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An astronomer scanning the heavens needs a mirror for his telescope that is clean and ground accurately. A carpenter building a house needs tools that are well made and well maintained. A jeweller dealing in precious stones needs a scale sensitive enough to weigh small fractions of a carat. In every department of life, the right tools are needed. In this age of sophisticated technology, especially, great care must be devoted to their development and maintenance.
It is a matter for surprise, then, how little attention gets paid to the ultimate “tool,” the one on which every human being relies: his own self, his body and his brain.
The physical body, if not treated sensitively and with proper awareness, can end up becoming man’s own worst enemy. An ill body can obstruct every effort of the will toward accomplishment. A brain that is clouded, unfocused, or easily overwhelmed by emotional stress understands nothing clearly no matter how excellent the material instruments a person uses.
Our modern school system concentrates on imparting facts, but devotes far too little attention to developing a student’s ability to absorb the information he receives. It gives him the outer tools for accomplishment, but never even suggests to him methods for developing his powers of concentration, his memory, his ability to think clearly, without which those tools are like a hammer and saw in the paws of a cat.
In one of my classes when I was schoolboy, if any student seemed unable to grasp the point under discussion the teacher would inquire with jocular solicitude, “What’s the matter, Jones [or Smith, or Robbins]? Are you in love?” Strange to say, this was the only recognition the student ever received of the possible importance of his emotions to the total learning process.
Even in such basic matters as diet, how much are our children taught? They are given (for one example) what has come to be called “junk” food, high in sugar content and low in nutritive value. Does no one ever tell them that too much sugar clouds the mind, making it difficult to think clearly? or that nutritious food will help them to feel better in all departments of their lives? Fortunately, people are becoming more conscious in these matters nowadays, though the great majority are still either ignorant or indifferent to the discoveries being made in this field.
In matters of physical exercise, children are invited to engage in violent sports that will stand them in no useful stead later in life, and that in some cases permanently injure their bodies. But how much attention is paid to teaching them forms of exercise that will benefit them throughout their lives?
Exercise should be approached in the manner of a long distance runner, with clear recognition given to the fact that the physical body may have to serve its owner for another seventy, eighty, or more years, and ought not to be treated as though the exercise it is getting now will end with graduation.
A young friend of mine, an excellent skier, used to enjoy making jumps that, because of her skill, she survived splendidly, but that jarred every bone in her body. Wisely, she abandoned the practice when her physician told her, “If you go on like this, by the time you’re forty-five you’ll be confined to a wheel chair.”
Children would soon become bored, of course, if all the exercise they were permitted was a daily trudge around the compound. I’m not recommending tiresome exercise. Even walking and hiking, however, can be enjoyable when pursued in the broad, open countryside, inhaling fresh air and feasting the gaze on green fields and hills.
The will needs challenges, too, if it is to grow strong. In this sense, certainly, strenuous sports play a definitely useful role in education. What I am pleading for, then, is the addition of common sense, a view to life’s longer rhythms, and physical development and the sorts of exercise that will stand the child in good stead later in life even if they don’t make him the hero of an hour.
Here’s an example of the importance of physical exercise: The other day my brain was feeling foggy, no doubt from overwork. No amount of flogging it with affirmations of energy could get it to stagger out into the sunlight of clear thought. I left my desk, therefore, and jogged for ten minutes on a trampoline. The difference, afterward, in my mental clarity was amazing.
A steady routine of exercise is important for everyone — exercise that doesn’t require a football field and two teams to bludgeon one another into semi-paralysis, but that is pleasant and even fun to engage in. This habit should be inculcated in children, even in those with a greater fondness for intellectual pursuits.
Good diet, right exercise, regular exposure to sunlight and fresh air: These can develop the body as a tool for the long-range efficiency of the whole being.
Then there is the question of the emotions. How many adults, what to speak of children, recognize the difference between emotion and feeling? Very few.
And how many children, consequently, are taught that calm, sensitive feeling is an invaluable tool for the complete understanding of most subjects? Or that turbulent feelings — that is to say, the emotions — and not feeling per se prevent clear, objective understanding? Again, very few.
