The following material is excerpted from
a letter written by Anna.
If you can try to remember that the world, despite its “worldliness”, is still a manifestation of the Divine, however absurd that possibility may appear at first glance, you can begin to integrate that true forgiveness, and therefore, true surrender, ultimately implies that there is nothing to forgive. This is so because it is ALL God, or Mother, doing the dance through each of us. By extension, then, anything that happens to us is ultimately good, from a transcendent point of view. The trick, of course, is to figure out what the good is that comes or will come of a seemingly dreadful event. There is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, something good that comes of it. In my own personal case, it seems always to be a lesson for me, personally, about something that I do. This requires, of course, enormous self-examination, but with practice, that becomes automatic. In the realization of what the lesson is to me personally comes the integration of that aspect of me that was projected outward in the event; and then, the event does not repeat, because I have learned it.
As regards your reference to A Course in Miracles, as I see it the connection with the Holy Spirit is not about escape from life, but about viewing life, with all its problems and so on, from the perspective of or “in the consciousness of” the Holy Spirit. That view implies goodness beneath everything that occurs; it implies order out of all the chaos. Again in my own personal life, that order is what I call karma. In other words, everything, without fail, that has happened to me, has been done to me by something or someone as a result of some position that I have taken myself that generated an equal response in my life through something outside of myself. Indeed, when fully honest with myself, I must acknowledge that the most egregious behavior in some manner reflects my own capacity to do something similarly egregious, whether or not I actually acted it out — I may have only thought it, considered it, or even rejected it as inappropriate — nonetheless, it came from me.
So, the spiritual process is not about escaping life, but about understanding why life is as it is, and our complicity within that life such as it is. The more we understand that life in the world is generated by the desire to survive, and frequently, to dominate in order to guarantee survival, the closer we come to understanding our part in doing the same. When we begin to understand that we are, each of us, programmed exactly the same in the desire to survive, we begin to forgive ourselves, and therefore, others, for being compelled by that desire. At the same time, we begin to be able to withdraw from the drive to survive. It is then that we begin to feel peace and true love. I do not believe it comes in reverse direction. In other words, we have to come to grips with who we truly are and why we do what we do as individual human beings in a supposedly dangerous limited world; then, we can begin to forgive, and therefore to find happiness and peace, while at the same time letting a transcendent consciousness begin to work within.
Finally, you mention the discovery that with spiritual practice, life seems to become more chaotic and less “comfortable”. Yes, in my experience and observation, that is exactly what happens. However, the word “seems” is crucial. Life is always chaotic and uncomfortable so long as we assume the ego’s position of individuals separate from and threatened by other individuals. The only difference for you now is that, due to the spiritual work you have done and are doing, you are more aware of that natural chaos. Prior to spiritual silence, we distract ourselves, or even delude ourselves, constantly in order to avoid confronting ourselves and our lives in their bare and real truth. Then, as seekers, initially at least, we are overwhelmed by the chaos, the noise, the suffering, the pain of living. We assume that has “happened” to us now that we have turned inwardly, or that it has increased. Instead, it is always happening to all of us all the time, only now we see it. Buddha would agree, I think. One of his basic tenets was “Life is suffering”. Indeed, when he discovered the truth of that statement, he was astounded, which might indicate how deluded he was prior to that realization!
I have just been re-reading Irina Tweedie’s most wonderful book, “Daughter of Fire”. This is the diary of a Western woman who sat at the feet of a Sufi master in India in the 1960s, and recorded her pain, reluctance to surrender, moments of peace and euphoria, and depths of depression as she grew into the Love she sought, the Love her guru cultivated and nourished in her as she fought, tooth-and-nail, against it.
