This article is the first in a series of texts that are meant to be guidelines for anyone who wants to have efficiency in his or her practice and reach sustained, lasting results instead of just experiencing some states from time to time. It is born out of my own experiences with difficulties that we can encounter on the spiritual path as well as finding solutions to them. It will reveal some traps that make us stagnate on the path and discuss attitudes that help us overcome the obstacles and reach real transformation rather than dreams. In the end of this series will also be mentioned some practical key-elements for creating coherence in our practice.
Because of lack of direction, attention, goals and other important aspects we are many times just sailing with the winds instead of rowing in the exact direction where we want to go. Sometimes we stay comfortably in our lukewarm practice and actions and end up maintaining our level of being instead of transforming it. But walking the path is not about standing on an escalator that will take us to the top. The stairs that we are standing on are moving extremely slowly. If we don’t want to wait for eons to get to the top we have to ascend with the help of God.
Learning to navigate through the spiritual abundance
These times that are calling out for a spiritual revolution have brought an abundance of spiritual teachings available for everybody. There is a huge variety of techniques, teachers, seminars, lessons… It’s like a spiritual supermarket where everyone can find what he needs. Or what he wants. And if one’s attention and mental control have not been enough trained, meaning that one is predominantly on the level of the inferior mind with a tendency to be superficial, associative and jumpy, then there is a danger of becoming a nibbler on the spiritual path. What this means is that we approach the spiritual path in such a superficial way that we never see the end of the actions that we do.
We may adopt many new techniques but we never carry on long enough to have some real and sustained results. We just have a small bite to feel the taste and then give them up for another one that is more interesting for the inferior mind because it is new to us. We are giving in for lower temptations. The same can be done with different spiritual paths and teachers. One day one might go to a yoga course, the next day to a buddhist temple to meditate and on still another day to a lecture about a shamanistic style of healing and so on, jumping from one teacher to another without settling into anything. Of course in the beginning we have to search so that we can identify our own path and the techniques that we need for the moment. But if this search is endless, then we are becoming a nibbler.
Analogically speaking this nibbling is like floating on the surface of an ocean which we are trying to get to know and understand. We dive a little bit, a few meters into the ocean and come back up to the surface. Next we swim some meters in a random direction and again we dive a few meters and come back up and so on. Thus we never dive into the depths of the ocean or in other words we never do the technique long enough in a sustained and repeated manner to see what is hidden in the depths of it and we never get to know the ocean. Not to mention, to reach the bottom or in other words to really see what a technique can offer us or where a certain spiritual path can take us. Thus we become a nibbler, we just take a little here and a little there.
Curiosity and enthusiasm are important elements that take us further and encourage us to keep walking on the path but we should not let them become factors that make us drop too soon what we were doing just because we get curious and enthusiastic about a new thing. It is a common misunderstanding that whatever we do on a spiritual path, if it is a spiritual action, then it’s very good. In reality also the inferior mind manas and the structure of the ego, ahamkara, can use spiritual actions to amuse itself just like any other action that it finds pleasurable. Of course it is more beneficial to do spiritual actions than for example to sit from day to day on a sofa watching soap operas. But if the spiritual actions are not approached with the correct attitude and we are not able to choose the actions that we truly need then the transformation that the spiritual actions can offer us is very small compared with its potentiality.
Walking the straight line and connecting the dots
As an effect from nibbling with spirituality, our so called walking on the spiritual path becomes incoherent. This happens because this nibbling has no real purpose but the nibbling itself. It has no higher meaning, no goal. The string that connects the pearls to become a beautiful necklace is missing and this nibbling is happening simply in order to entertain the inferior mind. Thus from the spiritual point of view all those actions become incoherent because they are not integrated in a higher common goal that is the goal of any spiritual path: to reach the Absolute, God. Thus we don’t have a clear direction anymore but we start to wander around in circles. And we all know how it is if we are walking on a path to somewhere and suddenly we don’t continue straight anymore but we start to walk in circles: we will not reach our destination.
