A friend from out of state dropped by the other day to see me. He happily described the deep peace and inner acceptance hed been experiencing from his meditations, and from his life in a spiritual community. Later in the conversation, however, he shared his struggles with worldly desires, private fears, and a frustration with the sheer magnitude of the spiritual task of God-realization that lay before him. He admitted that he gets angry with God at times, as though to complain, "Divine Mother, why is it so difficult? What have you done to us? Is this your way of having fun?"
Afterwards I wondered to myself, How can divine blessings deep contentment, inner joy, inner freedom exist side by side with human insecurities? Both were equally real to my friend, the one, admittedly, bright, the other, darkly threatening. Is one merely the opposite, the consequence, of the other? Is he doomed forever to alternate between the agony and the ecstasy? By what thread might he be led up and out of the labyrinth of the painful awareness of human limitations?
In the calm afterglow of an evening meditation, some thoughts began to form from bits and pieces of my spiritual training, and hopefully a little bit of my own realization. The "ego" of course gets the brickbats, right? The image of a sand trap the dreaded trap duffers hope to avoid came into view. The footprints I saw there were the lingering impressions (vasanas in yogic terms) imprinted upon egoistic memory from experiences that, in time and space, fled long ago. Then I remembered sand trap (golfing) etiquette: youre supposed to rake the sand smooth when you are done. Perfect! Release from the heart all vestiges of attachment, born of attraction or repulsion thats the lesson, isnt it?
Then a further thought bubbled up. This question (of how lower realities coexist with higher realities) reminds me of the long-running debate about the human and divine nature (coexisting) in Jesus Christ (substitute Krishna, Buddha, etc. if you prefer). This was something I was reading about recently in a new book, Promise of Immortality, by Swami Kriyananda.
Paraphrasing St. John in the New Testament it says of the light of God "which lighteth all men" that the "darkness comprehended it not." Kriyananda concludes that the quote implies that darkness, too, possesses awareness, else why speak of its "comprehension"? Here, too, both coexist. Are they then equals? I had no difficulty understanding the light and darkness here as metaphors for, among other things, (spiritual) wisdom and ignorance. Isnt ignorance simply the lack of wisdom? It may be, in a sense, opposite, but certainly not equal?
Being ignorance, does it not possess less power, less magnetism for the fact of being out of touch with the greater reality of truth? Whatever power ignorance possesses would derive from the intensity of its rejection of this greater reality or in its own affirmation of separateness, but surely not in its capacity to alter the reality of what is, simply, true. For example, if I, feeling in myself a lack of knowing, and sincerely desiring to know what is true, seek the truth, I dont create it, or affect it, by seeking or by finding it, do I? No, of course not! Truth simply is.
In Paramhansa Yoganandas classic story, Autobiography of a Yogi, he makes the simple but profound statement, "Thoughts are universally, not individually rooted." Thus, thinking back to my friends dilemma and my own lifes experiences, I reflected that when I am in a dark mood, I never get out of it by immersing myself in its own, self-enclosed emotion-driven logic. "Shift happens" when, well, a shift happens! Some other outside crisis, task, or friend in need bursts upon the scene of my dark contemplation, and in the ensuing self-forgetfulness I may find the mood has lifted. Twenty-five years of daily prayer and meditation tend to pay off, too! I find just putting my concentration strongly at the Christ center (the point between the eyebrows) and inwardly chanting can do more to make the "shift happen" than anything analytical can.
Sometimes in a lecture, Yogananda would get a chuckle from the crowd when hed say something to the effect that at night we are all "gods" (sleeping peacefully on the astral plane, oblivious to our "involuntary" confinement in physical form); but during the day, we are "devils" (when we act with attachment to that form, oblivious to the power of divinity within us). This higher, divine nature is, he explains, by its nature, transcendental. Only by conscious contact with it on its level of reality can we begin to live more on that plane, he taught.
In my life of daily spiritual practices, Ive come to appreciate that it takes commitment to achieve such (divine) contact in a real, rather than imagined or haphazard, way. I am blessed to count as friends among those who share this commitment some who are truly as angels on earth. They dont wear white robes with wings, either. The form and pace of each individuals spiritual unfoldment is hidden in the hand and timelessness of God's ways (which are not our ways). Sometimes it is hidden even from that persons own awareness. Such is the mystery of the presence of Spirit in human form.
With our modern obsession with the lives of celebrities, comparing the spiritual path to acting upon the stage can make a lot of sense. Yogananda, who lived in Los Angeles during the early years of Hollywood, frequently made the comparison. My inner musings, as though speaking to my friend, thus continued with, appropriately, a dramatic touch. I imagined myself saying to him, "Since you must think, feel, and act your part in this great divine drama anyway, why not watch for the cues from the Playwright and the Directors? Dont be like those B-grade actors who cause costly and time-consuming re-takes by their attachment to how they think the play should be performed.
"Each morning, meditate on the script for the day. Each evening, review your performance. Ask the cosmic Director for ways to improve. At the end of each day, having removed your costume and makeup, relax into the temple of silence within. Mingle with the pleasant company of the Creator and the angelic directors; greet the friendly hosts of inner peace and wisdom; delight in being now in the audience, enjoying the entrancing sound and lights of the cosmic play as it unfolds to your inner sight." As Yogananda wrote, "The drama of life has for its moral the fact that it is merely that: a drama."
I found myself making this personal appeal and reminder to my own self: to live as a child of God, as an angel of light and peace; to keep my daily appointment with God and the saints in prayer and meditation; to keep busy by day doing the duties God has given me with joy and with non-attachment. The part I am given to play may be unremarkable in itself, but my highest duty and greatest joy-creating opportunity is to be, as St. Francis prayed, "an instrument of Thy peace."
Terry McGilloway teaches meditation and yoga philosophy at Ananda in Seattle.