By Purnima Coontoor May 2007 The goal of effortless being and the arduous effort we put in to get there is one of the great paradoxical truths of the spiritual life. how do we shift from trying to being? ‘The great awareness comes slowly, piece by piece. The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning’ – Anon In a lifestyle workshop I attended recently in Bangalore, I noticed a recurring theme during the question-answer sessions, and I suspect it’s the same in all such workshops: Guruji, please help me overcome anger”; “Guruji, in spite of resolving not to mind my wife’s nagging, I lose my temper after listening to her for some time”; “I feel good for a few days after I attend your workshops and try to be joyful and happy, but I can’t keep it up for long”. Sounds familiar?In a moment of rare insight (or weakness), most of us often resolve to shun anger, envy, selfishness and henceforth be compassionate, loving and so on. When the higher calling beckons, we congratulate ourselves and decide to overflow with the milk of human kindness. For a while, we smile at everything and everybody, count to ten instead of blowing up, take deep breaths in times of stress, see the good side of people, and turn the other cheek when slapped. And most often, instead of acknowledgement and reciprocation of our goodness, we find that we are taken for granted and worse, taken advantage of. It gets harder and harder to keep up the good act, and we reach break-point sooner or later. We then promptly slip back into our original, normal, sometimes nasty selves. Until we attend another of those workshops, to start the game all over again. In the process, we are likely to end up feeling resentful, guilty, useless and unfit to pursue our spiritual goals. Why is it so hard to be good? Is it an occupational hazard of being a human being? Why was Jesus crucified, Buddha stoned, Socrates poisoned, Lord Rama exiled? Are we condemned to go through innumerable lifetimes making the same mistakes, to slip back easily into habitual behavior, incapable of taking up the challenge that evolution throws at us? Shall we ever be able to negotiate the enormous chasm between ‘trying’ and ‘being’? So many dilemmas, but no easy answers. Since spiritual growth is the only agenda on the menu of human life, we have no choice but to embark on this journey. We need to take charge and do it right, though, sooner rather than later. Just like we consult a map to track the optimum route before embarking on a physical journey, we need to do the same with the spiritual journey as well. Study the path taken by enlightened souls, internalize the teachings of spiritual masters and listen to our own conscience with sincerity. And take stock of the advantages and limitations of this journey, and how it can be accomplished well in the least possible time. So here it is – presenting the journey from ‘trying to ‘being’ – a SWOT analysis! StrengthsThe journey has begunThe journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step, and you have taken it. You’ve realized that you need improvement! The very fact that you are aware that you are not perfect puts you far, far ahead of other beings in the path of evolution. It triggers the process in you. You have decided to do something about your inadequacy – the next step is set in motion. Somewhere you feel a discontent about life and ask yourself ‘what next?’ You have read and heard about the compassion of a Jesus or a Buddha, and you resonate with them. You yearn for that spiritual strength that made Jesus exclaim, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do’ to his tormentors, and Buddha bless the stranger who spat on him. You clamor to emulate their teachings, and do succeed to a certain extent. It might be only for a week, a day, or an hour, but you have already started earning brownie points! Your willingness to change is your greatest strength. You are firmly on the path. WeaknessesThe numerous back-breaking speed breakers on the roadOh, what pitfalls the journey has! The road, you realize, is anything but a superhighway on which you can zip across at 120 kmph. Why is it that the day you resolve to be patient with your child, she does something which is calculated to raise your hackles? Or the day you decide to diet, your mom bakes the most delicious cake embedded with cashew and raisins? Every little thing that you encounter seems to challenge you to break your resolve and retract totally. You need to ‘grin and bear it’ to the limits of endurance to progress even an inch on the path. Why is this so? Because we are straining against lifetimes of conditioning, of putting oneself first, of indulging one’s senses, of doing the easy thing. The Buddha called spiritual growth swimming against the current. It is difficult because it militates against our habitual instincts. is the highest and toughest test that one needs to pass with no grace marks whatsoever to reach the kingdom of God…so how can it be anything but shatteringly difficult? Even Yudhisthira, the icon of dharma, had to visit hell for a brief moment for his half-truth, and highly evolved beings like Raja Harishchandra, Lord Rama and his consort Sita had to pass through a trial by fire when they incarnated on earth – then what of us lesser mortals? OpportunitiesEnlightenment, liberation, cresting the cycle of birth and death, total transformation, unleashing your highest potentialThe journey is hard but the opportunities are priceless: the highest prize of human life and the sole reason for our existence. No less! Worth the wrenching pain and agonizing uncertainty of the quest? A thousand times over. So do not despair. Keep at it. It’s worth it when you reach journey’s end and experience that state of total happiness and freedom. Imagine a state of peace and tranquility even if it is raining bankruptcies, tsunamis, accidents or job loss. Imagine being in a state of unconditional love towards one and all. Imagine giving and giving and giving – without wanting anything at all because you are so fulfilled. Imagine total freedom from suffering – zero fear, anger, rage, hate, worry, doubt, resistances, inhibitions and so on. Imagine being free of the human condition. Your resolve will no doubt be tested to its limit, and you’ll get knocked about mercilessly like Job was, but then a stone that lies by the wayside has to be hammered relentlessly to be sculpted into a beautiful statue. ThreatsNone! All roads lead to RomeAll of us are born with a multiple entry VISA to heaven by default, and it is open 24/7, for eternity! So book your ticket right now and get going. It might be useful, though, to carry a handy guidebook with tips on survival for the trip. A guidebook for the tripNever say never again‘Never buy vegetables from the roadside vendors – they always cheat with the weights’; ‘never believe in the bureaucracy – they are a corrupt lot’; ‘never be lenient with your servants – they’ll take you for granted’; ‘never trust auto drivers – they never give you the correct change’; ‘never trust Yankees/Chinese/Indians/your mother-in-law/sister-in-law – they don’t deserve goodness…’. This is how the average mind operates; and if you listen to it, it will not let you pursue your spiritual goals either. It’s necessary to be worldly-wise, but not to the point of being disillusioned. You may be compelled to retract from your good intentions once, twice, a hundred times – but the universe is always open for yet another try. The Divine trusts you, has given you a million births/chances so far to help you realize your divinity – so how competent are you to decide that things are hopeless? Never say never again. The universe is always changing, always fluid, in a state of motion, and so are people and situations. So persist, make yourself a promise a million times, and break it too; nobody’s counting, certainly not God. Drop expectations…of others, as well as yourself. You are on your trip out of your own choice, for your own benefit, for your own evolution; is it fair to expect others to put you on the train, hand you a lunch box stuffed with goodies for the journey and wave you goodbye? You may be a paragon of virtue, but of course your neighbor will still dump his garbage in your backyard, and your boss will be unkind to you in front of the whole office. Evolution is all about the change in your response to situations, not change in situations themselves. Each situation and person in your life is put there to help you introspect and grow. Wasn’t it Socrates who said, “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll be happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” Be kind to yourself too, it’s not easy to change lifetimes of habitual behavior. That’s why spiritual masters insist on satsang – keeping the company of good people and good thoughts as aids that will not let you forget your ultimate purpose in life, and put you back on the path again and again. Reading elevating books for at least 30 minutes before going to bed each night is a great habit to inculcate. Suffused with the vibrations of masters, they help raise energy levels. The only expectation you can have is from God – that if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it. ‘Be-Do-Have’‘Desire to become happy places us in hell, while desire to operate out of happiness places us in heaven’ says Swami Sukhabodhananda.Neale Donald Walsch, bestselling author of the trilogy, Conversations with God, says that when you intend something,
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