Few children, again, are taught the extent to which reason is guided by calm feeling, but distorted by the emotions. And few are taught that by developing calm feeling they will improve their understanding of objective reality on every level.
Feeling, when it is calm and refined, is essential both to truly objective and to mature insight.
There are ways of clarifying feeling, just as there are principles of logic (already taught in the schools) for learning to reason correctly. Feeling can be clarified, for instance, by learning how to distance feeling from one’s personal likes and dislikes, withdrawing one’s awareness to a calm center in the heart. Feeling can be clarified by directing the heart’s energies upward to the brain, and thence to a point between the eyebrows that was anciently identified as the seat of concentration in the body. Clarity of feeling can be assisted by calming the flow of energy in the spine, by means of certain breathing exercises. These exercises are a priceless contribution of the science of yoga to the general knowledge of the human race. It would be a grave error to ignore them on the grounds of one’s unfamiliarity with them.
Only by calm inner feeling can a person know definitely the right course to take in any action. Those who direct their lives from this deeper level of feeling achieve levels of success that are never reached by people who limit their quest for answers to the exercise of reason. Reason, indeed, if unsupported by feeling, may point in hundreds of plausible directions without offering certainty as to the rightness of any of them.
Children need to learn how to react appropriately. This they can never do if their reaction springs out of their subjective emotions. Considerable training is needed to learn how to harness feeling and make it a useful ally. What children are taught, instead, as they grow older, is that feelings are inevitably obstacles to correct insight. The scientific method is offered as a model. “If you want to see things objectively,” they are told, “you must view everything in terms of cold logic.” I remember a professor when I was in college who boasted, jokingly, that x-rays had shown his heart to be smaller than normal. This, to him, was a sign of intellectual objectivity, which he prized.
Ignored is the fact that, usually, the greater the scientist, the more deeply he feels his subject. Or that, as Einstein put it, the essence of true scientific discovery is a sense of mystical awe.
Feeling can never in any case be suppressed. Shove it out of sight at one point — where you can at least see it and try to deal with it — and it will only pop up at another, often a place where you least expect it. Many times, when long-suppressed feelings have at last burst upon people’s consciousness, those feelings have assumed terrible and unrecognizable shapes. Sometimes they have actually incited to riot.
Right feeling is an important tool for achieving maturity. It must be cultivated, and not merely ignored, suppressed, or treated as something about which nothing “reasonable” can be done.
A third tool of maturity is will power.
Every year, hundreds of businesses are started, only a few of which ever succeed. Are the rare success stories due only to “the luck of the draw”? Are the businesses that fail merely victims of “negative statistics”? The one thing that stands out in every success story is the extraordinary will power it required.
The one trait which all successful people have in common is that they can’t even imagine saying, “I can’t.” If one method doesn’t work, they’ll try another, and if not that, then still another. They’ll keep on trying until they find something that does work.
How often people lose courage after one or two half-hearted attempts! And how often they imagine a job to be finished after they’ve only talked about it, or outlined it on paper. How often, again, do people give up after encountering a mere sprinkling of obstacles, offering the excuse, “It wasn’t meant to be.”
Business colleges fill their students’ brains with marketing techniques, organizational charts, and secrets of profitable investment. They send graduates out into the world in the belief that all this knowledge will be their guarantee of success. How is it, the graduates wonder later on, that so few of them make the grade?
Even more incomprehensible to them is the large number of highly successful business people whose training couldn’t compare with their own. How, for example, did that steel tycoon earn his millions? Good heavens, he never even finished grade school!
The answer is quite simple: He stuck to it. He made things happen, instead of waiting for circumstances to be just right for the application of principles he’d learned in school from others.
No one can really succeed in life who hasn’t a strong will power. Will power, then, is a vital ingredient of maturity, and should be emphasized as such in the schools. Techniques should be taught for developing it, and opportunities explored for its expression.
The fourth, final, tool of maturity is the intellect. One may say, “Here, at least, is one faculty to which we need pay no special attention. Modern education is already fully devoted to its development.”
