Baba always said to be vigilant, because we can go off track spiritually in a heartbeat. And we do. We so easily slip into habitual consciousness, which is really unconscious consciousness. There is no way to pursue spiritual practice without sometimes going off track; the challenge is being able to get back on track once we have wandered off.
To get back on track, we need to know why and how we were on track in the first place. We need to remember what the goal is: to be our true Self. So if we don’t remember that goal—not as an idea, not as a thought form, not as a concept, not as an abstraction, not as a rote memorization, but as a lived Reality—then we are off track.
We have to know what on track is, which means that at any given moment we have to be able to feel and absolutely know where we are through deep understanding, not through ideas. The problem is, we lose this insight when we go off track.
There are several clues that should let us know we have strayed from the path. Are we unwilling to feel whatever comes up? Are we lost in a back-and-forth conversation in our heads? Are we resentful of the teacher? Are we invested in complaining? Are feeling overwhelmed? Are we looking for distractions? Are we defensive when we meet with other people? Toward what activities are we gravitating? Which activities are we avoiding? Are we rationalizing? Are we unwilling to reflect? In the broadest sense, are we not taking care of ourselves?
We need to clarify for ourselves where we are locating our attention, and therefore our identity. We have to actively know the difference between the head and the Heart, and know the difference between “feeling” in the head and feeling in the Heart. Where are we locating our feelings? If they are in our heads, then we are off track. If we convince ourselves we can’t handle our feelings, we are off track. If we believe that gushing, being emphatic, or being “raw” is truly feeling, we are off track; we are using emoting as a shield against learning. If, on the other hand, we convince ourselves that everything is “fine” when it obviously isn’t, we are also off track.
We can intellectually understand the emotional meanings and lessons in a situation without emotionally understanding them. As I discussed in a recent blog, we can think our emotions. We can think how deeply we feel. Even understanding that “this is what I need to be learning now” can be a way of not feeling. And because it looks like nonattachment, it fools us into thinking we are deep, reflective, and willing to learn when we are actually off track.
False knowledge is as misleading as false feeling. If we “know” in our heads, then we are off track, and no amount of purely intellectual study will help us. If it’s in our heads, we don’t know. So if we studied the Yoga Sutras, or Kashmir Shaivism, or the Upanishads, or the Bible, or the Qur’an, or any scripture, and we understand it in an academic sense, we don’t understand. We have used our abstract thinking to keep ourselves off track while convincing ourselves of how much we “know”.
One of the worst, and easiest, mistakes to make is measuring our practice by the externals of our life. If we believe that if our lives are going the way we want them to, then we are on track, we have completely lost the plot. Our idea of okayness does not mean we are practicing. That would be like a cloud of one color or shape is better than one of a different color or shape; they are all just passing clouds. As I have often said, spiritual practice is not about making our problems go away; it is about aligning ourselves with God’s will and being our true nature.
Despite all the ways we can go off track, though, the shakti has a way of pulling us back on. The shakti is all-knowing, and it is the Guru. If we don’t want to learn, the shakti will make the lesson louder and louder until we do. The point is to learn at low volume.
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