What recommendations do you have for easing one’s effort in trying too hard with meditation and communing with God? I resonated with Swami Kriyananda’s humble reflections on his own tendencies to be too eager at times. Maybe even in asking the question, I’m trying to appease that part of me that is overly eager. I guess then, my question is really getting at how does one balance applying willpower without overstepping into eagerness?
—David Lederman, Romania and USA
This is a problem many devotees have faced at times, including Swami Kriyananda. A key principle is to recognize that, while your will power is necessary for spiritual progress, it must be joined with the divine will flowing through you.
Yogananda said that progress on the spiritual path is 25 percent the devotee’s effort (which requires that he or she put in 100 percent of that 25 percent!), 25 percent the Guru’s effort on behalf of the devotee, and 50 percent the grace of God.
Relaxation as we put forth effort is essential for us to join our will to the divine will. We must be open to receive the divine will. Tension causes us to contract and close down. But relaxation can be downward or upward. Relaxation downward moves us toward passivity and even sleep and will not take us to Self-realization.
Relaxation upward means allowing our energy to flow freely up to the spiritual eye unimpeded by resistance. This is a central reason why yoga postures—which are meant to prepare us for meditation (not just physical fitness)—help so much. They relax the body deeply and redirect the energy into the spine and up to the spiritual eye in readiness for meditation.
Eagerness can also bring our energy inward and upward, or downward and outward. Enthusiasm for spiritual teachings and the spiritual path, coupled with our desire for God, motivates us to keep up our sincere efforts. Eagerness that is more an expectation to “get” something from God to satisfy personal desire will bring that energy downward and outward.
The spiritual path is about centering in higher awareness and maintaining that center whether in meditation or activity. As you work with your spiritual practices, notice what tends to draw you outward—into worldly energy and tension—and what brings you into inner calmness. Also notice what tends to uplift you and what tends to pull you down. Our sensitivity and awareness become more and more refined as we progress on the spiritual path, a lifelong process. As devotees we walk a tightrope, if you like, seeking to stay centered between the competing opposites that are the nature of the world. Think of the teachings and techniques as tools to maintain your balance as you walk. When we become masters we will no longer need the tools. We will no longer get caught and fall. But until that time we use our techniques, and when we stumble we simply get right back up and keep going.
You might like to practice an affirmation for relaxation from Yogananda’s Scientific Healing Affirmations:
I relax and cast aside all mental burdens, allowing God to express through me His perfect love, peace and wisdom.
To practice an affirmation, say it first loudly, then more quietly, then in a whisper, and finally silently, concentrating at the point between the eyebrows. You can repeat it several times at each level if you feel to.
Great times to practice affirmation are just as you wake up, just before going to sleep, and at the end of meditation (at that time you would normally just practice silently). Often resistance and tension are from patterns in the subconscious. Affirmations have the power to reprogram our subconscious mind.