“I just created the world, not the misery. The world is neither beautiful nor ugly; neither joyful nor sorrowful; neither right nor wrong. It just is! The rest are perceptions of the mind…”
Brahma the Creator (As told by Devdutt Pattanaik)
Perceptions of the mind indeed. So, how, I ask, has my mind so often tortured me with miseries? Why do I suffer when all, including the suffering, is an illusion? Have I lost my mind? Have we all lost our minds?
“The kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.”
“…So there is something here which can make this mud into a tree, into a fruit, into a filmmaker, into a Guru and into a billion other things. Don’t you want to know what it is? Don’t you want to experience what it is? And if it is somewhere in heaven, I am not interested… This is the ultimate source of creation, don’t you want to know what it is? Don’t you want to experience it? Don’t you want to know the power of it, the joy of it, the beauty of it?”
Yes, we have all lost our minds. We have created our own karma, our own miseries, our own suffering by allowing that terrible tyrant, the mind–the ego–to rule us. We have convinced ourselves we are helpless against our suffering, so we pop anti-anxiety pills and lounge about in bed, consoled that the world has told us, “she has depression, poor dear, she can’t help herself.” And certainly, to a certain extent there are physiological problems that cause some symptoms, but truth be told, many of us embrace this helplessness as a comfortable form of damnation. The truth is, however “real” our struggles with anxiety and depression might be, ultimately, we have power. Why are so many of us so willing to surrender our power to the demon Helplessness? But… not all of us are willing to surrender.
Many of us come to this conclusion, that we are not helpless, that we are creating our own karma, our own suffering, and we have allowed suffering to feed on itself… to feed on us. We cannibalize our own lives away. Yes, some of us realize at some point that we do have power, that we cannot sink into helplessness, but we know the battle is a horrible one. Some of us never take up arms to fight that battle. In the “Bhagavad Gita” When Arjuna was at his most helpless, his most confused and miserable, Sri Bhagwan Krishna told him: “Fight the battle, Arjuna.” To not fight is not only an act of cowardice, it is damnation, and damnation right here right now. We make our own hell.
A therapist cannot beat it, medication can do little more than throw blankets over our demons to hide them, but in the end, win or lose, it is whether or not we do as Krishna ordered that seals our fates. But how do we fight these battles?
Let go? “Let go” can be a cliche, the most hollow words ever spoken to us, but if we act upon them, they can likewise be the most powerful of all words. This “letting go,” however, does not come easily, and it can take years, even lifetimes. For many letting go may require gurus, renunciation, discipline, even psychedelics, but for all of us, letting go, in the end, is not a single action, it is a war, a number of exhausting battles. I’ve been fighting these battles for a lifetime, but only within the last 5 have years I begun to win my battles. Only within the last year have I begun to acquire the weapons I need to win these battles, and only very recently have I realized the depth of possibility in letting go.
To truly let go, we have to let go of many of the things we cling to so dearly. This can take lifetimes to perfect. Hence reincarnation karma, and all the rest of it.
Before I left for the Hindu Temple Of Atlanta, I had been holding onto anxieties and miseries that I knew were regenerating because I had allowed them to. No, certainly the circumstances that I believed had “caused” my anxieties were not of my making, but the choice to suffer them, then to let them fester week after week and month after month, those circumstances were caused by me. Am I being too hard on myself? No, because this is what most of us do, whether we know it or not. Worse, most of us even create the circumstances that lead us to suffer. Recently, however, I have begun to see that there is a way out, and my frustration has been that I have had to fight these battles alone, with no Satsang (no sacred company), with no temple, with no guru, my only help came from Lord Ganesh, Ma Durga, and Lord Shiva, powerful allies, indeed, but I felt overwhelmed and confused by all I did not know. I was still living in ignorance. The only way out was to STOP, to stop all the things that were feeding my suffering and anxiety and take action, to “fight the battle.”
