We are at our community in Assisi, Italy, participating in a weeklong course called, “The Way of the Spiritual Warrior.” Devi and I, as well as other speakers, have drawn heavily on Paramhansa Yogananda’s explanations of the deep teachings in the Bhagavad Gita. That scripture is an allegory of the battle between our higher soul-tendencies and our lower, ego-driven worldly qualities. Each of us, impelled by the desire to reconnect to our true Self, must fight this battle, and the spiritual path gives us the tools and support that we need.
In this morning’s class one of the teachers used a spiritually rich example that I thought to share with you. When the American Civil War broke out, neither side was well prepared. President Abraham Lincoln (who Yogananda said had been a yogi in a past life) immediately began searching for a successful strategy. He knew that the army desperately needed time to get ready for a war against the forces trying to split the Union. He thought deeply about what assets could be brought to bear quickly — this is a good strategy to keep in mind when faced with any challenge.
He soon realized that the North’s navy was vastly superior, and decided to enforce a naval blockade against the South. Even though the battles themselves would be fought mainly on land, a blockade would keep the enemy from resupplying vitally needed goods. The effect was gradual, but over the next four years, the blockade slowly throttled their ability to wage war as the Rebel forces gradually ran out of equipment and provisions.
Let’s repurpose Lincoln’s blockade strategy for our spiritual life. Take the heart center, the anahat chakra, which needs to become pure and filled with devotion. At this point, it has a mixture of positive and negative feelings, desires, and reactions. Let’s construct a blockade so that the negativity can’t resupply itself. How? Perhaps by chanting more, listening only to uplifting music, and avoiding influences that produce negative reactions. Avoid downward-pulling people and environments, and spend your free time in uplifting activities. The more rigorous your blockade, the faster your negativity will wither away. In order to win the battle of life, we must also resupply our positive forces such as devotion, kindness, meditation, and service to others.
Another example: Paramhansa Yogananda said that we should strive to be completely “even-minded and cheerful.” In the fight to win this battle we can use simple techniques such as pranayama, Hong-Sau, and Yogananda’s “Energization Exercises.” These can be employed not only at times of meditation but throughout the day. When you need to re-center yourself and regain your even-mindedness, tense and relax your body a few times. Practice this before a difficult encounter or an expected disagreement. When something awakens your “fight or flight” response, try to breathe your way out of it rather than either fighting or fleeing. If you are feeling confused or depressed, five minutes of Hong-Sau is the best cure.
There are many varieties of blockades that we can erect, but the central principle remains the same: block the negative and resupply the positive. It may take some time, but eventually the enemy forces of negativity and sorrow will be forced to surrender.