Balancing Head and Heart
As the creative flow for a new month opens, may each of you experience the grateful heart for which this month is symbolic in American culture. In the U.S., November is the month of gratitude, even if most folks only celebrate a flow of gratefulness on one of the month's thirty days. The power of having a month—or a day—so dedicated is that it offers an opportunity for contemplating not only the energy of gratitude but the areas in one's life for which gratitude is an appropriate response.
Gratitude Is the Energy that Primes the Universal Pump of Abundance
Have you ever stopped to think about the practicality of gratitude? As I'm sure most of you know, it is generally more pleasant to spend time with a grateful person than with an ungrateful person. Beyond this obvious fact, however, there is also a practical spiritual component to the application of gratitude. In the first place, a grateful heart is an appropriate emotional response for blessings received. But furthermore, offering thanks for recognizing an opportunity to apply gratitude is not only appropriate, but it is both appropriate and marvelously practical for all who have a basic understanding of how the universe works. Gratitude is the energy that primes the universal pump of abundance.
Of course, the recognition of having received a blessing exists solely in the mind of the person acknowledging receipt of the blessing. Yet since minds often miss seeing the blessings that are continually flowing, particularly when preoccupied with the concerns and responsibilities of life in the twenty-first century, it turns out that many opportunities for expressing gratitude are also missed. Gratitude, you see, is more than a simple emotional response to receiving a gift of kindness, or the perception thereof. Gratitude is a condition of heart and mind that opens one to the amazing gifts of the universe.
There is another salient point about gratitude that should be noted by any serious spiritual aspirant. Have you noticed that it is utterly impossible to remain in an unhappy or agitated state while expressing gratitude? Think about it for a moment and you will see that this is an important and very practical piece of knowledge, one that can serve a spiritual aspirant in manifold ways. Since a large part of the spiritual journey is rooted in learning to be happy, it should be readily obvious that learning how to dispel the more afflictive emotional states is both beneficial and quite practical.
Of course, it would be overly simplistic, perhaps naïve, to think that one could simply be happy in every moment. After all, happiness is not the product of some sprinkling of "fu-fu dust" by undisclosed agents on the spiritual plane. As you have all surely experienced, life is fraught with situations, events, circumstances, and conditions that trigger all manner of afflictive emotions. Clearly, the artful negotiation of a viable course amid such arising obstacles requires masterfully applied skillful means. Therefore it can be helpful to realize that there are proactive choices one can make to mitigate or even dissolve the energetic debris of heavier emotional states.
A Contracted Sense of Self Can Create Lingering Storms of Anger
From simply observing your own internal realms, you have probably discovered that the denser mental states arise from one form of contraction or another. Whether one contracts from an open, spacious state into denser egoic regions out of fear, anger, depression, guilt, hatred, impatience, frustration or even mild irritation, the similarity is the movement into a contracted sense of "I." When the emotions are compelling enough and one gives over to them, auric storms are generated in the energy field of the person undergoing the emotional reaction. Of course, such energetic storms in the aura can be passed along to others who have the misfortune of venturing into the energy field of the person generating that auric disturbance.
In chaotic storms such as fits of rage, flows of seething resentment, or outbreaks of intolerance, the resulting auric storm can continue long after the specific emotional charge has abated. While a person who has just vented may feel better physically, he or she may be altogether oblivious of what is continuing in the auric field. You see, as long as the auric storm continues, the emotion that caused the storm in the first place is never very far away. In other words, until the auric field returns to homeostasis from the insult of the energetic storm, one may find repeating bouts of the same emotional state. Of course, this only serves to perpetuate the auric storm, which is often the case in extended depressive episodes or recurring bouts of the emotional states mentioned above.
To better understand just how this works, let's utilize a planetary example. Consider for a moment the ramifications of a tropical storm at sea. The energy released from powerful winds and driving rain is transferred directly into the ocean. The sheer force of the storm's power generates giant waves, perhaps even tsunamis. The energy of the storm, having been transferred into the ocean, can only dissipate through the water's movement. Thus the relative level of energy transferred from the storm into the ocean can be witnessed in the massive waves that may continue to surge for several days after the storm itself has either played out or moved over land.
