Being “spiritual” doesn’t mean we have to suppress our feelings

When we enter the spiritual life, we take great inspiration from the lives of the saints – their purity, detachment, devotion, and selflessness. And then we’re often troubled by the fact that we’re less than perfect in these qualities ourselves.

We would like to be more compassionate, desireless, and pure in our thoughts and feelings. But what if we have a strong attachment to something in our lives – a dear friend, a prized possession, or great wealth? And what if it is suddenly taken away? How will we react?

meditation cartoon-man scrubbing brain with broom

Scrubbing our hearts and brains is a long-term project. And it doesn’t help if we aren’t perfectly honest with ourselves. (Click to enlarge.)

A very natural, human response would be sorrow, anger, and regret.

These feelings are perfectly natural, even if we don’t think of them as “pure” and saintly. And as devotees, it serves us not at all to be at war with ourselves – to pretend that we’re not feeling them, or to hate ourselves for feeling them. “I should be more detached. I shouldn’t be feeling this anger and grief!”

When we find ourselves having feelings that don’t match our concept of perfect saintliness, it does us no good whatsoever to be angry with ourselves.

It’s bad enough that you’re angry, or you’ve suffered a loss – if you go to war with yourself, you’ll have the original pain and a complex of turbulent feelings on top of it.

Swami Kriyananda had the ability to be everybody’s friend. Over the years, I saw how even if two people had completely opposite points of view, he could be a true friend to each of them.

Years ago, I was in charge of a project at Ananda Village, and I was convinced that I knew the best way to carry it out. But some of the people on the project were totally opposed to my approach.

Through it all, Swamiji made each one of us feel loved and supported. I remember how he told us: “I understand why you feel that way.”

I thought it was wonderful how he accepted us as we were. He conceded nothing – he wouldn’t bend the truth. But he understood why we would feel that way. And even if we were wrong, he saw us as God’s children, and he was always on our side.

Reflecting on this, I realized that it’s a wonderful way to respond to our own feelings. You can tell yourself: “That situation in my life, that person in my life, that experience – it was so precious and wonderful, and now it’s gone. I’m feeling very hurt and sad, and I understand why I’m feeling this way.”

Giving yourself permission to feel exactly as you feel, in complete honesty, is the start of being able to change yourself and improve your situation. “Am I happy clinging to this sadness? Is there some way I can rise above these feelings and move on?”

Something beautiful was taken from you. A deep desire of yours was thwarted. Someone you were relying on betrayed you. “I’m feeling very hurt and angry. And I understand why I feel that way.”

People respond to their pain in various ways. The worst way is to try to run away from it, or to try to dull the pain, or pretend that you aren’t feeling it.

You do feel it. And if you deny it, it will only keep pestering you and you’ll have a complex.

The best approach I’ve discovered to deal with unwelcome feelings is to have a sense of proportion.

When we suffer, it’s because we’re so completely focused on the pain that it’s consuming our vision.

Isn’t it true? Someone we loved has died, and now their absence is all we can see. A desire was unfulfilled, and all we can see is a big hole in our heart.

I knew a woman from Nicaragua who suddenly went from being a member of the wealthiest family in her country to being on welfare. The family’s way of life was completely destroyed by the government.

I met an Iranian woman who was working as a store clerk. She told me how she’d grown up with so much wealth that she never had to pick the clothes up off the floor, because her servants took care of everything. And now she was working as a clerk.

She was deeply unhappy, and there was no way to soften the tragedy. It would have been meaningless to say “That’s not so bad. You used to live like a queen, and now you have a dull job. But at least you have a job. You shouldn’t be upset about it.”

Let’s face it – there it is, and it isn’t gray or white, it’s absolutely black. And if someone you love has left your life, it’s black, and don’t try to say that it isn’t. It’s black.

But then the question arises, where does this tragedy sit within the vast borders of your life? You can’t erase it, but maybe you can make a bigger frame around it.

If you’re holding it in front of your nose, you won’t be able to see anything else. But if you hang it in a bigger frame, it won’t change, but the proportions of your life in relation to it will become much bigger.

This is something you can do consciously. Of course, you should practice when it’s easier. But you should always try to see your life in the right proportion. This way, you won’t be suppressing your feelings, and you won’t be trying to medicate yourself with meaningless words. “Oh, everything happens for the best. It was perfect the way it happened.”

