How Do You Know?

Can the cells in your body – even a single one of your body’s trillions – know what it’s like to be the whole that is you? Every cell is endowed with a certain capacity and function that does not include the capacity of knowing more than what it’s to do. Nor can a drop of the sea know what it’s like to be the body of drops that is the sea.

How then can you, one of billions and maybe trillions of souls, know what it’s like to be God? The sea of Spirit cannot be contained in a cup. What you can know, however, is the love expressed in every cell and soul that God has created.

To realize the love that is God is not within the mind’s competence to accomplish. Such love is not a product of reason alone, nor even of reason primarily. You must strive in your heart to experience the oneness that unites the whole of you to the whole of everything else. As your inner sense of this oneness improves, so does your knowing of what you need to know, which is what will eventually free you of needing anything more.

In every expression of consciousness, including that of evil too, God is only love. The challenges you face, no matter how harsh, are lovingly gifted to you for your spiritual growth. Each bears your name and address. Not one is delivered by mistake. Learning to love, embrace, and resolve all that comes your way is what this human life is about. It is how you find your way to your destiny’s door, to knowing God as fully as God can be known. The door is on your side. It opens as you press forward, heart first.

What’s Holding You Back?

Maybe it’s how you were taught to get ahead.

I was raised to compete. “It’s every man for himself out there,” my dad used to say, “To get ahead, you have to outdo the next guy.” That’s how I was groomed to get what I wanted. Top of the list: to live the American Dream.

Competing to get ahead is a restless occupation. It gives rise to a restless mind, and mine was no exception. I had the weight of our culture behind me too. It urged me in my development to study hard, work hard, make a lot of money, and have a lot to show for it. To me, this had the ring of a patriotic duty. Few were the voices that questioned the intelligence of living such a competitive-consumptive life.

Like everyone else, I just wanted to be happy. I figured that financial security was a major part of the package, and I was willing to persevere to achieve it. I played by the rules, but before I knew what a mantra was, I already had one: “What’s in it for me?”

By most common measures, I became successful. I worked for Disney and later moved to Hawaii, where “the good life” got even better. As a freelance writer, I was my own boss, free to set my own schedule and travel as I pleased. But something inside me was missing. No matter how many gains I made, my contentment would come and go like sand through a sieve. I was always in pursuit of the next fleeting pleasure.

When our joy slips away, most of us just try harder to get it back. We do what we have been doing all along, only at a faster and more strenuous pace. I was no different. According to my social conditioning, I was making all the right moves, a model of upward mobility. What was the problem?

The problem was society’s formula for finding happiness. It might look good in theory, but it does not resonate with reality. The messenger and message are upside down. Society does a masterful job of promoting and appealing to our worldly desires, persuading us that it knows what is worth our time and effort, but nothing it sells has the power or durability to keep us in smiles. Though its “good life” is portrayed as the Holy Grail, the more we buy into it, the more we are likely to wonder why the payoff doesn’t pay off.

Years ago, I discovered an age-old path to the peace and contentment I was seeking. It wasn’t fancy or fashionable, but the sheer simplicity of it was deeply effective. I walked into a class that taught me how to turn my energy inward instead of letting it dissipate in my outward chase of transient dreams and delusions.

What I’ve learned since then is mostly what I’ve needed to unlearn. I was looking in all the wrong places for what I wanted, and I was going about it incorrectly also. Instead of directing my competitive spirit entirely toward self-improvement, I was using it divisively, trying to be better than others.

“What’s in it for me?” was working against me too. I wasn’t nearly so happy when focused on getting more for me than when giving more to others. And oddly enough, the more big-hearted I became, the more abundance I attracted as well. Giving begets getting—what a concept!

Have I mastered the art of meditation? Or the science of selfless giving? Well, let’s just say that I’m moving in the right direction. Every day of showing up at the altar of silence within me makes the rest of my activities flow more pleasantly and smoothly. And every gesture of kindness and generosity adds to my happiness, too, even as challenges arise.

Technique plays an important part in the practice of meditation, but attitude is the one most important of all. I am seeing now as if through an open window that had long been boarded up. An expansive horizon has come into view, and it’s right inside of who I am.

