Thursday, March 27, 2014

When Should We Be Moderate? When Should We Be Extreme?

Dear Friends,

A question I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves is how we can practice moderation, as the masters recommend, when they also urge us not be moderate in our devotion and our selflessness.

The brief answer that Paramhansa Yogananda gave is that we should have common sense.

St. Teresa of Avila established many convents in her brief life. Either eleven or twenty-four nuns would be set up in a cloister where they would live in perpetual seclusion. Once they entered the convent, the door would close, and they would remain there the rest of their lives. Teresa stressed that great care must be taken in selecting the nuns, because otherwise the whole convent would fall apart.

She said, “Above all, look for common sense.” She told those who had the duty of choosing nuns that everything else, including devotion, can be acquired, but common sense is much more difficult.

Moderation is just another way of saying, “Use your common sense.”

We need to keep our eye on the goal. And if the goal is self-transformation – well, you know what a project that is! In fact, it’s a long process. You don’t want to live in a way that puts you on a perpetual cycle of exerting too much effort, then collapsing, then feeling terribly guilty, then going to extremes again so you can’t maintain it and you fall back. All you’re doing is generating lots of excitement, but you aren’t making progress. It’s in this sense that the masters urge us to be moderate, because moderation is sustainable.

We’re looking for a life that is sustainable over the very long haul. As Swamiji said, the spiritual path is not a sprint. It’s a long-distance race. You can’t use up all your energy at the beginning, or you won’t be able to finish. Moderation means thinking of the long flow of what you’re trying to accomplish.

At the same time, the transformation required to attain Self-realization is anything but moderate. It’s not that we need to be a teeny bit nicer than we are now. That’s not what’s being asked. We’re urged to aspire to total self-forgetfulness, total release from the identification of our soul with the body. So we have to be extremely vigilant and attentive to the inroads of false ideas, and very determined to weed them out of our lives. But we have to weed them in a way that works. We have to do it carefully and patiently, step by step.

Swamiji said, “Don’t resist what life asks of you.” Our natural tendency is to pull back from what we think we don’t want, in the hope that if we make ourselves smaller it won’t find us. But whatever comes to us, comes because it’s our karma. It’s what’s demanded for our growth.

A friend of ours was living in an ashram, and she was assigned a job that she simply couldn’t do. She went to her meditation room and prayed, “Lord, if You want this job done well, get somebody else. If You want it done badly, leave me here.”

She figured that if He didn’t replace her, He must want it done badly, but it wasn’t her problem. She proceeded to do the best she could.

Before you begin a project, large or small, ask God to guide you. I find that when anxieties threaten to overwhelm me, I can always find the strength and guidance I need by repeating the affirmation, “I know that God’s power is limitless, and I know that I am made in his image.” Then what happens? I find that in a very short period, I feel more confident and much less anxious.

I’ve used this affirmation a lot, because there’s no part of me that resists that thought. “I know that God’s power is limitless, and I know that I am made in his image.”

I find it very powerful to say before I go to sleep. Fall asleep with a positive affirmation. Then as soon as you wake up, before anxieties try to enter your mind, say it again. Pick an affirmation, and chop the weeds of your anxiety with it every day until you’ve overpowered them. Because, you see, all of your fears and anxieties exist in your head. There’s no reality to them. Change your thoughts, change your consciousness, and you’ll change everything.

In Joy,

For more inspiring articles, visit “Heart to Heart with Asha.”