“I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
How can we “abide in Him”? “If my words abide in you.” By words he meant not only his spoken words, but his vibration, his consciousness, or which words are only expressions. We must abide by the teachings but we must also absorb those teachings into ourselves, that they become our own experience.
There is a story of Swami Sri Yuktewar and a pundit which illustrates this point:
“I am waiting to hear you.” Sri Yukteswar’s tone was inquiring, as though utter silence had reigned. The pundit was puzzled.
“Quotations there have been, in superabundance.” Master’s words convulsed me with mirth, as I squatted in my corner, at a respectful distance from the visitor. “But what original commentary can you supply, from the uniqueness of your particular life? What holy text have you absorbed and made your own? In what ways have these timeless truths renovated your nature? Are you content to be a hollow victrola, mechanically repeating the words of other men?”
“I give up!” The scholar’s chagrin was comical. “I have no inner realization.”
How do we cultivate our own inner realization? “Wisdom is best assimilated through the atoms, not the intellect”, Sri Yukteswar said. This absorption comes through our own experience in deep meditation and inner silence.
God speaks to us through stillness and silence. Groundbreaking discoveries in all fields come from a sense of “mystical awe” when we are not talking, but listening with breathtaking receptivity.
For example, Einstein saw the theory of relativity in a flash. It was an experience that he absorbed within first, then expressed without in scientific terms.
People’s awareness darkens when their minds and brains become “matter sold”, buying this physical world as the only reality. As Christ said, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
I’m reminded of a Pepsi advertisement that shows people partying and living it up with the slogan, “Live for Now!” This wrongly interpreted carpe diem attitude is exactly what “casts us forth” and our spiritual life withers and is burned in the fire of our desires. You only live once, right? That’s another question…
Paramhansa Yogananda wrote a chant to help us battle these worldly desires. “Do not dry the ocean of my love with the fires of my restlessness…with the fire of my desires. For Thee I cry for Thee I weep…”
The saints cry for God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. They live in the eternal now:
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Where is this eternal presence of God? Yogananda said the “spine and brain are the altars of God”. God’s conscious cosmic energy flows down from the medulla like electricity animated our chakras and then our physical bodies.
This is why kriya yoga is so helpful because we are working directly with the life force within our astral spine and brain. We magnetize the spine so we return to our center to abide in Him, His consciousness, vibrations, and joy.
I have a friend who is an advanced kriya yogi. After reading Lahiri’s Mahasya’s letters to disciples, he was inspired to increase his number of daily kriyas. So much that his daily meditation practice takes a few hours each dour.
Of course quality not quantity matters. Lahiri instructed disciples to stop practicing kriya once they felt the “tranquil mind” and to enjoy the “calm after effect poise of kriya.” Sitting in the silence after kriya is a very important and essential part of our meditation practice.
He inspired me to go deeper into my kriya practice. I believe I’m just beginning to realize what Lahiri meant when he said, “solve all your problems through kriya yoga.” When we are in touch with that inner joy, all of our questions are answered. There is no need for book learning for we absorb Him through our own experience “in joy and in more joy, in the light of mellow joy.”
The beloved Indian deity Ganesha, the elephant god, who ushers in new beginnings and removes all obstacles, comes to mind as I enter this blog.
I have found the process of approaching new endeavors more than a little scary at times but also revealing. The Bhagavad Gita reminds us that if life changes were easy, we wouldn’t develop the stamina, clarity of purpose, and inner resolve needed to rise to new stages of growth and wholeness. Patience and acceptance is a big part of the process – imagine trying to force the butterfly out of it’s cocoon halfway before it is ready to pry its wings out. Its visual spectrum of change is vividly clear: caterpillar’s incarnation, the mid way hibernation (and vulnerable) stage in the cocoon, and lastly the transformational beauty of the butterfly spreading its wings and taking flight into its new adventure.
Ganesha playfully reminds us rather than fear change – to embrace it. The deeper yogic lesson of life’s changes is that ultimately it’s ripples (and sometime riptides!) can bring us back beneath and beyond to a wordless inner “ocean” of peace, stillness, and unconditional joy.
We may not be fully aware of this much of the time in the “matrix” of life, but we do get tastes in our yoga and meditation practice. We can start to breath deeper, feel more serene, and have more compassion for ourselves and others. Regardless of our physical, emotional, or spiritual needs, yoga meets us like a patient friend wherever we are. Its healing power transmutes pain into beauty because its essence is love.
Perspective shapes an enormous amount of our lives. When you read a book, the perspective of the book is all important because it is from that perspective that the rest of the world revolves. Throughout life we are met with an infinite amount of circumstances and happenings, but the tone of those infinite moments is dictated by our perspective. Perspective is like wearing a pair of glasses, if you wear pink glasses the world looks pink, and if you wear black glasses, than the world appears darker.