Are rough spots still likely to lie ahead? Oh, yes. Kriya Yoga, the meditative method that I have practiced for over 20 years, has been described by Paramhansa Yogananda as “the airplane route to God.” But many choppy miles are yet to be flown. A lot of unlearning remains to be done; many habits and desires remain unresolved; and occasional attitude adjustments remain to be made. But redirecting my consciousness and energy from an outward, competitive aim to an inward, cooperative focus continues to change me. What’s in it for me now is letting go of the urge to run after gains that come and go. The real American Dream is lived by going within.

It’s Not About Innovation

Every age is an age of wonder, but some are more wondrous than others, and the one that spans my current incarnation is beyond what I could have imagined in my youth. For 75 years I have witnessed astonishing scientific, technological and social innovations, which accelerate now at an exponential rate.

And yet, we are the same, still seeking answers to fundamental questions, which the latest innovations cannot provide. We want to know God, but our human limitations, and especially our worldly desires, put us at odds with even the possibility. God is formless. How can we see and relate to such a Being? To borrow a line from Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there!”

We can begin to “see” God, thank goodness, by feeling for His presence in all that is alive, in all that appears inanimate, and even in the challenges we face. But the key is to go even deeper, where we touch that same formless, mystical essence that also abides in us. Endowed with an immortal soul, we possess the innate power to connect with God’s consciousness, not as a tangible experience, but as an intuitive knowing.

Getting to that inner state of divine communion, in which knowing God is an ongoing reality, is surely the purpose of human life itself. It’s as simple as freeing the soul of its constricted body-mind association, and as terribly difficult as any earthly assignment will ever be! No wonder, after countless lifetimes, we remain on the uphill slope in search of that summit.

There’s a lot working against us, and it’s not just social pressure. The question of who and what we are is a hard one to puzzle through. We have thoughts, perceptions, freedom of choice, and constant sensory input, which we lump into an overarching category called “our experience.” The mind then segments this experience into a linear timeline, which we perceive as “one thing after another.” As long as we confine ourselves to this worldly perspective, there is no escape from its time-driven process that we regard as real.

To make matters worse, we tend to agree that reality’s trillions of features look, feel, taste, sound and smell much alike to us all. So, we give them names and definitions to identify one from the next: hand, harmonium, happy, sad, etc. But every label we apply adds to our delusional sense of apparent separation. You and I and all the people and things we see as distinct, prevent us from seeing the oneness of all that is, and thereby make it impossible to know God from such a point of view.

Now, that is not to say that we should neglect our senses. Without them we could not function in this world. But if the purpose of this life is for us to transcend it, what’s that all about?

Frankly, that question raises more issues than can be addressed in an 800-word essay. But I think we have to understand, first and foremost, that the goal of this life is not in this life. The goal is for us to remember that we are infinitely more than what we perceive ourselves to be, and to act in accordance with that higher potential as we seek to attain it.

As I ponder this truth, I’m reminded of a quote by Gloria Steinem. “The truth shall set you free,” she said, repeating an old axiom, “but first it will piss you off!” Therein lies the rub. We want our truths to be easy-come for fast assimilation. But we are learned in the ways of outward living, and these tend trigger resistance to accepting and doing what will set us free.

Jesus declared that to see God, we must be pure in heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” He didn’t mean 80% pure, nor even 99%. Purity is 100%. That means there’s no room for distracting desires, earthly attachments, poor habits or bad moods.

Undoubtedly, this is the kind of message that Steinem had in mind.

But the good news is, purity is also a direction. If you’re only at 80%, strive for 81, and 81 will get you to 82. Look for God everywhere, especially with your heart. As you do this, the journey through the ages of your life becomes increasingly joyful, and God becomes increasingly visible to your native soul.

What comes of itself, let it come. If it challenges you, so much the better, for it’s meant to be a stepping stone to your freedom. Know that in meeting it wisely and well, it will lead you nearer to your destiny: to seeing, knowing, and being with God; to where wonders never cease.

The Importance of Soul Receptivity

There’s a sentence in Rays of the One Light, in the piece on “The Importance of Soul Receptivity,” that jumps out at me every time I read or hear it. Yogananda says that if I am having difficulty with meditation, “I will meditate for you.”

Oh, wow, wouldn’t that be a dream come true! “Master, I’m a little tired this morning, how about if you take over for me. You’re better at this than I am anyway! I’ll just pull up the covers and catch another hour of sleep, okay?”