Devoted, perhaps, but not with sufficient awareness of what it takes to bring the intellect to full development. For when intellect is treated as a thing apart from the other three tools of maturity — body, feeling, and will power — it grows like a poorly nourished and anemic plant. A plant may grow tall and yet be weak, colorless, and fragile.
One weakness of the intellect is, as we have seen, a tendency to soar up, up, and away like a balloon into clouds of fascinating theory, while carelessly discarding as unnecessary the weighty ballast of fact. A balanced awareness of the material realities that are experienced first of all through the physical body is necessary for the development of the intellect to its full usefulness.
Another weakness of the intellect is, as we have seen also, a tendency to substitute theory for action — even to consider itself betrayed by cloddish reminders of the very need for action. Regular, daily doses of will power are necessary to prevent this weakness from degenerating into mental paralysis.
A third weakness is — and here is where feeling shows its importance — the temptation of intellectuality to imagine that it is so clever that it can actually create truths. There comes upon certain people of exceptional intelligence a sort of Olympian delusion: the thought that, by the power of reason alone, they can demonstrate any rational conclusion they desire. Is it their wish to prove that black is white, or white, black? No problem! They imagine themselves capable of reasoning any truth into or out of existence, merely by the clever manipulation of ideas.
We see here, indeed, the danger of suppressing one’s feelings: They only rise again, and again and again, as Michael Ende pointed out in The Never-Ending Story, in the form of the most fantastic lies.
Paramhansa Yogananda put it well when he wrote: “Reason is rightly guided only when it acknowledges the inescapability of cosmic law”—that is to say, the inescapability of what is.
Thus, the intellect must be developed in constant reference to demonstrable truths. Webs of logic finely spun out of nothing more substantial than an intriguing fancy, or a quotation, must be referred again and again to reality to see whether or not they really are true.
A further point is that the intellect needs to be developed along useful lines. Of what value, for example, a wonderful plan for battle that entails the deployment of ten thousand troops, when the only men one has at his disposal are a few foot-weary troops?
And what is the use of a doctor exclaiming proudly, “The operation was a success!” when the patient himself died peacefully on the operating table?
The intellect must be developed, finally, in full recognition that it is merely a tool wielded by the mind, but never itself fully in charge of the mind. Like any tool, it can be used rightly or wrongly, depending on one’s respect for other, higher, and forever immutable principles.
A human being, in order to function fully and effectively in this world, needs to develop in himself all four of these tools of maturity: 1) physical energy and bodily self-control; 2) emotional calmness and expansive feeling; 3) dynamic, persistent will power; and 4) a clear-sighted, practical intellect. Remove any one of these aspects from the equation and the equation itself becomes distorted. Each aspect depends for its perfection on the other three.
A person of great physical energy and control, but with undeveloped feeling, will power, or intelligence, will be little more than a human animal, responding to every stimulus on a purely instinctual level.
A person of sensitively refined feelings, but underdeveloped in the other three aspects of maturity, will too easily lose himself in hypochondria or in other nameless fears.
A person, again, of strong will power, but deficient in the other three tools of maturity, may compensate for his physical weakness by developing a tyrannical nature. Lack of emotional control may plunge him into violent rages against anyone so presumptuous as to oppose him even on minor issues. And an undeveloped intellect may lead him to commit actions that are unbridled because never viewed in the light of calm introspection.
We have seen, finally, the deficiency of the intellect when it is unsupported by the other three “tools” of maturity.
An interesting point is that these tools are best developed in sequence: bodily awareness first, then sensitivity of feeling, then will power, and last of all, intellect.
Feeling, for example, needs grounding in a firm sense of physical reality if it is really to inspire and uplift the child instead of causing him to run maudlin. Will power, when developed without reference to both physical energy and controlled or wisely directed emotions, can lead to ruthlessness, or to fitful explosions of energy that serve no practical purpose.
In teaching a child, therefore, care should be taken not only to teach him the right use of his body, feelings, will power, and intellect, but also to lead him through their development in the proper sequence. Only by understanding and respecting his nature as it is can he be helped to achieve the equilibrium of true maturity.
© Ananda Sangha Worldwide 2013