For example, in the children’s book The Giving Tree the main character is an apple tree who gives it’s fruit to a boy when he’s hungry, allows the boy to cut itself down to make a canoe from, and finally when the boy is old and the tree has been reduced to nothing but a stump, the tree tells the boy (now an old man) to sit on him so the boy can rest. The story is very poignant because the tree isn’t reluctant to help the boy, he’s actually very happy to help him. It’s the tree’s joy to help the boy. He only wants the boy’s happiness, so when the boy is content, the tree is content. That’s perspective.
Imagine if that story had been written differently. Same story, same characters, but this time the tree’s perspective was one of fear. The boy sneaks into the clearing where the tree resides and brutally rips a fruit off it’s branch, sending streaks of searing pain shooting up the poor tree’s trunk! Suddenly we’re transported from the idyllic world of a children’s story to a harrowing horror account. Now when the boy cuts the tree down to make the canoe each ax blow is a confirmation of man’s ignorance and arrogance, instead of the original context: selfless giving. The whole story changes with the perspective. The same thing applies to our lives.
In the past months I’ve been plagued by a perspective of lack. I would look in the mirror in the morning and see everything I wasn’t. I wasn’t who I thought I should be, I wasn’t the hero I wanted my story to be about. My self-deprecating perspective drained me and beat me down. My attitude caused me more mental and physical discomfort than anyone else could. I glanced at my reflection and saw my flaws and my pitfalls. I saw all the reasons why I should fail, why I deserved to fail, and why I was worthy only of despisement. I tortured myself day in and day out because of my perspective.
I’m very good at seeing the good in others, I can meet someone and five minutes later I could expound on their positive qualities. I love holding people up, I love making others believe in themselves, I am obsessive about convincing them of their incredible value and beauty as human beings. When I notice that a friend of mine has doubt about themselves I take it upon myself to shine the light of belief into their life. I make war against their self-lack, I try to eradicate their ability to doubt. So why wasn’t I doing that to myself?
That was the question that one of my close friends posed to me, “You show up for all your friends and loved ones, but how do you show up for you?” I wasn’t showing up for me. My perspective was one of defeat, one of inadequacy. So I changed my perspective. I vowed to cut out the negativity from my thoughts and consciousness. I decided to rip it out by the roots and then burn it (best to take no chances with these things). Instead of telling myself, “I can’t do it” I said, “I will do it!” I stopped saying, “You’re broken,” and started affirming my infinite strength.
Now I look in the mirror and I see the same guy, but this time I’m not discouraged by what I see; I’m inspired. I still see that I’m not all I wish to become, but just as a lion-cub looks at his shadow and sees a full grown king, I now look at my reflection and realize that I’m just starting this story entitled my life. I might just be a cub now, but one day I’ll be a lion. I know that sounds corny, but electing this perspective has changed me.
Take for example that I’m writing this article. It isn’t coincidence that I’ve only just now started writing again. Three weeks ago I would have told myself that I had no business writing, that no one would want to hear my thoughts, I had nothing worth sharing, I am a horrible writer, that it would be a depressing experience, so I’d better not even bother trying. After I adapted this new perspective, writing was exciting! I couldn’t wait to express myself on paper, to learn more and more about myself through the experience and trial of scribing. Consequently I’ve been a more prolific writer in the past two weeks than in the last three years.
Now I can’t wait to sit down at my computer and write, because even if my work is a bit sloppy now that doesn’t even phase me (maybe just a tad). Because in six months of consistent writing I’ll be that much better, that much closer to the man I know could be staring back at me from the other side of the mirror. I’m a child of God, and greatness is my destiny, my inevitability, and my certainty. Joy is my birthright, power my inheritance, peace my companion. If I’m not completely realized yet, fine, that’s okay. Because I’m coming. I’m working. So I invite you to adopt the perspective of hope and aspiration. A perspective that turns challenges to opportunities for growth, pain as an opportunity to increase our empathy and understanding, doubt as an invitation for exploration and action. It’s changed my life, what could it do for you?
I recently went through a sort of intestinal D-Day. Okay, maybe not that bad, but I’ll tell you, it’s pretty bad. It all started on a Friday morning, I awoke feeling cramps in my abdomen and a stiff spine, which is very uncommon for me. When I found my way to my meditation practice, the first conscious inhalation left me dizzy and in quite severe discomfort. That’s when I knew I was in for a doozy; even meditation was agony. Long story short, I quickly realized that this abdominal inconvenience was much more problematic than I thought. But the worst was yet to come.