It is important to be very lucid about our own attitudes because the inferior mind can trick us. If we are doing the actions in a jumpy way, the inferior mind can fool us by suggesting that we are doing the actions for God. It proposes that whatever action I’m doing now, I’m doing it for God because it’s spiritual. But if we penetrate our motives with an laser-like attention, then we might sometimes notice that actually we are just following the impulses of the inferior mind and we are not doing the practices and actions that would truly transform us.
On the spiritual path we should aim to have a unity formed by all those actions that we do so that everything forms a coherent whole that reflects our path and everything that we do acquires a higher meaning. Even though there are intermediary stages on the spiritual path, still we should always have that Ultimate Goal in sight. We can do even very beautiful spiritual actions but if the divine attitude, the higher connecting motive for doing these actions, is missing, then our actions are incoherent. This is why we should always aim to see the whole and see how every single action that we perform contributes to the construction of that coherent whole.
For example, let us imagine that we are making a tapas for attention. We know that attention is of absolute importance on the spiritual path so we set up a goal to achieve perfect mental concentration. However, if we are doing it only for the sake of having a perfect mental control and we don’t see what we are going to use it for, then this action becomes incoherent. But if we see that when we have reached this capacity of mental concentration we can use it for going deeper into the meditative process which in turn allows us to connect to our innermost silence which in turn will lead us to God, then the action is coherent in our chain of actions that lead us to the Ultimate Goal, Liberation.
Embracing divine motives of practice
The inferior mind will try to run wild because it is interested in many things in a superficial way. However, we can counteract this by having discernment, that is, having a clear vision of the next proper move on our path. For example, in a particular situation we may have the idea that we want to open and free our heart. But then we notice that for the moment our capacity of concentration is weak. Applying our divine capacity of discernment on this observation, we may draw the conclusion that we need to gain some mental discipline before opening the heart. Without mental control the mind will just constantly interrupt the process of centering into the heart.
So discernment is crucial for success in spiritual practice. If we lack discernment and thus fail to be aware of the steps necessary for reaching our goals, we may behave in counterproductive ways. In the given example, we might have the idea that we want to open our heart but at the same time, without being aware of it, we let the inferior mind run “free”. This might lead to a situation where we think that we are following the voice of the heart, while in reality we are following the impulses of our mind according to our predominant level of vibration. Thus we would not reach the transformation that we aimed for.
So it is helpful on the path to be aware that the actions we choose hastily might become merely entertainment and a goal in themselves. But when we know the correct “next step”, when we choose the actions that we really need at that moment in order to transform ourselves, and when we remember to do them for God, then we already have some firm ground under our feet. In this way our actions are coherent and do not deviate from the initial purpose of the spiritual path.
Sometimes we might also get so caught up in our actions and techniques that we start to consider them as goals in themselves without remembering why we engaged in them. But in reality they always represent a means to an end. Yet even if they are “only” tools on our spiritual path, it is very good to learn to enjoy what we do, because enjoyment can also be used as a tool. Enjoying the states that the practice offers empowers the effects of the techniques and actions and gives enthusiasm and aspiration. In this way we can avoid nibbling by maintaining an attitude that keeps us continuing the practice that we started. We can combine enjoyment with the purpose in a playful way and easily persuade the inferior mind to follow us towards the Ultimate.
For example we will get much better results from nauli kriya if we do not perform them mechanically, one after the other, at the same time as our mind is thinking: “oh God, still forty to go”. Instead we can aim to be in the present moment and to feel very accurately the enjoyable states that the practice of nauli kriya can offer us through the transmutation and sublimation processes.
At the same time we should keep the goal in mind so that we do not start to make the practice and actions exclusively to have a pleasurable state or to subconsciously feed some superficial interests of our inferior mind. This could make us drop the practice and change to something else before having significant results. In order to maintain the aspiration we should always deepen the experiences in a divine way and remember to do what we do for that one goal, the Divine. So we keep on walking the path but instead of it being an exhausting crawl through the desert, we can make it a beautiful tour through our life.