Finally, last Tuesday, I realized I’d had enough, so I grabbed my sword and shield, gathered my allies around me, and ran screaming into the battlefield. Alone, but for the company of the Deities, by Thursday I shut off my internet, turned off my phone and took off for Atlanta to the Hindu Temple, then, or so I had planned, on to Sadhguru’s ashram in Tennessee. I’ve already told the story of how all that went, but now I am going to strip away the narrative and tell you what I learned, what wisdom I have gained, and what actions I have to take to “let go,” to win this battle and move on. Much as my DMT trips were only the beginning, the integration was where the real healing took place, so it has been with my temple visit. It’s one thing to run off, have ecstatic spiritual experiences, then come home and forget about them, slowly sinking back into a wallow, and it is another thing entirely to run off, have ecstatic experiences, then come home and integrate them, allowing them to be truly transformative. Perhaps the most important part of my entire “Spiritual Road Trip” saga has only just begun with this writing.
So what lessons did I learn or relearn? What wisdom rung true for me, even if I had encountered the same wisdom before? What do I have to integrate into my life if I am going to move on to the next level? What discipline must I apply? How can I finally live the wisdom I have gathered?
What inspired me to write this was my need to truly know what it was I learned, to crystalize all I had learned so that I will live in the practicing of it. One of the details I left out of my telling of the story of my time at the Hindu Temple was that, prior to going, I had, over a period of months, become consumed by anxiety. The oil leak that happened upon my arrival in Atlanta nearly ruined the whole trip, as car problems and traveling alone are both panic inducing for me. The time came in this temple to Tennessee trip when I knew I was going to skip traveling to Tennessee to the ashram, but had to choose between following my panic, canceling the whole trip, and running home with my leaking car, or staying put at the temple and fighting the battle. The day and a half I had originally planned to spend at the temple had passed, and I sadly realized that my anxiety had not dimmed in the least. I still felt as though I were wrestling a bear. Then, once the decision was made to not run home, but to change my plans, fight the battle, and spend all of the time I had meant to spend in Tennessee at the temple, everything changed. After an afternoon of living in the choice to alter my plans and spend all my time at the temple, on THAT very afternoon I would have been returning home, within an instant I recognized that quite suddenly, as if a trap door had been opened up under me, every last bit of the anxiety I had been carrying and multiplying for months suddenly simply fell away and I was free! It was as close to a miracle as anything I had ever felt. To this day I have felt far more clean and clear than I have in years. In fact, I cannot recall a time in my life when I have felt this clear.
The first lesson: if our plans fall apart, it is time to surrender and know that our plans were probably too small to contain the possibilities consciousness (or God) had in store for us, and when this happens we need to learn to be grateful and trusting, even in the midst of disasters. Easier said than done, but so it goes with wisdom.
The first lesson is one I have learned time and again, but have only now realized that the time has come to live in trust of that wisdom. Eight years or so ago I recovered from cancer, but it changed my life in every way possible, and for the better in every way possible. I had learned that cancer was the best thing that had ever happened to me! Cancer, for me, was a liberation. This is a pattern I had begun recognizing, that every disaster of my life had, in the end, resolved itself by leading me away from the the wrong path and towards the one I was meant to travel. This is why Lord Ganesh is not only the remover of obstacles, but he who places obstacles in our paths to deter us from going in the wrong direction. This was why I ran out of oil right smack dab in front of the temple. That was the obstacle I needed. This is why I met Ram who encouraged me to stay longer at the temple than planned, as I needed him to remove another obstacle. Had I not ran out of oil and supressed my fear and stayed, I would not have had that divine moment when every last drop of my anxiety melted away.
The first lesson resolves itself into two bits of wisdom, firstly, that more often than not our plans are too small to contain our larger journey. If our plans are falling apart around us, it is time to surrender, because more likely than not our plans were too small to contain our possibilities.
The second resolution of the first lesson was that we have to learn to be grateful for our disasters. Very often the disasters that befall us have befallen us to liberate us from something we had not been willing to set aside. I have often said, if cancer doesn’t set you straignt, you did it wrong. I am grateful for my cancer, and I am grateful my car leaked out all its oil, and further grateful that I choked down the anxiety response that would have driven me home immediately, and instead found the strength and time to stay at the temple for a few extra days, otherwise my anxiety would not have left me.
