Adversity as Opportunity
In my experience it is not always easy to remember God during the good times. Then something upsetting happens, we feel bad, and we call on God. Emotional upsets get our attention.
Seemingly a daunting task
At the start of my spiritual search, I defined the spiritual path primarily as meditation. I was fortunate to have a very regular daily meditation habit from the beginning. While not always deep, I would tell myself, “At least I’m moving in the right direction, toward the true goal of life.”
It wasn’t until I had been meditating some years, and became involved with Ananda, that it finally dawned on me that success on the spiritual path was not just about meditation. It was a fulltime job that demanded a complete change in thought patterns. I was being asked to look at every moment of every day and to bring God into it, and I was supposed to do this while trying to deal with all the demands of daily life.
This was a daunting task. Even though I grasped it intellectually, my habit of using the rational mind to influence and direct my life was deeply ingrained and much stronger than my attempts to practice God’s presence. Often my daily life went on just as before.
A gradual shift
Once I committed to the spiritual path, God and Guru introduced circumstances into my life that pushed me in the direction I needed to grow. First marriage and later, a baby, brought new challenges.
More recently I have been asked to serve in positions that require me to work closely with many diverse people, and I get pushed out of my comfort zone more often. As challenges arise, I remember more often to ask Divine Mother in the moment, “What would you do?” and to pray for guidance about specific situations and people.
Nonetheless, I can still get swept away in the busy details of life. I may have a nice morning meditation but then, boom! Here comes daily life. After a couple of hours of responding to emails, answering the phone, dealing with the crisis of the day, I might remember, “Oh yeah, think about God and Guru.” Then the phone rings again and off I go.
The day will go by, and I will sit to meditate at night and realize that I had not called on God or Guru during the day. I remember more often than I used to, but not as much as I aspire to.
I’ve begun to realize that it’s mainly during moments of adversity that I remember to focus and draw on God’s presence, ask for guidance, or do japa. I’ve come to see how valuable the difficult times are, and how we can embrace adversity as an impetus to remember to practice God’s presence.
So I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned about turning emotional upsets into opportunities to call on God.
A four-step process
Recognize the upset
The first step is to recognize when I am off center. Most of us are really good at recognizing emotional agitation in others but less so in ourselves. In the midst of the upset, we usually see the problem as “out there;” something’s wrong with the world, with another person, not with us. But Yogananda teaches that events are neutral; it’s our reactions that cause us to suffer.
How do we recognize the agitation? It might be an unsettled feeling centered in the heart. It might be thoughts that keep coming when we’re trying to accomplish a task or sit to meditate: “Why did he do that to me?” “Why did they say that to me?” “I don’t want to feel this way.”
Some people live so embroiled in negative emotions—anger, worry, fear, hatred, jealousy, grief, pride, resentment— that an agitated consciousness seems normal. Fortunately, devotees have a meditation practice. The more we meditate, the more we begin to live in that calm inner center. When emotional agitation pulls us out of it, we recognize the need to do something to regain our inner calm.
After recognizing the agitation, do whatever you need to do to get out of the emotional whirlpool. Choose a technique: Do deep breathing. Silently chant “Aum Guru” or some other mantra. Focus at the spiritual eye and pray for calmness. Look at a photo of the Guru, especially the Guru’s eyes.
If possible, change your environment so that you’re disengaged from the outer stimulus that pushed you over the edge in the first place.
Separate yourself from the person or persons who upset you. Unplug from the media so you’re not reminded of the economic stresses that worry you, or the undefined fears of disaster that haunt your subconscious. Remove yourself from the surroundings that remind you of the loss of a pet or loved one.
I have found that the calming techniques are usually more effective if I can get a little space from what upset me in the first place.
Redirect the energy
One of the problems I experienced in trying to draw on God’s presence was that my efforts were plagued by low energy. My mind would get distracted, my prayers would be half-hearted, or I would slip into a subconscious state.
However, when feeling negative emotions, I noticed that even though I was in a negative vortex, my prayers and meditation efforts had much more energy and meaning. Suffering can thus lead to positive spiritual changes once we succeed in redirecting our energy and offering it up to God and Guru.