The great puzzle of life
The better we can focus and concentrate mentally the less scattered our inferior mind will be. But this means that we have to be able to focus also outside of the practice. When we can stay more and more focused, we will also notice with amazement that we start to be aware of more and more aspects of our life as our consciousness expands. In this way we can develop a firm grasp upon what we are doing and the reason for why we are doing it, and it is easier to notice our own motives.
We cease to run blindly in all kind of directions that our inferior mind or outer impulses suggest to us. We might for example become aware of some hidden attitudes of “doing that what everybody is doing” and practicing something just because it is a commonly used practice.
We may realize that at the moment we do not benefit so much from this particular practice and that we should choose some other one. Or we might be involved in some actions, even if they do not feel right at the moment, just because someone assumes that we should do this. Or we do a tapas to obtain a certain skill just for the ego to feel great about the achievement. Sometimes there might appear even a greater confusion in the mind, and the amount of actions that we start might exceed the capacity of our consciousness to expand in order to embrace all those actions. Then we would lose our capacity of discernment and the understanding of the necessity of the moment, and we would end up in nibbling incoherently.
For a better comprehension of what was explained above we can use the analogy of a puzzle. In this case the frame of the puzzle is our sphere of consciousness and the actions that we perform are the pieces. When we nibble with the pieces, it is as if we pick them up, look at them, roll them around in our hands and then put them back on the table. After this we pick up another piece without actually putting any pieces into the frame in order to create a picture.
We might also put pieces into the frame, but if the inferior mind takes over, then we act in a superficial way and we do not connect the pieces to the great whole of our life and we do not remember the beautiful picture that is supposed to be created inside the frame. In this case we put the pieces into the frame in a random order without considering if they are going to their right places. In other words, we do things without seeing their true meaning, we only foggily remember that we are doing them for the Divine.
In this way we cannot create a coherent picture but the result will be a mess of pieces. This kind of nibbling might eventually turn into exceeding the capacity to include actions properly into the sphere of consciousness. In this situation we put more pieces into the frame than there would fit. Then they overflow out from the frame in a scattered way. In other words we start many actions but we execute them only for a while and then jump to something else.
Fortunately the frame can be expanded and the picture can contain more and more pieces and become more and more beautiful. In order to achieve this we have to integrate every piece into the picture or, in other words, we have to know why we are doing the things that we do and continue doing them until the end so that we are able to embrace them fully with our consciousness that expands along them.
When we aim to expand the frame it is good to do it in a balanced way by gradually overcoming our limits. Thus we should not take up too many projects and actions at the same time. As they say, Rome was not built overnight. It is easy to do too little or too much all the time but it is like walking on a fine string when balancing between these two opposites. Yet it is something we all can learn by being very attentive to ourselves. In this way we can have a harmonious and coherent evolution and expansion of the frame of our consciousness.
If we do too many things compared with our ability to embrace them with our consciousness, our minds become scattered. Even if from the beginning we did all of our actions in a coherent way there is still the danger of pushing our limits too fast and we might end up in incoherent nibbling. This happens because the actions and things that we cannot integrate into the picture become the pieces that we just lift up and put back on the table or put them randomly into the frame where they do not find their proper places or they overflow because of not fitting there.
Those actions will become something that remain only momentarily in our sphere of inferior mind instead of becoming Divine means to reach something Godly that in its turn would lead to sustained results and transformation. But this is avoidable by fully embracing all the actions with our consciousness and by remaining attentive in the present moment while doing them.
It helps when we do not think about other things while doing the present thing and by getting rid of any kind of hurrying that we might indulge ourselves into in order to get the present thing done in order to start the next one. Instead we can cultivate a peaceful and relaxed, yet extremely attentive, attitude so that we can see the end of the actions and tie them to the string of our path. And in the end of that string it is always God watching over us and supporting us.
