October 31, 2011
What is Grace? Many on the path of Spirituality are seeking it, but do we always recognize it?
Grace is always a positive thing for our Spiritual Growth. There are no exceptions to that rule. And because of that, many people are also assuming that Grace will come in a way that is pleasing to them. And sometimes it does, but we cannot put Divine Visions, moments of Bliss and deep meditation experience in a box of “Grace”, and assume things that are not pleasant are not grace. The more we open to the spiritual Path of Tantra, the more we are always flowing in Grace. The question is, can we see it, and can we accept it in all its forms? Not just the extraordinary, but even when it seems ordinary? Or painful?
Grace can happen as synchronistic moments that point to the next step to take, or that validate something for us. There are moments that are so statistically improbable that one who is consciously expanding his or her awareness can only explain it as Grace, or the intelligence of the Divine Revealing itself.
About 7 months ago, I was laying in bed, thinking about my study of Ayurveda and Vedic Astrology. Thinking about how much I would like to find a way to blend them into my Yogic teaching and my private healing sessions with clients. I began to feel a sense of excitement in the possibility of integrating these techniques together, and as I felt the excitement, the Blackberry on my nightstand vibrated indicating that I had a new message. I reached over to check, and the message was from the Ashram where I did my teacher training inviting me to attend the Yoga Therapy Training Course starting on October 7th, 2011. I smiled.
My initial reaction was this was confirmation and a Divine message to tell me the next step. I felt the “rightness” of it. I felt the same excitement that was present during my contemplation time. Everything pointed to this being the right step, but a small part of me struggled. Doubts began to creep in. Could I afford to take that much time off? What about my clients and students? I discussed it with my partner and a friend of ours. They both said, “Go.”
I began to mentally make my plans, while still struggling a touch. How long should I stay if I go? Should I fly into Mumbai or New Delhi? Is this really the right thing to do? Sometime later that day I received another email. It was from one of my travel email newsletters. The email subject simply said: “It’s time to book your flight to New Delhi.”
This time, I not only smiled, but I had to laugh out loud. I have been subscribed to this newsletter for several years. I had NEVER received an email with this subject line before. And, so that sealed it for me. The Divine intelligence was clearly telling me to go.
Grace can also happen in ways that ask us to look at our attachments and our expectation, or that challenge the status quo. In other words, sometimes we need to have things “Shaken up a bit” in order to grow. This is also grace.
About 5 days before I was supposed to leave for India, someone I had known for over 5 years had a massive heart attack right before my eyes. It happened so fast that there was no real chance to save him. I went through many stages as this unfolded. At first I thought he was being playful. Then I began to suspect something was really wrong. I could not get a response from him. I tried to check his heart beat and his breath, but by this time my own heart was beating so fast that I could not tell if it was me or him. Within a couple minutes of his collapse, I was on the phone with 911, following instructions for chest compressions. No response. The ambulance team finally arrived. Compared to my own state of panic, they seemed to have a rather casual approach to the whole thing. They took over chest compressions, introduced IV’s and asked me to help find a number for his family.
It was pretty clear to me that there was no sign of life. And perhaps they already knew that when they arrived, and thus the reason for their casual behavior. They worked with him for a while, got in touch with his daughter, and then took him out. And then I was left in an empty room, still in a bit of overwhelm.
Over the next several days I made conscious efforts to witness and process what was happening in me. There was sadness at the loss of a friend. There were remnants of panic. Doubts and wondering if I could have done something different that may have changed the outcome.
I also had to witness all of this from the lens of my Spiritual Path and growth. The impermanence of the body. Everyone will die eventually. It was his time. The True Self cannot die. His consciousness just left the body, and will live on. Perhaps being reborn. His suffering with the body and worldly life had ended, but he himself as consciousness was now free. From that perspective, there is no death, only transformation of form.
I thought about the state of my own health, the inevitable end of this body, the loss of loved ones as time moves on. Challenging my possible attachments to others, and my relationship with death itself. And as part of that, my relationship to life as well.
My Tantric path and experience is that nothing happens without cause. This was not a random event, but a Divinely orchestrated moment in my Spiritual Sadhana. I did not see it coming, which made it all the more potent. To experience first hand the transitioning from life to death. To feel the energetic essence moving out of a body, while the body became lifeless. To come face to face with the inevitable impermanence of this experience. To experience my human sadness, but also see through it to deepen my faith in the Grace of God. To realize, once again, that I am not in control. There is a force which is operating behind the scenes that I must surrender to, and my goal in my personal Tantric Sadhana is to lift the veil and reveal to myself directly that Divine Power which is operating the Universe. Or rather, let go of my false sense of control enough, so that the veil will dissolve.
