One of the most difficult concepts for most people to grasp is that we don’t so much achieve Self-realization as we relax into it. We are constantly bombarded with the message that success depends upon making a strenuous effort. While this is often true for worldly success, it is the opposite for spiritual attainment. One time Swami Kriyananda, a little frustrated with the pace of his spiritual progress, asked Paramhansa Yogananda, “Am I not trying hard enough?” Yogananda replied, “You’re trying too hard. You are using too much will power. It becomes nervous. Just be relaxed and natural.”
What this means for those of us who meditate is that our success will depend upon releasing, not acquiring. Ultimately we need to release those feelings and thoughts that strengthen the ego, and simply sink into our true soul-nature.
Joyful relaxation is often the better path even in worldly pursuits. When Devi and I were starting Ananda’s first large ashram in San Francisco we enjoyed running and participated in the city’s famous “Bay to Breakers” race. In a park near us there was a Saturday runner’s clinic open to anyone who wanted to attend. The instructor, who had been a famous college track coach, told an illuminating story about his career change.
He said, “As a college coach, I had several world-class, Olympic-level athletes on the team. Then one day a group of lady librarians from the college asked if I could coach them. Eventually, giving in to their persistence, I told them to run around the track with a moderate effort. They were thrilled with their success and over the next few weeks, as they continued to ask my advice, a nice bond formed between us.
“Then I recognized something that changed the course of my life. The librarians were always happy, positive, and having fun. My world-class runners, on the other hand, were usually upset and angry about something. Perhaps they had been edged out in a race or failed to set a personal best by a tenth of a second. One day a light bulb went off in my brain—I realized that I was coaching the wrong type of people. I ended up quitting my job and the stress that went with it. Now, I coach runners who just want to have fun, and my life also has become fun.”
Our meditations should be more like fun-runs than competitions. When we simply watch the breath and relax, the life-force withdraws naturally. Swami Kriyananda has defined meditation as “listening.” The only effort we should make is to focus and relax. Our concentration should be intense, but not tense. If we do that, God will take care of the rest. It may take time to overcome past tendencies and karma, but in the end, if we are sincere in our desire for God, He must respond.
Yogananda said, “Don’t feel badly if you find yourself too restless to meditate deeply. Calmness will come in time, if you practice regularly. Just never accept the thought that meditation is not for you. Remember, calmness is your eternal, true nature.”
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