In similar fashion, a storm of anger can create a sizeable disruption in the "sea" of one's aura. Yet because the medium of the aura is much finer than the heavy medium of water, a much longer time is needed for the aura to reach homeostasis than in the case of seawater. Because water is heavy, gravity exerts a powerful force that actually contributes to the calming of the troubled waters after a storm at sea. In the auric field, however, the medium that receives the chaotic energy from an emotional storm is of a much finer quality. Consequently, it is not affected by a gravitational pull that forces a return to homeostasis. Therefore while it may require a couple of days for the ocean to return to homeostasis after a storm, it could take up to two weeks for an individual to return to homeostasis following an auric storm of similar proportions.
This is due in part to the fact that the presence of chaos in the auric field tends to invite the same emotional charge that created the auric storm in the first place. In such a case, another similar auric storm—or one of differing degree—may arise, building on the prior storm.
Stop for just a moment here to consider an amazing proposition. What if all the energy deposited into the auric fields of all the people experiencing storms of anger during the preceding century could somehow be utilized to fuel the rocket to planetary enlightenment? Indeed, if the power of auric storms could be harnessed, nuclear power would be seen as not only too dangerous and costly for mass consumption but crude and outdated as well.
Calm Your Auric Storms by Changing Your Focus from Anger to Gratitude
In calming auric storms, the force of gravity is quite useless. Therefore other options must be found that can be readily applied in the moment of the storm's arising. Fortunately for the spiritual aspirant, several options already exist that are not particularly difficult to apply. Further, the aspirant is not required to be an adept in the spiritual mysteries of the preceding millennia, nor an advanced master of any specific spiritual tradition. One must only be sufficiently awake to realize that he or she is in the near presence of an auric storm and be focused enough to apply a specific remedy.
At the beginning of this article, I noted that you simply cannot be both unhappy and grateful at the same time. Mastering this knowledge turns out to be an amazing tool in mitigating or dissolving auric storms. For example, should you feel the old familiar emotional charge of anger or irritation arising, you may simply replace the anger with gratitude. While this may sound impossible at first brush, after deeper scrutiny, you will realize that this only amounts to a shift of focus. Simply stated, you remove your focus from the object of the anger and place it on an object of gratitude. By holding one's focus on an object of anger, an auric tweak can rapidly become an auric storm.
Often, when a person is angered by some arising circumstance or perhaps a negatively interpreted action on the part of another person, it may seem impossible not to focus on the object of the anger. Yet the mere act of sustaining that focus often becomes an obsession, which tends to replay the stimulus to anger over and over in the person's mind. For those of you old enough to remember the phonograph, an obsession is quite like the example of the broken record, wherein the needle falls into the same groove over and over, unable to move to the next groove, and replays a series of notes or syllables until someone removes the needle from the broken groove. To follow this analogy, one could say that in obsessing, the mind creates an experiential groove that it simply plays over and over until the mental needle—that is, focus—is removed from that groove.
Simply stated, you must find a different record to play if your obsessing mind is to be alleviated. The broken record of anger can be easily replaced by the flowing music of gratitude. While this may seem an impossible task, given that the force of anger can arise very quickly and with amazing force, most people are somewhat shocked to discover how easily anger can be replaced by gratitude. The biggest hurdle is simply remembering to apply the remedy. Of course, one must be awake to the fact that she or he is actually experiencing the storm of anger, but once that level of wakefulness is achieved, the process is quite easy.
A Mental Tug of War
Perhaps the first level of gratitude you might apply to angry thoughts and projections is a sense of gratefulness that, as a result of experiencing anger, you have the opportunity to observe just how you entered that field of anger in the first place. In the initial stage, most people are aware of a kind of tug of war going on in the mind. One side, the part of the mind wanting to be vindicated for being angry, will attempt to pull the entire focus right back into the field of anger. The other side, the part of the mind applying the remedy, exerts a pull away from anger and toward a focus of gratitude.
As in any tug of war, the rope that is being stretched by opposing forces may snap. In this case, it is a positive sign and may be experienced as a sudden shift in the mind. Perhaps a spurt of shock value arises that halts the entire tug of war. In this case, a person may find that the two sides offset each other, and the tension between them simply dissolves for a split second. Or a moment of humor may arise that also dissolves the polarized tension, and the person may find himself or herself laughing at the internal antics of a mind thus segregated. In either case, the spell of anger has been broken, and the threat of an auric storm averted.
