Effort versus Anxiety
“If not now, then when?” becomes an increasingly relevant and poignant question as the years rush past.
Motivational speakers like to proclaim that “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. This is true of life in general and of spirituality in particular. It is true also in sport – and are we not spiritual athletes training every day? How inspiring are the Olympians! What dedication to their training regime, what sheer determination to improve and succeed! They do not achieve success by being lazy.
Here’s what one gold-winning cyclist says of her training regime: “It hurts so badly. It’s like your legs are getting squeezed. You try to fight against it, but it’s horrible. You have to get past that … barrier to feel good eventually.” Yet she also declares: “I love getting on my bike; the feeling of achieving something every day.” We can also have similarly positive feelings if we are making a real effort to achieve our goal – which is something much more glorious than a medal.
But are we instead doing “lazy” meditation? Are we just going through the motions, without focus and without love? Do we resent getting up early in the morning? Are we watching the clock, waiting for our shift to end? If so, do we honestly think that this kind of meditation will lead us to our goal?
Clear thinking is essential in spirituality, so we need to make an extra effort to be focused during meditation, to be conscious of what we are doing and why. We are not just putting in a “shift” of meditation; we are taking the greatest journey we will ever make. But are we clear-thinking enough to see through our own self-deception?
Someone once said to Maharaj Ji, in October 1987: “Master, you said yesterday that the Lord is more anxious for us to go inside than we are to go inside. If I feel that I am anxious to go inside, how come we can’t?”
He replied: “Sister, if we are really anxious to go inside, then we won’t spread ourselves too much outside. If we spread our consciousness too much outside, it means we are not very anxious to go inside. If we are giving ourselves to the senses – to the worldly pleasures, and running after the worldly objects, worldly faces, day and night – we involve in these unnecessary evils, then we can’t say that we are very anxious to get in. If we are trying to withdraw from all that and fighting to come back to the eye centre, then we can say that we are anxious to go in.”
Focus and Fight
Notice that he uses the word “fighting”. It is a fight sometimes, a real struggle, but nothing of value is ever achieved without great effort. And so, like the athletes, we have to dig deep. Hazur is saying that it’s time to choose where our main focus in life should be. He points out that our apparent anxiety to go inside may be nothing more than self-deception.
We never seem to catch up with our lives. We feel we need to do more and see more, and to be fitter, healthier, wealthier and more knowledgeable…. Actually, we are managing our lives in such a way as to avoid confronting the obvious truth: that it will end soon.
When distractions and temptations come our way, we should recognize them for what they are. Thinking clearly, we know that these things will stand in the way of achieving our true objective in life. So we just need to say to ourselves: “This is not what I want. I know this will derail me, so I want nothing to do with it.”
To live a conscious life means to observe and respond from the eye centre, from the seat of consciousness. To look on the drama of life from up high in the crow’s nest. The lookout always has the advantage of perspective. He can see things coming from a distance and make a measured, “conscious” response. Nothing hasty, impetuous or emotional: just level-headed, untroubled and still.
As Rumi says, here among the world’s distractions and attractions, “We have become intoxicated with the echo”. But we don’t need those worldly pleasures. We don’t need a thousand Facebook friends. We don’t need a hundred actual friends. We don’t even need ten close friends. We just need one real friend, the Master. And he is always with us. Who could ask for anything more?
Sooner or later, like the caterpillar transformed into a butterfly, we will cease to dwell in this earthly creation and fly joyfully and colourfully into the light of God’s love. Our daily struggles until that day may be less poetic, but they are an essential stage on the path. Does the caterpillar find it easy to struggle out of the cocoon? Hard work, determination, possibly pain, even temporary disappointment, but most of all, perseverance will help us through. Meditation is, after all, the practice that makes perfect.
I’m interested in what people do with the chaos in their lives and how they respond to it, and simultaneously what they do with what they feel like are limitations. If they push against these limitations, will they wind up in the realm of chaos, or will they push against limitations and wind up in the world of freedom?
Philip Roth (novelist)