How can we learn to stay open to life’s flow and, like a surfer, easily ride the waves of change?
When people are facing a challenge the most common reaction is to try to protect the status quo. What do people usually ask for in prayer? — health, money, security, a job, protection for those close to them. If you step back and analyze it, these are just ways of telling God, “Don’t change anything in my life.” Or, perhaps, “Make me more secure and less vulnerable to change.”
Everyone has to deal with major tests — disappointment, illness, loss, approaching death. As devotees, we should try to use change as a means of growth. Props such as drugs and alcohol, commonly used to dull the mind and hide from problems, are no longer an option for the seeker. The goal of the yogi is not to avoid change but to use every event to become free from attachments and, ultimately, from all ego-identification.
Most of the stress and pain associated with change is the result of wishing that things be other than they are. Learn to accept life and much of the anxiety brought on by change will disappear. (See visualization at end)
Positive reactions bring positive results!
One of the worst traps is to let change throw you into a mood. Moods take away your objectivity and ability to act and to master the lessons that this school of life gives you. It’s very important to find ways to keep your mind positive and free of negativity — exercise, service, prayer, affirmation, and curbing the tendency to allow moods to develop are great aids. Dump your negative mood as soon as you’re aware of it, before it grows big and destructive.
Paramhansa Yogananda gave us a powerful prescription for moving quickly through life’s trials and knowing how to deal constructively with change: he recommended that we learn to stay “even-minded and cheerful.” Even-mindedness helps us to be happy, but it does much more than that. It gives us the clarity and strength to learn our lessons and to become freed from maya and the endless cycle of reincarnation, which repeatedly plunges us into alternating waves of happiness and misery.
How do you achieve this state of mind? First, commit yourself to being happy under all circumstances. Then watch your reactions to events. As soon as you catch yourself being pulled down, reaffirm your decision to be happy. You may not be able to change the events, but you can control your reactions, which alone will transform your life. Positive reactions bring positive results!
Learn to accept that whatever comes to you is for your ultimate good. The truth is that you attract the situations that will help you learn needed lessons. The law of karma states that, good or bad, you will get exactly what is coming to you. Learn also to accept yourself with all your abilities and weaknesses, and you will discover a great source of strength.
For real power, however, go one step further – learn to be grateful for everything that comes. One of the secrets of the universe is to be grateful for everything. Through gratitude, you begin to live with faith, not fear. Then, don’t dwell on yourself, but think more of others and their needs. And don’t dwell on past events or future plans. By staying in the here and now, you will realize that you can be happy just as you are.
What are “legitimate” prayers?
Prayer is an especially powerful tool for dealing with change as long as the prayer is for something “legitimate.” What are legitimate prayers? It depends on whether the purpose is to remove an obstacle, such as hunger or homelessness, which prevents you from thinking about God, or simply the desire to add one more distraction or possession to your life. When you pray for things of this material world, make sure that those requests are stepping-stones to forming a deeper relationship with God. You can pray for necessities but it’s important to learn to discriminate between “necessary necessities” and “unnecessary necessities.”
If your prayer is for something legitimate, then it will be answered. If it’s not a helpful prayer, then quite likely it won’t be answered. Why should God become a partner to delusion and provide something that’s not helpful? Understand that to pray properly, you must align your will with God’s will. That takes a lot of discrimination. Swami Kriyananda often says that people are quite willing to accept blessings from the Divine, but are much less willing to offer their lives to God’s will. And yet self-offering is the main condition for receiving blessings in the first place.
The ultimate purpose of prayer is to disengage the soul from the ego and the hypnotic power of maya. Always make the essence of your prayer the wish to release yourself or someone else from the net of delusion. If you do that, even if you pray for something on this material plane, the power of God will be behind your prayers.
Every test: can our will be broken?
We can’t really understand the subject of change without understanding its relationship to will power. One might say that the science of religion that Paramhansa Yogananda brought to the West is the science of the proper use of will. The philosophy and various techniques that Yogananda brought are like pearls. The string that binds them into a single necklace, the element that goes through all of Yogananda’s teachings, is the proper use of will.
Yogananda said that every test is a challenge to see if our will can be broken. We quit when we get to a point where we’re no longer willing or able to put forth the energy required. We need to develop our will power until it is strong, deep, and continuous—then the whole of creation will turn itself around in order to fulfill our prayers.
How do we do that? Yogananda gave us a universal law: “The greater the will, the greater the flow of energy.” This law is absolutely central to his teachings. There is an infinite reservoir of energy and grace ready to flow through us. Will is the switch that unleashes this unstoppable flow. In fact, the secret of success in all life is the positive and continuous use of will.
Every day, simply by saying “yes” to life’s smaller challenges, we have numerous opportunities to develop and strengthen our willpower. Say “yes” when faced with that nefarious little voice that says, “I’d rather not get up to meditate today;” or “I’m too tired to exercise;” or “I’d rather not make the effort to understand that person; he’s so confused.” Accepting such opportunities develops will power and expansiveness. So make it a point to always say “yes.”
An irresistible force of attraction
Most people come onto the spiritual path not because they’ve developed great love for God, but because something in their life has become intolerable. Others turn to God out of fear. But, even that has its purpose. By turning toward God, they form a connection with a higher power, and a relationship that is like the warmth of the sun melting a block of ice. Through meditation and devotion, the ego slowly dissolves and love for God becomes the dominant force in our lives.
Deepening your meditation and your devotion are the most important things you can do to prepare for and respond constructively to change. Tune into the joy and peace that lie deep within you. When the mind is still, you can gain new perspectives on your life. It is from these profound inner insights that true understanding comes.
Daily meditation is the way to find these deeper states. Especially important is the practice of meditating every morning and evening. In the morning, meditation prepares you to face the day with inner calmness and joy. At night, it helps you to release everything and offer all your attachments back into the divine light.
We’re like iron filings moving closer to a magnet. At first we’re pushed from behind by winds of trials, but as we get closer to God, we fall under the magnet’s influence and are pulled more and more strongly by His love, until the force of that attraction becomes irresistible. Then, as we reclaim our own higher reality as children of God, we begin to see Him reflected back in everyone and everything around us. Then change — even the most anxiety-producing change—becomes merely another expression of His omnipresent love.
Visualization for Accepting Change
The following visualization will help you accept change with calmness and enjoyment. Visualize yourself floating near the shore in a beautiful blue sea. The sea is calm, the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing gently over the water. Gradually, the waves begin to increase in strength. Now, they are tossing you about. At first you find this annoying and wish they would stop. But now you realize that you can’t control the sea. As you relax, you begin to accept the waves and enjoy the ride they are giving you. You see that they are playing with you. Stay in this state of enjoyment for a while.
Now feel that your vision is floating up above the sea and looking down on your little body. As you look down from this height, you see that the waves aren’t really big at all. From this higher viewpoint, the sea actually looks quite calm and filled with beautiful blues and greens, and little whitecaps. All is incredibly beautiful. You see that the ocean of life is your friend and your supporter.
Now turn your gaze toward the horizon endless miles away. The line where the sea meets the sky never changes. Concentrate on this line and try to feel that underneath the waves of events, you never change. You are always peaceful, always calm, always joyful. Release all attachments, all desires, all regrets. Float now in this vast ocean of contentment and bliss. When you are ready, let your mind come back to a point of concentration at the spiritual eye, between the eyebrows.