The chaos of sādhanā


There is a basic assumption many of us hold which partly expects, in the process of beginning to seriously dedicate ourselves to spiritual practice, or in making a commitment to work on (and hopefully with!) ourselves psychologically, or in immersing ourselves in any general sort of inner work, that our lives and habitual dispositions will quickly become purified of all of the unpleasant and chaotic aspects that we have for so long become accustomed to living with (and which in fact were probably responsible for driving us onto such a path in the first place). So it comes as something of a surprise when we are earnestly engaging in practice and our lives seem to become even more chaotic and our minds even more unpleasant environments to hang out in all day. Or even for five minutes straight.

This is not to say that there are not moments of great bliss, of wonderful revelations, of experiencing more love within us and as us than we ever had thought possible. Part of what pulls us along on our path is the experience of such sublime moments. However, it may happen that at other times we find ourselves being positively squeezed by life … that we are going crazy, or that despite all of our best intentions we are continually making others and ourselves unhappy, or that our vasanas are springing forth with a previously unknown frequency and fury!

What are we doing wrong, then? As it turns out, in most cases we are doing nothing wrong. It is simply natural that when we begin to place attention on areas of the psyche that we have previously put a great deal of energy into avoiding over the years, (e.g., our fears, our deep lusts, any of our heretofore repressed shadow aspects) that Things will end up being stirred up in the process. And because our psyches are so intimately connected with the apparent world “out there”, it is inevitable that situations may manifest in our lives which play upon the resultant stirring-up that our spiritual practice has initiated.

It is similar to cleaning out a dusty attic or a long-neglected basement storage area. Once we start moving things around, seeing what’s buried among the piles of crap, and deciding what to throw out, what to clean and rescue, what to keep or rehabiliate, it’s sort of  inevitable that the process will be a messy one. After all, we are stirring up cobwebs, dust, layers of mildew … heck, we might even send a mouse or two scurrying about. Or we could discover that some bats have made the area into a lounge of sorts for their friends and family.

A cooking metaphor is apt here as well. If we have a pot filled with water sitting on a stove, then all is calm. But after we pitch the heat up, we will eventually see frantic bubbling, steam, and a great deal of heat will be created, such that we can become badly burnt if we were to grab onto the sides of the pot without wearing oven mitts or some other form of protection. In some cases the water might even boil over and make something of a mess on the stovetop, or even extinguish the flame.

Similarly we might think of childbirth. Pregnancy itself is a lengthy, inconvenient process. Sometimes we wake up in the morning and become physically ill. The pain of being in labor is excruciating and intense. When the baby finally does emerge, it is covered in blood and fluids, and the umbilical cord must be sliced away. The baby itself is crying and somewhat horrified to be out in the world, naked. “Here we go again… noooooooooo…” Yet this is how we are incarnated, how our spirits are brought into the physical world so that we may commence introducing more love and beauty into the scene here on planet Earth. Somehow a seemingly very unpleasant and painful process has led to great beauty and love, as when a mother looks into her child’s eyes for the very first time.

So this big squeeze, the sense that life is conspiring to drive us just about crazy is not an indication that we are doing things horribly wrong. More likely it is an indication that we are being cooked, that we are finally cleaning house, that we are undergoing a process that will ultimately give birth to something extremely beautiful. Rather than panicking, it is a call to surrender even further to the Divine. “Not my will be done, but Thine.” If we truly surrender to the reality that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omnisicent, and most importantly, all-loving, (“omniphilic”???) then we can relax, even though we may feel that we are being squeezed and that things are falling apart around us to some degree. We may then proceed about our day, in humility and gratitude, and leave it to the Higher Good to work things out. Inevitably we find that Love, being the principle force in the universe, will have its way.

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