Maybe It’s Time to Move

Each of us lives in a haunted house. Ghosts are there, and demons too. They have been with us from the time we moved in. We know them. They followed us from where we were before, and although they are not a constant disturbance, they tend to lurk in search of the opportune moment to cause an unruly fuss. It’s unsettling when they appear.

The house is the mind, and to make it a home, we have to face them where they hide, in closets of old regrets and crannies of unexpelled fears. Courageously, we must stare them down and send them away for good. A clean sweep of the house is the only solution. There will be trouble until it is done.

* * * * *

In times of trial and doubt, we look to the strong with envy, longing to be more like them. Little do we remember that the strong began the same as those who are not. They doubted their strength, were afraid to act, betrayed their ideals, failed when tested, lied to cover their faint-hearted tracks, hurt the ones they loved, and suffered in darkness long nights of the soul.

Finally, sapped of these miseries, they took a chance on facing down their fears. When it worked, they took another, and another. The strong began like everyone else, weak of will until willing to gamble on being more than who and what they had been. Their experience of courageous deeds taught them what their previous experience had prevented, and every successive act of strength became easier to take. It is ever the same.

* * * * *

Locally, you live in a body. Your address is wherever it takes you. Yet, in truth, you are as “non-local” as the farthest reaches of space. You’re a cosmic, inter-galactic being whose innate consciousness, if you would let it loose, is an unfenced, open field. It is not confined to your brain, your body, or any conceptual boundary.

As you attune to this, your perception of separation begins to dissolve and intuitive awareness takes over. When fully immersed in the moment, fully into its continuous flow, the field of your consciousness extends to infinity. Nothing is excluded as not of you. Wouldn’t you rather be living there?

Conversations Overheard in My Head

What are you doing?

I’m waiting.

Waiting for what?

Waiting to be ready.

Ready for what?

For whatever I’m here to do.

What do you think that is?

When I’m ready, I’m sure that I’ll know.

You could be waiting forever.

These things take time. Are you waiting too?

Not anymore. I got ready by getting started.

Started on what?

On doing what I wasn’t ready to do.

* * * * *

What does it cost? I asked.

That’s up to you, He said.

What do you mean?

How much of your life are you willing to give it? That’s the only real price. The rest is just time and money.

* * * * *

Dear God,

I prayed to You for relief, and my problem got worse. What kind of an answer is that? “Ask, and ye shall receive,” You said. I asked, but not for this. I would never have asked for this.

Nothing arrives unsummoned, my son. Who or what you are dealing with is who or what the soul in you requested.

How can that be? This is not what I want. You must have meant it for someone else.

Your problem exists for a reason. It’s a gift, admittedly veiled, but a gift nonetheless. You can try to ignore it, but it will not go away. It is yours to unwrap and resolve, and until you do, it could keep getting worse.

I thought You were a loving God. Is this Your idea of love?

Indeed, yes, it is. If I didn’t want the best for you, I wouldn’t bother giving you such a challenging gift to grow on. Get to it, and you will thank Me some day.

C’mon God, give me a break. If You do, I promise to love You even more.

Love is a two-way street. I’m not going to walk it for you just because I could. You have to meet Me half way. I will be there when you are.

Ego: Friend or Foe?

Have you ever had a nemesis? Someone you couldn’t get rid of, who could make you crazy with wanting to do him in? Someone like Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes?

I’m happy to say that I’ve never had anyone as nasty as that in my life. Many are they who I’ve walk the other way to avoid, but none has tortured my thoughts.

Years ago, however, at the heel end of a self-inflicted misery, I realized that I have had a nemesis – the very same one – over the course of countless incarnations. He isn’t a physical person I can punch or take apart; he’s a resident of my own brain, a character in my script that I cannot delete: the eminent Ego.

I give the Ego a capital E out of sheer respect for its persuasive influence and unflagging persistence. The Ego certainly catches the blame for most of the trouble I manage to get myself into. But here’s the catch: I don’t really despise it. In fact, I give it a lot of my attention, especially when its counsel is what my urges are wanting to hear.

The Ego’s attendant presence in my life raises an age-old series of questions: Is it merely a mischief-maker that God has imposed on me for His amusement, or does it possess redeeming qualities that I could be wisely using? Am I simply stuck with it, with its tendency to leave me wishing I had ignored it when I didn’t, or is there a way I can free it and send it packing?

As it turns out, the Ego is an ancient player, whose origin dates to India’s epic saga, the Mahabharata. Long before it was known to Freud and others by his three-letter name, the Ego was renowned in regal courts as a nobleman of the highest principles and moral conduct. His name was Bhishma, and his pedigree was unsurpassed. Bhishma was the son of the great King Shantanu and the goddess Ganga, symbolic of the primordial intelligence in Nature. By his magnanimous disposition, he grew to be a virtuous and selfless prince, devoted to serving the good of his fellow countrymen.