This experience also made the reality of disease and illness forefront in my mind as a headed to India. It made me more interested in learning how to use Yoga as a Therapy to help with diseases. More present to the suffering and pain that is present globally, and more inspired to find some compassionate way to serve others who are wanting to end that pain. That is the result of the flow of Grace.
Grace also presents us with frustrations, and challenges to help us grow.
In 2007, my first time in India, I visited Satya Sai Baba in Puttaparti, India. On the third morning, which I planned to be my last Darshan with him, I went outside to find my sandals were stolen. I was quite shocked and disappointed. I couldn’t believe that in a town that revolves around the spiritual teachings of this man, someone would steal. I told a security guard what had happened and his only reply was “Well. Come back to the afternoon Darshan. Maybe they will be returned.” I doubted that, but I decided to stay anyway. And I am glad I did. My sandals were not returned, but it was the most spiritual inspiring Darshan that I attended with Satya Sai Baba. I felt more Divine Grace and energy in that session than any of the others. My sandals were gone, but I was blessed in the end.
This trip, I took a day to visit the Shirdi Sai Baba temple in Shirdi, India. For those who do not know, this is the first incarnation of Sai Baba (before Satya). Both of whom are considered in India to be incarnations of God, and Self-Realized Masters. I waited in line for over 2 hours to get into the temple. (This, by the way, is a normal to short time to wait. It is often much longer). As I got into the temple, I was instructed to sit on the floor as they were getting ready to start a special ceremony called an Aarti. What auspicious timing. That lasted 30 minutes, and then there was a stampede to get to the main alter to make an offering. I finally got up, made my offering, which was blessed and returned to me, and as I left, I felt and connected to his energy, and asked simply to be blessed in whatever way was most helpful for my spiritual awakening. Within 10 minutes, while I was bowing to another small shrine with his picture, my wallet was stolen by a pickpocket.
So, both visits to Sai Baba resulted in something material being taken away. It would be easy to be angry. To think horrible thoughts about whoever did it. But, for me, while I admit feeling a little surprised, I was quickly able to see it as Sai Baba’s Grace. It was Grace for me to have a chance to realize I am not in control. Grace for me to have a chance to see how strongly I may be attached. It was not sandals or wallet really being taken away, but my attachment to them being removed. In this case, I was much less attached the second time than the first. I surrendered to what happened, and could only wish that whoever got it was able to benefit from what they had taken from me. Tantra teaches that all things belong to God anyway, and God dwells within all Beings. So the Divine grace was simply redistributing wealth within its own Self.
While in India this time, I spent several weeks trying to get my Blackberry internet service activated. It kept telling me it could not process my request. I called customer service, spoke to the shop owner, went to this office, and that office, and was finally told it was a problem with my handset. Further conversation with “an expert” revealed that it was because my handset was registered with another provider, and thus it would just not work. I surrendered, gave up, and decided “well, I guess I am just not supposed to be distracted by this while I am in the ashram.” I let it go.
9 days after my last attempt, and having been told it wouldn’t work, my Blackberry internet service activated without notice. I received a text message saying it has been activated for one month of service. There were only 5 days left at the ashram when it happened. It came just in time to allow me to use it to research my final paper on the internet using my phone. What I could not accomplish with the assistance of multiple people, and hours of my time spread out over three weeks, happened unexpectedly in a flash, without any “doing” on my part 9 days after I gave up. I also checked my prepaid balance. I was not even charged for the service. To me there is only one explanation.
While many may explain these things away as “coincidence”, or “bad luck”, or “good luck”, or even “blame it on India”, to me these are all examples of Divine Grace. Grace offers us the experiences we need to grow Spiritually, and most of us need to let go, surrender and see new perspectives on the nature of Reality a lot more than we need a blissful vision of God. We must learn to trust that we will get the exact experiences we are needing, and not necessarily the experiences we are desiring.
What we begin to realize when we grow spiritually is that Grace is always happening. The real change that happens is learning to surrender to “what is”, and ending the struggle against what life brings us. When we can do this, then everything that happens is for our growth and for our good, even if it doesn’t initially feel that way. We learn to flow with Divine Grace.
As I was feeling inspired to write this blog this morning at breakfast the following quote was written on the board in the Dining hall of ashram:
“Through the practice of yoga you can learn to smile at circumstances, you can learn to see every stressful situation as a challenge, or an opportunity to learn, give, serve and love.” – Swami Niranjanananda
To me, another moment revealing Divine Grace.
