What Do We Really Want?
Every day we should ask ourselves: What do we really want?
We think we want the things of this world but that isn’t really true. If someone were to say to you that you could have everything you want in this life, but in return you have to give up any chance for permanent happiness and love – would you take the deal?
If not, why are we focusing so much of our attention on running after the things of this world for transient gratifications that inevitably result in suffering and which steal away our inherent peace and love? Haven’t we spent enough time seeking satisfaction by trying to get, keep, and fix things outside of us? Haven’t we realized that this is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – a sinking ship?
Saints teach that there is a sacred, divine essence underlying everything. Our true self is already one with divine love, but our mental habits prevent us from realizing this truth. Some of the obstructions originating in the mind are: remorse about the past, fear of the future, dissatisfaction with the present, grasping to hold on to what we have and get more, and resisting what threatens us.
We spend our entire lives struggling to make something happen, get somewhere, accomplish something, fix things, and become someone special – often at great cost. Usually, it’s only after repeated losses, traumas, and difficulties that we realize that we have actually created a prison of misery for ourselves and that we are disconnected from the very love and peace we so badly crave.
In the book Nobody, Son of Nobody the Sufi mystic, Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, writes:
That which blocks your path
is your boring self.
How long will you worry about this vicious world?
How long will you fret about your body?
The worst this world can do
is to take away this cesspool of
a prison your soul is trapped in.
Is that why you are worried?
Our dilemma is that from birth we use our sense perceptions to focus on things outside of ourselves to build our identity. This leads us to spend our whole life trying to be ‘somebody’. However, when we awaken spiritually, we discover that this “I” is an obstacle to complete awareness and is just an illusionary self, built by our mind so we can function on this material plane.
If we really want lasting happiness, love, and joy we have to change the direction of our attention. A profound shift of awareness is possible when we understand that the same attention we use to focus on outward things can be withdrawn inward to illuminate our own consciousness. We complain that we are helpless, but in truth we have the potential to move our attention at will. When we get frustrated about why we don’t experience the presence of the inner light or holy sound, it’s because we aren’t paying enough attention inwardly.
Instead, our attention is streaming outwards in countless directions, adhering to thoughts and problems of the world and leaving a residual imprint on our mind that creates more desires, emotions, and expectations. Our choice of where we focus our attention will determine whether we stay stuck in this cycle of reincarnation or evolve to higher consciousness.
Saints teach us to direct our attention inward, through meditation, so that we can start to abide in our own stillness. Meditation has the power to disrupt our habit of letting our attention run out into the world and gives us the awareness to stay present, stop our conceptual thinking, and surrender to what is. It provides us with the opportunity to drop our resistance and judgments and become receptive to God’s presence and his will.
The more we turn our attention inward, the greater our conscious connection with the Shabd, the sound current that emanates from the Lord. Maharaj Sawan Singh writes in Spiritual Gems:
The [Shabd] current acts like a magnet on the spirit… If the spirit were not covered by the rust of mind and matter, it would go up like a shot.
After we practise meditation for some time, we begin to notice this rust more and more, and then we may become disgusted and sometimes discouraged, believing we’ve become worse, not better. We may find it easier to rush out to collect more trinkets in the world rather than face the truth that meditation is revealing our lower tendencies, which prevent us from soaring back to God.
The saints understand this and assure us that while this is a slow process, with the Lord’s grace and our diligent practice we will rise above our lower tendencies and achieve the goal of bringing our attention to the inner Shabd guru. We just have to turn our attention away from our mind’s restless thinking by using meditation to focus our attention at the eye centre and by listening for any sound.
The Masters teach that meditation is practice in surrendering. We are not directing the show. All we can do is to follow the instructions and accept what we experience as God’s will. Letting go is so easy to talk about but it’s hard to do. To let go and allow everything to unfold takes maturity and faith in the Divine. Letting go is difficult. According to a character in David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.”
Sometimes we struggle because we have concepts and opinions about what constitutes good or bad meditation. We need to learn to let everything be as it is, allowing everything to unfold in its own time, without trying to make things happen according to our will. It brings about a freedom to remain in his will – to just do our meditation, without judgment.
Hafiz reminds us of our state in the book I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy:
Your whole mind and body have been tied to the foot of the divine elephant
With a thousand golden chains.
Now, begin to rain intelligence and compassion upon all your tender wounded cells
And realize the profound absurdity of thinking
That you can go anywhere or do anything without God’s will.
Let’s return to our original question: What do we really want? There comes a point in our lives when we have experienced so much and grown tired of the whole game. This helps us focus on what we really want. We understand that we have to act on the Master’s teachings so that we can break free from our self-imposed prisons. When we experience the presence of God first hand, we realize that we have what we really want within us and gain confidence that we are on the right path with the Shabd as our guide, salvation, and lifeline.