In most parts of the world, the school year is about to begin. Children are assembling their new backpacks, books, and clothes for the year ahead. New subjects and tests loom on the horizon. It’s an exciting time for children and their parents, though perhaps for different reasons.

Here in Assisi we were recently discussing why people on the spiritual path have so many tests. It’s for the same reasons that schoolchildren do: to see how much we’ve learned and discover what things we still need to work on.

For we are all learning. And the School of Soul Evolution, in which we’re enrolled, has no summer vacations. It lasts from incarnation to incarnation, and continues until we have learned the karmic lessons we must in order to be free.

So tests often come to devotees to raise to conscious awareness the hidden karmic patterns that cause us suffering. The tests reveal both small and big karmic blind spots, and depending on the degree of misery they bring us, we’re motivated to overcome them.

An Italian friend of ours (we’ll call her Maria) told us a story that illustrates this point. Along with others from Assisi, she had traveled to India to visit holy sites and to see Swami Kriyananda. At the end of the trip, everyone was packing for the return flight to Italy early the next day.

Because she had bought many gifts for friends, Maria was worried that her suitcases would exceed the weight limit. Her mind began to whirl. “Oh, dear,” she fretted, “what if they don’t allow my bags on the plane, and I get separated from my friends? What if I miss the flight, and get stranded at the airport?” As the day wore on, she grew increasingly anxious, until she was in a state of near panic.

Then her phone rang. It was Lila, Swamiji’s cook, saying that he wanted Maria to come over to talk. Hurriedly, she made her way to his home, and they had a brief, loving exchange. Then he said, “I have a number of salt lamps that I’d like you to bring back to Italy for me. Can you fit them into your suitcase?”

Swallowing her anxiety, she smiled and replied, “Of course, Swamiji.” She returned to her hotel room even more anxious than before, but somehow managed to cram the heavy lamps into her bags. Now she was certain that they exceeded the weight limit and that impending disaster loomed.

Well, you can probably guess the rest of the story. At the airport the next morning, when the ticket agent put her luggage on the scale, it was indeed well over the weight limit. Without a word, he attached the requisite tags to her bags and sent them down the conveyor belt.

She could only smile at the panic she’d suffered so unnecessarily. Upon reflection, she saw a pattern: How often she had allowed needless worries about the future to destroy her peace of mind. It was the heightened example of this test that helped her see the karmic tendencies of fear and anxiety that often plagued her. More importantly, it helped her see how to overcome such trials with courage and faith.

yogananda teachings on how to overcome tests on the spiritual path yogananda statue ananda village

“All of life’s experiences are for our education and entertainment. But how few are either educated or entertained.”

Our tests come not to punish us, but to show us in bold relief where we are in error, and how to correct it. Master said, “All of life’s experiences are for our education and entertainment.” “But,” he added ruefully, “how few are either educated or entertained.”

So devotees are, in fact, often tested more frequently than most others, because we’ve asked God to guide us to freedom. And as we continue our education in the School of Soul Evolution, we arrive finally, at the end of each incarnation, at what Swami Kriyananda called “the final exam.” In his beautiful essay by that name, he wrote: “The most important moment of life is, in a very true sense, its last moment. For death is when we take our final exam. The thought uppermost in the mind at that time will determine whether our future takes us upward, or sideways, or downward: upward, toward greater spiritual clarity and freedom; sideways, toward further involvement in desires and worldly attachments; or (the least fortunate) downward, toward greater darkness, confusion, and ignorance.”

So, friends, keep this in mind: Every test that comes, if we embrace it as an opportunity to overcome past karma, brings us closer to final freedom.

With joy,

Nayaswami Devi

Listen to Devi as she first reads the blog, then expands on its meaning and messages for readers with behind-the-blog commentary. Subscribe to the podcast or download the audio recording by right-clicking here. Or listen to it here (8:43):

34 Comments

  1. At the risk of missing the point about growing through life’s many tests, I cringed at the mention of the luggage person tagging overweight bags and letting them through. The airline has to know how much weight they are carrying and if they carry too much, it can be lethal. That would have been negligence. Maybe the plane wasn’t full so the luggage person made a judgment call in Maria’s favor. But I wouldn’t use that as an example.

    1. What you said has its point, but airlines do have a weight buffer built for every person. Airlines use 77kg as a standard weight for each person for its aircraft total take-off weight calculation. Sometimes, the passenger is skinny and sometimes obese, so it balances out approximately. (I work for an airline).

      But the main point here is, when we are in a worry, God and our gurus know it and they will facilitate; like in the above example, God could have dropped a thought on the ticket agent’s mind to overlook the extra weight of the luggage.
      Such things have happened to me several times. Incredible though it may seem, I know that it was God and my guru who had invisibly helped me. I have learned to recognize this.

    2. I don´t understand how the “lethality” associated with too much weight vanishes the moment you pay overweight penalties over the check-in counter

  2. Such a beautiful write up and the story just illustrates how faith and love can overcome every obstacle on our path.. Thank you for the inspiration!

  3. Thank you! Head up,chest up,deep breath. Here comes life. Let’s rise to our tests with the teachings and light! May God and the Gurus grace be with us!

