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.
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.
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