Sunday, May 10, 2015

Are You Too Sensitive? Do Yogis have Moods? BOTH-AND is the Path of Yoga!

Today at the Mother's Day Service at Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, Padma, my wife, spoke on the subject (from the reading for the week) of Martha and Mary (from the New Testament).

Martha and her sister Mary are the hosts for Jesus who is visiting their home. I believe they might have been cousins, actually. Their brother is the famous Lazarus who, later and towards the end of Jesus' life, was raised from the dead in a rather dramatic scene. So Lazarus was probably also in the room. It seems the occasion was what we might call a "satsang:" an informal gathering of people at someone's home around their spiritual teacher. Most likely Jesus was giving an informal discourse; perhaps he was answering questions. I imagine that the house was somewhat small and the number of people there was limited to the family and Jesus' entourage of twelve plus disciples (including perhaps Mary Magdalene and/or Jesus' mother, Mary).

Martha, however, is busy in the kitchen, making supper. She's fussing, banging pots around (I would guess) and all hot and bothered. Her sister, Mary, on the other hand, is in the living room sitting peacefully on the floor (we imagine) at the feet of her teacher, Jesus.

No doubt in a bit of snit and in a mood, Martha, comes into the room and, perhaps even interrupting, asks Jesus to send her sister, Mary, to help her in the kitchen. Jesus responds, in front of everyone (demonstrating the intimacy of the gathering), by gently upbraiding Martha for losing her inner peace even while engaged in worthy service, saying that Mary had taken the "better part" by tuning into his spiritual vibrations and teachings. (In the Sunday reading, written by our teacher, Swami Kriyananda--a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda--it is explained that the issue is not what it appears to be: whether serving is better than meditating. Rather, it is not WHAT you do but HOW--with what attitude and consciousness--you do it!)

Padma used the story to illustrate the challenge devotees have in allowing moods to overtake us.

Padma also recalled Swami Kriyananda's story (which he writes in his own life story, "The New Path") where he had gotten into a mood and how, upon encountering his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, Yogananda snapped the young "Walter" (Swami Kriyananda) out of it and added, "No more moods now, Walter. How are you to serve others?"

Thoughts being "universally, not individually, rooted," it just so happened that last night, while Padma was preparing her talk, I was drafting this article on moods and over sensitivity among yogi-meditators. I hadn't even considered the reading about Martha and Mary that Padma was to speak on.

So a felicitous coincidence, I suppose.........Yogananda taught that moodiness, whether habitual, or simply a periodic episode, has its roots in past sense over-indulgence. But I have another kind of moodiness in mind tonight.

What about those well meaning people who find that their sensitivity to the sufferings of others upsets their own peace of mind? I mean, think about it: meditation is supposed to make you peaceful, right? As your inner peace gives rise to an expanding love and compassion for others you might find that your sympathy for their troubles causes you to lose your peace of mind! Selfish people, at least, are not bothered by other people's trouble! You'd think THEY were more peaceful! Well, then, hmmmmm....we have a dilemma, don't we?

I see two things taking place: the initial stage of the spiritual path, and a longer-term tendency among spiritual seekers.

When, in the beginning of one's spiritual efforts, the hard shell of ego begins to break and fall away, the heart opens and expands. During this initial stage of awakening a person can be somewhat vulnerable.

It's not uncommon to find "young" yogis suddenly falling in love with someone, engaging in excessive yoga practice, trumpeting dogmatic diets or long fasts, and any number of tangents caused by the awakening of uncontrolled creative energy not yet accustomed to remaining upwardly focused on divine love, selfless service, ego transcendence or the wisdom of superconsciousness!

Newly minted devotees, previously inured by the protective shell of ego indifference or self-absorption, find that their increased awareness and empathy can make them emotionally or psychically vulnerable to the vast amount of suffering of others.

But more than a temporary phase is the issue. For at each stage of spiritual growth we must walk the tightrope line between wisdom and love. Yet there is, however, a "left-leaning" inclination in spirituality that naturally feels the pangs of suffering of others. Under this influence, wisdom is challenged to know the boundaries of what is ours and what is not ours.

Even in the stories of saints working miracles of healing, you don't find that they heal thousands. Only a few in number are blessed in this way. Saints have the innate wisdom and divine guidance (and the spiritual power) to know how and who to heal.

Swami Kriyananda quoted his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, who, when in a state of impersonal wisdom and uplifted vision, described seeing God "eating people." Images of god and goddesses dealing death and destruction are more or less commonplace in the East.

In the ancient teaching of duality, we are taught that death and destruction, evil and suffering, are the necessary counterpoint to goodness and virtue. Both are needed to keep the play of creation interesting and varied. Otherwise, it is said, we might discover too soon the secret behind it all: that it is all God, and God alone; God, the Creator, dreaming the drama of creation. When we unmask the divinity behind the creative play of light and dark, we begin the journey (like the Prodigal Son) to our home in God.