  4. Very true,we can overcome most of our fears if think that we are in the ‘School of Soul Evolution’. Thankyou so much for sharing Devi ji.

  5. This makes all the sense of everything existing. Thanks so much for reminding, dear friend.

  6. As always, your lesson is exactly what I needed to hear today! Blessings on you, and thank you.

  7. Yes very inspiring, only to reaffirm our faith that God is actually listening to our calls if we can surrender to him!!

  8. Maria’s story may be applied to so many circumstances in my life, where I worried unnecessarily, and then God took care ; everything worked out without a hitch!

  9. mm

    Thank you for this powerful reminder to look at the big picture, and the longer rhythms.

  10. There’s no summer vacations!? 😫 lol- Thank you for the eloquent blog de Luce, amica. Hope you and Jyotish are well, filling the Italian county side and Ananda Europa with Master’s blissful ray✨

    Looking forward to seeing you guys in India 🇮🇳

  11. It’s delightful and amazing that this event wasn’t just events. It is lessons applicable to us all.
    Amazing and delightful!

  12. “All of life’s experiences are for our education and entertainment.” Thank you for sharing Master’s quote! A beautiful reminder that these challenges are here to help us grow, not an excuse to define ourselves by our mistakes.

  13. Thank you so much Nayaswami Devi for this wonderful story , it helps to grace me with insight and further appreciation of meditation and the path that I have been steered towards .I find this inspiring and makes me look forward to times that without this knowledge may be difficult to navigate ,also strengthening my resolve to do the work in order to achieve enlightenment.
    Many Thanks
    🙏

  14. I’d love to visit Assisi and hope to do it next year. Also I wish to visit India , can anyone of you all suggest me the main places (tree or four no more) that I must visit in India? Eventually my email is:
    roberto.verri@gmail.com
    Thanks a ot in advance.

  15. Thanks a lot, Nayaswami Devi. I got this message/reminder at the most appropriate time!
    God bless.

  16. Hello!
    I usually find these stories inspiring. However; this is the first one I’ve read that has me a bit confused.

    The last paragraph of this story has got me wondering. What do you think the uppermost thought in the mind should be?

    I’m a bit taken back by this story, as it seems judgemental. Are you saying that you must have pure thoughts in the last moments of your life or all the work you’ve done in life is erased?

    1. Hello Candace,

      That’s a good question, Candace. Devi asked me to reply with something helpful, if possible…

      Swami Kriyananda, in that penultimate paragraph, was simply quoting what the Bhagavad Gita says unequivocally. Perhaps the following analogy will be useful to understand why:

      Isn’t it true that a really strong positive or negative thought that you have as you start a day influences the rest of that day far more than what you’ve done on the previous days of your life? When someone has a bad day we often say “he probably woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” There’s an implicit acceptance there, that strong thoughts at the beginning of the day are a powerful influence on how the rest of the day unfolds.

      Death, similarly, is not just an “end”, It’s also the beginning of the soul’s next “day” i.e. the next phase of its journey. Therefore, the strong thoughts/state of mind at death do strongly influence how that journey commences.

      Yogananda therefore would say that everybody, at the time of their passing, should think uplifting thoughts, of friendship, successes, victories won, uplifting memories and, if possible, of wanting complete freedom and understanding in God — rather than dwelling on mistakes and failures of oneself or of others; or on worldly desires or worldly success…

      Eventually, of course, the sum total of our consciousness, which depends on the sum total of our past actions, does come into play. The thoughts at the time of death do not “permanently seal one’s fate” one way or the other. But they DO have an extremely powerful impact, especially at the start of the next stage of the soul’s journey.

      sagar

    2. Candace,
      At least you got the take home point of this writing. Many comments were directed at luggage costs.
      The workings of the universe and Karma are not perfect. Almost all of your Karma and your tendencies (Samskar) are perfect indicators of what you will face next but a very small percentage is just luck. So when you leave this body, if you are generally locked in with God and swimming in your spiritual life, then your thoughts will be directed towards this tendency above other lesser thoughts. You are given the opportunity to help this process by willfully locking into God and the qualities of God in the last moment. Look at it as a tool or special trick that you now know to help you because of your tendency to want a spiritual day to day life. Most folks will not know this and will not believe it or care about it.
      It’s like when all the Masters say to literally spend more time with attention at the point between the eyebrows every day to attain a more spiritual life. That is another tool you can use because you know it and align with it and most will not.
      You have the right to question everything but remember that the Masters have been down the same road we are on and have taken it all the way home . And they only want the same for us.

  17. A wonderful and enlightening write-up. I am beholden to the author. Would request to have more such things in future.

