Strength and Support: How They Can Be Opposites
by Bronte Baxter
I recently went through one of those life experiences where you lose several important things at once. In my case, it was a very close friend, my only employee, and my only volunteer for a charity I administrate, all in the same day. Back when I was a young woman, I once lost my fiance and my career job within days of each other. In both these instances, I felt initially absolutely devastated. And to my great surprise, shortly after, I felt not only better than before, but absolutely wonderful. I felt like I had returned to connection with a deep level of myself, like I was once again living from there after a long time away.
In the most recent case, I not only felt better, but noticed that all my irritability had gone. Impatience is an inherited trait that I feel is one of my main personality flaws. But when I was stranded two weeks ago, with nowhere to turn for support, I was left with only one resource, myself. I was forced, so to speak, back on myself, and when that happened, suddenly small things that normally irritated me didn’t anymore. I felt serene, lighter, more competent. I got more done. I felt like a better person. And problems I’d been dealing with somehow got resolved, without the struggle I had been accustomed to.
That the losses made things better came as a great surprise. I’ve spent considerable meditation time focusing on the mystery, looking within to understand what I just went through. Why did I lose the friend, the employee, and the volunteer? What did I contribute that influenced their leaving? And why did I feel better with their being gone, even though my outer burdens had greatly increased by the loss?
Insights come to me in packets, not in linear reasoning – the kind of thing Robert Monroe described in his books as “thought balls.” I’ll try to unravel the thought ball that exploded on me regarding this situation, because the information in it makes sense of so much more than just the isolated experience. I think it explains a lot about how the universe works.
The ancient Hindu holy books (such as The Bhagavad-Gita) teach that the core flaw in the human make-up is desire. They teach that to be spiritually free, we must be and act without desire, that we must want nothing that exists in the outer world, that we must only value the transcendental divine. We are told to renounce the things of the world in order to please God, to sacrifice ourselves and our desires to God, in order to become worthy of liberation. The Indian gurus teach that the physical world is an illusion, a quagmire for souls wandering away from their original home in the infinite. To get back home, we must extricate ourselves from the quagmire, we’re told; the more we renounce the things of this world, sacrificing personal desires to the gods, the more direct our homeward journey.
This philosophy is riddled with lies to waylay the human spirit, but like most popular religious doctrines, it contains within it the distortion of a truth – a truth so powerful and empowering that the religions must cloak it in heavy disguise to keep people from discovering it and becoming free of their system of control. For years I have been repelled by the Indian teaching that desires are bad and that we must give up material things to be spiritual, and I’ve lived in quite the opposite direction. But only with the arrival of this thought-ball did I perceive the truth beneath the “desires must be renounced” lie, the truth the controllers are so worried we’ll discover.
That truth is that it is not desires that lead away from spiritual freedom; rather, the problem is looking outside ourselves for the source of our support. So long as we cling to people and things in the belief that we need them to survive, we live in the illusion that we don’t have what it requires to take care of ourselves through our own spiritual power. Desires are not damaging per se; they only weaken us if we desire in the spirit of neediness, as someone who must have the support of a particular person, place, or thing in order to be safe, well, abundant, or happy. By contrast, when we have desires that come from joy, from self-expressiveness, from creativity and happiness, those desires shine the infinite within us out into the world, making the world a more beautiful place. They do not weaken us; rather, they brighten existence.
By getting people to think that desires are the enemy, Eastern religions have succeeded in destroying the creativity and gumption that are needed to transform the Earth into something wonderful. By telling us the outer world is just “Illusion” and therefore of no intrinsic worth, they get people to stop caring, doing, desiring, solving problems, and making things better. In fact, desires are treasures if they come from the place deep within us. They are the channel through which the infinite continually creates, expressing itself in the universe.
The artist desires to make a beautiful painting; the lover desires to develop a tender relationship; the builder desires to build a fantastic mansion; and the entrepreneur desires to build a vibrant business. There is nothing innately wrong with those desires – they are divine in their origin. The problem only comes in when the artist thinks he can’t survive without a patron, the lover thinks he must have his beloved in order to live, the builder believes construction depends on things outside of his control, and the entrepreneur thinks he’s at the mercy of the market.
In all these examples, the problem is one of looking in the wrong place for support: the problem is not with the desire itself. When we go through a devastating loss and feel better than we did when we had the thing we wanted, it’s because the loss has freed us from our false belief that we must have the support of that thing or person in order to thrive. Our desire was of the dependent kind, not the joyous self-expressive kind. We started out with a joyous desire most likely, but then forgot where the happiness was coming from: our inner self. We forgot that the art comes from a glorious inner vision that is dependent on no one, that the beloved was drawn to us on account of the inherent attraction in who we are, that the mansion was born in the mind and can only spring from there – nowhere else – into reality, and that the business runs on the natural gravity/attraction between people of kindred interests.