“He who looks upon well-wishers, friends and foes, neutrals as well as mediators, inimicals, relatives, the virtuous and the sinful with equanimity, stands supreme.”
Sri Bhagavan Krishna
The second lesson: This is an extension of the first. When Ram told me his life story, he told me that no matter how much he suffered, he only gave back positive energy, positive thoughts. Ram chanted the names of God and learned to love the wicked. It is taught in Hindu scripture that we are all God. it is easier said than done to realize, but even the wicked carry in them the same spark of God that the loving carry. It is sad how far many have fallen, but not a thing to feel anger or hatred over.
The third lesson: This I also learned from Ram, and that is to chant all the time, even if only in my head. I found that on Tuesday morning when it was time for me to face my leaking car and drive alone back home, that circling Ganesh’s altar and chanting was the only way to drive away the anxiety and maintain my newfound center. Moreso, the whole time I dumped a total of 4 quarts of oil into my car over five hours of driving, I chanted and thanked Lord Ganesh for the oil leak, and I came to this realization:
“Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me…”
So, that, too I chanted.
The fourth lesson: This also came from Ram, and is more personal than the others. When talking we both talked of moving on to “the next level.” He told me that night that he was ready to move on to the next level, and he told me that I, too, was ready to move on to the next level. Humble a man as Ram was, this, to me, was not a conversation, but a directive and a blessing from the mouth of God. Lately I have moved up many levels in my consciousness, and it is time that I fight the battle and move on to a much higher level, but as Ram said, I am ready to do that, and I am going to work very hard to make that a reality in my life. What is the next level?
To master my own mind.
Easier said than done, and it’s a big one, but it will be done, through Sadhana, surrender, gratitude Satsang, and chanting.
“What the word ‘Shiva’ means is: ‘That which is not.’ That which is is creation. That which is not is Shiva… That which is not is the basis of creation. It is the empty space in the existence which is the womb of creation, isn’t it? So we say Shiva is the basis of everything.”
The fifth lesson: This I experienced while meditating before Shiva. My consciousness altered in ways I can’t really explain or fully understand at this point. My perception of reality rang and resounded with a clarity I had never known before. Explaining the experience does little more than drag it into the mire of illusion, but, here I go. My visual acuity astonished me, and I became aware of the vivid reality of the space between objects. I saw “that which is not.” That which is not is the space between objects, the silence between notes, and the silence between thoughts. Shiva is the silence. Additionally, I saw all at once that others were having their own experiences of the sacred. What I saw and felt I don’t understand, yet I saw clearly for the first time in my life. Since coming home, I have seen only glimpses of that clarity. Whatever had happened, my perception was not ordinary, and however powerful it was, I don’t really understand any of it, not so as I could explain it any better. But I can still recall the enigmatic clarity of those moments. All I really expect is that I finally scratched the surface of what is possible through meditation. It was enough to make me want to go deeper. However, knowing what I know, and having experienced what I have experienced, when I meditate it is without expectation. I do not frustrate my meditation by expecting such ecstasies, they come when they come, and now inspired experiences like this come rarely. I accept what Shiva chooses to show me.
The sixth lesson: And this is one I have already put into practice, but found reiterated in Devdutt Pattaniak’s book on Shiva, and that is that the best teaching is experiential, and does not derive from words or lectures. How, as a teacher, can I learn to give the students the experiences they need? How can I turn the wisdom I read into experience? Written wisdom is merely inspiring as an intellectual exercise, but experienced wisdom can be wholly transformative. I need to find ways to make what I know through the intellect experiential… and this will only happen if I focus and participate in Sadhana (yogic practices) with discipline.
The seventh lesson: This is simply that I have learned the true value of Satsang (sacred company). I have been feeling terribly alone lately. The loneliness had become an aching gaping pit that I was desperate to fill. When I was at the temple, especially in the “Bhagavad Gita” class, I felt a sense of community, THE sense of community that I had been missing. I NEED the company of other Hindu’s, specifically of other seekers who are on a similar path, that of striving for Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth).
