There is a powerful story from the life of Paramhansa Yogananda about the importance of rising above our likes and dislikes. It took place at a special ceremony at which he gave a lady student a red rose to wear. “But I don’t want a red rose,” she protested. “I want a pink one.” The Master answered her strongly, “What I give, you take.”
Paraphrasing Master’s words, Swami Kriyananda wrote to us in 1976 just after the forest fire had destroyed all of our homes at Ananda Village. “I was so touched by everyone’s spirit. It is admirable, and certainly pleasing to God. I believe many blessings will flow from it, and from this trying experience. I was particularly sad for you, Devi, to be given such a test so soon after having your baby. [Our home was destroyed eleven days after our son was born.] But then, what God gives, we take. He has His own program for our spiritual growth.”
What God gives, we take. Living with full acceptance of this truth frees us from the downward spiral of ego-centered self-interest born of our likes and dislikes. The sage Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, offers this classic definition of yoga, or union: “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha”—Yoga is the neutralization of the waves of feeling.
The limited ego is constantly telling us, “I want this, not that: this situation, not that; this outcome, not that; this person, not that.” Reacting to life according to our likes and dislikes keeps us forever bound to the delusion that things in the material world have the ability to make us happy or sad.
But when, through meditation, we begin to still these ego-born feelings, a new realization dawns on us: We are now, and have always been, part of a much greater reality: God’s unconditioned joy. Our awareness of this has been limited only by our infatuation with limitation.
Look at the suffering in the world around us now, and perhaps in your own life. Rather than pushing difficulties away, or angrily shaking your fist at an indifferent God, try to see everything as coming from a loving Divine Mother for your spiritual growth. Every test, if met with the right attitude, becomes a blessing to draw us closer to God.
Here are two suggestions that can help you overcome the tendency to act according to your likes and dislikes. First, when you are given a choice about a course of action, don’t ask yourself, “What do I want?” but rather, “What do You want, God?” If you have the courage and self-honesty to follow through from an expanded perspective, you’ll find yourself making very different choices that ultimately work out for the better.
Second, when difficult situations arise over which you have no control, don’t bemoan your fate, or try to avoid the problem. Inwardly accept that the test has come from God, and ask, “What should I learn from this? Where is the hidden blessing?”
After the forest fire at Ananda Village, I came to see the blessing in losing everything we had: the realization that my security didn’t come from outward things, but from God’s presence in my life. From that understanding came a strength and peace that have remained with me through many tests over the years.
To quote again from Swamiji’s letter: “If we place ourselves unreservedly in God’s hands, He proves to us abundantly how unfailing His love is for us.”
With joy in God and Guru,
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