SHANTI OM: Living and Acting in Peace, Part 2
I saw a fabulous post on Facebook today. It read: “You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” A beautiful sentiment, to which my friend wisely added: “and they never know who you are.”
She, a dedicated karma yogi, continued to write, “Nothing as dangerous as ‘spiritual’ pride!” This made me think about the many shadows along the spiritual path, especially when our spiritual lives inspire us to act in selfless service, or along the path of karma yoga.
Our ego is a tricky thing. We ceaselessly – driven by our ego – consciously or unconsciously look for opportunities to feed our wanting self, until we wake up to who we really are. When we become enlightened, that is, when we are permanently established in the reality of divine love, we no longer identify with separateness and no longer maintain a separate sense of self. But until such time, for the sincere spiritual seeker, vigilance is required so that we may witness our ego’s tendency to feed, so that we may choose otherwise.
Not that far removed from addicts who believe that a drink of alcohol will solve their problems, our ego habitually fools us into feeling fulfilled through the false gods of temporal happiness, whether it be through the approval of others, a tasty chocolate cake, or crossing off an accomplishment from our bucket list. As I explore in depth in my upcoming book “Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie”, the spiritual path is not immune to the shadows of our ego. (I am currently working to launch the book, subtitled “A Revolutionary Live Makeover for the Sincere Spiritual Seeker”, by the end of this year, to help you start the New Year with a fresh outlook on life.)
As anyone who actively works a twelve-step program in addiction recovery knows, humility is the foundation of a spiritual life. Often misunderstood as lowliness, humility is a grounded, open and vital feeling of being no greater or less than any other living thing. When humble, we metaphorically bow in reverence to life. As we bring our heads below our hearts, we cast less of a shadow on the Earth. Through humility, we have moved beyond feeling separate from life and have learned to revere our oneness with all that is.
As my Facebook friend wisely reminds us, too often along the spiritual path we become proud of our spiritual “progress”, which can fuel subtle or overt feelings of being better than others. We can play God by assessing ourselves as either “doing well” or not “doing well” along the path. Are we omniscient and able to assess such? Both pride and its inverse, self-punition, create a feeling of separateness from the beauty of this moment and from who we truly are.
Feeling better than or worse than others are forms of spiritual pride that create obstacles along our path. Realizing that we are literally no-thing, that we are to learn to be a zero in order to be a hero, as my teacher Amma says, is the antidote to spiritual pride and the way forward as spiritual beings in a dynamic world full of needs.
Selfless service, or Karma Yoga, is considered a pathway to God-realization. In the sacred Hindu text The Bhagavad Gita (literally meaning The Lord’s Song), the avatar Krishna explains to his student Arjuna that a yogi is one who is unattached to the fruits of his action:
“Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme… Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works to God, with full knowledge of the Divine, without desires for profit, with no claims to proprietorship, and free from lethargy, fight.”
For a yogi then, one who is a sincere spiritual seeker, selfless service is to act without any need for praise or personal gain. In selfless service, we do good deeds, we act in kindness, we simply act because it is a natural arising to do so. As Amma has said, the right hand does not hesitate to soothe the left if it is injured. Where there is selfless service, there is no ego, there is no divided sense of self. We feel the pain and need of others as our own, and simply act in service.
MEDITATION: Releasing Pride and Self-Judgment
As you move through this week, see if you notice yourself feeling better than or worse than any one or anything. Simply notice, should this arise.
If you tend to judge yourself when noticing these thoughts play out in your mind, notice them as well. Any self-judgment is like adding fuel to the hungry ego-fire of feeling better or worse then. By simply noticing without any added narrative, you will learn to witness the tendencies that cause others and yourself suffering. In so doing, you no longer give them energy.
Nothing in life can live without energy. When you no longer feed your judgmental and prideful tendencies, they simply dissipate and are gone. You don’t need to try to fix them. Trying to fix things entangles you more deeply in wanting, as it is driven by your ego’s perception that you are broken and separate from the perfection of what is.
When you notice these painful tendencies, simply return your attention to your breath and notice passing thoughts as just that – passing. They are temporary. Allow your breath to bring your attention to what is beyond these illusions, however real they may feel in this moment. Become aware of the special quality of your breath. Allow yourself to rest in that inner space. Allow yourself to simply be. In that beingness, allow the grip around the idea of “me” to soften. In that release, feel the ease and interconnection with all that is. That rooted, vital expansion is your true nature.
MEDITATION: Revealing Your Inner Sun
Watch your thoughts as you move through the day. When you do something nice for yourself or for someone else, watch how it makes you feel. Notice your thoughts and how you react to them. When you did that kind thing, did it make you feel like you were now a nice and valuable person? Did you feel a sense of self-importance, like “Wow! Look at me. I did good. I am a good person!”?
In response to acting in service, it is one thing if you feel rooted, vital and expansive, as though you had just let go of holding onto clouds that were masking your inner sun. It is another thing if you are polishing the clouds to make them seem shinier. Judging yourself to be worthy of love because you “did good” is like polishing the clouds of your attachment to separateness instead of seeking the light that has always been shining just beyond them.
It is wonderful to feel good about yourself. But there is a difference between a temporal, conditional feeling of goodness that you need to “do good” to obtain (implying that unless you do the “right” things, you are somehow deficient or unworthy), and connecting to your infinite true nature that is love (revealing your sun). It is so easy to get confused between these two – which may seem similar, but are very different.
The realization that you already are love and that it is unconditional does not come from identifying with anything that is passing and temporary. When you try to make things that pass last forever, you will inevitably suffer. Applying a band-aid illusion of being “good”, is not the same as realizing you already are good, as love is your true nature.
May we all rest in the realization that we are love and loved in each moment!