Irina Tweedie arrived in India a particularly intelligent, knowledgeable, and cultivated Theosophist, and she approached this teacher with a good deal of arrogance, pride, and ego – all ordinary human attributes, and all enormous obstacles to the surrender and loss of self that is required in the Sufi tradition. (Of course, all spiritual disciplines ultimately include and demand this same “loss,” the only difference being in emphasis perhaps. This is the loss against which we all rail, and which creates the pain, struggle and terror some of us feel as we drop the apparently protective coating of ego, pride, and knowledge.)
While reading the book this time, I found myself considering the obstacles we as human beings each set up against growth, and the change and uncertainty that that growth requires of us, and how subtle, devious, and even sometimes seemingly “angelic” those obstacles can be. Sometimes we set these obstacles up automatically or sub-consciously, sometimes deliberately, and they are not limited to those of us on the spiritual path. Indeed, the cause of suffering and disappointment and unsuccessful endeavors of all kinds in the world arena as well as the spiritual arena, are often, if not always, a result of these self constructed obstacles. It is, after all, the ego which, in its transformation, even when that transformation is within the construct of the ego itself, must experience a kind of “death” in order to change, to become or to permit something different.
Even on a daily basis, each of us resists good advice from wise individuals, because of the sense of loss and even “death” if we accept it. Indeed, often we find, later on, that we have embraced the advice, but cleverly concealed its source, by considering it our “own” decision. This may explain why we are more apt to accept advice we have “paid” for, as opposed to that which is freely offered. By paying for advice, we have already set up the odds so to speak; by paying, we acknowledge, beforehand, that the advice is and will be useful and good (it must be, we are willing to part with our own money for it!), and thus we are able to embrace it and use it without “loss of face,” without loss of ego. The death is circumvented by the devious practice of predetermining the outcome. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons that Sufis often require payment of some kind from their students? Kind of like using the cheating to win the game, despite the cheating! Or playing the game by the cheater’s rules.
Another example of this principle of resistance is the spiritual student’s “shopping around” for teachers and guides, even in the midst of the “found” teacher who is presently advising and counseling him or her. Most of us do this early on, of course, and then it is probably appropriate. After all, there are charlatans and nefarious teachers in abundance. It is essential to use one’s discrimination and judgment in the process of spiritual understanding.
However, once found, a good guide, as we progress, can become hard, seemingly cold, evidently “insensitive” to our needs, and difficult. It is at this time that the guide is being his or her most gracious. After all, the teacher’s sole purpose is to cut away the dross, destroy the cherished concepts of the ego, and awaken the inner light. Sometimes, this can only be done painfully, sometimes even terrifyingly. Of course, if the student is compliant and flexible, the severity is lessened, and sometimes entirely absent. But most of us are not blessed with compliancy; most of us are very stubborn.
A good guide or teacher, even a teacher in the most mundane areas of life, is strict, demanding, sometimes impatient, and certainly prodding. Without that external force, we will simply stagnate. It is human nature to seek comfort; it is against human nature to embrace and welcome the stretch that is required to make great strides in any discipline. My respect for a teacher who is willing to risk the anger and sometimes the betrayal of a student who resists that force and thus who responds with anger or fury, is beyond description. Certainly, Irina Tweedie’s teacher was subjected to great fury from her. The reward to a teacher for this kind of persistence and self-sacrifice is only more love and suffering on his part. It is incredible, and clear evidence of the depth of love that God has for us, that these teachers even exist, much less seek out students, and subject themselves to the repercussions of these students’ resistance. I believe that Jesus offers an extreme example of repercussions of this sort. I am, consequently, not the least bit in doubt that his life was indeed factual, and not allegorical.
How do we, as students, learn to quell that reluctance, that resistance, in order not only to spare the teacher pain, but to assist our own progress? Besides cultivating gratitude, humility, patience, and sacrifice, all of which most of us early on have little of, much less know how to cultivate it, there is one grand gesture that is simple to make and very effective.