Bhishma, in the beginning, appears in stark contrast to the Ego as seen on display in the world today, for this is who he was meant to be, a gallant renunciate in the face of worldly temptations. He was such a loyalist, in fact, that in deference to a request that he give up his rightful claim to his father’s throne, he willingly complied. For this gracious act of sacrifice, Bhishma was granted an extraordinary boon: he could not be killed, nor would he die, except of his own choosing.

Here the story begins to turn. As years passed, the kingdom was beset with divisive forces, and a monumental battle loomed: the battle of Kurukshetra, which actually took place several hundred years before the birth of Christ. More importantly, it was an allegorical fight for the individual soul against the forces of delusion. Bhishma’s one great flaw is that he chose to stand on the side of material desire, in support of delusion.

And so it is that, despite the Ego’s commitment to the ways of the senses and to the lure of earthly desires, we cannot dispatch it from within us. We can only, by our resistance to its advice, coax it to release us from its grip.

Yet, the question remains: How did this virtuous friend become such a difficult foe?

Does the Ego want us to fail, to suffer, to regret the mistakes we make? Of course not.

It just wants us to trust it, which tends to be risky business, because its focus is ephemeral and short-sighted, commonly resulting in trouble. I suspect the Ego would love for us to be happy, but alas, the pleasures it promotes are fleeting, and the aftermath of these involves a toll. The Ego has developed its own agenda, reflected in the consumer mentality of our society itself.

As an advocate for material desire, the Ego’s perspective is of the ways and whims of the outside world, and thus it is ruled by duality, by the world’s pendulum swings between pleasure and pain. It tries to be a friend by constantly looking for the next high to offset the lows that it causes us to incur, but it cannot make our good times last. The Ego appeals to our emotions, and when that appeal triggers an emotional reaction, there is a problem ahead.

We know from our spiritual teachings, and lately from science too, that all things are interconnected. The Ego cannot be viewed in isolation. It is tied to the whole of karma and reincarnation, and like an indestructible machine, it seems to exist mainly to produce an endless stream of earthly likes and dislikes for us to adopt. Let’s give credit where credit is due: the Ego is a tireless and tremendously effective force. It may not always get its way, but its average is highly impressive.

Also to its credit is the role the Ego plays in our formative years. It motivates us to acquire skills and self-confidence, to improve our minds, and even to begin a search for deeper meaning and fulfillment in our lives. The world out there can be cruel at times, and the Ego, if cultivated wisely, can be a useful ally in meeting some of life’s more difficult challenges.

But once it falls into delusion, the Ego becomes the opponent of our soul’s journey back to freedom in God. Our task at that point, over a span of many incarnations, is to muster the courage, strength, and faith to keep it from becoming a disruptive force. It can still be an ally and friend, but only if we redirect its energy from an outward, sensory momentum to an inward and upward focus.

The key to foiling the Ego’s impulsive nature is to realize its impotence to fulfill us, and thereby to avoid reacting to the pull of its appeals. This requires a practice not of suppression, but rather of learning to release. Jesus in the Bible and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita made it clear that nothing we give away is lost. For every egoic desire, attachment, and habit we surrender, the value of our karmic investment portfolio increases. Losing becomes winning.

Human than I am, I still pursue my favorite worldly pleasures with considerable relish. But now with a calmer consciousness than before, accepting that nothing about them will endure, and expecting only that whatever occurs will ultimately be for the best, whether or not it would have been my choice.

The Ego counts on its counsel turning out as it foresees. In the short term it is often right, in the long term mostly wrong. Since we don’t always get what we want, it’s important to foster an attitude of wanting what we get. Though plainly not easy to accomplish, we find that when we can calmly accept whatever comes our way, we are able to greatly mitigate the disappointment of an untoward result. For me this is admittedly an aspiration more than a regular feat, but it spares me a lot of unnecessary woe.

Here’s another anti-egoic strategy that helps: catching myself when I start to think of anything as “mine.” In yoga the practice of nishkam karma – non-attachment to the fruit of one’s labor – is wondrously effective in eliminating stress and suffering. This, too, demands vigilant self-control, for we incline to take pride in what we are able to achieve, acquire, and possess.  It’s an “I” thing regarded as natural and normal, but it puts the Ego in the driver’s seat, assuring a bumpy ride of misdirection.

Finally, another risky habit needs to be revised: our tendency to rationalize our desires.

I would bet that we all do this to some degree, because we want to convince ourselves that we deserve the objects of our affections. If you think there’s a “good reason” why something or someone should be yours to name as your own, that rationale is coming straight from Ego, and you can rely on its coming back to bite you.