So when you’re alone, redirect that energy by using it to chant, meditate, and call on God and Guru to help you. When we put more energy into calling on God, He is much more likely to respond.
The initial response is usually a reconnection to interior calmness and joy. But, I have found that it can also take the form of alleviating the outward problem that precipitated the upset in the first place.
And then give thanks that someone or something “pushed your buttons,” and for the last several days you remembered to call to God because you were miserable. Thank God for giving you the opportunity to do that. By remembering how much calling on God helped you, you move closer to living always in His presence.
This approach in action
An example of how this approach can solve a problem in a dramatic way involved our son when he was a year and a half old. He became sick and couldn’t keep any food down. It seemed like a normal sickness, but after two days and he was still throwing up and crying, worry began to set in.
This went on for three more days. By day five we had seen a doctor, followed the instructions, but nothing had changed. Our son was still sick, and hadn’t eaten in four days.
More and more my wife and I were becoming caught in a vortex of negative emotions—fear and also anger because we weren’t getting any sleep. All along we’d been reading books trying to find an answer and asking everyone we knew for advice—but we had not called on God.
Finally, on the fifth day, we woke up and said, “Oh, let’s pray.” So we began praying and offering the situation up to God and Guru. We also put our son’s name on the community’s healing prayer list. Within a few hours Divine Mother sent the answer in the form of a community member who approached my wife and asked, “What’s going on?”
My wife filled her in, and the community member (who was Italian) said, “My son had something like that. Doctors in this country don’t usually recognize the symptoms, but it’s called acetona, and it’s a ketone imbalance. Here’s a homeopathic remedy, which I happen to have, that will take care of it.” My wife gave our son the remedy and within three hours, he was completely back to normal and eating.
But, we had been caught in such a powerful vortex that it had taken us five days to step back and remember to bring God and Guru into our search for a solution. Once we had disengaged enough to call on God, our fervent prayers were quickly answered. We still remember this incident, and are grateful for the lessons it taught us about the power of bringing God into our lives.
Transcending the greatest adversities
My son’s illness was a dramatic example of how adversity can remind us to call on God. Many people have transcended the greatest of adversities by clinging to God.
One instance that I read about recently is Corrie Ten Boom’s story. (The Hiding Place and Tramp for the Lord.) Corrie was a middle-aged woman living in the Netherlands with her older sister and father when the Nazis occupied her country. Hers was a very devout Christian family with a deep inner relationship with Jesus.
For hiding Jews in their house, Corrie and her sister were arrested and sent to a Dutch prison. Later, they were moved to Ravensbrook, a concentration camp deep in Germany, with unbelievably horrendous conditions. In both places Corrie and her sister led secret Bible sessions with other prisoners, prayed for people, and constantly drew on Jesus’ inner presence.
Corrie’s sister died in the concentration camp, but Corrie’s deep connection to God and Jesus gave her the strength to overcome her grief, hatred, and despair. She survived, was released, and later traveled around the world telling people that it was possible to transcend the worst adversities if you pray and call on God and Jesus.
She even went to Germany. Once, after giving a talk on forgiveness, a guard who had been at Ravensbrook walked up to her and extended his hand. He didn’t remember her, but she recognized him: he had been one of the cruelest guards.
She wrote that during those seconds, she wrestled with the most difficult thing she had ever done. She silently prayed, “Jesus help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much, but you supply the feeling.”
Slowly she raised her hand and gave it to this man. At that moment, she was flooded with the most incredible love and joy. She wrote, “I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did in that moment.”
We have to learn our lessons
Life is a school and we can’t really drop out—we have to learn our lessons. The good news is that the masters promise that God will never give us a test we’re not capable of passing.
So remember to embrace the adversities that come. When we’ve made practicing the presence of God a more dynamic part of our spiritual life, we find that we don’t wait five days after adversity strikes to call on Him. It becomes second nature because we’re always involving Him in our lives.
Peter and his wife Marga are Lightbearers who have lived at Ananda Village since 1992. He has served as manager of the Meditation Retreat and the Expanding Light guest retreat, and currently is village manager in charge of planning and day-to-day operations of the community.
To read, “Our Greatest Work in Life” by Swami Kriyananda, click here
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