When I realized that what I was facing wasn’t going to go away, I called my helpline; my father. Just as I anticipated, after only a few moments on the phone he diagnosed me, gave me the remedial cure and I thought that would be it. Game, set and match, intestines, I win! Not so fast there, Keshava… My father explained to me, “Keshava, this is from unexpressed anger. When you suppress the anger it builds up in your intestines and eventually works its way out by causing these cramps. So who are you angry with?” I couldn’t answer the question.
I endured the day, which although uncomfortable and very frustrating, wasn’t incapacitating. I still had enough energy to curse my predicament and grumpily complain to my guru that, in my opinion, I didn’t deserve such an inopportunely timed dose of abdominal warfare. Because pain is never convenient. Hours crept by, and soon I found myself staring at the clock at 6pm, and I was practically pain free! I was very impressed with myself. My dad told me it would probably take me a few days to work this thing out, but here I was twelve hours later and I wasn’t feeling anything! Take that pent up anger, I win! Not so fast, champ…
Just as Luke Skywalker may have thought he defeated Darth Vader after he blew up the Death-Star, I too thought I had conquered this abominable abdominal aberration, but as all Star Wars fans know, The Empire Strikes Back, and oh boy, does he strike back with a vengeance. The pain came back in a full display of force, this time hitting me at my weakest point; when I was alone. My housemates had all bid me goodnight, gone upstairs to their (hopefully) restful night, and I went to hell.
Tangent! Pain fascinates me. I love that pain and discomfort lead to adaptation, and therefore, to growing stronger. With that in mind, I embrace pain and discomfort. I hurl myself into discomfort with a fury because growing into the strongest, wisest, kindest, most empathetic, powerful, and awesome being I can be is sort of my dream. Note in the sentence above, “with a fury”. That’s how I deal with pain, by burning it out with anger. My housemates nicknamed me The Hulk, which I suppose is more apt than I’d like to admit it is. See, when I’m faced with excruciating pain or adversity I summon a volcanic eruption, and I ride the lava-waves till I’ve overcome whatever obstacle I had to face. But that didn’t work this time.
As I said, my housemates went to sleep and I went to hell. The reason I say that is because I was completely stripped of my means of coping with pain; this agony was caused by anger, so heating it with wrath was just adding logs to the fire that was quite content with destroying me from the inside. The pain brought me to my knees. The more I fought the worse it got. I lay on my floor and cried. I haven’t cried from pain in years, but this pain broke me. It shattered my will to win, it broke me and left me whimpering on my own floor; it left me hopeless.
I realized that I had two options, I call my father again in the hope that he could help me somehow, or I go to the hospital. As I could barely crawl to reach my phone, let alone stand, let alone drive myself to a hospital, I figured that I should probably start with the call. The first thing my dad told me was, “You can’t get angry, it’ll make it worse.” Oops. Alright then, what could I do? Drape myself over a chair, with it’s back pressing into my imploding intestines and wait.
The hardest realization I made during the whole experience was that I was powerless. I couldn’t beat this thing no matter how hard I tried, the only way to win was to surrender. So eventually I surrendered myself to the pain, but more importantly to my guru. I said, “Master, I cannot beat this pain. You can. Please help!” That was probably the most coherent sentence I made mentally, mostly it was just, “Master, help!”
It should be stated that I did not witness a miraculous healing at that point. I was not suddenly relieved of my pain, as convenient as that would have been. I was not overwhelmed with the presence of God such that I forgot all bodily pain. That would’ve been great, and believe me I tried, but it didn’t happen. And here’s the crazy part: I’m glad it didn’t. No, I’m not a masochistic yogi who secretly walks across hot coals to burn himself, or lays on beds of nails to intentionally impale himself, not at all. God is in everything. Sit on that one for a second. Everything. I often get caught up in my own little judgments of that statement, like “God is in everything that’s nice.” Because it’s easy to see God in the flowers, the mountains, the sea, joy, bliss, or love; those things are all nice. They’re all enjoyable to feel, uplifting to see, and lovely to experience. But God is everything. God is in agony, pain, terror, loneliness, fear, and despair. His presence permeates the sounds of gunfire and dying just as much as the sound of a harp being struck by a little cherub chilling out on a cloud somewhere.
Now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Woah, that escalated quickly! Where is he going with all of this? This is getting sort of weird,” maybe accentuated by thoughts of “Devil worship,” or something to that effect (just kidding reader, I love you), but bear with me! What I mean to say is that when I accepted my pain as being of God, from God, I stopped hating it. Because if God is in pain, oh man, was he ever with me that night!