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the arrangement he had in mind. Soul receptivity starts with showing up.

As if there was ever a doubt, Master’s offer to meditate for me comes with a caveat that dashes my excitement in the very next sentence. He says I have to earn that privilege by attuning myself to his way of being. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s always a catch! So, let’s have a look at what that’s about.

The word attunement sounds like a reference to music, and I think that’s appropriate. It evokes the idea of melody. It’s harmonic. Every one of us is attuned to something or someone. Auto mechanics are attuned to the workings of cars. Athletes are attuned to the nuances of their sport. Mothers are attuned to the needs of their children. These are admirable qualities, and they speak to a certain level of refinement. But what Master has in mind is a level of refinement that is higher yet, that connects us by means of intuition to the whispers of God’s wisdom, channeled to us through our attunement to the gurus He sends to guide us.

Think of a tightrope walker crossing a deep chasm. Can you imagine the discipline, daring and practice it takes to accomplish such a feat? Now, imagine where that person would be – and where we would be – if that amount of discipline, commitment and practice were applied to finding God instead. We attune ourselves to so many pastimes that are finite and mortal in lieu of the one that would send us soaring into divine bliss.

Well, I’m no model of walking that talk, and it puzzles me as to why. Where is that leap of faith that we all want to make and yet shy away from?

Well, I have my excuses, and you probably have a few of your own. Thanks to our skill in the use of subjective reasoning, we are able to rationalize almost anything we do. But one of these days we’re going to come to the end of this opportunity, and if we look back at how we have spent our time here, we are going to say of a lot of it, “What was I thinking?!!?”

What we are thinking, I think, is that much of this world is wondrous and appealing. Love, fun and friendship can be part of our daily fare, and we want to experience their appeal. But there is a flip side too, which is unavoidable as long as we depend on the world itself to make us happy. Sometimes that flip side delivers blow after blow, and the only comfort we find is in sharing our miseries.

This world, for better or worse, is a wild ride that can drive us into a rut that goes round and round. When it does, we lose sight of the truth that there is something better than the best the world can offer. It is our destiny, Master said, to free ourselves and unite with God just as the river unites with the sea. That begins to happen with soul receptivity, with peering over the wall of our ups and downs, and seeing within ourselves the means of liberation: meditation, self-offering, forgiveness, and above all, love of God.

Life on earth has been designed as a test: a test of will, a test of courage, a test of attitude and behavior. Every day arrives with new challenges, but almost none of these is new at all. They are simply repackaged versions of ones we failed to overcome in the past. They are the poor habits we have not changed, the moods we have yet to eclipse, the desires and attachments that bind us to our delusions and disappointments.

“… as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God.” That’s a promise this world cannot fulfill. Somewhere in the course of this life or another down the line, we are going to wake up to the realization that more than worldly success is required to attain what we really want. Why not now? What are we afraid of?

It is widely believed that people avoid risks for fear of failure, but the greater fear is fear of success. What is it about becoming a true son or daughter of God that frightens us into neglecting the opportunity? Our masters are showing us the way to eternal bliss, and we keep looking to other sources for what we think we want. Why is that? It’s something to think about, isn’t it.


I keep hearing these days that happiness is a choice. Apparently, it’s up to me to make it happen.

“Okay,” says I, “I’ll give it a try.” I decide to decide to be happy. Then along comes a crummy encounter, and I react in my usual crummy-encounter sort of way. I get upset, and I’m not happy. No surprises there.

But a moment later, I remember: I can choose to be happy. So, I strive to turn the crumminess into gratitude and goodness. I call on my powers of reason for support. I affirm repeatedly that this particular setback is no big deal, and…

It doesn’t work. Now I’m not only unhappy, I am frustrated by the result of my ineffective effort.

Well, that wasn’t much fun! “Next time,” my brain implores, “let’s just let the unhappiness run its course. No more striving to make it go away.”

I am back at square one. My original reactive emotions are poised to pounce at the slightest hint of a negative intrusion. My life continues to go up and down, as it did before.

Is that as good as it gets?

Wait a minute. Here comes another theory. If I can accept my unhappy reaction to every crummy encounter, it will lose its grip, and I will sooner be happy again. I can hardly wait for another opportunity to give this a try.

Surprisingly, this helps. I still get unhappy when something unpleasant occurs, but not for quite as long. I think I’m on a roll.