Toward lasting, divine experiences
Because the actions of incoherent nibbling can momentarily generate very beautiful and profound peak experiences we sometimes mistake them with something lasting. But after a while we might forget those states because we re-call them only once in a while with a certain nostalgic reminiscence or we move our focus completely to something else. We identify ourselves with the memory of us having the state while in reality we cannot fully access the state at the moment. In this way the experience will not be fully integrated into our sphere of consciousness. Then the experience starts to fade away as we move on to the next one. Life becomes a movement from one peak experience to the next and what happens in between is a grey area that we are not so much aware of.
For example we start a tapas of meditation with a new mantra that we received and we experience some states during the practice. But then outside of the practice our experience of everyday life is somehow “normal” and we do not actively evoke the experiences from the meditation. Soon enough the energy of the beginning is used up and the experiences in the practice start to diminish. Then we receive another interesting technique and we give up the previous one at a moment where it had actually been very good to continue. Then we go on with the new technique, again reaching some states. At the same time the experiences from the previous practice with the mantra have become only a vague memory and we are not capable of evoking them. Eventually they become a peak experience we had “back then”.
If we start waiting for the next experience having the feeling of “then and there…” instead of “here and now”, we might start to “hunt” for states. We might try to reach the so-called high experiences while in the same time we forget that divine experiences are everywhere. All we need to do is to actively open up for them like a blank book ready to be written on. Sometimes we wait for that “next experience”, that “promise of a better tomorrow”, the future that will give us fulfilment. But this we do with the cost of awareness upon the present moment that becomes secondary. We create a gap between the so-called spiritual experiences and so-called normal experiences and the totality of experiences becomes incoherent because of this gap. And then we just nibble with the peak experiences moving from one to another.
Nibbling can be avoided by taking one peak experience and aiming to evoke it as often as possible, meditating upon it, aiming to integrate it into our everyday life. In this way we can cultivate the experience by going deeper and deeper into it and some day we might be able to fully access the peak at will. With this kind of practice all the so-called everyday and normal actions become meaningful in a very joyful way. Gradually all of them can become means to reach God, thus coherent on our spiritual path.
Practice that is steady as a rock
If we have at our disposal a huge variety of techniques there might sometimes come the temptation just to test a little of everything without choosing anything to settle into. The extremely rich and amazing variety of different techniques is there so that everyone can find a suitable one for themselves and generate transformation by practice. There is a big difference between testing techniques to know how they work and testing them just for the sake of a new experience for the inferior mind. Because of this it is good to set clear goals, choose the correct techniques and to continue the practice until the goals are reached. If the goals are high enough they “push” us to settle into something. Then we just need to take care not to give up the practice before the proper results appear.
The inferior mind can play many tricks on us when we aim for a long-term practice. When we reach some effects, which are not yet the actual goal, the mind can try to lure us into making compromises. It might suggest that maybe we should practice something else for a while because anyway the effects are already starting to show up. Or it comes up with something that has suddenly an enormous importance which might be even argued quite cleverly by the mind. Or the mind can make us desperately interested about something new that we discovered. Then we might be tempted to quit the so-called old practice that seems to always be the same and boring compared with the new one. By making a lucid and divine introspection with discernment we can separate the actions that will lead to transformation from the ones that will not. The actions that lead to transformation make our walking on the path coherent.
The mind can be like a child playing different kind of games. For a little while a game is lots of fun but soon enough the mind gets bored with it and changes to something else. But we can use our spiritual maturity in order to remain in another kind of childlike state, in a state of wonder. Then we can always see the practice with new eyes, always like it was fresh, in a divine way through profound transfiguration. In this way we can see the magic of a practice and remain fully attentive even though performing the same technique month after month or even year after year. This allows us to dive deeper and deeper into the effects of the technique and become aware of all of its wonderful details.
When we settle into a practice there can be constant progress. We should become aware of the aspects that we can do better and perfectionate because any practice can have a constant process of transformation. If the practice does not transform, it is difficult to maintain it for a long time. Then it becomes something casual, a routine and we might start to do it mechanically. Instead we can constantly find new aspects, awaken the magic of the practice and remember that God is watching each step that we take. In this way we can hear the Divine Call that awakens our aspiration and we answer that Call through our practice.