Some might recoil from this truth teaching as too severe and heartless. And, indeed, for the human heart, in many ways, it is difficult to accept. Thus most spiritually minded people incline to virtue and goodness, expressing sympathy and compassion, but stopping far short of transcendence of the sway of good and evil, of maya, the satanic force.

But in a world that has never known anything but a mix of good and evil, we would do well to attune ourselves to God's ways which are not "our ways." The law of karma rules the created universe and though there are subtler aspects to it, such as the redemptive power of divine love, the law of karma is exacting.

One sees in the lives of the saints (think Jesus on the cross, for starters) a courageous, positive, and bold acceptance of life's dualities, especially the less pleasant ones. Indeed, the middle path of even-mindedness is the very definition of the path to soul freedom given to us by Patanjali in the second stanza of his famous "Yoga Sutras."

It is the same truth discovered by Buddha under the Bodhi Tree. It is the unmasking of this Truth that sows the initial seed of faith that, as it grows, achieves ever-greater gnosis, faith, that behind the play of good and evil is the absolute good of God. The hand of goodness guides the great drama of creation towards the release of individual souls from the bondage of desire, ignorance, and suffering born of mistaken identity. Through the God-given law of karma and the gift of reason and intuition, stirred by the teaching and spiritual vibrations of God-realized preceptors, souls begin to awaken to the "truth that can make you free."

Thus, my real point here today is that a yogi (a meditator) should learn to balance sympathy and love with wisdom and faith. A proverbial BOTH-AND assignment! To achieve infinite consciousness is to absorb good and evil, dark and light into One unchanging and eternal state of Bliss.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people but these bad things can be the means through which their own past karma is erased or balanced. Or, it becomes an opportunity for them to practice non-attachment, acceptance, courage, or faith. Or, in the case of more spiritually advanced souls, their troubles become a vehicle by which they can even take on the karma of others. It is difficult to know the inexplicable workings of karma.

We don't start, however, by practicing non-attachment or pretending wisdom in respect to the troubles of others, especially those for whom we are able to assist in some way. We do this, instead, by developing non-attachment to our own desires, our moods, and our likes and dislikes. This can include our moods or sadness as a reaction to the troubles of others (especially when in lieu of helping, comforting, encouraging, or praying for them!)

For ourselves, then, when cold, don't complain; remain calm and endure it, at least for a little while, before calmly putting on a coat or turning up the heat. Accept, when you have no other choice, barbs of critique or less-than-tasty food with equanimity. See all day-to-day tests as coming from God as a way to purify your attachments. Start with the small things and work your way "up."

To the sensitive heart, the world's woes can crush all hope, all sense of divine mercy and justice, and the very incentive to seek God through wisdom and love. No doubt the ego or maya feels victorious when the devotee despairs or falls into moods, doubt or confusion.

Ironically, as the soul advances spiritually, the power to change outer circumstances and to help others (materially as well as spiritually) grows! This comes from letting divine power and energy flow through us rather than be pummeled by the ego's reaction to outward circumstances.

The young plant of spiritual awakening needs the protection of the company of like-minded and more seasoned devotees.

If you find, therefore, that you are "touchy" around what you hear (or believe) people say about you; or that the suffering of others crushes your equanimity and triggers moods and doubts, then it is time to emphasize wisdom and faith in God. Critique becomes an opportunity for self-reflection, perhaps for changing your ways, for forgiveness, and / or for even-mindedness. Sadness becomes an opportunity to be centered, even-minded, cheerful, and offering aid and help to others without regard to your own moods or sadness. Fear becomes an opportunity to affirm faith in God and courage of heart. You won't help anyone by being sad but by being calm, comforting, hopeful and even courageous. Work on yourself if you find you are too sensitive. Be like a doctor or nurse attending the needs of their patients with skill and equanimity.

Is it possible to feel both the suffering of another AND inner peace or joy? Yes, it is! And, without guilt! By meditation, especially, we know true joy as a living, divine presence. This inner joy can co-exist even when the outer surface of our mind and life is touched by sadness. We find that we can retain, in ourselves, a calm acceptance and joy. Yes: BOTH-AND is the way of the yogi.

Let our love and sympathy be practical and our response to it calm with inner eye of wisdom always scanning the horizon of intuition for guidance, acceptance, and practical compassion.

"I am strong in my Self; I am complete in my Self." The Self of self is the Self of all!

 Blessings to all in these "interesting" times. Be a peaceful warrior, not a peaceless worrier!

Nayaswami Hriman