In his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Satchidananda asks us this: If you were going to plant a sapling in the middle of a cow pasture, how would you protect it from getting eaten or trampled by the cows?
My guess is that if it were something you cared about, you would build some fencing around it until its roots were strong enough to withstand the herd’s force. You would probably check on it regularly, making sure it had what it needed to grow to its full potential, and, if required, you may fortify the fencing should you find any breaks.
All of these precautions that you would take to protect this sweet new life are the same precautions you must take to protect the new life of your spiritual practice and evolution – the materials out of which the fencing is made look a little different. While the fence in the pasture may be built with wood or steel, the sides of the fence built by the practitioner are what we read, what we listen to, who we surround ourselves with, and dedicated daily practice. And what may trample this work in place of the cows? Our egos, desires, and pressure from the outside world become materially “successful,” to name only a few.
According to ancient sages and texts, those who are serious about walking the spiritual path must steep themselves in the teachings of the practice until the lessons, and the deeper meanings of those lessons, live as a part of their bones rather than as something that stays in the mind as only philosophical contemplation and play.
It’s very common – probably pretty normal, actually – to forget how much influence what we take in daily has on us. As we go through our day, we’re bombarded with messages that seep into our consciousness and end up driving our decision making in ways that sometimes have an obvious correlation. But, sometimes, that connection is harder to find.
For example, if you see an advertisement for a hair product that claims to make your hair everything you ever wanted it to be, and you go out to buy that item, the path of how you came to buy that specific brand is easy to follow. It is an example of more active and conscious consumption.
But what makes us believe that there is anything wrong with how we are and how our hair is, to begin with? Those messages are sometimes overt, but are very often so woven into societal expectations and norms that we don’t even question whether there is a flaw in the way we think about our hair (or face, or body, etc.) in the first place! And we’ve been subject to these messages for our whole lives – from family and friends who have been taught the same things; from ads in newspapers, magazines, and on the radio; from a patriarchal mindset that is geared towards keeping us subdued and reliant on external validation and doing whatever it takes to get it, rather than a holy mindset that wants each one of us to find freedom through self-acceptance and validation from our own highest self.
Given that we have had years of this training, the training necessary to combat everything that propels us to grasp onto things outside of ourselves must be even more potent than the messages we have been fed.
What do you read, and how does it make you feel? Is the material something that makes you wish you were other than you are in some way, or does the material remind you that God is housed in you and as you and that there is nothing more perfect than that?
What about what you listen to?
What about who you surround yourself with?
Considering these questions, answering them as honestly as you can for yourself, and then making changes where necessary is key in finding and maintaining the peace that is promised through this practice.
Once we have considered these questions, we must put the changes into action regularly (ideally daily). In Sanskrit, this is the fundamental tenant called abhyasa, which means diligent practice over a long period of time.
Suppose you look back at habits that you’ve willfully or ignorantly cultivated. In that case, you will see that they became ingrained in you after lots of repetition over days, weeks, months, and even years, and every time you act on that habit, the groove it has created in your mind gets even more resonant. So the pattern becomes even more entrenched. In Sanskrit, these grooves are called samskaras, and over time they become the path of least resistance. Just as water will flow down a pathway much more easily where water has flowed before rather than having to carve a new stream, the action we decide to take quickly falls into the groove of ways we have acted in the past. These grooves are deep, and the pull towards them is strong, and the only way to get out of them is to create new pathways with new and deliberate actions.
In Yoga, we refer to this as filling in the groove, and neuro-scientists have now proven that every time we think or do something repetitively, an actual groove is made, or made deeper, in the brain, but that we can create new grooves and new pathways by merely taking new actions.
I know this can seem overwhelming – so it is imperative that you start this daily practice in a way you know you can maintain. If you know that you can’t fully commit to giving up trash magazines or TV, commit to reading or watching one thing that reminds you of the Truth of what you are before or after. If you can’t commit to meditating for five minutes every day, commit to closing your eyes and paying attention to your breath for one. If you tend to spend much of your time with people who make you feel less than holy and supreme, commit to carving out time to those who see the inherent brilliance of what you are.
As you start to build your fence, more materials will present themselves to you until the fortress around your spiritual center is unshakeable and fortified with faith.
By Susannah Freedman
September 16th, 2020
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