Christian Yoga Part 11
The Confusion of Discipline
Looking back at some of the disciplines of past Christians, especially the ascetics and monastic orders, it is obvious there is great confusion about what opened ones conscious self to the spirit. They often seem, when they describe flagellation and extremes of abstinence, to have looked at the letter rather than the law. In Buddhism there is a saying that there is a finger pointing at the moon, but most people look at the finger and forget that it is the moon that is being pointed at.
In the case of disciplines necessary in Christian Yoga, the method is secondary to the aim. Rebecca Beard, who was a regular medical doctor, but became a healer recognising the place of the spirit in the sick persons life, says of this discipline:
The noon meditation was difficult for many reasons. I found it difficult to sit quietly while the potatoes burned. A friend lived with us who did some of the cooking. When she put the potatoes on and forgot them, I could hardly resist going to the rescue when I smelled them burning. To be able to say, ‘There are other pans; there are more potatoes; there is only one kingdom of heaven; seek ye the kingdom of heaven; seek ye the kingdom FIRST’ was real discipline.
To understand the place of discipline on this path, you must remember base principles. It is the ‘discipline’ of the Virgin Prayer that allowed the birth of a new sense of the divine, of the wider life. Nothing you could do can MAKE that happen. You open by dropping preconceptions, rigid opinions, fixed ideas or beliefs about God or yourself, and trust the Mystery at your core to do its work. What happens is a natural process of growth and unfoldment. You can help it by remaining receptive and observant, but you cannot create it yourself by effort or force.
Unfortunately a great deal of information about being ‘religious’ or spiritual suggests that it is only by being ‘good’; by following certain rigid moral principles; by controlling appetites and desires; by killing out any sign of badness in you, that you can attain real spirituality. This is a completely false direction, a sort of cul-de-sac of your potential growth.
Do you have to be ‘good’ to reach heaven?
When a baby grows toward childhood and youth, we feed it with nourishing food, with a variety of experience and opportunities to explore possibilities. It learns to walk as it’s body and mind become capable an interested in walking. There is no need for punishment or huge processes of discipline to make this happen. The same with learning to go to the toilet. Although many people try to train their child to use a potty, the child will do this quite naturally as it matures to the point where it is easy for it to control its bladder and bowels without enormous stress and fear of not pleasing its parents.
The unfoldment of your potential does not come from ‘self-development’. It emerges as it is allowed to grow. The evil or darkness in us falls away because the beauty and ease in you grows; because you grow in wisdom and insight, not because you forcibly control yourself to be different.
However, this attitude of allowing growth needs to be balanced by another. Sometimes we are so controlled by fears, by habits, by anger and bitterness that we cannot allow the inner growth to start or continue. A man’s dream illustrates this:
I was in a prison cell with two other men. We ate, slept and defecated in the cell. I was standing at the bars of the cell, and had the impression of having been in the prison for years. I was shouting and cursing the people who had put me in the prison, full of hate and self-pity. Suddenly I realised that my years of shouting had availed nothing. The only person who was upset by it was myself. I was the victim of my own anger and turmoil. I dropped the attitudes and was free of them. Years went by and one by one I dropped other habits of emotion and thought with which I had trapped and tortured myself. I realised I could be totally free within myself.
One morning I woke and sat up on the mattress on the floor that was my bed. The last ghost of inner entrapment fell away. A fountain of joy opened in my body, pouring upwards through me. So intense was it I cried out. The cellmates called a warden. They stood looking at me as I experienced a radiance so strong I felt as if I must be shining. I was aware my joy poured into them, although they thought I was mad. Nothing would ever be the same again.
The discipline of self-awareness
There was a discipline involved here, that of recognising what held the dreamer prisoner – anger, fear, resentment. The joy was there all the time. It didn’t need to be developed, just released. This is a subtle point, the difference between trying to develop ones spiritual joy, and allowing it to emerge. It is a point that needs re-evaluating again and again.
Here is another dream illustrating the sort of situations we might need strength to move out of:
In my dream I was watching a man who insisted on living in a small stable like room that was foul with his faeces and urine. He wouldn’t go out or clean it and his clothes too were filthy. He wouldn’t be helped, but blamed his condition on anything and anyone but himself. As I watched though, he came to the point of accepting responsibility for his own condition. He came out, and we then happily asked if we could put his clothes in the washing machine. He started a new life.
