Recently a fellow disciple asked me, “What should we do when we feel restless, spiritually dry, out of tune, or when we feel strongly drawn back into worldly desires?”
I will discuss in this article what I did when these kinds of feelings first ambushed me and also, what others have done when finding themselves in similar situations. For I believe that challenges like these happen to most sincere spiritual seekers. I even invented a name for them. I call them the Fifth Chakra Challenges.
First, it is important to recognize that the fifth chakra is one of the higher chakras, located way up there in the chakras system. When Fifth Chakra Challenges start happening to us, we can know that we are making excellent spiritual progress. It shows that our souls know we are ready to take on a new kind of challenge, one which is considerably more subtle than those presented by the lower four chakras.
The fifth chakra’s positive qualities are calmness, silence, and great expansiveness out into the unknown reaches of space or ether (ethereal-ness). However, as with all the chakras, it has its downsides. It can make us feel non-beneficial qualities like restlessness, boredom, and a sense of being ungrounded.
The way most of us experience these harmful qualities (and we often do not recognize or understand what is happening to us) is through a strong restless urge, suggesting that it would be helpful to drop back down into the lower chakras, indulge in familiar old habits, and thus, somehow FEEL MORE HUMAN AGAIN!
Our Gurus recognize that these challenges can and do happen. Sri Yukteswar offered a solution, saying, “When the dog yowls, simply throw the dog a bone!” A temporary slip into a desire to experience the good things of this world is not the end of our spiritual lives, as long as we know which way we are going and make a point to return to the pursuit of our goal of spiritual freedom as quickly as we can. These challenges simply happen, but recognizing what is happening can be very helpful!
When it first happened to me (and it has happened many times), I had only been at Ananda for about five weeks (my first visit), participating in the Apprenticeship Program (Summer, 1975). I was working very hard in the beautiful Ananda organic gardens, six days a week. In addition, I never missed the group sadhanas, three times a day. For me, this was a big jump, from about 15 minutes of meditation per day to 4½ hours daily, including yoga postures and chanting. Strengthening my sadhana was one of the primary reasons I came to Ananda. Still, it was a big lifestyle shift for me.
After weeks of diligently keeping this schedule, I woke up early one morning and found that I simply could not go to sadhana that morning. I thought if I chanted another chant, did another yoga posture or energization exercise, or spent another minute in meditation, that I would BURST and “freak out.”
Therefore, instead of going to the morning sadhana session, I slept late, then went down to Tyler Foote Road and hitchhiked a ride to Nevada City. I walked down Broad Street, bought a newspaper to read, found a small restaurant, ordered a large soft drink, a big plate of French fries, and a chocolate milkshake. For most of that day, I walked around town and tried to feel like a normal person again. At the close of the day, I caught a ride back to Ananda and was happy to resume my schedule of work, sadhana, classes, etc.
You see, I had “thrown the dog a bone” and my “dog” was content, at least for a while. For a long time, I never told anyone about my “escape.” I thought that I had done a very “unspiritual thing,” for sure!
What to my surprise, when I found the courage to tell someone (a new friend I had made at Ananda) about what I had done, and he was very amused by my story!
He said, “I think this feeling of rebellion happens to everyone here, sooner or later. Let me tell you what I did when it first happened to me. I drove to Sacramento, looked up an old girlfriend, ate a steak dinner, got drunk, had sex, and then came back to Ananda. I really have to scoff at your French fries, etc.” We both laughed together.
Later, when I first heard Swami Kriyananda talk on this subject, I realized that he had experienced the same challenge. Amazing! This is how he related the story:
I remember when I had been at Mt. Washington several months. In sudden rebellion one evening, against the constant call to service and meditation, I lay down stubbornly on my bed and spent a couple of blissful hours with a volume of Shakespeare’s plays. I simply needed a break. Master [Paramhansa Yogananda] recognizing the rebelliousness of human nature, encouraged occasional diversions. He encouraged me, too, to be less extreme, and more relaxed, in my zeal. As he told me once, “The mind is like a donkey. If you keep on forcing it, it will stand still and refuse to budge another step no matter how hard you beat it. The thing to do, then, is let it stand awhile. Finally, it will start walking again of its own accord.”
Reading Shakespeare’s plays? Well, perhaps we tend to fall back to an appropriate level of human-ness, based on our present level of spiritual development.
It is very helpful to remember that when worldly restlessness seems to descend upon us, we may need to have what we consider “some fun in life.” We may need to do the things, which satisfy our worldly desires, instead of always trying to be a person who does nothing but DHARMA, DHARMA, DHARMA! However, once the dog gets its bone, it’s time to remember our spiritual goals and return with renewed vigor and determination to the upward climb—up the chakras to final freedom!
This “moving-up-and-down-the-chakras” activity may go on for years—maybe lifetimes, even though it does seem to tend to “refine” itself in an upward direction. The deeper we go spiritually (into our spiritual lives), the more the bone that satisfies the dog seems to have more spiritually-based qualities.
It used to be that when this feeling grabbed me, I would eat chocolate, read a crummy novel, turn on a Beatles album, and dance around the house playing my “air guitar,” to get my “fix” of feeling human again. In these ways, I quickly got over my rebellious feelings of, “I don’t WANT to be that spiritual (yet!). I just can’t live that way, all the time. I’m not strong enough to do it! I want to feel like a real person again. I want to return to some of the sense indulgences that made me feel happy and satisfied!”
Soon enough, it becomes quite noticeable that there is a wide spectrum in the quality of our desires on our upward climb to final freedom. Sometimes our lives feel like we are taking three steps forward and a step or two backward. Nevertheless, with persistence, perseverance, and the grace of God and Gurus to help us—it’s onward and upward we go! Try to notice this happening in yourself.
At this point in my life, the activities, which help me, when “Fifth Chakra Challenges” descend upon me, are different (although I’ll admit that I still like chocolate and light reading, from time to time). However, my favorite thing to do now is to go to the nearby Yuba River (alone!), swim in its clear waters, sit on a sun-warmed boulder, chant quietly, and watch the tall trees above me move in the wind. Rather than read a worldly novel, I now write novels instead—entertaining ones, with a spiritual theme—as Swamiji asked me to do.
From time to time, during my 40 years of living at Ananda, I have “snapped” or had a small “fifth chakra breakdown.” Eventually, I learned how to ‘throw the dog a bone,’ or ‘let the donkey take a break,’ and not feel even a tiny bit guilty about it. I know now that a slip is not a fall!
In closing, I would like to balance what I have said by emphasizing how important it is not to let ourselves become caught in a more serious downward spiral. It can happen, so be respectful of that possibility. If you find yourself in a state of rebellion, stop a moment and talk to God and Gurus about it. Then include them in your detour, whatever form it may take. Take them with you!
As soon as you feel better, refocus your energy and remind yourself of your joy-filled spiritual goals and the specific activities that will help you accomplish them as quickly as possible.
Pleasure is simply pleasure. Happiness is better than pleasure, and joy is even better than happiness! We must constantly remind ourselves that the neverending, ever-new bliss of the soul and oneness with God tops everything. We will get there eventually, for endless bliss is already within us, waiting to be uncovered. It is our truest destiny. We must remember never to stop striving—onward and upward—into perfect freedom!
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