ve always known that we must give our best in everything we do. Yet, for a long time, I was puzzled about the reason why. I thought, “After all, if this world is an illusion, why bother trying to make it perfect?”
But it isn’t really a question of making this world perfect. Rather, it’s a question of the kind of energy we want to develop in ourselves. The problem is that a careless, sloppy attitude, even toward worldly success, won’t develop the dynamic energy we need to advance toward God.
The spiritual path is like walking a tightrope. The skills required are simple, but demanding. They include courage, a strong will, and unceasing vigilance to rise above ego-motives. As Yogananda put it, the path is like running at top speed while performing tricks along the way.
No one can force us to make the effort. But our happiness only increases when we try hard. As for shortcuts on the spiritual path – well, there really aren’t any.
When a friend of mine learned that she had cancer, I admired her attitude. She said, “I don’t have the luxury of a single negative thought.”
Although, in time, she died, she embraced her challenge with great will power and determination. Those of us who were with her when she left the body felt her soul rise into a state of deep happiness and freedom.
When we pass through difficult times, it can be hard to accept that our karma is always fair. Yet we cannot begin to make progress until we accept this with every fiber of our being.
We absolutely cannot escape our karma. We must learn the lessons it is meant to teach us. The greatest obstacle to our freedom is that we want our karma to go away, instead of facing it with courage, even eagerly.
In the face of life’s challenges, we’ve all been tempted to cling to personal weaknesses that would prevent us from winning a great victory. The best time to heal ourselves of those weaknesses is when the tests are small.
In small matters, we may barely notice that we’re responding with negative attitudes. Raging at the weather, or at another driver, seems a trivial kind of anger. But it is not.
Every time when we respond negatively, we are cutting a fresh habit in our brain. And when the stakes are higher, we’ll be drawn into the same groove of habit again. By contrast, each time we respond with calm, loving energy, we are deepening a habit that will give us the strength to pass our difficult tests.
It’s so easy to drift with the currents we’ve set in motion in the past. But, in truth, when we act from selfish motives we are swimming with a current that will take us away from God.
Yogananda said that the spiritual path is fifty-percent God’s grace and twenty-five percent the guru’s effort on our behalf. Our part is just twenty-five percent of the total effort required. But, of course, that twenty-five percent requires one hundred percent of our effort.
Our soul longs to return to God, as a winding river longs for the sea. When we face our tests with courage and call for God’s help, we find Him steadily guiding us back to our home in His perfect bliss and freedom.