Learning to direct the energy of the heart is probably our most important challenge spiritually. If we want to awaken to our true state of unity with the Divine, we must learn to control our feelings and to channel them in a positive direction.
Paramhansa Yogananda explained that the heart is the center for the primordial feeling element (chittwa) in consciousness. Furthermore, we perceive and respond to the world primarily through our feeling nature rather than the intellect, which follows feeling. One of Patanjali’s most important sutras says that “when we can neutralize the whirlpools of feeling (chittwa), we automatically attain union (yoga) with God.” The neutralization of the energies in the heart center is the key because the heart is the central “switching station” for the control and direction of our consciousness.
The two movements of the heart
It helps to understand that there are two movements of the heart’s energy we must learn to control before we can attain Self-Realization. The first is the outward movement of energy away from unity with God and into the delusion of matter-attachment. The second is the heart’s movement upward and downward — upward toward the higher chakras and expansive, happy feelings or downward into darkness, negativity, and contraction. Let’s discuss first the outward and inward movement of the heart’s energy.
Whenever Paramhansa Yogananda talked to his close disciples, one of his main themes was non-attachment. Attachments reinforce the delusion that material things — money, fame or circumstances — can make us happy. They can’t. The most they can do is fulfill a self-created condition on our happiness. Ultimately the power to be happy is completely in our mind, but when we look for fulfillment in material objects and circumstances, we give away our control. The root cause of all pain and confusion is the forgetfulness of our unity with Spirit.
Today the world is in a state of great anxiety and fear due to widespread economic and political instability. Around the globe many people have assumed: “The more money, fame, or power I have, the happier I’ll be.” That delusion is now being shown to be false and as a result many people are confused and unhappy.
Harmonizing the heart’s energy
The first step to gaining control of the heart’s energy is releasing the attachments and bringing the outward flow of energy into a state of harmony with Spirit. Here are two stories that illustrate how dramatically things change when we expand and harmonize our heart’s energy.
One of the best movies we’ve ever seen is Schindler’s List. This movie, which is based on a true story, presents a deeply moving portrayal of how one man’s heart shifted from selfishness and greed to a loving and selfless concern for others — from separateness and contraction to unity and expansion.
One man’s inner journey
Schindler was a German and a Nazi. As a businessman, he saw that large profits could be made by producing materials needed for the Second World War, so he moved to Poland in order to start a factory. He chose Poland because he knew that the Polish Jews were in terrible circumstances and couldn’t find work. He realized that he could hire them for a pittance. His factory was very productive and he was very well paid by the German hierarchy.
But then Schindler had a turn of heart. He began to see the atrocities being committed by the Nazis. First, he tried to ignore them but soon realized he needed to protect his workers. When the Germans began rounding up Jews who lived in the ghettos to send them to concentration camps, Schindler created a housing area near his factory for his workers.
Toward the end of the war, the Nazis wanted to destroy all evidence of their atrocities and began to exterminate all remaining Jews. The only way Schindler could protect his workers was to convince the German hierarchy that he was going to move them en masse in order to start another factory elsewhere and continue helping the war effort. The Nazi’s agreed but insisted that Schindler pay for each worker he moved — over a thousand people. Schindler eventually gave away his entire fortune in order to save them.
Initially, all Schindler wanted was money. Dehumanizing and taking advantage of the Jews was just a means to his end. But as his heart’s energy expanded from a sense of separation to unity, he began to see these very same people as reflections of himself. Spiritual advancement requires that we, too, expand our heart’s energy from separation to unity, that we see all creatures as extensions of our own true self. And that we learn to love.
A different kind of bus ride
There’s another beautiful story that shows how one of our Ananda members shifted her heart’s energy in a similar way. In the 1980s, Ananda had a bookstore and restaurant in San Francisco. We also had an ashram San Francisco but on the other side of town from the bookstore. The woman who was the manager of the bookstore couldn’t leave the store until 11:30 or 12:00 at night.
Since she didn’t drive, she had to take the bus through a very downtrodden area of town. Many people, including drunks and drug addicts, would ride the bus late at night, and she found the situation very difficult. She sought Swami Kriyananda’s advice. Since she couldn’t drive, he suggested that she take a taxi or have someone from the ashram pick her up. It soon became clear that none of those options would work, and that the only way she could get home was by bus. Kriyananda said, “All right, then, I suggest that you to do this: When you get on the bus, pick out one person who appears to need help and pray for that person the whole way home. If that person gets off the bus, pick out a second person and pray for that person, and so on. But concentrate your whole bus ride on praying for others.”
About two weeks later, this woman told Swami Kriyananda that the bus ride had become her favorite part of the day. By praying for people, she shifted her heart’s energy from a state of separateness and fear to one of unity and joy.
Take back your power
These two stories dramatically illustrate how shifting the heart’s energy from separation to expansion is the most important step we can take spiritually. Techniques are obviously important but techniques alone will not give us Self-realization. We need to gain control over the direction of the heart’s potential to expand until we experience everything as a part of our own Self.
Ultimately, our happiness is under our control. If something is making us unhappy, it’s because we’ve given it the power to do so. Take that power back.
Working with negative emotions
Once we’ve decided to take our power back into ourselves, there are still the emotions of the heart’s upward and downward flow to deal with. An important key to working with emotions is remembering that in this world of duality every emotion has a dual nature. If we’re feeling a negative emotion, there will always be a polar opposite, and we can turn our negative emotions positive by focusing on that opposite.
For feelings of anger, the polar opposite is love. If we’re angry with someone but then decide to give that person love and understanding, we’ve taken control of the heart’s energy. We’ve turned on the heart’s positive “switch” which lifts us up to the higher chakras and ultimately into union with God.
We perceive and respond to the world primarily through our feeling nature. The mind actually plays a secondary role because the mind follows the heart. When we like or dislike something, the mind will automatically rationalize reasons to support our feelings.
Two very important attitudes
To bring the heart’s energy into a state of harmony with the Divine, it’s very important that we learn to feel certain attitudes resonating in our heart center. Love obviously is the most important feeling of all, but almost as important as love is gratitude.
Gratitude is important because it directs the energy flow upwards. By being grateful for the circumstances and people in our lives, we open up a positive flow of energy from the heart up to the spiritual eye. It’s simply impossible to be negatively directed while we feel gratitude. You don’t have to express it outwardly — just silently allow that feeling of thankfulness to resonate in your heart. Start by being habitually grateful for things that are easy to accept. Then train yourself also to feel appreciation for things that are difficult.
Forgiveness is another very important attitude. Paramhansa Yogananda said that the highest expression of Christ’s love was his statement on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” In the most difficult of circumstances, and fully aware that his persecutors were acting wrongly, Jesus’ attitude was one of love and acceptance. In fact, he was blessing his persecutors by asking God not to allow them to suffer the karma of their wrong actions. If we can do that even a little bit, it will begin to transform us spiritually.