Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Price of Greatness!

When you examine the lives of many whom the world upholds as noble and history-making, you soon find that they endured, indeed sought and accepted, their own need to remain apart from "the maddening crowd" of popular opinion. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed -- we think of the mountain top, the cave, the lone Bodhi tree! Gandhi, Martin Luther King -- all great men and women kept their distance, as it were.

Paramhansa Yogananda, famous for his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, put it directly in saying that "Seclusion is the price of greatness." For those who are sincere in spiritual seeking, the tradition well established is to go on retreat at least once a year or a pilgrimage perhaps once in a lifetime (Jerusalem, Varanasi, Lourdes, etc.) Couples, too, should find time apart, in reflection and silence.

Writers do it; scientists do it; politicians do it. Why don't you?

When I managed the Expanding Light Retreat in northern California I recall meeting a retreatant who said that she'd never been apart from family all her life: from childhood right into marriage and children. She'd never been alone! Imagine! Well, don't.....because that's true for most everyone on this planet.

If you want to be good at what you do; if you want to be the best you can be; if you want to make contact with your, own higher Self; if you want to "find God;" if you are seeking soul freedom; all of these......Krishna  says in the Bhagavad Gita: "Get away from my ocean of suffering!" To have perspective of any sort, you need distance.

I just returned from my annual week of personal retreat which we call seclusion. It is a time alone: in prayer, meditation and mindfulness. There are periods of spiritual reading and journaling. During times of necessary tasks, such as meal preparation, one strives to remain in silence and in mindfulness of the eternal Present. Talk nor see anyone, if at all possible. Write notes, if you must.

I have been doing this for perhaps twenty five years: once a year for a week! It's not enough, really, but it's good enough. It's "hard work" but "good work!" I can't say it's life changing but it is a tune-up and a wake-up time to what's important.

I am 62 years old and came of age in the heady days of Haight Asbury, Monterey Pop Festival, and the Summer of Love. I was there, just like Forrest, Forrest Gump. I thought a lot of things were going to change. But you know, they didn't, really. I thought Vietnam was the "war to end all wars (of imperialism)." It didn't. I thought sexism was out the window and men and women were equals and friends. Not true. I thought peace and love was in; it isn't.

I can pass as pretty cynical but that's not really my point. My point is "the only way out, is in!" I do, in fact, think the world's consciousness is expanding toward a better place, but very, very slowly and with two steps forward; one step back.

We don't live very long nor do we know the "time or the place" of our departure. So, what's important? Is the love and family everyone talks about at holidays? Well, sure, why not? But most families are a bit nutty and usually more than a little broken. So, sure, if you're into that, fine. But it certainly isn't the reality for much of the planet. And if your family is really together, what about the one next door? See my point? You just never know, do you?

Our only "greatness" and success in life comes from the degree to which our selfishness expands into selflessness. That's it, really. Sure, I could say that this goes all the way into the Infinity of God's love, but if that doesn't mean much to you, maybe I said enough to begin with? But that expansion of consciousness cannot occur if the "trivial preoccupations of daily life" become the great mountains that you climb. "For wisdom, too, man has a hunger." (quotes from Yogananda's autobiography)

Yes, travel and education help give perspective, but these are more intellectual or in the moment. There's another aspect to perspective and it is the ages old dictum: "Know Thyself" or, as I prefer to put it: "Know Thy Self." "Whom am I?" "What is my importance, if any, in this life?" "My duty?"

Great sages of east and west say that to know thy Self is our only real duty because from this comes an understanding of right action. Are you your body? Personality? Social class? Race? Gender? Well, of course, not, but then "Who am I?"

Why, nothing, of course! That's the point. Nothing means everything and everyone. That's the point. Abstraction is the greatest gift to mankind for in it we see ourselves as our neighbor, not just our families, our nation.

A daily practice of meditation will help you make contact with the consciousness within you that precedes all the junk that you currently think is "you." Meditation can soften the heart, open the mind, and release your fixation on the body as your reality. Many powers of "mind over matter" have been demonstrated. Indeed, too numerous to bother to mention. There are people who have been documented to live without food or water for decades; to raise the dead; to be entombed for long periods and be revived; walk on water; fly; bi-locate and so on. You get my drift.

Science, too, tells us that reality is far from what it appears.

So, what's taking you so long? Get with it. Get out of it. Wish your loved one(s) "adieu" and take a retreat. Make sure you don't spend your whole time "chopping wood and carrying water" however. Make sure you are can be still for periods of time; and, alone. You'll find it's no picnic, at least if you are honest.

If you are not ready, and why should you be, then go to a real retreat facility where others are doing more or less the same. This is not only good in itself, taking some classes, doing some yoga or equivalent, but it is also a bridge to the real deal when you are alone and I mean really, really alone. That's why most people can't meditate: they are afraid of the dark though they'll never tell you that.

I dare you: once in your life face the abyss of unknowing, stripped of the comforts and preoccupations of daily life that assure you that you are alive and well. Buddha did it for real and for eternity. Can you do it for a short time? You don't need a mid-life crises you just need awakening to the Real.

Nayaswami Hriman