Friday, December 18, 2015

The Carping Spirit

I was chatting recently with a gentleman about my regard for someone who seemed to be a good man and well intentioned.  My acquaintance remarked, “Yes, I agree, but …..” before proceeding to air his grievances about this person, pointing out one perceived fault after another.  I reflected on why my critic friend felt such a need to counter my innocuous, positive comment, with which he agreed, with his own list of negatives.  It’s a common habit. The mind, ever discontent, looks for, finds, and dwells upon imperfections.  “It’s a beautiful day, but….”  “That was a great meal, but……” “She’s a noble person, but…..”
“I’m just being trying to see all sides,” some offer as an excuse but is this really true? More importantly, is it helpful to habitually look for imperfections?   Why must praise or compliments be tempered by perceived faults?  When a friend proudly invites you to visit his new home, do you make an inspection of the closets to find flaws?  Of course not; you say, “Congratulations” and offer a compliment.   

Incessant disgruntlement or feeling a need to “balance” positive observations with negative ones is a mental disease that feeds discontent and subtly attracts to us the very things we dislike.  How could they not come if we are constantly on the lookout for them?  Far from “seeing all sides,” we find ourselves exploring problems to such an extent that intuitive perception of higher, more expansive solutions to those same problems becomes impossible.   

I knew a man in India who incessantly found fault with everything: co-workers, group decisions, world affairs, family, current circumstances.  Within short order, new acquaintances learned to give him a wide berth or risk falling into his whirlpool of negativity.  The result was a self-made world without friends along with a festering sense of victimhood as being “misunderstood.”  “If things weren’t so rotten, I’d be different,” was his assessment, failing to see his suffering was self-inflicted.

Those infected with the carping spirit close doors to spiritual counsel or guidance from others or from the world around them.  This was Krishna’s point when he said to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “To you, who have overcome the carping spirit, I now reveal the sublime mystery.”  Arjuna, perfected in discipleship and with intellect purified, was receptive to what Krishna offered.  By overcoming the impulse toward attitudes that block attunement, he actively drew guidance from his guru.  

Rābiʿa al-Baṣrī, an eighth century Sufi mystic, said, “Yes” when asked, “Do you love God?” but surprised her audience when she was asked next, “Do you hate Satan?”  “No,” Rabi’a replied.  “My love for God leaves no room for hating Satan. My love for God has so possesses me that no place remains for loving or hating anyone save Him.”

Swami Kriyananda restated Rabi’a’s answer in one of his songs, “What we need is Light!  You can’t drive out the darkness with a stick.” When Light fills us, where can darkness dwell? Swamiji’s focus upon the heights was more than “positive thinking.” It recognized we do more than color our view of “reality” by our state of mind.  We actively participate in its creation and influence it to our benefit or ill.   Give energy to the good if you wish to attract the better angels of happiness into your life.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Good Posture

I met Swami Kriyananda in late 1968 and began serving at the Ananda Meditation Retreat in California's Sierra Nevada foothills the following April.  At that time, Swamiji was still living in San Francisco but he would sometimes come to the retreat on weekends to lead public programs or to enjoy a few days of meditation before returning to his busy schedule in the city. 

One day, I was walking along a pathway when I heard quick footsteps from behind.  Without warning, an arm reached around my chest and a hand was placed firmly on my lower back.  It was Swami.  With a slight pull of his arm and a gentle push with his hand, he forced me to stand erect while saying forcefully.  “Stand up straight!  You’ll never get anywhere if you slouch.”  A moment later and without another word, he released his grip and proceeded on his way. 

Those were simple words of advice but perhaps the most practical ones ever given to me.  My posture was indeed poor, but more significantly, it reflected a “casual,” non-magnetic attitude toward life.  “Positive, energetic, enthusiastic” were what I wanted to become but Swami made me realize I wasn’t going to succeed if I met life with a lazy, eyes-to-the-ground shuffle.

How we hold our body is tied to our mental state and I find it sad to see someone young and vital hunched over for no good reason.   I’m tempted to rush up behind them as Swamiji did with me.  Age and infirmity sometimes take a toll but for those still able, it’s vitally important to maintain good posture and not allow casual habits to become ingrained.  Our approach to life, inward and outward, is reflected in how we hold our body.  Paramhansa Yogananda said, “A bent spine is the enemy of Self-realization” because it blocks our life force from freely flowing upward toward the brain.   

You can feel a difference when you sit up straight compared to when you slump.  Good posture affirms health and vitality, energizes your will, radiates magnetism and, mysteriously, draws favorable circumstances to you.  You mentally and physically greet the world.  A slouch does just the opposite.  If you are struggling, spiritually or materially, pay attention to how you sit, stand and walk.   Straightening up, both within and without, can be the most powerful tool at your disposal for changing your life for the better.

The next time you go for a walk, consciously lift your chest while gently pulling your shoulders back.  Notice your breath.  You’ll breathe more deeply and your spine will naturally straighten without effort.   In yogic symbolism, this straightening is known as “stringing your bow” before engaging in life’s battles.  There is no need to strain but rather, be relaxed and notice how your your mental outlook begins to change.  If when walking, you have a habit of looking downward, why not lift your gaze to the world around and mentally embrace life.  If you feel to do so, send blessings.   

After my experience with Swami on that pathway, I began to watch how he walked, how he sat and how he carried himself.  Posture isn't only physical but also an attitudinal approach to life. I noticed he moved deliberately as if conscious of an aura around him.  It was sometimes remarked that if he were to collide with a wall, it would be his chest that touched the wall first.  He led with his heart, both physically and figuratively.  Good posture, besides all the obvious health benefits, also helps us open and expand the heart’s natural feelings, the prerequisite for attracting to us what we need on the spiritual path.  With an open heart affirm, "I go forward in perfect faith to joyfully greet the world."