  18. Perfecting timing for me. I have not been enjoying my petty party at all. Knowing this is why I’m here helps me realize I/m not be picked on or ignored by God. It’s all good. Thank you,
    Devine Blessings
    Karen

  19. I have a different response to Devi’s blog…namely, that often the tests we encounter are truly mysterious, and the more we can trust in divine wisdom, the more peace and joy we will feel in our lives.
    Here is my latest example of this: Like the woman who was worried about the weight of her baggage, I myself worry about my finances. I live a humble existence as a retired teacher; the most extravagant thing I have done in a very long time is taking a trip and spending time–as I have been doing over these past 4 months–traveling around Europe. I vacillate between a “devil may care” attitude about the relative enormity of my expenses, and much worry/anxiety about them.
    A few days ago, here in Belgrade, Serbia, I forgot my credit card in the machine of a supermarket’s cashier station. I only realized I had done so when, a couple hours later, I was alerted by my bank that a purchase I just made “exceeded my designated limit” of $100. Horrified, I rushed back to the supermarket to find out what had gone so terribly wrong, suspecting that the cashier had unwittingly added on an extra zero to my charges! (The total amount of my purchase should only have been $10!)
    As it turned out, a man in line after me–coming through with a shopping basket full to the brim of groceries– had made his purchase using MY card! (The total was actually $120!)
    There ensued quite a drama, involving the cashier, the store manager, and the local police. The man was caught on video; it appeared he was TRYING to use an app on his phone to make the payment, but of course the charge went onto my card instead.
    They had no information on this man, therefore, except for video footage of what he looked like. The police, oddly enough, would NOT take a report, but told me I would have to go to the police station the next day to do the written report there. I received my card back, thank God–apparently the cashier spotted it in the machine AFTER the man had already left– and exited the store.
    The next day, I went to the police station to file the report. The police there were very rude to me–not speaking sufficient English to take the report–and told me that I would have to come back with my own interpreter (I had no idea how to get such a person, nor did I have the time/inclination to do so… I was traveling to another town later that day.)
    Next, I figured the logical course of action would be to dispute the charge on my credit card. However, when I called my bank, I found out that I would be required to report a fraud: my card would then be cancelled, and I would be left without a credit card to use during the remaining 2 months of my travels! Of course this was not an option for me… I HAD to have a working credit card!!
    There are other strange factors around this whole incident, such as–and most prominently–why wasn’t the man required to put in a “pin” number, especially for such a large purchase?! Another odd thing: as I waited over an hour for the police to show up, I watched close to 100 people go through the same check-out line, and not a SINGLE one had a basket completely FULL of groceries!!! So…the man who used my card was a rare exception in this store, as far as I could tell! And finally, having to get my own interpreter to make a police report?! (Thank GOD I wasn’t a victim of a violent crime…horrifying to even contemplate under such unfavorable circumstances!!) I couldn’t imagine less helpful or sympathetic police.

    My conclusion? The $120 was my “gift” to this unknown person and his family. Was this a karmic debt I was paying to this man for a past-life occurrance? (perhaps I had stolen from him, or perhaps–a preferable thought– he had gifted ME with some incredibly generous item, and this was my inadvertent way of repaying him?!) I have no way of knowing. It DID, of course, initially trigger a lot of upset (REALLY God?!? As if I am not worried enough ALREADY about how expensive this trip has been/continues to be, and how much money is going out all the time?!?!)
    But then, I noticed something very strange happening on a much deeper level: I was experiencing a lightness, peace and joy as a result of this event… in other words, a karmic “unburdening”, as it were. I had the thought that, if we truly ARE all one, as we are taught again and again, then what is really being taken away?! And…isn’t this unknown man, who got this incredible bonus of free groceries, just another aspect of my own “Self”?!
    I found my peace by taking the high road, and am letting that money go. I will trust that it will come back to me in some other form, some other time… and MOST importantly, as was demonstrated in the story of the woman with the overweight baggage, God always “has our backs”. We just have to trust this, watch the play, and– as Master said–be both educated and entertained by it!

    I hope my own story can be helpful to all you readers!

    With love and devotion,
    Supriya

    1. This came at a good time for me, as I was feeling really sorry for myself over my “bad day”.
      Someone ran into my car while I was at the chiropractor’s office. They left the scene, and no one saw anything. There were no cameras at the Dr.’s office. I THOUGHT I could drive it, then heard something dragging on the road, so I went to the mechanic’s garage that fixed my brakes last month and told them I had no one to help me (I had just moved to the area), would they please look at it so I could drive home? They looked at it immediately, and zip-tied the hanging splash pan underneath the car back on so I could drive safely. GREAT place and people!! No charge! So I am going to send them a gift certificate for pizza as a thank you. Then I was very late in driving to pick up my autistic daughter from school, and since I am NEVER late, she thought I was dead and she was an orphan. She was bawling. I felt SO bad!!! 😥 Then I got a really strange message on my home phone… some A.I. voice saying to “prepare your home and property for impact and be ready to evacuate. We have evacuation centers ready. We will not come to your home, we will email you.” What the heck??? I have been down all night until I read your post. It made me smile, and I realized I had chosen to react in a negative way and focused on what went wrong instead of rejoicing over the wonderful people at the mechanic’s shop and let that carry me through the day. Now I can sleep tonight with a smile on my face. God bless you!

  20. Dear Nayaswami Devi Ji,

    Thank you for sharing the blog and the wonderful account from Maria’s life :-)
    Such a joy to read . And to put in to practice.

    I also enjoyed the line – There are no summer vacations :-)

    Joy,
    Prem

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