Love it the way it is.
– Thaddeus Golas
Our deep conditioning from school exams, grades, and the like gives us the habit of looking at every achievement competitively, in terms of where we stand. How are we doing: are we better, equal, or worse than others on the same journey? Such evaluation of our position becomes a real obstacle in spiritual life, for it constantly leads us to look at spiritual evolution in comparative terms. Someone tells you they have visions of lights when they meditate. You never have had such a vision. This fills you with feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. On the other hand, you may sometimes feel yourself leaving the body when you meditate. Your friends don’t experience this. This fills you with a subtle spiritual pride that feeds your ego.
In 1970 I traveled around the world on a lecture tour with Swami Muktananta. In his teaching he transmits shakti, or energy, to his students. I recall vividly a living room and Melbourne, Australia, where twenty people were gathered in meditation before him. It was late in the afternoon and he sat cross-legged on the love seat at the end of the room, with his eyes closed behind sunglasses, a knit hat on his head, idly strumming a one stringed instrument. The room was quiet.
Slowly, one by one, the people in the room started to behave bizarrely. One portly gentleman and a dark blue suit with a watch fob suddenly began to do mudras, traditional Indian hand positions. I recall the look on his face of consternation and perplexity – it was apparent that he knew nothing of these mudras, and was certainly not doing them intentionally. Next to him a gentleman dressed in a tweed jacket and gray flannels with the pipe in his pocket, obviously the perfect professor, suddenly got up and started to do formal Indian dance. Again the look of perplexity, for in no way was he responsible for what he did. Near me was a girl who had come not to see Swami Muktananda, but to be with her boyfriend, who was interested. Suddenly she began to do intense, automatic breathing. Her rapid breathing got to such a height that she literally bounced across the floor of the room with the breaths. Again I saw the look of perplexity.
I watched more and more people experience the touch of Swami Muktananda’s shakti, but never felt it myself. None of these things happened to me. I was concerned. After all, if I was “evolved enough” to lecture with Swami Muktananda, why shouldn’t I have these dramatic signs of spiritual awakening? The seed of jealousy sprouted in me. Though I didn’t admit it, I did my best to induce these symptoms of awakening.
Later I learned that these sometimes bizarre manifestations of shakti were the result of various blockages in people and were in no way necessary on the spiritual path. As time has gone on, I have learned that there is no experience, no symptom, no sign of spiritual growth that is absolutely necessary. Each of us has a unique predicament that stretches back over many lifetimes. Each person is drawn to a different set of practices and responds in his or her own way.
Individual differences are not better or worse, merely different. If we forgo judging, we come to understand that each of us has a unique predicament that requires a unique journey. While we share the overall journey, everyone’s particular experiences are his or her own. No set of experiences is a prerequisite for enlightenment. People have become enlightened in all ways. Just be what you are.
The experiences along the way are not enlightenment. So if you don’t see lights or meet remarkable beings on other planes, or if your body doesn’t shake, or if you don’t feel the greatest peace, or even if nothing seems to happen in meditation, don’t compare or judge. Just keep going. To compare yourself with others is to forget the uniqueness of your own journey.
– Ram Dass
Artwork by Sue Zipkin