Let’s see, what’s next? Maybe I need to meditate more. Om, sweet Om.

And that helps, too. Until… Whamo! Suddenly, a karmic bomb explodes in my path, and it wounds me to my core. Om, kablooey!

That’s when it hits me. It must be my social conditioning. I’ve been programmed to wish that things were different when I don’t like how they are. Is that the problem?

“Bingo!” said a voice from somewhere far away. “You’ve got to work with what is.”

The trouble is, I don’t want to. When things are not to my liking, wishing they were different is as automatic in me as needing to eat when I’m hungry.

That same voice interrupted again. “You don’t need to eat when you’re hungry, you are simply giving in to an urge. What you need is self-control. Face the music and dance to it. You don’t always get to choose the tune. The one that plays is the one that is calling you out, and it will play on a loop until you decide to cheerfully give it a whirl.”

Cheerfully? Are you kidding? If I get a flat tire, I have to cheerfully get out and change it? In the cold and rain? That’s asking a lot.

“That’s what life does,” said the voice. “It asks a lot. But if you give a lot back, you find that you’re not unhappy anymore. It’s the best way to be.”

Well, I am hardly free of reactive emotions. But they don’t run me ragged like they used to, and meeting them with an understanding smile works well to quiet them down. Challenges are part of life’s daily docket, and it seems the better we get at facing them calmly, the more they test our mettle. The last part of the climb is usually the steepest and most exacting.

Like everyone else, I am trying to win my release from what causes me to hurt. Changing a flat tire cheerfully in the rain, slogging through a swamp of red tape, or dealing with a personal disaster, is a test of right attitude that can often be hard to get right. You know you got it wrong when it upsets you.

What’s funny is that the answer is so plain and simple. And yet, we fight it with our egoic desires as if they had the power to free us. The truth is, we cannot be happy if we make it conditional on getting what we want. Only in choosing to want what we get will happiness truly be ours, unaffected by flat tires, red tape and even personal disaster.

What comes of itself, let it come. Swami Kriyananda showed us how. No matter how severe the trial, he always made the most of it. And no one I have ever known was happier.

Ignorance: Bliss or Beware?

We’ve all heard it said that ignorance is bliss, and that what you don’t know can’t hurt you.

But what you don’t know can hurt you. It can even kill you. I dare say that most of the people who die every year, die of some form of ignorance, whether slowly from decades of poor habits or suddenly from something they didn’t see coming.

Ignorance is not bliss. It is misery waiting to manifest. It is pain waiting to pounce. It is delusion waiting to deceive. You don’t have to look far and wide to observe the part that ignorance plays in the world. Not only is it pervasive, it is also powerful. Lately it seems that ignorance is the fuel that is powering our planetary decisions. We may be in ascending Dwapara Yuga, but it’s a long way from where we are now to the top of the cosmic cycle.

Be that as it is, there’s a purpose to ignorance also. It is what we have to overcome in order to reach the summit of Self-realization. God did not mean it to be an easy achievement.

In a dark room, if you turn on a light, the darkness disappears. But where there is ignorance, the darkness remains even in the presence of light. “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not” (Gospel of St. John, Chapter 1). In other words, we are eternally bathed in God’s divine light, but if we shut it out by turning to our egoic desires instead, we wind up in the shadows of that light, where we stumble and suffer.

Ignorance is expressed in endless ways, but its root cause is simply our lack of awareness of who we truly are. In looking for happiness outside of ourselves, we lose sight of our innate divinity. We develop a case of spiritual amnesia, thinking that we are the body-mind that we have merely borrowed for this incarnation.

There’s a funny story about a challenge that God was facing in relation to man’s tendency toward this mistaken identity. Rumor has it, He was having second-thoughts about what he had done in creating us in the first place. According to anonymous but reliable sources, God became exasperated over man’s constant pestering for favors, wanting Him to intercede to make life easy. So, God went to His council of advisors and said, “I’ve got to get away from these people down there, but I don’t know where to hide where they won’t find Me with all of their complaints and prayers for things they want.”

Many suggestions were made and rejected until one of the council members had a brilliant idea. He said to God, “Why not hide inside of man. It will take him almost forever to find You there!”

God loved the idea, and that is where He has been ever since, waiting for us to want Him alone.