(Written October 17th, 2011)
In an Ashram setting, certain rules and regulations are expected. In Part 1, we talked about the ways this experience can show you your attachments, your expectations and your habits.
Following the Ashram lifestyle will likely follow in a few different paths. You may find yourself getting into the routine, and allowing the new lifestyle to simply become your “norm”, adapting your expectations to the meet what will happen. A level of adaptability is a good quality, and shows flexibility and a less attached mind.
You might also adapt in a way where you “try to fit in”, and thus are really more forcing a match, perhaps even becoming attached to it, or using the lifestyle as a way to shift your awareness away from dealing with the life you have or had outside of it.
You may also adopt this new lifestyle, and have a genuine epiphany of the value that it brings to your life, your happiness and your spiritual growth, in which case you may stay in it or continue to return because it feeds you so deeply.
You may also rebel against the structure of it, and revolt or simply get out of it as quickly as possible. This could be a way of avoiding developing a deeper awareness of yourself, or perhaps it just feels too restrictive.
Any number of situations could happen, but a common theme in a conscious experience will be that is takes you out of your normal experience, and it churns your heart and mind. Like the churning of butter, the Ashram experience has the potential to separate out that which is important to your from that which is not, and taking what was into an entirely new form. To allow your deeper longings, desires and values to float to the top to be savored for their richness.
A traditional Ashram is designed to remove temptations from sensuality in all forms. Simple food, conservative dress to prevent body parts being exposed, and many activities focused on daily living and spiritual practices. Reduce temptation and occupy your mind so it won’t wander. This approach comes from the notion in Yoga that we need to reduce our desires and cravings, because they are distractions from our spiritual life.
The basic idea of them being distractions to our Spiritual Nature is fair enough, but Tantra also says that we should not repress our desires. We must acknowledge them and make peace with them in some way or another. In the Ashram, this may mean witnessing and contemplating our desires without being able to act on them. Allowing ourselves to witness what happens within our bodies, minds, awareness and our energy when we are not able to directly touch into the object of our desire, be that a big juicy steak, a beer, the smell of our favorite perfume, or an erotic encounter. It gives us a chance to explore the nature of desire itself as an energy that arises within us, and to make peace with it. To see it for what it is. To see that even the most urgent of cravings can be witnessed and moved through. We will not die if we don’t get what we are desiring.
But something else can also happen in this isolation and simple life. We may also have a longing arise which is new to us. We may connect with a new way to appreciate the ways we naturally wish to enjoy life. We may realize the value of having private time alone. We may come to appreciate a simple moment to be naked without having to quickly change so as not to offend roommates. We may learn to appreciate the freedom to speak to a loved one on the phone without having to keep our voice quiet, or feeling we have to censor our conversations.
We may also, in the restricted living, have a deep longing arise which connects us to a deeper sense of purpose. Some part of us that finally is ready to scream to be heard, that wants to live with greater purpose, joy and fulfillment than before. To live in a way that the Ashram life itself will not allow, because it has to express itself in the world. But it could not find its voice in the noise of worldly living. It needed the silent, contemplative space of the Ashram to direct your awareness in deeply enough to see it.
No matter what you come away with, a conscious Ashram experience should reveal deeper layers of yourself as both a human being and a spiritual being. It should churn up your values, showing you what is most important to you. It should help you better understand what you need to feel fulfilled and joyful. And perhaps, it will reveal ways you can more deeply align with a a joyful sense of purpose in your life.
Our desires are not wrong. Some are distractions, and can truly lead us away from the fulfillment that Tantra yoga promises. Many sensual desires run this risk, which is why they are discouraged in Traditional Yoga. But other desires are meant to be savored and joyfully unleashed, especially when it means expressing the core of our Being in a non-attached way. Especially when it leads us into purposeful, fulfilling living.
Most of us are full of desires that do not serve our greater happiness. But often, we also have suppressed longings and desires that reveal our greatness, our talents, our gifts and our abilities. These are the desires that fuel our life with passion and purpose. These are the desires that make us wake up in the morning excited to be alive.
Tantra teaches us to suppress nothing. Acknowledge all desires, from the darkest to the most bright. The secret is to make friends with them all. To see that they do not define the deeper Truth of who you are, and then with non-attached discrimination choose to fulfill the desires that will best serve your deepest fulfillment, and your spiritual growth.
When entering an Ashram, or consciously walking on a Tantric path, we must make room or the unexpected to arise. A lifestyle which intentionally reduces desires may actually awaken you to your deepest desires of purpose and fulfillment. It may even awaken you to the secret desire everyone has: To know your True Self and to live joyfully from that Knowledge of Self.