Irina Tweedie, despite herself, does just this in the very early part of her book. She comes to a point where she knows that she will never leave her teacher, even though she doubts him, even though she is terrified of him, even though at moments she considers her position relative to his to be equal, if not superior. It was her commitment to her “salvation,” to success in reaching her goal, that served her despite her doubt, her reluctance, and her intense resistance. The great desire on her part to KNOW Truth, to understand and stay with it, overcame all of the obstacles she herself set up (again, consciously or unconsciously) in her path toward that understanding. She made a leap of faith, she made a commitment to herself and her future, to know, to understand, to reach realization. This commitment superceded everything else, and in her case, expressed itself as a determination not to leave the teacher, a refusal to give up, a commitment to a contract.
Those of us who do not have physical teachers to whom we can make that commitment, still have the option open to us. We can, in true sacrifice and submission, make a contract with ourselves and with God, however superficial our understanding of who and what God is, to arrange our lives, every moment of our lives, to serve that commitment. This requires a sincerity, and a kind of desperation with the present, to make it stick. It requires a rearrangement of our lives to serve that commitment, it requires a daily, moment by moment sacrifice of attention to that commitment. And ultimately, it requires a belief that there is something better than what we have right now. But above all else, it requires that, once made, we stick to it, in good times and in bad times.
Of course, once we perceive the effects of this commitment in our lives, taste even slightly its rewards, we will never turn back. That is the beauty of the first leap ’ it “pays off” at least a little very quickly. But that is the difficulty of it as well, for the first leap must be taken mostly, even totally on faith. Perhaps that is God’s, as well as every teacher’s, one non-negotiable requirement: Blind faith that there is something beyond our grasp that we need and want, and that it is available to us only through surrender to God and our teacher. After that, all is given.
A most gracious TZF visitor has written us thanking me for an earlier article regarding surrender. Prompted by her nice note, I went back and re-read that entry, and discovered that even though it was written years ago, it still stands.
While reading the article again, some further considerations arose in my mind with respect to the same subject, which might serve to round out the topic a little bit more. Certainly surrender is the ultimate and, I believe, final leap required of any serious aspirant on the spiritual path, or, frankly, on any path that is goal oriented and aimed at success in that goal. Surrender to a concept, whatever that concept may be, will more than likely guarantee achievement by virtue of the basic essence of the working of consciousness, which is, in the final analysis, the creative process, in whatever area of life, or whatever level of life. Thus, by surrendering to a state of consciousness, we become that state, and thereby reflect that state in our world — and effect creation of that state both within and without.
In almost all spiritual literature, modern and ancient, the problem of surrender is a basic dilemma that is addressed over and over again. All saints, masters, and serious seekers grapple with it, probably throughout their lives, and only those who eventually “give in” excel. This is, of course, because of the nature of enlightenment or realization. In order to experience an expanded or more all inclusive state, one simply must surrender one’s present, limited, separate, and therefore comfortably familiar state to experience a larger or more inclusive one. There seems to be simply no way around this basic requirement. It is an example of the vase that is full; if it is not first emptied, you cannot fill it with fresh water. Or consider Jesus’ parable about fresh wine in old skins, thereby tainting the new wine. We are talking about consciousness here, and to the extent that consciousness does not let go of its pre-conceptions and habits and conditionings, to that extent we will remain corrupted or polluted by those habits and conditionings. Logically, then, we must recognize the necessity to relinquish our cherished ideas of who, what, and why we are, if we are going to move even one step closer to a different or more expanded vision.
