We received the following question at our Guest Book: “I seem to have the theory figured out, and I know just about all there is to know about the spiritual process, but I don’t seem to have the feeling in my heart which everybody claims is the result of all of this. How do I get it?”
Yours is a frequent complaint among seekers, in particular among western seekers. We understand all the basics, we may even see auras, maybe have a little clairvoyance, maybe can heal others, and maybe even control the weather, but something seems to be missing – the ananda of Indian paths, the “heart” of Christian paths, the “sweet feeling of bliss” of New Age teachings.
This “feeling,” this fullness of the heart, what I call Presence or Grace, is, in the final analysis, all that matters. Indeed, I have never read or heard of anyone who has achieved or received this Grace, asking for the other “benefits” of the spiritual path. It is only those of us who might be quite adept at other aspects of the spiritual process, but are missing this feeling, who bemoan its absence. And rightly so. It is not enough to be intellectually proficient, or indeed, psychically proficient in the spiritual process. The spiritual human being has a deep and everlasting need for completeness, or fullness, or love, or happiness, all terms which can be substituted for the sense of Grace which is felt directly and solely within the heart.
Of course, by heart, I do not mean the physical, biological organ, but the area within the body and near the heart which shines and radiates with happiness when content and fulfilled. We have all felt some of that, when things are right in our lives, when we are loved or loving, and when we are seated within, and not without; the direct result of being loved, loving, or happy. Indeed, when especially happy, we often put our hands to our chest in delight, signifying the innate knowledge that it is there where our happiness resides. Just so, it is that need which makes us meditate, which keeps us meditating, which makes us turn within, and which generates aspiration in the spiritual seeker. This sense, or state, or position is the ultimate goal of the spiritual process. All other achievements along the way are incidental, and even distracting. The powers and consolations of the spiritual search may come and go, and thrill or terrify, but they do not fill the heart, nor can they satisfy the seeker. Only this Grace, this loss of self to Self, or God, can satisfy and fulfill the seeker to the extent that he or she no longer needs or longs for anything further.
How to “get” it? That is the question. As with all things, the first answer is: How much do you want it? If you want it more than anything else, more than the powers, more than the consolations, more than the momentary pleasures of all other achievements in life, both worldly and spiritual, then you shall have it. It is as simple, and as difficult, as that.
The second answer is to recognize why it is so difficult. In my own experience, as a highly educated and thus mental individual, I was initially and normally drawn to the mental, intellectual path. I wanted power – over my life, over my thoughts, over my fears, and I believed that power to reside in my mind. A logical assumption, and one which, initially at least, is correct. Without controlled, appropriate mental processes, the body and all its aspects, mental, emotional and physical, are in chaos and driven by all kinds of input, outer and inner. So, initially when undertaking the spiritual process, I went for the intellectual aspect of the search: understanding, knowledge, and ultimately, power from knowledge. And I believe most of us in the West do the same.
Somewhere along the way I was fortunate to stumble upon the crucial aspect which I had missed, the process of surrender, or the cultivation of Grace, that which resides within the heart, which some call the Heart Chakra, the Self, the Christ within, and so forth. It is the direction of thought, meditation, aspiration, and one’s total being toward that “space” which encompasses surrender. (And, perhaps not incidentally, as surrender progresses, understanding, power and all the rest of it come naturally, easily, and safely.) The process of surrender, in and of itself, naturally opens the heart and reveals Grace. The extent to which we resist this surrender exposes to each of us our fear of admitting ignorance, or of revealing vulnerability, or of feeling dependent, or, in the end, our fear of innocence, for with surrender comes innocence. In retrospect, it is amazing to me how we all fight against this process, when we are told over and over again the benefits we will derive and the suffering we will lose. But the egocentric mind is a devious and frightened creature, and so is its dynamic.