The eighth lesson: This I learned in Satsang, and it was an extension of my need for Satsang. I learned that the many conclusions I had come to regarding Hinduism, and my experiences and research, were sound. I had feared the conclusions I had been coming to were nonsense, or worse, madness, but they were not. When I shared the conclusions I had come to with the teacher (Chaplain) and the other students, the Chaplain nodded in agreement and even told me that the things I said were well said. Some of the significant conclusions I had come to were:
On dualtiy. I spoke on how one of the reasons Hinduism appealed to me was that, unlike the form of Christianity I grew up in (and the vast majority of Americans practice), in which there is only a narrow linear road, and in which all contradictions must be denied or put into line; in Hinduism, dualties are embraced and talked about openly, right down to the Chaplain nodding along with wholly contradictory statements from the other devotees during our moments of dialog. This embrace of duality is itself a liberation.
On the nature of reality. At times I had become concerned that my awareness of this “reality” as an illusion, was a form of madness that had distracted me. But, not so, the Chaplain himself talked about the illusory nature of material reality. It is difficult not to feel “insane” in a culture and city where there is no one else around to talk these things over with.
On the material vs. the mystical world. I talked about how our language was designed only to describe THIS illusion (or “reality,” if you prefer), and how our language is incapable of describing or fully understanding transcendent, or mystical, reality. Again, my observations were not questioned as madness, but were welcomed and complimented as eloquent.
The ninth lesson: Shiva generates ecstasy. This was not news to me, but what was news to me was that time and time again Shiva has delivered me to tearful bliss and ecstasy. In other words, these ecstasies were not one-off experiences. When this first happened for me I was at a small temple somewhere outside of Ocala. When we were chanting “Om Namah Shivaiya,” tears began to stream my cheeks. At that moment, that very second, the Pandit (who had not seen my tears) said; “Shiva cannot help but come to the aid of those who cry tears for him.” Wow!
The tenth lesson: Political over-reaction is a form of darkness. I am apolitical, and often have to endure being shamed for that stance, but I have had to renounce politics to keep that toxicity away from my consciousness, especially now when the world has been given to such deep sorrow and madness that no game of musical chairs (i.e. elections) will provide any answers or solutions. We are not going to make real changes by moving the rules around within the construct of a broken system and reality. The powerful symmetry of my reading out loud on that very topic in the Gita class took my breath away. The wisdom I read aloud was the very wisdom I needed to hear at that moment… and what were the chances? very good, there are no coincidences when it comes to consciousness.
“If you care for people around you, you must make yourself into a person they enjoy being with.”
The eleventh lesson: This was on the toxicity of anxiety, and this I observed two days before I left. A friend of mine, who I had invited over, was positively vibrating with anxiety over the election. It was then, even though I had suffered and witnessed anxiety before, that I recognized how toxic anxiety was not only for the sufferer, but for those around the sufferer. I became icily aware of how toxic that energy in me has been for the people around me. It is time, at last, that I truly defeat this demon. I do not expect it to be easy or quick, but I do expect to slay this demon once and for all, or at least I expect to allow the demon to pass through me without allowing it to get its claws in me.
“In the vastness of the cosmos, everything is going perfect, but one nasty little thought in your mind can make it a bad day. That is lack of perspective.”
I have had revelations about anxiety before, but over the course of my temple visit, and through the ensuing days after, everything I need to know about battling anxiety and depression became very clear to me. Now, I know this is not an original idea, but at one point I realized experientially and existentially that very often anxiety attacks begin as solely physiological experiences, then our mind (the ego), who cannot bear not being in control, applies a reason for the physiological experience of anxiety, and this does two things: firstly, it feeds the anxiety; secondly it feeds the smugness of the ego itself. The ego, once it claims the anxiety as it’s own, can sit back, fat and grinning, on its throne, and declare itself the master even of my anxiety and suffering. I have since realized that, conversely, just as often, negative thoughts can come first, and those can trigger the physiological symptoms of anxiety. Additionally, I have since realized that those moments of “darkness” that shove me into depression, are also often physiological sensations that the ego feeds. So, what is the Sadhana, the practice that will free me from anxiety and depression? The Sadhana is to stop as soon as the physiological or mental seeds of anxiety or depression stir, and not to validate them by feeding them either thoughts or emotions, but rather to simply sit and observe, let whatever symptoms present themselves (be they physiological or thought generated), and let them pass through me. If the symptoms are strong and have their claws in me, I do as Ram told me, and I chant and seek whatever gratitude I can find.