It is that necessity, that imperative, which the present consciousness, or “ego”, will resist by virtue of its ingrained survival instinct to maintain its apparent continuity. Let’s remember here the ego is composed of discrete moments, experiences, images, memories, presumptions, illusions, and all the rest of it, which, through its own mechanism, it has connected together like a string of beads, to appear to be continuous and connected entity which each of us calls “me”. If you attempt to dismantle that, by surrendering willingly to another’s paradigm, you normally instantly stimulate alerts, caution, fear, frequently in the form of “doubt”. Doubt always allows us the leisure to “consider it later”, or to “think about it”. How many things have we promised ourselves to “think about later” and forgotten to consider? When you consider the act of submission to another’s consciousness, the ego construct is threatened, is it not? Of course it is. It is admitting into its parameters “otherness”, in the form of a different paradigm or consciousness. Unless one is habituated to surrender, or disciplined to allow conflicting ideas or new ones, willingly, into one’s consciousness, the initial response is almost always “no”, or “doubt”, or “maybe later”. Resistance. Non surrender. (As an afterthought, the absurdity of all of this is that the spiritual student, initially at least, welcomed and even begged for this to occur; but when it occurs, he or she puts up barriers to the transformation. In effect, then, the ego asks for its own destruction, but when it has to grapple with that, it panics and resists. It is rather interesting to realize that the IDEA of incorporating another’s consciousness is pleasant, but the act of doing so, not so much.)
Why is this so? I think it is because the ego usually asks for this transformation because it thinks that “it” is going to be transformed. It is another power trip that the ego incessantly takes throughout its “life”, accumulating knowledge, thereby apparent power, ad infinitum. And when the teacher that promises this transformation turns out to be a true teacher, one capable and willing to confront that belief and to begin to dismantle the ego, the ego screams “no fair, this isn’t what I wanted, I wanted to be transformed, I wanted more, not less, and certainly not to be dismantled!”
Survival is an extremely powerful instinct within the human being. Indeed, it is built into the system and our very DNA to preserve and continue for a certain period of time the physical mechanism called the body/mind. Just about everything in nature depends and is ordered around this instinct, and when it works without interference, it is most effective in its purpose, and also acceptable. Animals interact correctly, without going to war with one another, and so forth. Everything is arranged to prevent the destruction of that mechanism. And the ego, in its effort to maintain predominance and control over this body/mind, usurps and uses this instinct to maintain its OWN survival as a seemingly discrete entity, as it is wont to do in all areas of the human body/mind’s mechanism. Thus, when its conceptual framework — accumulated, linked, maintained and nourished over the years — is “threatened” by change or a different consciousness, usually put forth by another individual, it lashes out, or runs from it, in an effort to “survive”, in somewhat similar fashion to the instinctual activity of animals threatened by other animals, and even when that change is actively sought. The absurdity of this behavior is, of course, that the construct, the very presumption of an entity called “ego”, or “my consciousness”, is a fiction, and is always changing, is fluid, and is arbitrarily constructed. Only it assumes that it is stable, finite, and therefore an entity called “me” or “mine”, and therefore believes itself to be capable of harm or attack.
Now, the ego usually approaches the spiritual search for one of two reasons: either it is so thoroughly disgusted with life and its own paradigm that it is willing to risk anything to get out of that paradigm; or, it approaches a more powerful individual, usually a master in some area in which the ego has decided it wants to excel, with the intent to be “taught” what the master knows, so that it, the ego, or “me”, can be more powerful, more comfortable, less suffering, and so forth. The first reason is usually the most effective and long lasting prod toward the spiritual search. Often this motivation comes from tragic lives, deep loss, or some other traumatic event that forces the individual to recognize his or her real suffering. Even so, after the pain and suffering diminishes, this strong motivation can fail at guaranteeing total surrender as well. Indeed, frequently the spiritual search is up and down; and only an advanced student makes the true final and complete surrender because, through trial and error, each time she gains a little peace and happiness, she re-enters the world thinking that she can “use” what she has learned to maintain that peace, only to find that the initial surrender is no longer active, and the dance starts all over again; more pain, more disgust, more surrender, more peace, more grasping, more pain, more disgust, more surrender, and so on, by increments, and not realizing that it will never end until such time as there is no longer any “one” to experience that pain. And that ending of the “one” occurs only by means of surrender of that “one”. Sometimes a seemingly endless battle, which, according to some traditions, can take many lives even.