One hellish night later, what did I discover? I endured pain, what part of me was strengthened because of my ordeal? Well, a few things. I learned first hand that stuffing your emotions doesn’t get rid of them, it just saves ‘em for that rainy day when they decide to work themselves out in your intestines, because if I won’t express them consciously, my body expresses them involuntarily for me! “This above all, to thine own self be true,” powerful words indeed, Mr. Shakespeare. I’m beginning to understand that it is better to be totally truthful to where I am emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually than it is to try and fake my way into perceived greatness. Yes, I’m saying that if I’m angry it’s better to rage for a moment and express that fire than it is to shovel coals into my stomach and pretend I’m a peace-loving pigeon with unruffled feathers (no judgment against peace-lovers or pigeons).
I also saw a glimpse of what it could mean to truly see God in everything. To be able to experience peace amidst disease, joy in suffering. I’m happy to say that in the midst of my terrible discomfort, I still turned to God and guru for help, and hopefully when the moment of my death comes I will react the same way. Because that’s what matters, right? Someone once said, “There is only one choice in life, to turn towards God, or to turn away,” and during my seething, my agonizing, my cursing, and my despair I still turned to God. That, to me, is reassuring. So, I have a new resolve: I will sharpen the practice of self-awareness such that I may remain truthful to myself always in every situation. For as long as I keep God and guru close to heart, the fastest way forward is to recognize where I am now.
While visiting a spiritual community in northern California called Ananda (meaning “Joy”) an investigative journalist armed with a fair amount of skepticism and a dash of curiosity discovers that the key to finding happiness comes from within and that when you change, everything changes.
Earlier this week I was walking into a Starbucks to purchase some juice. I realize that’s a paradox wrapped in a riddle.
However, that’s not the subject of this post.
Before I entered the Starbucks, a woman talking on her cell phone was walking up to the door. I held it open for her to go ahead of me as she didn’t have access to both hands. She didn’t acknowledge my presence let alone thank me. She was in her own world.
Bhisma (the character in the Mahabharata representing the ego) piped up in my head saying, “she didn’t even thank you…that was rude of her.” Bhisma’s role is to create separation and division from our one and sole reality which unites us with all life.
After entering Starbucks, I realized my faulty thought. Through my conscience Krishna spoke to me:
“That is not nishkam karma (action without desire for the fruits of action). You have a desire for her to act in a certain way. Remain centered in yourself not desiring anything from anyone. Be even minded and cheerful, an impersonal friend to all. Not cold, but a warm light shining equally to all.”
I purchased my cold juice and resolved to be a warm light!
As I was leaving, the opportunity arose to open the door for another person on the way out. “Thank you,” they said.
I smiled to myself and felt Divine Mother playing with me.
She was teaching me to not judge and to love her in all her forms. To be humble and of service no matter the circumstance.
There is a beautiful story in Autobiography of a Yogi that illustrates this point:
“The scene was a Kumbha Mela at Allahabad,” Lahiri Mahasaya told his disciples. “I had gone there during a short vacation from my office duties. As I wandered amidst the throng of monks and sadhus who had come from great distances to attend the holy festival, I noticed an ash-smeared ascetic who was holding a begging bowl. The thought arose in my mind that the man was hypocritical, wearing the outward symbols of renunciation without a corresponding inward grace.
“No sooner had I passed the ascetic than my astounded eye fell on Babaji. He was kneeling in front of a matted-haired anchorite.
“‘Guruji!’ I hastened to his side. ‘Sir, what are you doing here?’
“‘I am washing the feet of this renunciate, and then I shall clean his cooking utensils.’ Babaji smiled at me like a little child; I knew he was intimating that he wanted me to criticize no one, but to see the Lord as residing equally in all body-temples, whether of superior or inferior men. The great guru added, ‘By serving wise and ignorant sadhus, I am learning the greatest of virtues, pleasing to God above all others—humility.’”
Meditation is so important! I had an experience this week that reminded me more than ever how necessary it is.
I found myself judging someone (actually multiple people) for the way they acted towards me. I felt that my judgment was factual – my reasoning faculty, in other words, was fully functional – but I wasn’t left with any clear course of action from this mental conclusion.
My ego, of course, told me how right I was and how justified I was for feeling the way I did and it left me with the following course of action: “You did the best you could; they are in the wrong; if something is going to be done to right the situation, it will need to come from them!”
Thank God it was right before bed and I was just about to meditate. As I went inside, I saw these peoples’ most beautiful qualities – their willingness, integrity, sincerity, wisdom, and devotion.
Suddenly those things that seemed so major became minor inconsistencies – little blips on the radar of my mind. The course of action my superconsciousness gave me was:Compassion. They simply needed more kindness, friendship, and loving support… and God could give it through me because of this realization!
The students and their counselor thoroughly enjoyed the presentation. The practice of yoga and meditation provided the students with a rare and valuable experience so they could truly appreciate the wisdom and beauty of another spiritual tradition. Thanks again! Hope to have you and Alli back next year. — Timothy Crehan, MFA, World Religions @ Louisville High School