[You can ask your own question here.]
A few years ago I brought a boy from a troubled background into our family. I love him like my own son but recently (he is a young teenager now) he has begun to act out in a way that makes it impossible to keep him with us unless he changes. I made it very clear to him, even wrote it out in a letter, what he needs to do. I don’t know if he will be able to do it, but I must insist, for his sake, and also for the rest of our family.
I don’t remember the last time I went through something this painful. I so want to help him, but I can’t unless he does his part. How do I give up my attachment to him when I don’t feel the presence of God or Master enough to compensate?
Nonattachment is a beautiful spiritual concept. But I would be surprised if a loving mother with a troubled son would find it easy to achieve. Perhaps it is not the right way for you to focus your energy right now.
When you choose an affirmation or try to embrace a spiritual attitude, you have to be careful to select one that is more expansive than your present awareness, but not so much bigger that there is no point of inner connection. It must also take you in a direction that is natural to your own line of development. If it is too large or too foreign to your own nature, it won’t work. In fact, it can actually make things worse.
For every time you focus on it you are likely to activate within yourself resistance to the very idea you are trying to affirm. It seems likely that nonattachment falls into that category for you.
An acquaintance of mine worked as a research chemist. After a number of happy and successful years in her chosen profession, she inexplicably developed allergies to some of the chemicals she had to work with every day. Perhaps it was caused by over-exposure to them, but the cause doesn’t matter.
As a result, she had to take a long leave of absence to recover her health. She spoke to me just before she went back to work. She had been focusing on an affirmation that was something like, “I am perfectly well, healthy, and happy. Nothing of this world can touch my state of perfect well-being.” I am paraphrasing, but that was the sense of it.
Even as she said it to me in the calm comfort of the room where we were talking, I could feel behind her words a deep insecurity.
“You don’t really believe a word of that, do you?” I said.
“NO!” she answered almost desperately, expressing a commitment that I hadn’t felt when she said the affirmation. Instead of strengthening her, the more she said that particular affirmation, the more her subconscious rebelled against it.
“I think we need to affirm something you can actually believe,” I suggested. After some discussion we came to an affirmation like this. “Whatever happens to me in life comes from God and God and I together can find a way to go forward in happy harmony.” Again I am paraphrasing, but you can see how entirely different this is from what she had been saying.
She did have faith in God and in His loving care for her. But she had no faith in her body’s ability to be healthy in the presence of those chemicals. It was far better, then, to go with her strengths than to emphasize her fears.
She was only an acquaintance, so I don’t know what happened when she went back to work. But she did walk out of our session happier, more confident, and stronger in herself than she was when she walked in.
Now, back to what you are facing.
Some experiences in life are tragic. There is no other word for it. Life is full of deep disappointments, at least when viewed from the level of reality on which they happen. And even a dream, as Yogananda said, is real on the level of the dream.
That is where you are now. In the midst of a dream in which you have opened your heart to a troubled friend who has come to you in the form of a young child needing a home. When you opened your heart you committed yourself in a way that cannot be withdrawn merely because what you hoped for him may not happen, at least not now.
The happiness you feel in God’s presence you say is not greater than your grief over your son. So joy alone is not going to be your antidote.
Sister Gyanamata, Yogananda’s most advanced woman disciple, wrote many letters to her fellow disciples which are published now in a book called God Alone. If you haven’t yet read that book I think it could be of great comfort to you.
To one of her gurubhais, Gyanamata explained that your spiritual life has to be built on a foundation of unshakeable faith. She goes on to say that each devotee has to find his or her own cornerstone and build from there. For some, it is their experience of the Guru. They know him to be an infallible guide and that is their starting point. For others, it may be the healing power of love, the experience of meditation, the joy of service, the bliss of chanting, the friendship of fellow devotees, or a single revelation so powerful that nothing can undermine it.
It doesn’t matter what it is -- whether dramatic or humble. The only thing that matters is that you have unshakeable faith in the expanded reality it reveals to you. That faith gives you the perspective you need to cope also with the reality of the dream.
At this time, it seems nonattachment for you may be just a word. It is not an experience of God, and certainly not a doorway to joy. Your challenge now is to find your personal cornerstone of faith. God gives us difficult experiences like what you and your son are now facing to force us to go deep within until we find the bedrock of faith upon which we can build a spiritual life.
There was a point in my life when I was struggling with self-doubt. No amount of reassurance from others could break through my confusion. I needed an affirmation to guide me through the chaos of my own mind and feelings. Looking at books of affirmations written by Swamiji and Master, I searched for one that fit the criteria I explained above -- bigger than my present consciousness but not too big.
The one I found was perfect. “I know God’s power is limitless, and as I am made in His image, I too have the strength to overcome all obstacles.”
I had unshakeable faith in the truth of the first two phrases: God’s power and my relationship to Him. The last phrase was the dicey part. But the first two locked me into the inevitable implications of the third and my philosophical honesty held me there until my consciousness expanded to include it.