The living knowledge
Sometimes on the spiritual path a great hunger for knowledge is awakened. When we are enthusiastic in learning new aspects it is good to back up this overwhelming curiosity by proper seriousness. This is valid especially in these times when there is an abundance of spiritual knowledge available, of which not at all everything is relevant for our spiritual evolution. Otherwise studying might become merely entertainment like a spiritual circus where we read about exotic things that are far away from our own life. Then later on we tell other people about the exciting “acts” that we have witnessed in the circus without them having almost anything to do with the way in which we live our lives. Then we become like an mp3-player that just repeats the track loaded into it. Of course this does not bring about the kind of transformation that spiritual texts are intended for. When we just collect pieces of information, we eventually obtain a big “treasure chest of knowledge”. Then, analogically speaking, we store it in our vaults without understanding its practical value. And from time to time we just show off to other people how expensive jewellery we own.
This kind of “dry” knowledge might change some of the contents of our thoughts but it does not bring profound changes to the way how we experience reality. As a consequence we start to live in an illusion, a dream where we think that we understand more than we actually do. Analogically speaking we just taste the cream on top of the cake and then we say “oh yes, this is a very good cake”. At the same time we do not know what is inside of that cake and how it tastes. And our own cake will not be juicy but just crumbs of dry knowledge.
An important mechanism of the ego is to label things by saying “I know this”. In this way the ego identifies itself with the information. It proudly regards itself as the source of knowledge in order to enhance self-importance, thus strengthening its structure. And usually we are not aware of this process. This is also a defence mechanism. By saying “I know this” the ego prevents us from applying the information in a practical way so that it would transform us. And of course transformation is the arch enemy of the ego. The ego wants us to remain in the rigid frame that it has created for us while transformation brings us out of that frame.
Studying spiritual texts can become casual like a routine of taking a walk through the park on every Sunday. Then we loose our transfiguration or in other words we do not anymore see the Divine beyond the words and it all becomes something banal for us. Especially when we come across a vast field of spiritual knowledge we might get numb and not regard it as something divine anymore. If we are attentive we can expose ourselves whenever we approach the study of sacred texts with a luke-warm attitude. In reality in this attitude there is a hidden anticipation that “nothing special will happen anyway”. Just like on those boring Sunday walks through the park where we have stopped admiring our surroundings. In this way the information remains dry and it will not create even mediocre results.
Let us imagine that we learn for the first time how yin and yang energies work in the universe and interact with each other. When we have memorized this information we do not yet understand it but for the moment we only know about it. In order to give life to dry knowledge we need to nurture it with contemplation and aim to reveal its hidden aspects. We can awaken a divine intention to understand in a profound way the information that we have received. We can for example aim to see the manifestation of yin and yang in nature and the ways how they attract each other. Or we can contemplate the game of those two energies in our inner universe. We can aim to live that knowledge, so that the knowledge starts to live within us. In this way the act of studying transforms itself into something practical and we are able to enjoy the whole cake.
This kind of playful contemplation can go on forever and we can constantly have a more comprehensive experience and a deeper understanding about those two fundamental energies. Then with amazement we discover a magical horizon of understanding that seems to extend beyond its apparent limits every time we reach them. In reality this means that we are expanding our consciousness and awareness. Then there will never come a moment when we can say “now I know this truth completely”. Then there will always be a godly mystery shrouding ever new divine secrets to be discovered by us.
We can awaken a burning yearning to reach the divine through the spiritual truths. We can gaze for the highest mountain peaks of understanding, aiming to elevate our consciousness during the process of learning. While we study we can always evoke the presence of God and pray for Him to help us to awaken divine understanding. In this way we are able to assimilate the knowledge on a much higher level than any that the mind could reach alone. Especially regarding spiritual texts there is an infinite amount of information that can, analogically speaking, be read only between the lines. And the “tapping into” this information happens at the supramental level. This is why it is good to study in a meditative way and to relate to spiritual knowledge as a modality through which the divine speaks to us. When we truly aim to transform ourselves by studying in a practical way, the spiritual knowledge can become a genuine means to get closer to God.