To surrender means to understand and accept the realization that our mind, body, and all that we consider to be us, is not sufficiently powerful nor knowledgeable enough to have all the answers. It requires an acceptance of fate, and an acceptance of faith, in a Universe or God that is benevolent and nourishing. It requires that we cease projecting our limited images of ourselves upon others and our reality, and instead, allow the universe and others, and ourselves, to unfold, and become a process. This is a scary moment to an ego structured on, and relying upon, known facts, presumed conditions, and dependable future expectations. Of course, in our most secret moments, we know, or at least suspect, that our presumptions are only that, presumptions, and that we are indeed subject to forces and plans which far exceed our small needs and demands. But we try very hard to avoid seeing that. It is that resistance, that avoidance, which keeps us bound and closed-hearted.
From a practical standpoint, then, my advice would be to keep doing whatever it is you do in your spiritual search, but begin to concentrate more on those Teachers and methods which stimulate the heart, both figuratively and literally. In the Chakra system, begin to emphasize the Heart Chakra as opposed to the Crown Chakra. Indeed, without exception, those who are Grace describe the process of opening the Chakras as terminating not at the Crown as commonly believed, but at the Heart: after having reached the Crown, then curving back down to the Heart. It is there where God resides, or the Source, or That Which we are in essence. The mind wants to stimulate the Crown, but the Heart wants to stimulate the Heart. Follow your heart!
Specifically, I suggest reading literature by or about saints of all cultures and traditions who emphasized and practiced surrender and humility. I suggest listening to music which stimulates the heart; burning incense which stimulates the heart; and cultivating friends who truly love you, and who love your spiritual commitment. I would cease reading sad, horrifying, or depressing literature. I would cease watching the same on television and in theaters. I would avoid those who come toward you without at least a modicum of heart feeling. I would change my venue of work and living if there were not at least some people who reinforced this effort. Finally, I would turn within and ask that Being within to assist me, to reveal Itself to me, and to open my heart. I would demand it and weep for it. I would not accept “no” for an answer, and I would devote as much time and energy as necessary to make it work. God always answers those who ask … but we must ask, and we must mean it when we ask. Tears are always a sign that we truly mean it. Do not be afraid to cry for it.
The Taste of Holiness
Regulating our diet, both in terms of what kinds of food we eat, and what kinds of people and friends we ‘nourish’ ourselves with, is a tremendously important part of the effort to cultivate more spirituality and less distraction or ‘worldliness’ in our lives; and it is bound to have a significant effect on our progress. If we persist in ‘feeding’ ourselves with very ‘worldly’ people – people with anger, jealousy, competition, and all the rest of it, and if we feed our bodies with stimulants or sedatives in their numerous forms in food, it must not surprise us if we find our consciousness resonating with theirs, and if we find ourselves inundated with the same kinds of desires and troubling thoughts which they are struggling with, or if we find our bodies fatigued, agitated, or otherwise strung out from the ups and downs which are chemically induced in our bodies by many foods.
If we keep in mind that consciousness is fluid, and that consciousness is both ‘contaminating’ as well as transforming, we will understand how important it is to be selective about the company we keep, and the ‘food’ with which we nourish ourselves. Thus, it is essential to find as holy company as we can among our friends, and to cultivate them, and to dispense with the others. This is a life-and-death kind of struggle. Therefore, do not be squeamish about getting rid of bad friends, or ‘negative energy’ as we might prefer to call it.
We tend to resonate with whomever we find ourselves; because of that, we must, as spiritual seekers, treat ourselves as holy, and be highly selective about whose company we keep. Now, this admonition applies only to the beginner or intermediate seeker, of course. Those who are fully practiced or fluent at maintaining their attention on holiness can mix easily in all kinds of environments of consciousness without becoming affected by them, simply on the strength of their own consciousness. But those who are not yet anchored that way will be too easily whipsawed by all kinds of associations, and thus are wise to select the focus of their attention very carefully.
Similarly, simplifying our diet of food - what we ingest physically - to include fewer stimulants, uppers and downers, will go a great distance toward settling our minds. Thus, drinking or eating less coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, and other foods containing caffeine is particularly advisable (read the labels carefully), both to free the mind of the agitation which foods containing caffeine creates, and to allow the mind to quiet sufficiently so that we can feel comfortable off caffeine.