To overcome our body-mind identity and its desires, we must rise above our ordinary human level of consciousness, and it ain’t easy. It means doing as Arjuna had to do in the Bhagavad Gita, purging ourselves of those myriad “mental citizens” that bind us to delusion, and thus to the shadows of God’s light. That light is ever present, but learning to live in attunement to it is no small accomplishment.

It’s a process, isn’t it. We do this one shift in consciousness at a time, and thankfully there is goodness and grace in every shift we make. But here’s what is most surprising and remarkable about that. Spiritual advancement is not a question of attaining anything. It is simply a matter of opening the door to a state of being that is ours already, hidden from us only so long as our focus is elsewhere. As that door gradually opens, the soul begins to emerge from the shadows, showing us the way to joy in God.

God’s creation exists on myriad levels of manifestation, all at the same time. Every generation has its extremes – Hitlers and Gandhis, fools and mystics – along with every human possibility in between. On a higher level, however, is God’s divine light, which forever surrounds us, forever dwells within us, is forever accessible, and which cannot be diminished by any gross material reality. We are literally imbued with the light, love, wisdom, peace, power and joy of God, untouched by darkness, hatred, ignorance, fear, weakness or sorrow.

And yet, we continue to suffer. We are practiced in the art of misplacing our priorities, in seeking our satisfaction in egoic pursuits, which causes the light that “shineth” within us to remain incomprehensible. And so it is until we reach that point of “anguishing monotony,” as Yogananda called it, and we say “Enough is enough. I want more by wanting less of what the outside world can give me. I want God and the true abundance that wanting Him can bring.”

Krishna said to Arjuna, “Be thou a yogi.” In other words, realize, as the yogi does, that all is love, all is light, and all is an opportunity to live in joy. We must only remember who we truly are.


In Hindu legend, Lord Shiva is depicted as Nataraja, lord of the dance that destroys the old and weary ways of the world. Whether by wisdom or whim, Shiva decides what must go, and with wild and ecstatic abandon, he performs its obliteration. His purpose, though widely misunderstood, is release of the soul from its false identification with illusion.

It matters not, or perhaps it matters most, if Shiva’s exterminating dance is at the expense of traits and things that we crave or long to keep. Where there is misery of loss over that which is taken away, the message would appear to be clear: a lesson in non-attachment is sorely needed.

We are only human, of course, and it is natural to feel sad about much of what Shiva destroys: a system that served us well for a time, a forest burned to the ground, a neighborhood lost to a storm or flood, and the lives of those harshly affected or swept away by tragic events. But gone is gone, at least in familiar form. When we do not let these go, part of us dies with them. Chaos is often a necessary pre-condition for new life, new growth, new systems, and new civilizations to emerge.

Shiva dances to undo our delusions. If we cling to them of desire or grief, we find ourselves also caught in his path of destruction. What is the use of that? We must control what we can, which is ourselves, and accept what we cannot, which is everything else. Shiva’s dance is done to break us of believing that we know better, to disrupt us of comforts that leave us complacent, to teach us that we are here to accept, adapt, and advance according to whatever occurs.

We want to be happy, and Shiva’s role, paradoxical though it seems, is meant to show us how. Mourn if you must, he is telling us, but then release your attachment to what is no longer there as before. Relationships need not end with death or departure, whether to a person, a place, or a piece of nostalgic connection. We may feel these always dear to us, and be grateful for what they have been; but when that feeling is one of deprivation, we suffer for no good reason.

In Shiva’s dance, earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions are not born of wrath. They are simply dramatic instruments of change, perhaps with a portentous karmic purpose, but always for the sake of clearing a path for self-offering and receptivity to emerge. Tragedies and disasters are executioners of delusion. As we calmly see the truth in this – that we are not the doers of what is done, not the owners of what we name as ours, not the knowers of what is meant to be and why – and as we trust in God’s good will, even as displayed in Shiva’s fiery moves, our happiness gets remarkably easier to gain and sustain.

Shiva’s dance is said to take place at the center of the universe, which represents the heart. Though it tests us, sometimes terribly, it is ever a dance of love.


I’ve been thinking about the trap we set for ourselves in the judgments we make of each other. Every moment of being together is colored by our feelings – the degree to which we like or dislike ourselves and the other person – and the same holds true of our feelings about everything else. A judgment can be as mundane as a reaction to a new look in fashion, or as serious as an attitude toward a strong prejudicial opinion. The result is either pleasing or it isn’t.