“No, actually, it wasn’t perfect. It was really, really lousy that it happened, and I would never have chosen it. However, I had many good years before it happened. And perhaps God is sending me a new reality that I don’t yet understand. In any case, I’ve had countless experiences of how God has helped me in difficult times. All of my love was focused on this person I’ve lost, and now I have an opportunity to focus my love in a broader way.”

When a friend of ours lost her husband, people naturally expressed their sympathy. “I’m so sorry that your husband passed away.” And she would reply, “He wasn’t my purse that I left at the market. I didn’t lose him! In fact, I know exactly where he is. He’s just not here with me anymore.”

She was a spirited woman. But she was also very sad. She was extremely sad, because she and her husband had had a very happy time together.

He’d been ill, and she had no idea that he would be going to the astral world so soon. It completely shocked her. It absolutely stunned her when he went away. But as a consequence another life opened for her.

She realized that it would be dishonest to insist that her husband’s death was her only reality, when her reality was so much bigger.

It’s important to admit, when you have pain, that it may very well make you weep. To overcome the pain doesn’t mean that you don’t weep. Even the masters weep when bad things happen. At the same time, our pains are a wonderful incentive to find a greater reality.

The nature of duality is that it forever swings back and forth between happiness and tragedy. And how can we deal with this inexorable fact without becoming terminally depressed? We can say, “I understand why I feel this way, but I don’t want to live with these feelings as my only reality. I want to live in a much greater reality.”

When we started the original Ananda community, we had nothing. It was just an old, abandoned farm in the hills, and we had to build everything ourselves.

In the first round of building, we made geodesic domes, but we didn’t know how to build them properly, and they leaked like sieves. The rain would pour in, no matter how we tried to stop it.

Ananda meditation retreat

The first domes at Ananda Village. From left to right: kitchen, common dome (dining), and temple, 1976. (Click to enlarge.)

One winter, we had tremendous rain. And Jyotish, Swami Kriyananda’s spiritual successor, was living alone in one of these little domes that leaked like crazy. It tended to leak mostly through the top point of the dome, and Jyotish found a big funnel that he attached to the ceiling, and it had tubing that ran over to the kitchen sink, so the rain would pour through the funnel, run through the tubing, and rush out through the sink.

It sounded like a river running through his house, but it mostly worked. We didn’t have electricity in those days, and he had a comfortable chair and a propane light, and he would sit in the evening in this very simple house and he would read.

I came over one late afternoon after it was dark, and I found Jyotish sitting there reading. There was a wood fire in the stove, so it was warm, and this rushing river was pouring through the top of the dome and going out with a lot of noise.

I said, “Jyotish, how can you stand this?”

He said, “Well, this is the way I think about things. Some things are permanent. If something is permanent, it’s hard to handle. But if it’s temporary, you can put up with a situation that’s temporary. Then I realized that everything is temporary.”

Several years later the little house burned down. In the meantime, Jyotish had married. And as Jyotish and his wife were driving away from their burning home with their belongings, he turned to her and said, “Devi, no more problem with leaks.”

It’s all about proportion, isn’t it? If it’s temporary, why do I need to get upset about it? Because truly, everything is temporary.

We can choose to create the right proportion. There really is no need to try to imagine that our tragedies aren’t black. But we can build a bigger context around them.

So my husband is a disappointment – I have wonderful children. So I’m alone now – and I have all the freedom I’ve wanted to have. So I’m not as pretty as I used to be – I don’t have to be superficial anymore. So now I’m old – I get to sit quietly by myself, and I have time to read and meditate. So I put my faith in the people who betrayed me – and I’ve learned that the only safe harbor is in God.

It doesn’t change the black, but it changes the way you feel about it. And when you begin to see your life in the widest context of all, in God, the black spots get so small that, in time, they don’t affect you at all.

(From a class by Asha on relationships.)


One Response to Being “spiritual” doesn’t mean we have to suppress our feelings

  1. Rebecca D Knowles December 12, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    Dear Asha,

    The teachings you share, and the way in which you share them, are truly taking me to another place. I’ve studied and contemplated the workings of this world and my little role in it all since I was a kid. Your teachings are reminding me of what has always resonated. They are re-focusing my thoughts and beliefs, and clarifying some intuitive understandings.

    It’s purely magical that I’ve stumbled onto you now. Just when I needed this return to what you offer us all.

    Thank you so much,
    Becky Dee

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