There’s No Place Like Om

Repetition of the Om mantra (called the ‘Omkara’) is a useful practice. Simple yet complete, it is the primordial sound of the Absolute. And it is really the only mantra we need because all the other mantras are derived from that one vibration. Oh, I still chant other mantras thinking ‘maybe this is the one I should be doing– or this mantra is better than that mantra…’ You know the drill we put ourselves through. But the truth is any mantra, if you really resonate with it, is fine. So why all the questioning, searching, judging and analyzing?  We are all searching for something. And that looking, that searching, is fueled by the feeling of incompleteness we endure.  Which is why we’re on a spiritual path in the first place. To feel complete – to go home.

Everybody’s out there looking for the meaning of life, whether they’re aware of it or not. People who are not pursing a spiritual path look outside of themselves by turning to the material world for that ever-elusive sense of completeness.  But this kind of searching is a bottomless pit because the ego is never satisfied. Once it gets one thing it wants it’s off wanting something else. But it’s not so different with those on or looking for a spiritual path.  They search and search trying this method, listening to that teacher, all with the thought that perhaps this one is the right one. The grass is always greener….right? And if the technique, such as chanting the Om, is too simple we discard it because we think there has to be more to it.

But what’s wrong with something being simple anyway? Thoreau knew the benefits of simplicity when he isolated himself at Walden Pond.  He said, “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify!” adding that we should aim for, “… Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.”  But we continue to clutter up our lives in order to fill some big black hole.

Maybe it’s the rhythm of our days – the structure of them that feeds the need to continually look for fulfillment. Most of us who go to a job everyday probably feel stifled in some way. Even if we like what we do, there is probably a ‘wanting’ that steals the joy of life away like a thief in the night, unseen but nonetheless damaging to our sense of contentment. Thoreau also said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” He meant that we resign our lives to being a certain way, and that resignation is the desperation we feel. But it is, in fact, this desperation that propels our searching.

The searching, whatever form it takes, is aimed at one goal: wholeness.  When we reconnect with the Sacred, when we go home for that period of time we spend in contemplation/meditation, we find that wholeness.  And we don’t need any fancy equipment or expensive program touted by some self-help guru; we already have everything we need. Dorothy found that out in the Wizard of Oz when the wizard and the good witch told her that she had the power inside of her to bring herself home. The scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion each searching for what they thought they needed to obtain from outside of themselves realized at the end of the story that they too already had everything they needed to complete their journey – knowledge (spiritual knowledge, that is), heart and courage; the three qualities of the spiritual seeker. L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz, was a Theosophist and it is thought that he meant the story to be a metaphor for the spiritual seeker. Following the yellow brick road is the path that will lead you home and it is packed with lions and tigers and bears, as well as the occasional run in with the evil witch, suggesting that the path is long, hard and at times scary. Even the Beatles’ song, “The Long and Winding Road,” is a tribute to our seeking. It asks to “…let me know the way…..lead me to your door.”  The lyrics also propose a lonely and sometimes difficult road.  As many of us are discovering, sadhana is not easy. But it allows us glimpses of the goal – Home – that keep us going.

Thomas Wolfe may have said, “You can’t go home again” – but we can. When I chant the Omkara that’s where I feel I am. This is what sadhana is all about. Going home.


Step to the Music

Pursuing a spiritual path is a lonely business.  As we begin to discover who we really are there is an interesting dichotomy that arises. We feel the interconnectedness with everyone and everything, which is exhilarating, yet at the same time a kind of isolation sets in as we realize that the ‘normal’ way of living just doesn’t appeal to us anymore. Your life changes, your priorities change, and very often your associations change. So it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people or at the very least, people who will support you even if they don’t understand what it is you’re doing.

I also think it’s great when you can find references to your experiences outside of your inner circle, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s time in India in her book Eat, Pray, Love.  If you’re interested in watching a really good movie about spiritual searching, rent the 1946 movie, The Razor’s Edge, based on W. Somerset Maugham’s novel of the same title. Maugham’s book reportedly is based on an actual person, but that aside, the title is taken from a line in the Katha Upanishad:

Arise! Awake! Approach the great and learn. Like the sharp edge of a razor is that path, so the wise say—hard to tread and difficult to cross.”

The movie was re-made in 1984 but I like the original better.  I mean, how can you beat Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb? Okay, so maybe I’m dating myself, but I do think original movies are better than their remakes. This movie tells the story of Larry Darrell, who returns from WWI and abandons his life of privilege, as well as his fiancée, to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

Those of us trekking a spiritual path know that it is difficult to tread, like that edge of the razor. Trying to balance what we learn, (mostly through direct experience, which is hard to describe and impossible to prove), with our everyday lives is tricky to say the least.  I sometimes envy the Indian sages who live their lives in caves removed from society, able to devote all their time to their sadhana (spiritual practice).  I have to say that sometimes I’m ready to pack my bags and move to some remote mountainside in the Himalayas myself.

Watching Larry Darrell’s journey through this movie reminds me that I’m not alone.  At the end of the movie, when Larry is having his final conversation with Isabel, his ex-fiancée, he admits those moments of frustration he has known on his path remarking how  “… it isn’t easy and it isn’t fun.”

So to all the Larry Darrells out there, let me leave you with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, who understood what it meant to tread the razor’s edge.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”