Westerners in particular tend to see in black or white: winners vs. losers, for instance. If you’re not perceived as the former, you’re apt to be branded the latter. Likewise, we obsess over good and bad, subconsciously guided to one label or the other, affixing it here and there automatically. As we see in disturbing abundance, simple issues of personal taste, not to mention morality, can quickly turn a dialogue into a feud. Different folks have different ideas about everything under the sun. Is it any wonder that complication prevails?

As a further complication, our certainties are not always certain. Think about how we think of war and peace. When we are not at war, are we at peace? One might say yes, but hardly in absolute terms, because true peace is the absence of fear, and that describes almost no one. War and peace exist on the same wheel. As relative values, they show a direction of movement toward one or the other, not an unqualified state. The fabric of our lives is woven of both.

Love is another virtue that is often misrepresented. So much gets confused with emotion. It is said that every human act is either an expression of love or a cry for help. Where emotion runs deep, however, even a so-called act of love is tinged with insecurity as well. Emotional love is a transient. Born of desire, it conveys a form of attachment, which, by definition, involves the ego. Thus, the passion that emotional love ignites is bound to diminish. At its core, it is contractive. Surely we have all experienced how, as time goes by, complication tends to encumber even our most ardent relationships. Love of God is the one and only love that is ever expansive, for it alone is unaffected by circumstance or result. It alone is free of personal motive.

But is love of God a practical response to the whirl of our daily lives. Does it make sense to accept, without judgment, whatever comes down the pike? St. Francis gave thanks for all that he received, no matter how meager or rude, as exactly what God had in mind for his spiritual growth. Was he just a good-hearted fool?

I doubt there is anything more difficult than letting go of one’s emotional investments: that is to say, living without attachment to the outcome of our endeavors; learning to surrender our likes and dislikes to serve our soul. Yet, how else can we escape the sway of our fears? A popular mantra of the 1970s was “Give peace a chance.” But what chance will it ever have if we, as mere reactionaries, continue to give a thumbs up or down to every person, item, and event that enters our field of awareness? This automatic exercise, harmless though it may seem, guarantees that fear of the unwanted will torment us. As duality ordains, every plus requires a canceling minus. Like night and day, every want must include its twin, whether in actual occurrence or the apprehension of same.

Of all the options we face, there is really but one that matters: either we roll our emotional investments into a more productive portfolio of stocks—compassion, forgiveness, introspection, meditation, and simple living, for example—or we keep falling short of the capital needed for inner peace, contentment, and unconditional love.

Could it be that faith in God is, after all, the most practical choice before us?

Hey, Just Get Over It!

Pain must come

In sudden and chronic experience, in large and small doses, pain is bound to come. Ours is the pain planet. We were born here to feel and deal with pain’s discomfort, to endure its seemingly infinite permutations, to confront its huge force.

Until we attain liberation, each turn of the karmic wheel can be counted on to include painful episodes by the hundreds or more. And for humans of highest consciousness, namely those of saintly ways, the tests of mettle only seem to increase. No doubt by celestial design, our most extreme trials are often saved for last. Consider, for example, the long list of Catholic saints who were persecuted severely by the Church itself. Those of deepest faith, like Padre Pio, are often the ones who seem to pose a threat to conventional ways, and are the most abused.

As the lives of these spiritual heroes reveal to us, however, suffering is not a required sequel to pain, persecution, or even terrible loss. Suffering is ever a choice. When we endure it, it’s because we allow it: for days, for years, for lifetimes. Can you imagine a more ridiculous and wasteful practice?

The familiar adage, “No pain, no gain,” can be applied throughout nature. Birth, survival, and death are painfully demanding. But notice the absence of any reference to suffering. Pain from which a gain is won, like the grain of irritation that produces a pearl, is hardly a cause for misery. Anguish is added merely of unconscious habit.

When a loved one dies, especially if unexpectedly, the pain can seem intolerable at first. Slowly it subsides into mourning, and for some it may often return in visitations of missing what used to be or might have been. But even here, suffering need not steep like leaves of tea in memory’s cup. Only in the taint of self-pity does it find a fertile soil for its bitter seed.