Likewise, it is advisable to consume less alcohol, and when using it, to do so in moderation, and in a celebratory manner, not with the intent to sedate oneself. Some Teachers strongly advise total abstention from alcohol for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their belief that it attracts and sustains unpleasant entities or beings, both visible and invisible!, which evidently thrive on alcohol or on the energy produced by our ingestion of it. Personally, I have found wine to be relatively benign, when ingested in limited amounts, like a small glass once a day at dinner, but each individual reacts according to his or her own physical and psychic makeup, and must proceed accordingly in this area.
If you are in doubt, observe yourself and your behavior carefully and honestly when using alcohol or any questionable substance. Particularly, monitor your dreams after such use; if they are unpleasant, even nightmarish, then your mind and body are probably telling you how they feel about the consumption, and you should draw your own conclusions from that. Remember, these substances alter the body chemically, and therefore either directly or indirectly affect the mood and the state of the mind.
If spiritual discipline is pursued seriously, all states of ecstasy, delight, joy, and peace are eventually obtainable and will be permanent. Similar states induced by drugs of any kind will pale in comparison. Tobacco, while it can be ‘grounding’, is, when used habitually or in excess, equally insidious in its effects not only on the body’s organs, but also the mind’s thought processes. Tobacco ‘hypes’ the mind, and thereby contributes to concentration, a state sometimes useful in spiritual work; but if used outside of spiritual practices, tobacco obstructs tranquility and peace - two states of mind which are essential to spiritual discipline.
Also, we should consider consuming less meat and more complex carbohydrates, such as grains and potatoes; the latter are more easily metabolized by the body, and in addition meat stimulates activity, both mental and physical. To be sure, sometimes that may be good and useful, but also it can be a real problem for a spiritual seeker who needs quiet and steadiness. (If you do reduce your meat consumption, be sure to compensate for that loss of protein by increasing your consumption of other sources, such things as legumes or dairy foods.) Generally speaking, in western cultures getting ourselves to be active is not the problem; rather, excessive activity is. Many westerners find it very difficult to sit still in meditation for more than ten minutes; for some, even that is too long. I believe that much of the difficulty there is due to diet, and of course, habit. We simply are not trained in silence, and certainly the western diet is stimulating, as opposed to quieting. Those individuals who are particularly sensitive to the ups and downs of sugar, and who find their moods change with the amount of sugar in their blood, may find that decreasing the amount of sugar intake will help to lessen the effect and extent of the swings. This can be accomplished relatively easily by eating fruit instead of candy, for example, and whenever drinking or eating sweetened foods, choosing those which use fructose rather than sucrose. (Again, read the labels.) Ingesting sucrose tends to create ups and downs, or mood swings, because insulin in the body naturally tries to stabilize the blood sugar level by lowering the sugar level in the brain; that results in our feeling irritable and fatigued, which in turn generates a craving for more sugar. This pattern is avoided when we ingest fructose because in metabolizing fructose, the body does not stimulate a concurrent excess of insulin.
Finally, while trying to regulate our diets in order to become more moderate and more “benign” ourselves, it is advisable not to become fanatical about it. Our bodies are highly intelligent on their own, and know, by means of their own wisdom, what is necessary and good for their proper and efficient functioning. To suddenly remove basic food groups from a body that has spent years, indeed generations, living with or on such groups, is to insult the body and to subject it and its mind unnecessary suffering. It is enough to nourish the spirit, and thus the mind, with purity. The body, of its own accord, will follow suit naturally and slowly, at pace proper to its individual self, without having to be subjected to repressive measures causing both mental anguish and possibly bodily pains.
The spiritual growth process is physical and mental and emotional, and these three aspects of the individual are intimately connected. Thus, a single change in one area will effect another change in another area. Therefore, gently and patiently changing one’s attitude is the kindest and simplest way to transform oneself. Asceticism may make one “feel spiritual,” but the body will object, and the emotions may feel repressed. Let the spirit lead us forward. Invoke, encourage, and listen to its presence in our lives, and then, when experienced, follow its guidance. That is certainly the safest and most pleasurable method, I think.