By Suma Varughese
Irrelevant. Immaterial. Insignificant. Believe it or not, these words have had a central part to play in my spiritual growth. You could say that they are a very relevant, significant and material part of my life.
Irrelevant. Immaterial. Insignificant. Believe it or not, these words have had a central part to play in my spiritual growth. You could say that they are a very relevant, significant and material part of my life. And I’ll tell you why. One of the central dilemmas that any attempt at transformation throws up is that we’re so full of contradictory pulls and pressures. The soul wants one thing, and the mind another. The soul pushes you towards the growth option but conditioning coaxes you towards the tried and tested, the easy way out, the no-risk option.
Your soul urges you to get out of bed at 5.30 a.m. and embark on your health and fitness regimen. Your mind tempts you to sleep on. Your soul wants you to start on the book you always wanted to write, but the mind pulls you relentlessly to the TV set. Your soul wants you to go on a diet, but your mind perversely paints pictures of chocolates, chaklis and batata wadas, and before you can catch yourself, you are wolfing down these things. It doesn’t help to feel terrible about it later, either.
The conflict rages at the level of feelings, too. Your soul wants you to be cool and in control but no sooner does someone press your buttons than you find yourself raving and ranting as usual. Or you feel a vague pain in your chest and promptly fears of an imminent heart attack engulf you. Hate, envy, greed, resentment, despair, self-pity, all take possession of you any time they wish to, and there’s precious little the soul can do about it. Suppressing these desires and feelings doesn’t help and neither does expressing them, beyond a point. So how do we resolve these conflicts and get to that domain which the wise ones tell us is without conflict and contradiction?
My own preferred route, as many readers may have discerned by now, is awareness and acceptance. Awareness of the conflicts in our heads and acceptance of even the most perverse and lawless of them, help bank them and gradually reduce their impact on you. These aside, the third arrow in my quiver is the use of the abovementioned words: irrelevant, immaterial, etc.
When caught in the midst of a terribly strong emotion such as anger or the desire to read a book when an article waits to be written, I simply tell the emotion that is consuming me that it is irrelevant, immaterial and insignificant. In the early stages, the words did not have an overt impact. But that it did at the subconscious level is borne out by the fact that today their use does in fact reduce the pressure of the emotions and makes it easier for me to control myself.
These words work because they reduce the build-up we unconsciously give our unwanted feelings and desires by resisting them. When in their grip, we cringe, we groan, we curse ourselves and our fates. We try, how we try, to uproot them from our system and throw them away. I’ll never smoke again, we swear, or buy another outfit or gossip behind someone’s back. Alas, the urge returns when we least expect it to, twice as large as before. And we live in fear of being possessed again. Each time we give in to the desire to have a cigarette or a drink or whatever our addiction is, we put ourselves further into its grasp by fearing its hold on ourselves. Our trust in ourselves reduces until the feeling or desire looms Goliath-like over our David selves.
It is this imbalance that these words correct, thereby giving us an opportunity to master and overpower our states of mind. Self-control is
really nothing more than the belief/knowledge that we are bigger than the mind stuff that assails us. For those who are blessed with innate discipline and self-control, this knowledge comes naturally. And the more they establish mastery over their minds, the greater their trust in themselves.
It is for this reason that all spiritual paths and approaches emphasise discipline. Without it, progress on the path is painfully difficult. For each hard won victory there are dozens of defeats. The spiritual task of going beyond needs and desires seems never-ending. And yet Providence is merciful. For those of us who lack discipline, and I am a fully-paid up member of the tribe, there is redemption if we care enough and persist enough. It may take us much longer than the disciplined ones, but get there we will.
In addition to reducing the relevance of unwanted feelings and desires, it helps to amplify the states of mind we wish to implant. Each time I fall back into error, I tell myself that it’s all the more reason to do the contrary. Above all, it is important to forgive ourselves as we slip and slide through the path. Mistakes we will make in plenty. It may even be that we will hurt others and eventually ourselves through our unguarded and uncontrolled tongue and action. Tempting though it is to duck under cover and give up the battle, it is imperative to rise up, forgive ourselves and move on. The only real restitution we can make both to ourselves and life is to change. So keep moving.
In time this method, as I am beginning to discover, pays dividends. A genuine control springs up. This control is not based on coercion or will power. We don’t grimly force ourselves to do our duty, even as shards and fragments of desires and feelings ricochet within our system, which we force into the subconscious level. With this method, we are naturally in control for we desire to do only what is good and right for us. We desire to eat what is good for us and only in the right quantity. We desire to maximise our potential, to take care of our minds and bodies and to rise above our self-centred views into a larger perspective of the whole. It is only through this natural sublimation of what is undesirable and the emphasis of what is desirable, that we will reach the zone of perfect integration and harmony. In this zone, the mind, body and soul are in sync, each only wanting what is best for the larger good.
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All spiritual paths and approaches emphasise discipline. Without it, progress on the path is painfully difficult. For each hard won victory there are dozens of defeats. The spiritual task of going beyond needs and desires seems never-ending