To suffer is to misunderstand the mission before us

God’s love and God’s joy are the qualities we are here to express and become. As we sink into suffering’s dark embrace, a single question should come to mind, even if we are unprepared to answer it honestly at the time: Is this not a vanity disguised as a wound?

Suffering is, after all, an egotistical, subjective response to a cosmically neutral event. The soul does not demand, invite, or desire it. We, alone, provide the charge to every moment’s occurrence that undercuts its otherwise impartial nature. Out of anger, fear, envy, or some other caustic reaction, it is we who ordain that suffering must ensue.

But here’s a story that never fails to inspire me….

In the early days of Ananda, a fire destroyed the temple at what is now the Meditation Retreat. Much time and effort had been spent on its construction, and to lose it so soon and so swiftly was a real blow. But only a day or two later, Swami Kriyananda was singing merrily as he strolled the aisles of a local retail store, shopping for basic supplies. The store’s owner asked in amazement, “How are you able to sing after such a personal disaster?” Swamiji replied without hesitation, “Madame, I lost a temple, not my voice.”

Thank God for the few like him, who reveal to us the courage, wisdom, and grace that abides in giving pain its due and no more. Giving it a place to nest is the only mistake.

Learning to Forget

There’s a funny one-liner that bemoans the effects of aging: “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” Thank goodness for humor. It softens the blow.

Uhh. . . Let’s see now. . . Where was I going with that? . . . Oh, yes. . . As some of us know already, seniors are forced to deal with a hitch that gets hitchier as years go by. Suddenly, at the darnedest times, our Random Access Memory begins to flash “Access Denied.”

Actually, though, the real problem lies in the other direction. Losing our mind is all too rare an event. Doggedly, it clings to us like a magnet made of chatter. As Eckhart Tolle has written in The Power of Nowthe inability to stop thinking has become “a dreadful affliction,” but since almost everyone suffers from it, we take it as normal.

The truth is, nothing comes between us like our very own mental activity. Restlessly, it denies us the experience of oneness with all that is. From moment to moment, wherever we turn, our senses recognize this and that as unrelated to me. Thus, believing that separation exists, we have managed to turn this Garden of Eden into a kind of Marx Brothers asylum.

Because we’ve been given the blessed burden of five physical senses, almost all of our data is gathered from their reports. Analysis ensues. Likes and dislikes arise. And so we careen like pinballs between bumpers of pleasure and pain. For most of us the game goes on and on until we die.

But the greater trouble is deeper than even our sensory involvement. As we slalom through our days, supposedly using our minds to some intelligent purpose, we fail to see that, like double agents, they have been using us, relentlessly feeding us fears and desires that trigger more of the same. Without the means to quiet our barnstorming thoughts—namely through meditation and full engagement in the flow of now—we are fated to fidgety, fickle-brain commotion and the onset of moods.

There’s a poem by the Indian master Thayumanavar that puts the problem in perspective. Included are these lines: “You can ride a lion; You can play with the cobra; You can make vassals of the gods; You can walk on water and live in fire; But control of the mind is better and more difficult.”

The question naturally arises: Why can’t we train our minds to tame the distracting fears and aches that besiege us? The answer: because the mind is the problem! “Imagine a chief of police trying to find an arsonist,” says Tolle, “when the arsonist is the chief of police.”

We are dealing here with the ego, of course, a most unscrupulous opponent. As we become identified with our emotions and thoughts, the force of ego presides over all that we do. It uses the past to define us and the future to distract us.

The trick is to stay in the present, a trick that few can perform. It requires that we refuse to judge whatever the present brings. But as we are able to do this—to observe the moment without shading its character—a transformation takes place that makes it instantly friendlier.

Living in the present is a kind of constructive forgetting. By saying “Yes” to the moment, time and its accretions dissolve, especially those of self-concern. And surprisingly when this occurs, success in matters of worldly endeavor is achieved more easily also.

Forgetting is inevitable, and frankly, it is often a blessing. My father, until he was well into his eighties, had a memory that selected mainly the things that upset him, whether about himself or other people. But as his memory faded, submitting at last to Alzheimer’s disease, he found less and less to disturb his increasing quietude. I like to think that when he died, he had made a peace with himself that only forgetting could accomplish. Or perhaps, hoping for the best, I should say that what he finally remembered was the sweetness and serenity of his ego-obscured soul.