“Burning the candle at both ends” used to be the story of my adult life. About five years ago, my intense, non-stop pace resulted in a serious case of pneumonia. Since the pneumonia was viral, the only cure was bed rest. No medication could help me, not even strong antibiotics.
Lying in bed, I remembered the story from Autobiography of a Yogi in which Paramhansa Yogananda as a young boy received instantaneous healing by bowing mentally to the picture of Lahiri Mahasaya, his parents’ guru. So I visualized Lahiri and Yogananda, prayed to them, and then surrendered my life to them completely. I did not ask for physical healing. What I wanted most was to learn the lesson of my illness and to bring more balance into my life. I prayed deeply for the “ears to hear” and the willpower to follow their advice.
Surprised at the answers
Over the next couple of years, I started trying to remember to seek divine guidance before I did anything, the little decisions as well as the big ones, and to put more effort into having an ongoing conversation with God and Guru. Initially, in asking how I should spend my time, I was often surprised to receive a “no” to what I thought was surely a spiritually lofty activity and something I “should” be doing — like getting up earlier to meditate more.
But among the many lessons that I came to learn through this practice of surrender was viewing my responsibilities as a wife and mother of two young children as a divine service. Rather than spending long hours meditating and serving outside the home, I needed to learn how to perform these traditional roles in a God-reminding way, diligently practicing the presence of God and remaining “even-minded and cheerful.” Trying to do this well took all the energy I had.
Same questions, different answers
As my health improved and my children became older and more independent, I began receiving different answers to questions about how to spend my time—same questions but different answers. Now God and Guru were saying— yes, do get up earlier to meditate longer and— yes, do join a committee at the school and take on other responsibilities outside the home. But as more opportunities to do things outside the home presented themselves, and I kept getting “yes” answers, I began to wonder what was going on. Was I fooling myself about my guidance?
When seeking guidance, I focus both my energy and the question I’m asking at the point between the eyebrows, the spiritual eye. Important guidance can come in meditation yet it can also come when I’m taking a walk, quietly practicing the presence of God.
When the guidance is a “yes,” I usually experience it as an upward surge of energy at the spiritual eye. Sometimes that surge can be quite strong—strong enough to cause my head to bob. A downward flow of energy usually means a “no.” When the response is more subtle, and I can’t be sure that I’m reading the answer correctly, I will ask many times. Also, if I believe I might not be able to receive true guidance (as when I’m feeling a strong emotion, positive or negative) I will also ask more than once, often many times.
How can I do it all?
So I asked many times. And I became convinced that God and Guru were now guiding me to take on more responsibilities outside the home. The time came, however, when I expected (and hoped!) to receive a “no” when asking about still another new responsibility. It seemed obvious that this new activity would push me beyond my limits, and I was puzzled to receive a “yes.”
How could I do more than I was doing? Already I was serving on two committees, writing yoga articles, doing research on yoga and brain injury, helping to establish two different yoga therapy teacher-training programs, facilitating a documentary film, keeping up with my children’s many activities, taking care of the house, and spending time with my husband.
But even as I asked the question, “How is it humanly possible to do more than this?” I knew the answer: “I can’t do all of this, but God and Guru can do it through me.” I said: “Okay, if this is Your will, then I’m willing.” I took a deep breath and surrendered.
A bliss I’d never felt
I kept my spirits up as best I could, but it wasn’t easy. Most tasks took longer than expected. As one challenge resolved, new challenges took their place. I kept thinking that if I could just put one more hour (or one more day) into a project, then I could finally move on and get to work on the other projects. But problems and challenges kept surfacing, and I was falling behind with my other commitments. When I began to get less sleep, I became concerned. Lack of sleep had previously rendered me vulnerable to contracting pneumonia.
But I did not become ill, and I maintained this pace for months, doing my best to surrender everything to God and Guru. And they kept me going. I was doing much better with this “test” than I’d ever done with tests in the past: I was more often than not even-minded and cheerful. The stress was not affecting the areas of chronic pain in my back. Seldom did I feel the need to over-indulge in food. Most important of all, I felt blissful whenever I kept my energy focused at the spiritual eye and asked the Divine to flow through me as I worked.
Once again I was “burning the candle at both ends,” but now I was asking the Divine to flow through me instead of trying to do everything by the power of my own will. I was acting as a channel for God’s will, not my own. I wasn’t doing it perfectly, but I’d made huge leaps forward, and the result was bliss I’d never before experienced.
A compassionate, loving friend
As I walk this journey of surrender I have often felt God and Guru’s deep compassion, patience, and love. Sometimes I’ve decided not to ask for guidance because my will was too weak to carry out a “no” answer to such things as eating extra helpings of dessert or going back to sleep in the morning. But I’ve learned not to hide during these times. I keep the conversation going. I might say: “Thank You for the opportunity and the free will to indulge my desires.” I then go ahead and enjoy my indulgence, but silently pray: “May all my desires be transmuted into one desire, the desire for You, Lord.”
When my will power is stronger, I might say: “I offer this situation up to You. I know this isn’t the best choice. I hope to be better in the future. But would this little indulgence be okay?” When I ask in this manner, I always receive a loving, understanding “yes.”
I began this practice of surrender hoping to receive guidance on important matters. Since then, engaging in an ongoing loving conversation with God has become my main priority, and I now sometimes ask about “trivial” things, just to keep the conversation going. And I have learned that Divine Mother sometimes plays tricks on me. Once, for example, I asked for guidance on directions and eventually realized that the answer was taking me in the wrong direction. It was not a serious “mistake,” and I could see that the Divine was just having a good laugh with me. My relationship with God becomes even more of a loving friendship when we have fun together.
Inner freedom and bliss
Life has given me many choices, and I could easily spend all of my time doing a variety of different things, helter-skelter, full speed ahead. No longer. I now take comfort in making decisions based not on ego gratification but on the highest good that God and Guru would like from me. I don’t claim perfection in this practice, but as I get closer, I feel more and more inner freedom and bliss.
I’ve also learned that sustaining that bliss is an ongoing challenge. To feel God’s energy flowing through me, I keep reminding myself to ask for guidance and to remain open and receptive. There is always room for improvement, but fortunately, I’m getting better at remembering to ask.