Still Trying to get It Right

I keep hearing these days that happiness is a choice. Apparently, it’s up to me to make it happen.

“Okay,” says I, “I’ll give it a try.” I decide to decide to be happy. Then along comes a crappy encounter, and I react in my usual crappy-encounter sort of way. I get upset, and I’m not happy. No surprises there.

But a moment later, I remember: I can choose to be happy. So, I strive to turn the crappiness into gratitude and goodness. I call on my powers of reason for support. I affirm repeatedly that this particular setback is no big deal, and…

It doesn’t work. Now I’m not only unhappy, I am frustrated by the result of my ineffective effort.

Well, that wasn’t much fun! “Next time,” my brain implores, “let’s just let the unhappiness run its course. No more striving to make it go away.”

I am back at square one. My original reactive emotions are poised to pounce at the slightest hint of a negative intrusion. My life continues to go up and down, as it did before.

Is that as good as it gets?

Wait a minute. Here comes another theory. If I can accept my unhappy reaction to every crappy encounter, it will lose its grip, and I will sooner be happy again. I can hardly wait for another opportunity to give this a try.

Surprisingly, this helps. I still get unhappy when something unpleasant occurs, but not for quite as long. I think I’m on a roll.

Let’s see, what’s next? Maybe I need to meditate more. Om, sweet Om.

And that helps, too. Until… Whamo! Suddenly, a karmic bomb explodes in my path, and it wounds me to my core. Om, kablooey!

That’s when it hits me. It must be my social conditioning. I’ve been programmed to wish that things were different when I don’t like how they are. Is that the problem?

“Bingo!” said a voice from somewhere far away. “You’ve got to work with what is.”

The trouble is, I don’t want to. When things are not to my liking, wishing they were different is as automatic in me as needing to eat when I’m hungry.

That same voice interrupted again. “You don’t need to eat when you’re hungry, you are simply giving in to an urge. What you need is self-control. Face the music and dance to it. You don’t always get to choose the tune. The one that plays is the one that is calling you out, and it will play on a loop until you decide to cheerfully give it a whirl.”

Cheerfully? Are you kidding? If I get a flat tire, I have to cheerfully get out and change it? In the cold and rain? That’s asking a lot.

“That’s what life does,” said the voice. “It asks a lot. But if you give a lot back, you find that you’re not unhappy anymore.”

Well, I am hardly free of reactive emotions. But they don’t run me ragged like they used to, and meeting them with an understanding smile works well to quiet them down. Challenges are part of life’s daily docket, and it seems the better we get at facing them calmly, the more they test our mettle. The last part of the climb is usually the steepest and most exacting.

Like everyone else, I am trying to win my release from what causes me to hurt. Changing a flat tire cheerfully in the rain, slogging through a swamp of red tape, or dealing with a personal disaster, is a test of right attitude that can often be hard to get right. You know you got it wrong when it upsets you.

What’s funny is that the answer is so plain and simple. And yet, we fight it with our egoic desires as if they had the power to free us. The truth is, we cannot be happy if we make it conditional on getting what we want. Only in choosing to want what we get will happiness truly be ours, unaffected by flat tires, red tape and even personal disaster.

What comes of itself, let it come. Swami Kriyananda showed us how. No matter how severe the trial, he always made the most of it. And no one I have ever known was happier.

Ignorance: Bliss or Beware?

We’ve all heard it said that ignorance is bliss, and that what you don’t know can’t hurt you.

But what you don’t know can hurt you. It can even kill you. I dare say that most of the people who die every year, die of some form of ignorance, whether slowly from decades of poor habits or suddenly from something they didn’t see coming.

Ignorance is not bliss. It is misery waiting to manifest. It is pain waiting to pounce. It is delusion waiting to deceive. You don’t have to look far and wide to observe the part that ignorance plays in the world. Not only is it pervasive, it is also powerful. Lately it seems that ignorance is the fuel that is powering our planetary decisions. This may be an ascending age of consciousness, but it’s a long way from where we are now to the top of the cosmic cycle.

Be that as it is, there’s a purpose to ignorance also. It is what we have to overcome in order to reach the summit of Self-realization. God did not mean it to be an easy achievement.

In a dark room, if you turn on a light, the darkness disappears. But where there is ignorance, the darkness remains even in the presence of light. “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not” (John:1). In other words, we are eternally bathed in God’s divine light, but if we shut it out by turning to our egoic desires instead, we wind up in the shadows of that light, where we stumble and suffer.

Ignorance is expressed in endless ways, but its root cause is simply our lack of awareness of who we truly are. In looking for happiness outside of ourselves, we lose sight of our innate divinity. We develop a case of spiritual amnesia, thinking that we are the body-mind that we have merely borrowed for this incarnation.