I had to say that affirmation for several years before it finally beat down my subconscious habit. But in the end, it did. Not perfectly, but enough for me to go forward in an entirely new way.
In what aspect of the spiritual path do you have unshakeable faith?
I believe there are few experiences in life more devastating than to see someone you love making decisions that will cause him immense suffering and having no power to prevent it from happening. Master himself wept when he saw certain disciples turning away from the path he had opened to them, condemning themselves to lifetimes more of suffering. Tears streamed down his face -- a Mother’s heart breaking for Her children. You are in good company.
But even he -- the Guru himself -- could not intrude upon the free will of his own disciples.
When I have been faced with the helpless inability to prevent what I think to be a preventable disaster, I take refuge in a point of unshakeable belief. It happens to be a core principle of Ananda: “Where there is dharma there is victory.” (Dharma means “right action.”)
In other words, even if we appear powerless in the moment, if we do our best to do our dharma as we understand it, in the end, righteousness will prevail. The challenge is to live through all that may happen before that righteous end is achieved. Years? Lifetimes? Only God knows.
Even if it is lifetimes, however, what choice do we have? Good results never come from wrong actions. And right actions always -- eventually -- bring good results.
Sometimes I describe this as “Doing your dharma in a vacuum.” Not a vacuum cleaner, but a space in which there seems to be no apparent positive result from your actions. Sometimes your right actions may even seem to make the situation worse. That is what you are facing now. You have told your son what he must do. If he refuses, he cuts himself off from the shelter of your family. It would seem your right actions may disconnect you from his fate.
Don’t think for a moment that this is true. The devout prayers of a loving mother are never lost. God knows your heart and will store those blessings until your son can receive them. The only hope you have of helping those you love is to stick fast to dharma, no matter how pointless, distant, or sad you may feel. “Where there is dharma, there is victory.”
What to do in the meantime with all your emotions?
One time when people close to me were facing a serious crisis and I was called upon to do what I could to help, I quickly discovered that everyone else’s free will was stronger than my ability to change the unfortunate direction in which they were going. For the sake of others, I had to maintain a calm and confident demeanor, but inside I was coming to pieces under the weight of their suffering.
Sitting in my car in the dark -- the only place I could have complete privacy -- my tears didn’t begin to express the pain in my heart. In the midst of that emotional outpouring, a still, small voice within asked a question. “Do you think this is happening outside the will of God?”
Much as I didn’t want to admit it, my point of unshakeable faith is that God is always in charge. No matter how tough the karma, I know God is walking us through whatever we have set in motion that now has to be faced.
I stopped crying, but my despair was not replaced by joy. Far from it! In fact, inwardly I said the equivalent of, “Rats!” What I meant was, “You mean I can’t just weep and wail at the injustice of it all? I have to face this situation with calm acceptance?” Thus the feeling, “Rats!”
I was “cornered,” so to speak, by my own faith. My heart was still broken and that emotion had to go somewhere. Master assures us that we don’t have to pray as beggars, but should demand of God our divine inheritance, whether wisdom, love, or joy.
In this case, what I wanted was to alleviate the suffering of others. So all the emotion that had gone into tears, now expressed as a prayer-demand. “Okay, God,” I said. “I accept that You know what You are doing. But You have to get on with it! Whatever it is you are trying to teach these people, you must help them learn it -- and soon! Maybe they are okay, but I can’t take anymore!”
I went back inside to face the emotional chaos happening when I left. To my astonishment, everything had shifted for the better. The crisis had passed and we began to heal. I think God wanted to be sure I got the point.
Since then, I have often used this way of talking to God to give me something to do when external actions bring no positive result. Some karma is difficult to resolve. “Whatever it is You are trying to teach them, Lord, give them the humility, wisdom, devotion, and receptivity to learn it.” I have found great comfort in offering this prayer over and over again, for weeks, months, or years.
Even if your son is karmically destined to take a long side trip into suffering that you hoped to spare him, your prayers are registered in the ether. When your son is ready to receive them, God will shower him with accumulated blessings. Perhaps by that time he will have traded the body you know several times over. He may never consciously know where those blessings are coming from, but your soul and his will remember.
The man who is known now as St. Augustine was in his early life a libertine. His mother was a devout Christian and no matter how far her son wandered from what she felt to be his true path, she never gave up on him. Later, when he awakened to divine realities, he credited his transformation to the power of his mother’s prayers.
For now, don’t even think about giving up your attachment to your son. Think rather of these qualities: patience, courage, and faith. Patience as your son finds his own way through life. Courage to stand strong in right action no matter how your heart may bleed for him. Faith that where there is dharma there will be victory. This is God’s law and He will never break His promise.
I will pray for you, your son, and all your family.
In divine friendship,
[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]