Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Turning a 'Teachable Moment' into a 'Teachable Year.'

We’ve recently heard this term ‘A Teachable Moment.’ I think President Obama was the first to use it; at least his use of it was the first time I heard it. I really like this term, as it seems that the highest approach to life is to view each moment as a ‘teachable moment.’ And what is there to learn now? And now? And now?

It’s not that we have to be saying these words in our mind. Spiritual progress is not about words, no matter how sophisticated we become. It is a certain approach to things. Certain words can allude to the approach, but once we understand the true meaning of the words, we go right into the approach without the help of the words. We naturally view life as What can be learned in this moment? How can I contribute to the harmony of this moment? How do I add to the experience of love in this moment?

Yet, it’s not a mental process. There is a mental process to it, but it’s only a small stepping stone. It’s more a process of attention, intention, and will. There is a section in our course that explores the activation and coordination of these 3 qualities. Once we use will to focus attention on our consciously chosen intention, we live according to our inner aspirations, and according to our own dharma.

In the realm of spirituality there are many paradoxes. For example, the yogic scriptures tell us we are already pure and perfect just as we are, and that any attempts to improve are only the persistence of the ego. Yet, on the other hand, it is dharmic to do our own part, to play our own role, to function as whoever we have chosen to be in this particular incarnation. Not only that, the dharma is to do it the very best we can, to give each moment our best shot.

Swami Shivananda once said: Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest of acts. This is the secret of success.

We can simultaneously be pure, perfect, and divine just as we are, while also bringing awareness and presence to each moment through a subtle movement of will. This is doing the sadhana presented to us through our own karma.

There is a delicate balance: one is resting in our present perfection; while the other is performing the next action to participate in playing this particular karmic role in the divine play of life.

If we can maintain this delicate balance, we live on such a subtle and refined realm of being even while in this body, and while performing all the actions associated with our dharma. Our dharma is our right thing to do in this world, in this life, in this moment. It is living so that all our words and actions are for the mutual benefit of all around us, and for all with whom we share any relationship or situation.

Dharma is doing whatever is necessary to be in harmony with our karma. Through the activation of subtle will we can simply be in harmony with our karma, with no other action necessary.

Living according to dharma is living to contribute to the lives of all those around us, according to our own abilities and resources. We cannot live only for ourselves or our soul will atrophy. Giving is the key to keeping the natural flow moving in our own life; otherwise everything is clogged.

With awareness and presence, we can make 2010 a ‘teachable year’ filled to the brim with ‘teachable moments.’ Even as we rest in our own purity, perfection, and divinity, we also remain open to learning what is new. My teacher once told me that there is no end of new things to learn. Since the Internet didn’t even exist then, it has turned out to be very, very true, on many levels of existence. Every day there is something new to learn.

Learning something new keeps us young. When we stop learning new things, we start to age.

There were some very good questions in the comments following the last entry. There is an excellent ‘relationship’ question from Naganath, and I recommend the dialogue with Leela as well.

I’m including the last question posted there in this entry, since I feel the ‘response’ is equally applicable to many people’s life situations—like the man who writes about how to deal with his noisy neighbors, the woman who wonders how to relate to her mother-in-law, the man who wonders how to deal with the death of his wife, the couple learning to live with the reality of cancer, the young mother struggling to keep up with her young children, the couple coping with the onset of Alzheimer's, and so on—the list is long. There is no end of karmic situations to deal with, otherwise there would be no reason to be here, and nothing new to learn.

Here is the question and response:

“I am on Lesson 9, which talks about coming into harmony with everything. There is a lot for me in this lesson! I moved to Ecuador four years ago to be of service. My husband and I are working with the Indigenous Indians in the High Andes. Unfortunately, not all ex-patriots are altruistic. In fact, there are a shocking number of con artists and pedophiles. Since they are ‘gringos’ and there are not so many of us here, these people are often in my ‘present moment.’

“I have a difficult time coming into harmony with them. On three occasions I have come forward and participated in getting them expelled from the country. What I can't get my mind around is this: What inside of me, is reflecting and creating these people? I have done a lot of soul searching and honestly don't find anything within me that would cheat or steal or harm a child. Why are these people in my life? What am I doing wrong? I'm not trying to be argumentative nor take issue with your teachings. I am only trying to understand what I'm doing that creates these people. Because if I knew, I would make every effort to stop.”

The easy answer is "karma." As Paramahansa Yogananda put it, All is karma, all is grace.

In the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna asked Krishna why he had to go to war against his cousins and uncles, Krishna told him, and I'm paraphrasing, "There is no way you could possibly understand all the karmic influences that has led to these particular circumstances. All you can do is raise your sword and live the dharma of a warrior."

In the same way, there's no way you could possibly know what put you in those circumstances, or around those particular people; all you can do is the dharma of coming into harmony with it. Through this process you become stronger, and one of the primary reasons we are here is to become stronger in certain ways. We are given karmic circumstances that allow us to develop the inner strength we need in order to be free.

This doesn’t mean that you condone their actions or feel okay about them. You still do what you do to uphold dharma, even if it results in participating in having someone expelled from the country. In this way you are helping to protect the indigenous people, which apparently is one of the primary reasons you are there.

You simply accept such actions as something that happens in the world, and be in harmony with it. We don't live in heaven; we live in the world of karma. Don't allow external karmic circumstances to affect, or determine, your inner state.

When we learn to bring our own highest and best state, our full awareness and presence, into each moment and every situation, we become master of physical life. Then the external never reigns over us again, and we are free from the happenings of this world. We transcend karma and simply watch the karmic play of this body as we would watch an interesting movie. Instead of being personally involved in it, we appreciate and even delight in the play of it, regardless of the various forms it takes.

There is some reason you are faced with the particular situations in your life, but it is not because you did something wrong. All is karma, yes, but since all is also grace, you go through whatever karma you are presented with through grace, and in doing so you become free of something vital for your eventual liberation, or enjoy some major insight that transforms every level of your being, or you become stronger or develop tolerance and endurance, which are essential to breaking free from the conditioning that binds us.

See what it is you have to learn from the situation, and do your best to be in harmony with it. Usually when we come in harmony with a situation, things begin to change on the outside as well.

Our inner consciousness is always reflected as our outer world.

Remember that the play of Consciousness exists equally in all things, and that we purify 'our' limitations and ignorance though seeing the divinity in all things, conditions, and people. Some things are more challenging than others, but remember that those very challenges are the key to your eventual liberation.

May each one of you experience a divine 2010, a year of breaking free, a year filled with ‘teachable moments,’ and most of all, a ‘teachable year.’ Each of us will be so different in a year from now, will have learned so much and expanded in so many ways, yet something eternally remains the same. What is That? Identifying with the changeless is the key to serenity.

For information about the Course of Training written by D. R. Butler and available by email, write:

For Spanish, write: