If You Build It…

retreats-linden-meditation-buddha-high-definition-wallpaper-download-freeMaking resolutions at the beginning of each year is a widely accepted ritual. Whether or not there is follow through is another story, but the steps taken to proceed with resolutions also involve rituals that are unique to each person. We all have our own ideas on how to achieve our goals, but I think we can all agree that the impetus for this process is desire. The desire to improve. The desire to remake.  And if you’re on a path, desire and ritual become inextricably linked.

Progress on the spiritual path requires commitment. You read the words of masters and listen to teachers who embody that which you are seeking. With all the learning and absorbing of teachings,  I can tell you that the most important component to any spiritual path is devotion or bhakti, which is the piece many will avoid. In a previous post, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” , I discuss the West’s discomfort with devotion. The bottom line is, if you approach your path with an open heart, devotion will come.

joga-fajtak-meditacios-pozThose of us raised in a traditional religion are familiar with the forms and rituals devotion takes. At the beginning of my sadhana, my teacher told us that our idea of the Sacred will change over time. In the beginning, he suggested that we use the form of our personal Ishwara to help us in our contemplations until we reach the point where no form is needed. Whether you approach spiritual practice with or without form is not important. What’s important here is the desire for the presence of the Sacred in your life. Build your practice around that.

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Your sadhana may or may not involve the ritual an altar or meditation room provides, and while we might get carried away with the externals of the physical space we set up, dedication to that space (whether internal or external) will allow the Sacred to lift you up to become the highest expression of yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an experienced practitioner. The Sacred will meet you wherever you are, but you have to want it. How much do you want it?

“If you take a form and you let the Divine [in] through the form through your love…It will come” ~ Bhagavan Das
Wishing you a Blessed 2016!
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Being Empty

4466The cup needs to be half-full and an empty room is pitied.  Changing perceptions is about as easy as changing eating habits, but let’s look at what can be gained from an alteration in mindset. When we allow ourselves to become empty, it’s not that we provide a space for something else to come in; we provide the opportunity for the recognition of what is already there – the space of pure Awareness – which is where you meet yourSelf.

“Only when a human being becomes empty of ego does it become a vessel of the manifestation of the Supreme. When there is sufficient space made through the absence of the person, then the Divine cannot hide.”  ~ Mooji

 We are constantly made aware of the many negative connotations associated with the idea of emptiness. If there is a part of your life that is empty, then it is perceived that you are “lacking” in something or not doing something right.  That promotes guilt. So there’s that.  But, I would say the most negative connotation is the fear that comes with the sense of incompleteness and aloneness. A fear perpetrated by the mind while holding us hostage to the unreal. It’s a conspiracy really – a conspiracy of the mind. Society, an accomplice, makes every attempt to ensure that no part of our lives has any emptiness at all. We fill up our minds and days with external stimuli to the point that we are never devoid of a thought or an action.  We physically fill up spaces with things, even people, we feel will make us happy or “complete” us.  Thoughts, emotions, things and others define the personality, which is who we erroneously think we are.  So, we equate emptiness with non-identity, and that is the scariest idea of all.

Let me repeat that: …we equate emptiness with non-identity, and that is the scariest idea of all.

 “Let yourself be merged into that pure emptiness which is the presence of God and true source of all spiritual strivings.” ~ Mooji

 Spiritual practice is a type of feng shui for our lives. Cleaning out the clutter is an important step as the outer is a reflection of the inner. In yoga, the asanas and breath work help empty the body of stress and pain (physical, mental and emotional).  As a result, we create a space for the recognition of pure awareness, which is not empty at all but is really a space of completeness. Meditation also provides the opportunity to enter into the vast fullness of our true Selves.

When you empty yourself of all that comes with the personality, all the mental, emotional, and material baggage, you reveal what was hidden but all the while waiting for you to discover: your true Self.  Yes, live in the material world – let it give you what you need and enjoy, but remember that none of it defines You.

 “…  I slide like an empty boat pulled over the water.” ~ Rumi

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Devotion is a tricky thing, especially for a Westerner.  Displays of spiritual/religious fervor are supposed to be confined to church on Sunday or inside the privacy of our homes. In other words, kept behind closed doors. Those of you who are of Italian heritage, like myself, will remember the crucifixes that hung in every room of the house, including the basement. I could never figure out if they were there as displays of reverence or to ward off evil spirits.