“Being attached to someone is not about the other person. It is about your own sense of inadequacy.”
When the solitude of night falls, I will not fall with it.
The twelfth lesson: And this lesson is about loneliness. My loneliness is not existential, only my solitude is existential. It is up to me how I view my solitude. I can choose to see it as loneliness and feel that pain, or I can choose to see it as a form of asceticism and Sadhana, and embrace the Shivanic lifestyle. Now, when alone, I choose to meditate on what I have learned, meditate in general, or read Hindu scriptures and mythology. She who has Shiva is never alone.
The thirteenth Lesson: It is up to me if I choose to return to the fear, anxieties and sufferings of my life prior to my temple visit, prior to the ecstasies of being in the presence of Lord Shiva. I can lay that past life and those emotions to rest. I lived them, I experienced them, I have given them their due, I no longer need to continue to bear them. I am free of that bondage now, why would I take those chains back up? I will not be so foolish.
“Whatever your goal in life, unless you develop a great urgency, what could be near will be far away.”
The fourteenth lesson: Fight the battle. Discipline, Sadhana, Satsang, transformation. Yes, Lord Krishna, like Arjuna, I will fight the battle.
“A devotee or bhakta has infinite faith in Shiva. He believes that everything that happens in his life is the will of Shiva. Good or bad, he accepts it all as prasad, divine offering.”
(ADDENDUM) The fifteenth lesson: I plan to continue to add addendum to this as new lessons present themselves, and one already has. Since coming home it has been made abundantly clear that the car I just bought (from an individual) is a lemon. Prior to buying the car I had sunk $1,400 into the old one two to four weeks before it died, then I bought another used car, $2,200, and immediately put another $500 into it, only to find there are more and more problems with it, especially after coming home from the temple. Immediately, all the good feelings I had, all the equanimity, the joy of having found my center, all of it went brittle and cracked, revealing a hollow depression and electric anxiety. I felt foolish and saddened that my transformative experience had lasted all of three days. I could barely sleep, but I woke this morning and began to think on all the lessons I had learned, and on Ram’s advice about chanting, about even loving the wicked (and by extension, he did not merely mean the wicked people, but the wicked events in life), and about giving and thinking nothing but positive thoughts. Now all of these things are old news in various scriptures and philosophies, but this is the first time in my life when those truths have felt like a reality. So, I decided to draw open my curtains, let the sun in, and to lounge comfortably in my warm bed and read the Gita and some of the Shiva stories. The first story I came to was that of when Vishnu manifested as the horrible lion-headed Narasimha. He came to do what he came to do, take vengeance on a demon who had been persecuting one of his devotees, but having drunk the blood of the demon, this horrific form took control of Vishnu, and he cried out for Shiva to help him. Shiva took the form of Sharabha the dragon and scorched Narasimha, releasing Vishnu from the power of the demon-quenched avatar. It seemed to me a reasonable lesson. When confronted with my own inner demons (the rise of depression and anxiety through the powerful blood of a financially wicked incident), I am to call upon Shiva for release. It also came to me that it is one thing to enjoy the bliss of spiritual ecstasies when all is well, but it is another thing entirely to maintain my equanimity and center when circumstances fill my gut with demon blood. I cannot be attached to the money I am losing by the thousands and thousands of dollars (even though I am very very poor and cannot afford this devastating blow). I must chant, be positive and trust in the Gods and all the lessons I have learned. It is one thing to learn lessons, and another entirely to live in their wisdom. For me, it is finally time to live in wisdom.
What is left to do now is work, Sadhana, surrender, submit to the discipline it is going to take to let go and mmove forward… to the next level. This means more time reading sacred texts, more time in meditation, and a renunciation of Youtube, obsessive email checks, and the habit of choosing to see my solitude as loneliness, etc… etc… etc… in other words, the replacement of past bad habits with new good habits.
So I say again… Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me.
And these are the truths I will live in.
Har Har Mahadev!