In offering the mind such training, anyone paying even modest attention will readily notice that the mind is a very agile creature. The second time you attempt to apply the remedy for anger—or hostility, frustration, disgust, depression, or just a plain old grumpy mind—the scenario might unwind differently. Perhaps the forcefulness of the two sides pulling against one another becomes increasingly prominent until one side or the other collapses. Or the mind may suddenly and without warning shift the focus of anger from an external source to an internal one. In this case, a person could cease being angry at someone else and instead direct the anger inward, perhaps becoming angry with himself or herself for not being able to readily shift mental focus from anger to gratitude.
This kind of slight of hand is quite common when one begins training the mind. If observed closely, the tactics of a mind seeking to avoid exposure become quite transparent. While it may seem to you that there has been an inner shift, in this case, not much has changed. While the object of the anger may have shifted, the emotional state itself did not change. This is true even though the intensity of the emotion may dissipate more quickly than with the original object of the anger, since the secondary focus is not the genuine trigger for the anger in the first place.
Being Cheerful Is a Conscious Choice
Another type of mental shift is possible by instructing the mind to adopt and hold a cheerful stance. Although somewhat different from gratitude, cheerfulness is a great response to all areas in your life, even when you find it impossible to be happy. Often, happiness and cheerfulness are seen as the same energy when, in fact, they are remarkably different. Happiness is an emotional response that arises spontaneously, often unbidden, and sometimes quite unconsciously. Cheerfulness, on the other hand, is seldom unconscious or unbidden. Rather, it is a mindfully occurring response that arises from a conscious choice regarding the situations and circumstances arising in the moment. While happy people are often also cheerful, being cheerful when not particularly happy involves a conscious decision.
Some of you may remember an interview with Beverly Sills, the great opera singer, some thirty years ago. In the interview, Barbara Walters asked Sills how she managed to always be so happy. With a bit of a surprised look on her face, Sills very candidly replied that she was not, in fact, a happy person. Rather, she explained, "I'm a cheerful person." The point of distinction Ms. Sills was able to draw so aptly shows the level of her contemplation on the matter. Like Ms. Walters, most people saw Ms. Sills as a perpetually happy person. Indeed, she had a ready smile and her energetic charisma was most inviting.
To draw out the point a bit further, Sills' childhood nickname was "Bubbles," for she cultivated a bubbly personality very early on. Even as a child, she was able to recognize that leading with a depressed personality served no one well, especially not herself. Most never knew that her effervescence was a learned coping strategy against her rather difficult and disappointing childhood.
The real power of the strategy lay in the fact that it was a fully conscious strategy and not some form of denial. Ms. Sills, amazingly enough, used it to her own advantage and the advantage of others as well. Behind that coping strategy was the magnificence of her forceful presence—gratitude. She was immensely grateful for the role her parents played in her life, family issues and immigrant problems notwithstanding. She was deeply grateful for the privilege of raising her two children, one of whom is profoundly deaf and afflicted with multiple sclerosis and the other of whom is severely mentally disabled. She was grateful to be able to single-handedly care for her husband in his eight-year decline before finally having to place him in a nursing home. Clearly, these are not the kind of events that cause spontaneous happiness to erupt.
Even in the face of what most would consider remarkable tragedy, Beverly Sills was no complainer. The reservoir of her gratitude was simply too vast to indulge a smaller self. After placing her husband in the nursing home, she continued to publicly promote opera in the remaining two-and-a-half years of her own life, holding live interviews as the new HD television broadcasts of opera performances were initiated. Her last interview was in April of 2007. Exactly two months later, she was hospitalized and CNN reported that she was gravely ill with lung cancer, which was a surprise to most of the world. Without complaint, she succumbed to the disease only four days later. Her gratitude, a living force in her life, supported her in both life and death, and she left her mark as one of the most remarkable women of her time.
Devotion Is the Agent that Primes the Pump of Grace
Now it is tim to move to a more personal level in our discussion. How is your gratitude supporting you? Do you find it to be a profound and sustaining force in your life, or could it use some deliberate enhancement to bring it to a truly functional level? Gratitude, you see, is an attribute of love, for it stems from a flow of deep appreciation for the beauty and profound mystery of life. Furthermore, gratitude is the basis of genuine devotion and the energy of an open, elevated, flowing heart. Without gratitude, it is utterly impossible to even understand the power of devotion, let alone apply it.