In truth, nothing is ours. Not so much as a toothbrush goes with us when we transition to our next destination.

A large part of our job in this life is to unlearn a lot of our training. That includes not getting suckered into egoic swamps and snares. The Ego has a nemesis too. It is our self-control. When we improve and apply it, the Ego submits to its leash. Lifetimes more may be necessary to loosen and undo its grip, but even the Ego itself, born of nobility that unwittingly went astray, secretly roots for that final effect: the day when it, as Bhishma, surrenders to the greater good of the soul.

Can We See God?

In a word, no. Our human sight has a very limited range of visibility. But as devotees, we can begin to see God in other ways, merely by looking for Him in all that surrounds and permeates life as we know it: in things of beauty, in the people we love, even in the challenges we face.

Seeing God is more about inner awareness than a sensory experience, because God is formless, colorless, and invisible to the eye. To borrow a line from Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there.” How can you see a thing like that, a that is not a that? Clearly, you cannot.

Yet, within us is an aspect of that same formless, mystical essence, and it makes the experience of “seeing” God an actual possibility. We are each in eternal possession of an atman, the immortal soul, and when we are able to connect with it, God shows up! Not as a tangible experience, but as a knowing. Knowing God is what seeing Him is all about.

It seems fair to say that the purpose of human life is to reach that state of inner sight in which knowing God is an ongoing reality. This is what leads to our soul’s freedom from its body-mind consciousness. Needless to say, we are not yet there. It’s a quest of many lifetimes that has taken a very, very long time already!

This whole question of who and what we are is difficult to puzzle through. On the one hand, we have thoughts, perceptions, freedom of choice, visual input and a host of other sensations, which we lump into an overarching category called “our experience.” Our minds then segment this experience into a linear timeline, which we perceive as “one thing after another.” From when we are born to the day we die, every moment, and every event in that moment, is immediately succeeded by another. As long as we limit ourselves to a worldly perspective, there is no escape from this time-driven process that we regard as real.

To make this more agreeable, the reality we perceive has countless features on which we generally concur, and we give those features names and definitions to identify one from the next: hand, book, happy, sad, and so on. No one, I am sure, would confuse a hand with a book, or the difference between happy and sad. But every name and label we apply adds to our sense of separation. You and I and all the people and things we see as distinct, makes it hard to see the oneness of all that is, and thus impossible to see God from such a point of view.

Now, that is not to say that we should neglect our senses. We absolutely need them to optimize how we function in this world. We need them to get around, to gather food, raise our families, seek useful employment, care for our elders, etc. If the purpose of life is for us to transcend it, what’s that all about?

That question gets us into a whole study about the role of duality, the law of karma, the effect of having worldly attachments, likes and dislikes, and so on. first and foremost, we need to understand that the goal of this life is not in this life. The goal is for us to remember that we are infinitely more than what we perceive ourselves to be, and to act in accordance with that higher potential as we seek to attain it.

This is not easy to do. It reminds me of a quote by Gloria Steinem. We have all heard the axiom that the truth will set you free. She added a corollary: “The truth will set you free,” she said, “but first it will piss you off!”

We live in what is still a competitive world, and to get ahead in that world, most people think they have to play the game. They perceive that competition is a form of truth. But it is not, and it will not set you free. You cannot see or be with God if your ego is pushing you into that sort of existence. Jesus said that to see God, we must be pure in heart. He didn’t mean 80% pure, nor even 99%. Purity is 100%. That means no intrusive worldly desires, no external attachments, no tainted tendencies.

Now, that’s an extremely tall order, because here we are, trying to stay inward, yet contending with all those parts of the puzzle that appear to us as separate, getting yanked around by our litany of likes and dislikes, trying to figure out how in the world we can rise above these perceptions and become Self-realized. No wonder it takes so long!

The good news is, purity is a direction. If you’re only at 80%, strive for 81, and 81 will get you to 82. Look for God everywhere, not so much with your eyes, but with your heart and soul. The journey is one of inner joy, and when that joy becomes your motivation, it’s only a matter of time before God becomes visible to you in the essence of your being. This is our destiny, and the only thing keeping us from it is focusing with body and mind instead of heart and soul.

This life is a school, and for most of us the curriculum is less about learning than it is about unlearning. Our lack of contentment, and our lack of being able to see God, is due to habits and desires that we have been conditioned to have and to hold. They may have been acquired with good intentions, but we all know what is paved with those.

The good news is, we can change. We can. And the more we do, the more contented and closer to God we get. Our destiny is Self-realization. When is only a matter of how long we decide to take. Meanwhile, God is waiting to be seen.