Saturday, August 1, 2009

“Will I ever ‘Get it’?”—Grace and Self-effort

Someone recently asked, “Will I ever ‘get it?’ Will I ever actually see and experience the Truth of the present moment?”

Lots of people have various versions of this question from time to time. Once I had the realization that wondering what was wrong with me was the primary problem. I also saw that the only aspect of me that would wonder such a thing would be the ego itself.

In a sense, wondering if we’ll ever ‘get it,’ prevents us from ‘getting it’ or experiencing it for oneself, as a present actuality and not merely a premise or some future goal. It reduces the experience of Truth to words, and the true experience is far beyond mere words. In fact, it is the space between words, which is infinite and eternal.

We all experience the Truth from time to time. Otherwise this blog would make no sense and you never would have read this far. You know what experiencing the Truth of the present moment is, or you wouldn’t be here. The very phrase would have no meaning for you had you never experienced it.

Enjoy this moment of getting it. Whether for a moment or an eternity, what does it matter? Ultimately they are the same. We experience the highest Truth, the most expanded state, and then moments later the ego and mind get involved in something again. We go in and out of the experience of the Truth all the time.

When we experience the Truth, we experience that the Truth is eternal and unbroken. When we forget the Truth, we even forget that we ever knew the Truth, and wonder if it’s ever actually possible. Most of us go back and forth between these two experiences, depending on our state at the time.

The point of spiritual work, or work for personal development, or for the expansion of consciousness, or for eventual freedom and liberation—or however we choose to understand it—is to increase the amount of time we experience the Truth and to decrease the amount of time we forget the Truth. Ultimately, as we mature spiritually, we gain consistency, and this greater degree of consistency is true growth.

The experience of the Truth is beyond time and space, therefore a moment of Truth is eternal. There is no ‘Truth’ limited to time or space. The Truth, or pure Consciousness, is timeless and formless. It has no seeming linear reality in the way the physical, objective world does, with our ongoing descriptions of melodramas and so forth.

Appreciate and honor those moments of Truth as they arise. Just because you don’t consciously ‘remember’ them doesn’t mean they never happen. The experience is only real now.

Someone else wrote to ask, “It seems that your course is more about self-effort and not so much about grace? Would you consider this to be true?”

To be honest, it has been my experience and observation that not many people truly understand grace, although many have erroneous ideas regarding it. One person actually quit the course because she preferred to do spiritual work through grace instead of self-effort.

Let’s look at this. Through grace we are alive, through grace we experience love, through grace we have each other, and through grace our predominant thoughts manifest as outer realities. Through grace we breathe and the heart beats. This doesn’t mean that grace is going to do our sadhana (spiritual work) for us.

God has given us the free will to think whatever we choose, and thought leads to action, which leads to reaction. Our habitual thoughts set off chain-reactions that go all around the world for all we know.

Through grace our thoughts do become real, but it’s up to us whether we think of what we want or what we don’t want. It’s up to our own self-effort whether we think pleasant thoughts or unpleasant thoughts. Grace gives us the power to do the work, but grace doesn’t do the work for us. On the level of being an individual, there are certain things we must do for ourselves.

If we are having an unpleasant day, we can be certain that we are thinking unpleasant thoughts. Through grace our thoughts manifest emotionally and physically, usually in that order. Yet we determine what we think with our own free will. The problem is, most of us don’t use it, and instead settle into automatic, predictable patterns of thought and reactivity.

This is our primary responsibility as an individual: to determine what we think instead of mechanically being swept along by a torrent of habitual tendencies from the past.

The weird part is that most of us reading this already think we know this, that we already do this, and that I am merely harping on the most elementary fundamentals. Yet, for the most part we don’t actually practice these principles in our lives on a moment-to-moment basis.

We give ourselves credit for understanding the principles, we say, I’ve known about creative thought for years. Let’s get to the good stuff, let's study the more advanced aspects of Advaita Vedanta, yet we don’t do it in the most practical ways in day-to-day life. We don’t actually practice what we think we already know. Therefore, most of us need more self-effort—which is primarily an activation and coordination of attention, conscious intent, and will. This is discussed in detail in the lessons by email.

To many of us this sounds very simple. Yet to actually practice it in our own life often seems almost impossible. Through grace we come upon these teachings, through grace we gain an awareness of the principles, and through grace the principles do bear fruit if we practice them and not merely agree in theory. Grace even gives us the inherent power to practice. Yet we have to practice the application of the principles through our own self-effort. It does no good to merely “know about” the possibility.

There were some excellent questions in the comments following the previous entry, and if you haven’t read them, please take time to do so. I hope you include the comments in your reading of the blog, as a lot of information and inspiration is there. Here are a couple of questions from last time that are well worth rereading:

Jackson: Sometimes (my wife) relates to me very disrespectfully and criticizes me for things that seem to me like her own projections and have nothing to do with me. My question is how do I know whether she is deluded and sees things about me that are her own imagination and actually have nothing to do with me, or whether I am deluded to the point that I can’t see the truth of what she says?

D. R. Butler: It is important to first understand that it does not matter if your wife knows the truth about you or not. Ultimately, of course, you might need to understand this, but that’s not where you start off. You start off by understanding why you are seeing her as you are, and what is being reflected back to you that you need to understand about yourself.

We each experience the consequences of our own actions and attitude, and our own ways of seeing and understanding things. If you see your wife as “disrespectful and critical,” it is important that you understand what it is about yourself that causes you to see this particular reflection. In other words, the important thing is not to understand your wife’s projections onto you, but to understand your own projections onto her.

See that you are the one who is conscious of disrespect and criticism, therefore including them in your personal reality. Don’t blame them on your wife or anyone else. Replace them with respect and appreciation instead, and you’ll see something totally different in your life as well as your wife.

Relate to her with love and respect, with lightheartedness, and don’t take her too seriously when she seems to be the ways you have the most trouble with. Don’t come back at her when you feel unjustly blamed or attacked. Don’t get defensive. Simply stay centered in your own harmonious state. Of course it will be challenging, but that is where you have to start if you truly wish to change anything.

If you can remain steady within yourself, and not be pulled into reacting to whatever she is or isn’t experiencing, or how she does or doesn’t see you, or however you happen to see her, things cannot remain as they presently appear to be. You will see that your relationship always reflects your own attitude and your own vision. The way the other person affects you is not up to them; it is up to you.

See and relate to your wife in the ways you would like for her to see and relate to you. Ultimately everything in our own life originates from our own vision. We see it before it becomes real for us, and how we see something is the cause of what we see. This especially applies to relationships of any nature.

Susan: The part that I am still struggling with is how I relate to myself. I'm less kind and less positive in my internal dialog when that part of me that I call the "Judge" gets on a roll. Any hints about how to develop internal compassion?

D. R. Butler: The closest we have to an actual “original sin" is thinking lowly of ourselves, being critical of ourselves, and generally feeling unworthy. We do not outgrow this, and it does not fall away on its own accord. It is the human condition, and was described in certain scriptures thousands of years ago.

We have to consciously practice thinking well of ourselves, respecting ourselves, and loving ourselves. When done correctly, the persistent ego is humbled. This is the highest discipline.

This does not happen automatically, or simply by deciding to do so. We have to do the work, or actually apply the principles in real life, in order for the transformation to occur. We are currently, thanks to grace, engaged in that process.

I look forward to the comments following this entry, and I give thanks to those who contribute their questions. Often, in reading the answers to the questions of others, our own questions are answered as well, and through each simple exchange all of us can learn something new.