Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Yogananda said we all have our own kind of craziness, and after 32 years on this spiritual path, I’m discovering just how crazy I am. There seems to be no end to all the crazy ways I sabotage my own spiritual efforts. But I am resolved that whenever I discover another pattern of behavior that fits the definition of insanity, I will pluck it from my consciousness and prescribe an antidote.
Recently, I became aware of how often I use the word should and expect some kind of transformation of consciousness. Somewhere along the way I became convinced that telling myself I should do something would change the sincere struggling devotee Lorna into Saint Lorna, Beacon of Light To The World! If it were true, it would have happened by now, because should has found it’s way into all my mental conversations with my small self, and, I’m sorry to say, into too many conversations with other sincere struggling devotees.
Should is a great warrior on the battlefield of life – powerful, unrelenting, fearless, deceptive, and unashamed. Should leaves death and destruction in its wake. But it fights for the wrong army of mental citizens.
Inspiration weakens and dies quickly when should attacks. Willingness is crippled and hobbles away to tend to its wounds as should pushes kindness aside and clears a wide path for criticism and judgment. Receptivity runs away rather than face the assault and generosity of spirit is buried under the bleeding bodies of patience, positive thinking, humor and acceptance.
As I survey the battlefield and gratefully watch introspection, perseverance, forgiveness, and devotion hold the line against the mighty power of should, I see the insanity of expecting should to bring the transformation I seek. I call in a new team to join the battle.
Yogananda brought the teachings of Self-Realization to the West because he knew Americans would appreciate the science of yoga. The science of yoga encourages us to experiment and move forward on the basis of our own personal experience. I’ve known and understood this intellectually for decades, but allowed my science team to sit on the sidelines while the battle raged on. So now I put them on the front lines.
What would happen if…? is the name of my science team. They are not bulky, sweaty, fierce warriors. They move into the fray flanked by calmness and openness. They simply stand in the midst of the battlefield and wait for results, then move ahead on the path of understanding that opens.
I’m faced with a task that requires wading into unknown territory and learning new skills; and should starts flexing muscles. I should be able to do this – everyone else can. I shouldn’t be afraid, I’m a grown up! I should just go forth in perfect faith. I quickly call in the team and try a different approach. What would happen if … I tried learning this new skill and then decided if I can handle it? Suddenly, every day becomes a science experiment and I get to judge the results.
I open my eyes during a group meditation and observe a friend nodding in sleep, but before should even recognized the opportunity, I called in the team. What would happen if …I prayed for her and doubled my efforts on her behalf? The result of the experiment was a more joyful meditation and a deeper bond with my friend.
Should also attacks through other people. It’s sneaky and can hide behind the good intentions of even the kindest, spiritually-minded friends. It’s a double-whammy because maybe I should listen to spiritual people who are probably wiser than me. But this is where my science team really shines. They step in ahead of indignation, outrage and self-doubt to ask: Is this a worthwhile experiment that is in harmony with my goals? If the answer is no, then it’s simple to stop there. If my answer is yes, then we move ahead with the second question: What would happen if …?
I was reading Swami Kriyananda’s immensely practical book for spiritual growth, Living Wisely, Living Well and noted with new appreciation that should didn’t make it into that book. Swami presents 365 ideas for right living and never tells us we should do anything! The book is a result of Swami’s experiments in his own life and he is sharing what he learned about living in right relationship to the world. The ideas are there to try, if we are scientifically inclined.
I’m feeling less crazy and more inspired every day.
In divine friendship,
The only time Swami Kriyananda gave me anything remotely like a direct “should” was when I asked him how I could open my heart (the opposite of “should”). He said, “You should chant.” When I objected, “But Swamiji, I don’t think I’m a chanter by nature,” he said, “Well, you should.”
It was chanting in fact that freed me from many shoulds. When I started on the path, in 1966, like many beginners I was a card-carrying member of the Church of Should. I worshipped in the Church of Law. Really, I was afraid that if I didn’t carry around a big bag of shoulds I would be in danger of falling off the spiritual path. Meanwhile, respected counselors consistently advised me to be less hard on myself. “Learn to relax and enjoy the spiritual path,” Brother Bhaktananda of SRF told me. (He was the monastic who’d been with Master the longest.)
At a satsang of 300 people, Daya Mata paused at one point in her talk and looked straight into my eyes and said, “My Divine Mother is not for those who are hard on themselves and hard on others. She is kind, sweet, loving and forgiving. You don’t need to chisel out your prayer to Her in stone; you can talk to Her in the language of your heart.”
This was the direction that Swamiji always encouraged me to follow. Amusingly, many years later he told me, in a private counseling talk, “I’ve told you before – you’re too hard on yourself!” In fact, Swamiji had never told me any such thing. He said it with a bemused expression, as if Master were saying a funny thing through him. Master was speaking through Swamiji, reminding me what he’d said through Daya years before.
It’s a lifelong, deeply worthwhile lesson – to live in the Church of Love and leave the Church of Law behind. It’s the difference between the Western Church, which as it became the rational, mental Church of Should, gave us the lovely Inquisition, which murdered thousands for following their hearts. By contrast, the (very different) Eastern Orthodox Church gave the world a path of love, and a liturgy and church which hold that too much rational thinking and dogma is a great danger to the spiritual life.
Thank you, Lorna, for bringing these truths to mind.
Thank you so much! This captures with clarity and humor my daily mental struggles which often operate in the subconscious nether regions and gives me wonderful tools to bring them into the light.
Thank you, Lorna,
What a powerful and meaningful lesson this is. Like many spiriual aspirants,I too, have been very hard on myself much of the time. Your observations and approach are so useful. I think I will print this out and put it by the bed to see “what would happen if” I read it upon arising in the mornings!
Beautifully expressed, Lorna! Thanks for en-“lightening” me!
I smiled and smiled while reading it.Thanks a lot saint Lorna :)
I loved reading this, Lorna. We use the definition A.A. and I have always wondered where it originated. I am a victim of using the word “should” with myself. In the program I have learned to talk with others using my own experience as an offering for a person to use or not. I am going to try your method because I am tired of the battle when I use should. I will try different experiments and leave the results to Divine Mother. I usually feel much better following the suggestions anyway but will not have the battle of should! Thank you so much for your wisdom!
The idea of replacing “should” with “what would happen if” sounds like a very helpful approach to try. I enjoyed reading your article and all the comments. The one by Rambhakta was particularly helpful and could be expanded into a separate blog posting for this site.
Just last night I was thinking about (and alternating between laughter and groaning about) MY kinds of craziness. Like you, I have been tyrannized by SHOULDS and it is a battle I fight every day. Thank you for your idea of calling in new troops. I am drafting them today!