Just as gratitude is the agent that primes the pump of universal abundance, so devotion is the agent that primes the pump of grace. Perhaps you are aware of a deep longing to attain access to a fountain of grace that showers you with abundance in all areas of your life. While this is certainly understandable, do not overlook the fact that you first must cultivate some genuine devotion, since devotion is what draws grace into your life. Often there arises a kind of repugnance for devotion, particularly in the West. Some have even concluded that devotion portends the presence of delusion. However, all this line of thinking and believing really shows is a tremendous fear of being duped.
It can be somewhat amusing to note how many folks carry this particular fear of the threat of others duping them. Perhaps because most are blind to the way the mind assesses the actions of others versus the way it sees its own actions, this whole designated area of alleged duping is lost on the self. In truth, were most folks able to step outside the rather narrow confines of their own "mind fields" and carefully scrutinize their minds from a broader perspective, they would likely be amazed to observe just how often they attempt to dupe themselves. Yet when the focus is brought home to one's own mind, often the parameters for assessing its movements are different than those applied to the mental movements—or even behavior, for that matter—of other folks.
Spiritual Mastery Requires a Practical Balance of Heart and Head Energies
So what is this discussion about, practically speaking? Many of you already know that the secret to changing your life lies in the ability to simply change your mind. For those who have not yet discovered the power of this simple truth, it may seem farfetched to think that you can affect some fairly dramatic changes in your personal presentation, indeed your authentic feeling source, by simply changing your mind. Of course, you must be grounded in gratitude and devotion to accomplish this feat. Without the ongoing outflow of these two critical energies from an expanding heart, such miraculous changes may seem utterly illusive at every turn.
These basics, if I may call them such, are the necessary building blocks for genuine spiritual mastery. They are foundational if any real spiritual accomplishment is to occur, and this is true in virtually every spiritual tradition. Without a functional presence of radiant gratitude, there is no force to generate devotion. Without devotion, the heart is never fully open, and this is true no matter how loudly the ego mind seeks to dupe the higher mind.
Spiritual mastery, enlightenment, or self-realization— whatever you want to call it—is of course the goal of every spiritual path. Yet ironically, these notions are also the source of a great deal of illusion, or self-duping. The wisdom path lies in a humble recognition of the true nature of everything. For some, this can be summed up in the notion of emptiness. For others, that term may be off-putting, so other terminology is sought. In any case, spiritual mastery requires a practical balance of heart and head energies. Often in the West, greater emphasis is placed on the knowledge cravings of the head as if enlightenment stems from the amount of knowledge a person claims. While seductive, this is not the case, for it overemphasizes the contributions of the head and mitigates the contributions of the heart.
In the mantra Om mani padme hum, (or in Tibetan, Om mani peme hung) the word mani can be translated to mean either "mind" or "jewel." The mind is traditionally seen as a jewel, for it is clear and luminous when enlightened, much like a diamond sparkling in the Sun's radiance. The word padme (or peme) can be translated as either "heart" or "lotus." Thus one way to translate the body of the mantra is: "The jewel of the mind descends into the lotus of the heart." Om becomes the "Gratitude is an attribute of love, for it stems from a flow of deep appreciation for the beauty and profound mystery of life." sound that breaks up the crystallized form of any obstacle to this goal, and the hum or hung is greeted as the sound of the Buddha touching the Earth with compassion.
As the mind dissolves into the heart, the knowledge that the head previously held is also dissolved into the outflowing love vibration of a spiritual master. The subsequent journey from enlightenment into ascension can only be made on the flow of that love vibration. Consequently, the achievement of spiritual mastery, it turns out, lies less in what one knows and more in what one shows. The evolved and expanded heart thus demonstrates the presence of love in the heart vessel that loves.
As we close our time together this month, here is a question worth pondering. Do you walk in the world as an evolving spiritual master or more as a "pretender to the throne"? Before you give an answer, ask yourself how you might discern the difference. Recognize that the ego mind is full of self-duping tendencies. So no matter what answer arises from your contemplation, you should still seek to go deeper into the mystery of the heart of wisdom. In all likelihood, a part of you does walk in the world as an evolving spiritual master and another part of you walks in the world as a pretender to the throne of grace and pure consciousness. Learn to discern this important difference and step into the possible human for which you took birth.