Mechanisms of spiritual digestion
If we nibble with many pieces of spiritual knowledge we might become spiritually saturated. This happens especially if we aim to study many different subjects at the same time. From all this multitude we can grasp only that which is according to the possibilities of our level of consciousness. The rest stays in our being undigested. This disharmony in our “spiritual digestion system” is empowered even more if we do not put in practice what we are trying to assimilate.
Becoming spiritually saturated is like going to a fancy party where there is served many kind of delicious dishes. Then we taste a little of everything, ending up tasting thirty different dishes. When we indulge ourselves unconsciously to such a feeding frenzy, we hurry to taste the next dish while we have not even chewed the last one till the end. Now what follows is that our being might not be capable of assimilating so many different combinations of tastes and such a variety of ingredients. Soon enough our digestion might disagree with the guzzle. After this it might take quite a while for the whole system to recover. We either would not want to see any food for a while or we would become numb to the food and not taste anymore what we are chewing.
There are two possible ways of eating. We can either have a consuming attitude so that we just gobble down anything like a hungry dog looking for a random snack on the street. This whole process is usually mostly unconscious. Second option is that we choose carefully the kind of food that is good for our being. Then we eat this food slowly, chewing carefully and paying attention to the process of eating. Evidently these two ways will have completely different effects. By avoiding nibbling we can create a more profound connection with the food so that it really nourishes and refreshes us like a breeze of wind on a hot day. The energies of the food will impregnate our being in a profound way when we give time for eating and open up for the experience. When we are fully aware and repeatedly taste the same dish we start to notice finer nuances and get closer to the essence of that food. Then that which was food only for our body now becomes food also for our Soul. In the same way the knowledge that we study will not only remain on the level of our mind but it will reach our Soul.
If we are very well aware of our own level of consciousness then we can approach spiritual truths according to the capabilities and resources that our spiritual digestion system has for the moment. This profound awareness helps us to chew long enough and avoid swallowing too fast. In this way we can avoid overeating and saturation and we connect the pieces of knowledge in order for them to create a coherent whole. After “eating” spiritual knowledge it is good to give it time to “settle in” and to be attentive to what kind of effects it creates in our being. We all know that if we just jump up and start running immediately after a big meal we will not finish a marathon and already around the first corner we will not feel so good. Instead we can sit in peace for a while and enjoy the fulfilment. Then we will not just forget what we have been studying but we start to nurture the knowledge inside of us.
Let us imagine that we are trying to study the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Koran and Siva Sutras at the same time in such a way that we just browse them and jump from one treaty to another like a frog that got lost. If we do not yet have the capability to connect all those pieces of knowledge together, the inferior mind can become confused. Then we might start to draw conclusions that are just presumptions or speculations or we start to remember incorrectly the things that we have read. Soon enough we would suffer from a lack of aspiration and have a certain feeling of “I know these things already”, as we become more and more saturated with the undigested knowledge. Then after a while we drop the study of all those books and move onto something else. What remains from that studying is not so much if it is compared with the amount of time we spend reading. It is like trying to row a boat with our fingers: no matter how diligently we flail them, the boat will not move.
This is why in the beginning it is good to take one treaty, read it very well and assimilate it and then choose the next one. And when we know many of them very well, then it is much more easy to make different kinds of correlation that represent the reality and not a fantasy created by our mind. By having a good overall view on a theory we can notice correlations between aspects that before did not make any sense when put together. Now suddenly we notice how they complement each other.
For example in the beginning when we read about the chakras we tend to understand them as separate totalities. But when becoming more familiar with them we start to notice how they interact with each other, how the functioning of one chakra affects another and how they manifest in our own being. This means that we are connecting the pieces of knowledge with each other and that we bring them to life. In this way studying becomes something profound and a tool that can transform our being in a Divine way. When we appreciate spiritual truths, knowledge and practice and see their value and sacredness, we start to see the Divine Light shining through all of them.
By yoga teacher Maxim Hongell