The second method, the desire to control one’s world and gain more power over it, is a viable and very common motivator as well, and it seems most common in the West. In this instance, the trouble begins when one approaches a master who is a master at dismantling the ego. Any other master or teacher (including those who are “spiritual masters” who promise to teach us how to become spiritual masters by means of practices, etc.), will give us just that, a practice, whereby they may teach us how to sit appropriately, manipulate the world appropriately, or how to pray for something correctly, and so forth — all legitimate activities, but aimed at controlling our world, and at empowering the ego with further powers, and not aimed at getting the ego out of the way in order to allow consciousness to overcome the ego.
Thus, it seems to me that there are two kinds of students here: the more desperate, and possibly then, more devoted and persistent one, and the other who is possibly more interested in power and happiness, and may or may not be as persistent for the reason that she is not yet desperate enough. The latter can last many lifetimes, and the former ones are rare, I believe. The latter may taste the waters, but maintain autonomy. The former, if persistent, leaves the stage, and BECOMES the waters. The latter does not want to end or surrender the ego; she wants to stop suffering, but also wants to maintain the cause of suffering; she therefore bargains with the teacher, and depending upon the teacher, is effective or not. There is only infrequently any real surrender here and usually the surrender is in order to gain something. Once gained, then the surrender is recanted. In some cases, the surrender may be made in order to survive, paradoxically, in that the fear generated by disapproval by or loss of the presumed source of one’s power, the teacher, will cause the ego to surrender to that teacher, all the while maintaining fear, distrust and distance — a rather transparent surrender I think .
Let us not forget that the urge to survival plays magnificently into this double edged sword. Survival of the ego will remain at work throughout our search, and it will consistently attempt to obstruct any efforts at ending its survival. And of course, the true master is there to do just that, end the survival of the ego. We begin, then, to see just how tricky a business this can be, and why so many students fail their masters or teachers. We also see, on the flip side, just what a sacrifice it is for a true master to surrender “his or her” life to serving others. (Of course a true master does not have “his or her” life, so this observation has a great huge hole in its reasoning!)
In conclusion, then, we have two levels of spiritual practice here, I believe. One is the basic and final surrender, the end result of all spiritual practice, and that is what is called true enlightenment or realization. This final practice is actually surrender, or the resignation of the ego construct, either to God, or to a true master of this surrender, which in turn cultivates the understanding and true knowing, or experiencing of what it is to be whole and connected to everything including God, who IS everything. It is LOVE, or relational consciousness without presumptions, barriers or buffers. This, I believe, cannot be experienced without surrender of one’s isolated and separated consciousness. The other level is a more tolerant, more compromising level, and one which takes into consideration the propensities and foibles of the human being’s conditioned consciousness. It considers the fears and even terrors of that consciousness, and uses methods or tricks to mollify those fears and terrors in order hopefully to allow the student moments of small tastes of what it is to be on the other level. At the same time, because of its compromises, this level can be stultifying or even dangerous to the sincere aspirant’s process. It becomes dangerous only when it becomes so comfortable that it is difficult to move forward, and it is thus dangerous only because it may interfere with true surrender. Many religions are on this level; they allow a protection and comfort that is frequently necessary and important to a struggling and fearful humanity, including those who are sincere in their approach to spiritual realization.
In my own personal life, I could not have faced, nor eventually overcome, the fear that was generated from what small understanding I originally had of what it was to be surrendered to a consciousness greater than my small, petty, individual consciousness. The idea of loss of those buffers, that protective mechanism, was overwhelming to me, and without a strong certainty that there was a God, whoever that God was conceived by me to be, that was benevolent and protective for me, that could be invoked, I could not, nor would I have, faced the fears generated by my growing understanding of what consciousness truly was, and all that it encompassed. Nor could I have faced the enormity of my own participation in that consciousness, or the enormity of my irrelevance within that consciousness.
I would rather feel
than know the definition of it.
For the mind, O Krishna,
is restless, turbulent, powerful, and obstinate.
To control it is as hard, it seems to me, as to control the wind.
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