In my last blog post, I wrote about how we can know we are off track in our practice. Once we realize we have wandered from the path, though, we then have to know how to return.
Knowing how to return begins with knowing where we are. If we want to get to Boston but believe we are in Philadelphia when we are really in Chicago, we will head in the wrong direction. We need an accurate map in order to find our way, but we also need to locate ourselves correctly on that map. In spiritual practice, this means locating where we are internally.
To do this, we have to be willing to go back to basics. We therefore have to remember the basics: actually be with our experience, whatever it is from moment to moment; let whatever arises from that experience arise, no matter how unpleasant it may be, from moment to moment; and function appropriately on the physical plane, which means not inflicting our experience on others.
It is crucial that we locate ourselves in the moment, from moment to moment—not in the abstract. The other day, I was working with someone on a fourchotomy. When I asked her the same question I had asked a few minutes before, she didn’t give her honest answer. After a moment, she realized, “Oh, I was back in the last one”; she had given the same answer that had come up previously without listening inwardly for where she was now. Our awareness has got to be moment to moment. “Where am I now? Where am I now? Where am I now?” If you have grabbed hold of any moment, you have lost your way.
To begin with, we must get back to basics. This means first-level practice: using the five senses through such things as chanting, mantra, rituals, and service work. Being steady in obligatory actions can help us be with our experience from moment to moment. Obligatory actions force us to function appropriately on the physical plane, and so grind down the ego. They also allow us to reflect internally while we are performing those actions. We need to be able to act consciously while being with our experience. If we are unwilling to be with our experience, or if we are defensive, then we will never get back on track.
Only if we are willing to be with our experience honestly can we locate ourselves on the map. We can also then start to disentangle from our vibrations. If we want to get back on track, we have to regain the awareness that we are not the vibrations producing our little wilderness of thought forms.
Being with our experience may entail feeling terrible. There’s nothing wrong with feeling terrible. We have to allow ourselves to feel terrible if that is what is coming up. If we can be with that vibration, eventually it will dissolve; if we try to deny it, it will only get worse, and we will inflict it on everyone around us.
This is why it is a mistake to try to get “underneath” a vibration that troubles our consciousness; that is an advanced technique for extreme situations when uninterrupted experience of a painful vibration would be harmful to the soul. In any other situation, trying to get underneath a vibration is just a self-deceiving way to avoid our experience.
Once we have truly begun to disentangle, we can see more clearly where we have been and what we have done. At this point there can be remorse and repentance. If we have done something externally that shows us that we are off track, just practicing behavior modification won’t get us anywhere; we have to know in our heart of hearts what we did.
But let me be clear: remorse is not guilt, and repentance is not self-punishment. Remorse is recognizing the wrong we have done to ourselves and others, and repentance is returning to right action and diligent practice.
It is all too easy to fool ourselves with either emotional responses or purely intellectual understanding. If we just emote some tears and impulsive upsurges of feeling, we will remain stuck in the mud. If we intellectualize our remorse and repentance—“Oh, I did something wrong. I need to change”—then we will not get out of the woods. We have to know feelingly.
Baba always made sure that I remained grounded in and by the foundational practices of being with my experience, letting whatever comes up from that experience come up, and functioning appropriately on the physical plane. If I was ever unwilling to be with my experience, he would not want me in his presence. If I was experiencing anger, irritation, sulkiness, or whatever, he didn’t care as long as I was honestly being with my experience and functioning appropriately. If I was denying or running from my experience, though, he wouldn’t talk to me. That was one way in which he showed me I was off track and helped me see how to find my way back.
As long as we are willing to be with our experience honestly, we can find our way back to the path. The Guru will always help us in that effort. The Guru never breaks down a person; the Guru breaks down a person’s illusions. If we are willing, the Guru will lead us out of the wilderness of our own ignorance, into Reality.
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