The dreamer says of his dream:
As I explored my dream I saw that it is a frequent factor in people to need a problem to stimulate us to activity. But I saw/felt an attitude I had in which I loved to have problems or shit. I saw that again and again, when talking to people I would describe this shaky condition I was in, the problems I faced, the difficulties I had. For instance, I might say, “It’s OK for someone like you, you’re not so anxious. You didn’t have such a bad start. You have more money. You have more luck on your side, etc, etc.” I just revelled in the shit.
Looking at my dream helped me see that I use this defense because I am anxious life or people will ask something of me. If I have a nice problem, I can run back and hide in it. It helps me escape the necessity of saying, “What you are asking makes me feel anxious. I’m afraid I might fail. Don’t ask me for love or help, it frightens me.”
The task that Hercules faced, of cleansing the stables illustrates the same human difficulty – moving out from the muck that traps or holds us. Hercules diverted the river, and the power of that cleansed the stables. Likewise, the flow of life, or spiritual energy flowing through you by opening to it, has a natural cleansing effect. But you might need to do some work on unwieldy parts of yourself to get that action flowing.
Have you got it – or has it got you?
Firstly, we cannot let go of something and offer it to the spiritual action if it has hold of us. If you have a tiger running around your house you would avoid it at all costs unless you had a way of immediately being in control of it. So it is with your own fears and pains. Unless you can stop their attack, you avoid them, run from them, and in fact let them unconsciously control your decisions and actions. Of course, you need help and a greater power than your own conscious resources to totally grow beyond such fears and pains. But often you cannot even open yourself to that greater influence while they have a strong hold on you. Without knowing it you resist the action of the divine in your life.
One of the simplest ways to begin loosening the hold such things have on you is daily meditation. There are so many methods, and in one way it doesn’t matter which one you use as long as you understand what the point of it is.
If this is explained you will grasp what is meant. So, for the sake of the explanation, let us say that each day you spend half an hour sitting and quietly looking at a blank sheet of paper or a white wall. You are not trying to get anywhere, reach any higher state of consciousness, or achieve a goal – just looking. Quite soon you might get restless, you mind will wander. Perhaps on that first day, or on subsequent days the question will arise as to what the point of this is. Maybe you still remain sitting, or you give up and go back to watching the TV or reading a book, or visit a friend.
Well, what has happened is that as you sit and look at the paper without goal, all the things that usually have a hold on your decisions start to come to the fore. They will attack your awareness. They will do this again and again, getting stronger and stronger. But if you quietly continue they will cease to trouble you. They have lost their hold on you, and now you have a hold on them.
Stop feeding the pigeons
Ramakrishna illustrated this with a story. He said that if you feed the pigeons every day, they will come in greater numbers. But if you stop feeding them they will gradually give up flying around you and all will be quiet. He described the pigeons as the thoughts and worries, fears and pains that we constantly feed by giving them attention or being directed by them.
In a similar way, the apparently meaningless meditation stops feeding the pigeons of worries, fears and the other urges and irritations that usually control us.
Another approach to this method of gaining control over anxiety, irrational urges and moods is something that was originally connected with the chanting of hymns and prayers. It was thought that this slow measured chanting brought peace and transformation. Recent analysis of breathing rhythms as they connect with anxiety states, suggests that slow breathing or breath holding decreases the influence of anxious states. So the underlying influence may arise from breath holding or regulation, rather than the sounds. Certainly the discipline of slowing the breath brings about the same results as the meditation, but is possible a more potent method.
But remember that these methods are only a finger pointing at the moon – they are not the moon. In other words they do not lead to the transcendence possible through allowing the divine to be born in us. They are simply techniques to help us open to that Mystery, and remain fertile to it. They are means of developing the strength to make the journey, not the journey itself.
An easy way of approaching the slow breathing is as follows. This is much slower and more purposeful than normal breathing. One imagines a feather near one’s nose, hardly moved by the passage of air. Yet not so slow it becomes uncomfortable and one has to gasp for breath. Breath in as fully as you can without allowing the chest to rise. You then let the chest expand and fill, but without going to the point where you feel tense or struggling. Do not hold the breath, but let the air out as slowly and as smoothly as possible. If possible feel the quietness of the breath and allow this to pervade your whole being. If at any point you find you are struggling with your breath, slightly increase the speed.
Starting with five minutes’ practice, slowly work up to ten, then fifteen minutes, and reap the reward of peace and stillness this method brings to the whole system. You will find that your breathing gradually adapts to the slowness, and your system slows down. Some people count their in and out breath, but this is not necessary. Awareness at the point where the air enters your nose is sufficient, along with the feeling of gentleness of the breath.