There’s a funny story about a challenge that God was facing in relation to man’s tendency toward this mistaken identity. Rumor has it, He was having second-thoughts about what he had done in creating us in the first place. According to anonymous but reliable sources, God became exasperated over man’s constant pestering for favors, wanting Him to intercede to make life easy. So, God went to His council of advisors and said, “I’ve got to get away from these people down there, but I don’t know where to hide where they won’t find Me with all of their complaints and prayers for things they want.”

Many suggestions were made and rejected until one of the council members had a brilliant idea. He said to God, “Why not hide inside of man. It will take him almost forever to find You there!”

God loved the idea, and that is where He has been ever since, waiting for us to want Him alone.

To overcome our body-mind identity and its desires, we must rise above our ordinary human level of consciousness, and this isn’t easy. It means doing as Arjuna had to do in the Bhagavad Gita, purging ourselves of those myriad “mental citizens” that bind us to delusion, and thus to the shadows of God’s light. That light is ever present, but learning to live in attunement to it is no small accomplishment.

It’s a process, isn’t it. We do this one shift in consciousness at a time, and thankfully there is goodness and grace in every shift we make. But here’s what is most surprising and remarkable about that. Spiritual advancement is not a question of attaining anything. It is simply a matter of opening the door to a state of being that is ours already, hidden from us only so long as our focus is elsewhere. As that door gradually opens, the soul begins to emerge from the shadows, showing us the way to joy in God.

God’s creation exists on myriad levels of manifestation, all at the same time. Every generation has its extremes – Hitlers and Gandhis, fools and mystics – along with every human possibility in between. On a higher level, however, is God’s divine light, which forever surrounds us, forever dwells within us, is forever accessible, and which cannot be diminished by any gross material reality. We are literally imbued with the light, love, wisdom, peace, power and joy of God, untouched by darkness, hatred, ignorance, fear, weakness or sorrow.

And yet, we continue to suffer. We are practiced in the art of misplacing our priorities, in

seeking our satisfaction in egoic pursuits, which causes the light that “shineth” within us to remain incomprehensible. And so it is until we reach that point of “anguishing monotony,” as Yogananda called it, and we say “Enough is enough. I want more by wanting less of what the outside world can give me. I want God and the true abundance that wanting Him can bring.”

Krishna said to Arjuna, “Be thou a yogi.” In other words, realize, as the yogi does, that all is love, all is light, all is an opportunity to live in joy. We must only remember who we truly are.

Shiva’s Dance

In Hindu legend, Lord Shiva is depicted as Nataraja, lord of the dance that destroys the old and weary ways of the world. Whether by wisdom or whim, Shiva decides what must go, and with wild and ecstatic abandon, he performs its obliteration. His purpose, though widely misunderstood, is release of the soul from its false identification with illusion.

It matters not, or perhaps it matters most, if Shiva’s exterminating dance is at the expense of traits and things that we crave or long to keep. Where there is misery of loss over that which is taken away, the message would appear to be clear: a lesson in non-attachment is sorely needed.

We are only human, of course, and it is natural to feel sad about much of what Shiva destroys: a system that served us well for a time, a forest burned to the ground, a neighborhood lost to a storm or flood, and the lives of those harshly affected or swept away by tragic events. But gone is gone, at least in familiar form. When we do not let these go, part of us dies with them. Chaos is often a necessary pre-condition for new life, new growth, new systems, and new civilizations to emerge.

Shiva dances to undo our delusions. If we cling to them of desire or grief, we find ourselves also caught in his path of destruction. What is the use of that? We must control what we can, which is ourselves, and accept what we cannot, which is everything else. Shiva’s dance is done to break us of believing that we know better, to disrupt us of comforts that leave us complacent, to teach us that we are here to accept, adapt, and advance according to whatever occurs.

We want to be happy, and Shiva’s role, paradoxical though it seems, is meant to show us how. Mourn if you must, he is telling us, but then release your attachment to what is no longer there as before. Relationships need not end with death or departure, whether to a person, a place, or a piece of nostalgic connection. We may feel these always dear to us, and be grateful for what they have been; but when that feeling is one of deprivation, we suffer for no good reason.

In Shiva’s dance, earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions are not born of wrath. They are simply dramatic instruments of change, perhaps with a portentous karmic purpose, but always for the sake of clearing a path for self-offering and receptivity to emerge. Tragedies and disasters are executioners of delusion. As we calmly see the truth in this – that we are not the doers of what is done, not the owners of what we name as ours, not the knowers of what is meant to be and why – and as we trust in God’s good will, even as displayed in Shiva’s fiery moves, our happiness gets remarkably easier to gain and sustain.

Shiva’s dance is said to take place at the center of the universe, which represents the heart. Though it tests us, sometimes terribly, it is ever a dance of love.