Unfortunately, where there is still that element in society where might makes right, devotion is neither admired nor taken seriously at any level of consideration. I remember back in the 60’s, when the peace sign first became popular.  It was considered, by some, to be the sign of the chicken since the symbol resembled a chicken’s foot. People who wanted peace instead of war were branded as cowards. Devotion has gotten an equally bad rap.

The West’s discomfort with displays of devotion could just be a cultural thing, as it doesn’t seem to be an issue in other parts of the world. Or, it could go deeper than that. Devotion is love. That could be where the problem is. Maybe we don’t know how to love. Be it loving others or ourselves, maybe we just don’t know how. As it is generally understood, love revolves around the ego, so that love is completely conditional. The real thing is unconditional. Love with no strings, no expectations  – love that is totally free of the demands of the ego – is not a familiar concept to most people.

As a result, spirituality/religion tend to be more a mental exercise rather than an emotional one, like having to memorize the catechism in school, the emphasis being on dogma rather than devotion. Early in my sadhana, as now, my teacher would read us works by and about Indian masters such as Ramakrishna (probably the greatest saint India has ever produced), Swami Ramdas, Shivom Tirth, among others.  Their words were filled with love for the Sacred.  They stressed the importance of keeping our awareness on the Divine so that we may experience that love. Remember, what we think we become, so by keeping our thoughts on the Absolute we become the embodiment of love, which projects outward into world, which, let’s face it, could use a lot more of it.

Devotion is love. When you open yourself to the possibility of letting love into your life everything changes. You become filled with the love that you are expressing. Japa, kirtan, and contemplation are all tools to help the sadhan along the bhakti (devotional) path. The bliss that is felt during and after kirtan or contemplation is unsurpassed by anything the material world has to offer.  It is not to be found in any book. You do not have to be in a church or temple – love is within. It needs to be felt, but, just like direct spiritual experience, you can’t make it happen. It has to evolve. And as you progress in your sadhana, it will.

Ego – The Love/Hate Relationship

By Perfilbtl (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

During any sadhana, the seeker will be faced with unflattering aspects of oneself.  In my personal sadhana, which is shaktipat sadhana, these aspects are merely karmas that the Shakti is removing. My teacher tells us that all we can do is watch, but that doesn’t always help the character (ego) when it is experiencing the emotionality of anger, jealousy, judgment, and the like.  Even with the tools and techniques my teacher has given us to detach from the “emotional roller coaster,” as he likes to put it, getting caught up in negative emotions seems to be a normal part of the process.

The good news is that as karmas are removed, we find fewer buttons get pushed and life goes along in a smoother fashion. That is not to say that the external parts of life get easier; that is to say that we remain calm in the face of whatever happens, because the karmic trigger is gone. Acceptance of ‘what is’ is easier allowing one to go with the flow of life.

It wasn’t until shaktipat that I came to realize the ego is nothing more than a bundle of karmas. These karmas prevent us from knowing who we really are, which is pure Divine Consciousness, and perpetuates the duality, the notion that we are separate from everyone and everything, with which we experience our reality.

So therein lies the problem. With nearly 7 billion people on the planet, every single one of them, by nature of their individual karmas, have their own perception of how the world should be and many attempt to force this perception on the rest of us. Until we understand the non-dual nature of reality – that all is One – conflict and suffering will continue to plague us.  You don’t need to have shaktipat in order to understand non-duality.  Any spiritual path will lead you to this conclusion; shaktipat just happened to be the path I landed on.

My teacher likes to use the example of scarves covering the light of a lamp as a metaphor for the layers of ego or karmas that hide the light of our true selves. But in this analogy, the removal of the layers appears to be a gentle process. For me, as well as some of my fellow students on this path, the removal of karmas can sometimes feel more like ripping off a band-aid covering a still open wound. You feel exposed and vulnerable. Sometimes an ‘ego-loathing’ (in lieu of self-loathing) sets in. We are urged not to indulge in ‘mea culpas,’ but instead to be gentle with ourselves through this process. This will help us recognize the divinity within not only ourselves, but in everyone else out there struggling with the illusion of duality.