It’s not that support does not come to us from the outer world (the environment) or that it shouldn’t. Things around us naturally are drawn to us in accord with the workings of our mind and heart. The things we focus on do indeed gather around us, and if we’re in tune with ourselves, thinking in a way that is joyous and centered, then the things we attract are good, and the support we need for our dreams and desires manifests in our life in the form of magnificent outer phenomena. The money comes just when we need it, the love is there for us that we long to experience, the material resolution to a problem we are dealing with naturally appears.
Things and people come to us as support, but the source of the support is not the things and people: it is the mechanism of desiring in an integrated way, of desiring from the level of our inner font of infinity. It is our inner font of fullness that draws to us the things we need when we need them, that fulfills our desires. So long as we’re in touch with this, we don’t rely too heavily on the manifestation of support that appears. We know it comes from the inner source of infinite supply, so we’re not too attached to how things play out. We know if a person who supported us leaves or changes, someone or something better will appear – someone or something more resonant with our needs, attracted to fulfilling them because doing so fulfills their own desires of joyous expression.
In other words, so long as we are in touch with the miracle of where things really come from – the inner divine – we will always have the outer support we need without being overly dependent on it. We will have needs and desires, the environment will support them, but we’ll know it is the infinite that supports the things and people in the environment that is providing for us. We’ll know to go to the infinite within us when we are in need, rather than begging or manipulating people to help us when they don’t want to, and rather than grasping for things that belong to others. We’ll navigate the outer world with a song in our heart, gracefully moving among our brethren, attracting to us everything we wish for in a way that supports at the same time as we are supported.
It’s easy to get off-kilter when things are going well, and to find ourselves forgetting where the good in our life came from. We start to think we’re happy because so-and-so is there, and how would we ever get by without her? The valued employee comes to be seen as irreplaceable. The job that pays our bills starts to seem like the reason we have the things we do. In fact, good things are there because we first desired them (in the harmonious, empowered state of consciousness that attracts), and it is the inner infinite – the source of all desire and fulfillment – that sustains us, not its expressions in the world that appear when they are needed.
Suffering is not caused by having desires. It’s caused by desiring things in a wimpy, helpless way. And by believing that something outside ourselves (something other than the infinite source within) is responsible for making us happy.
When we get off-center and start to get stuck in the physical manifestations of life, people we depended on tend to pull away from us, because we get needy and put pressure on them to stay with us. They no longer feel they are there because they want to be, but because we insist we can’t do without them. The joyous desire they had to support us fades into resentment, and they start to look for a way of leaving. No one wants to feel they are our main life support, because that calls them away from living their own life based on their own inner callings. Because we get desperate, they feel perhaps they are duty-bound to stay with us forever, but their resentment builds at that, because our desperation interferes with their need to take direction from the desires within, not from someone outside themselves.
When we’ve gotten ourselves into a dependent situation, I think it is the divine within both ourselves and the other person that maneuvers to destroy the bond, because the bond has become suffocating. Suddenly we’re irritated all the time with the person we think we need so desperately, and we don’t know why we’re acting that way. The “needed” person stops having fun being with us. And eventually something explodes to blow the relationship to bits, and both people sit in their aloneness wondering what just happened.
What happened, I think, is that our inner infinite self worked subconsciously to break us free of a relationship that had become unhealthy, of an illusion we were developing that we were dependent on something outside for our contentment or success. Our inner divine nature felt confined by the small shapes we were boxing ourselves into, and rebelled. It blew the thing up to get back in control, to regain its seat in our awareness as the ordainer of our life. Our deepest self rebelled, and kicked out the intruder who had usurped it as god. We’re stunned, we weep, but we feel better. We had become spiritually sick; the fever finally broke, and we are well again.
Hinduism teaches that by renouncing desires we regain our connection with our inner infinity. That is the explanation behind the doctrine that celibacy and poverty embraced through monastic living lead to spiritual liberation (enlightenment). In fact, cutting off our desires maims us spiritually. We cease functioning as a vibrant expression of the infinite in this world.
But there is a kernel of wisdom inside this admonition for withdrawal from pleasant sense experiences: by pulling ourselves back from the pleasures of the senses, we encourage our attention to go inward, reconnecting with its unlimited source. The mind constantly directed outward into the world of matter through sense experience tends to get overshadowed by the world. It forgets who it is: its heritage as a child of infinity, eternity, that field of all possibilities.
By withdrawing the senses from the world sometimes, we’re able to restore our experience of our inmost selves. That’s what meditation is supposed to do (and does, if we don’t allow gods and mantras to interfere with it). That’s what fasting is supposed to do. That’s what alone time is supposed to do. We all need to touch base with base camp regularly in order to remember the way back there and to keep the flow of supplies coming from there into our life.
When we overindulge in eating, eating more than we need to, eating for sheer pleasure, being “decadent” as we call it with a laugh, we are doing action that takes us away from consciousness of our power. We overindulge because the soothing pleasure of food makes us feel supported, nurtured. We overindulge with “comfort food.” But this is a dangerous practice because by taking in more than we need, we contribute to the illusion that we rely on food to feel comfortable and happy. With habitual overeating, this belief deepens in our psyche. We really think we can’t survive without oodles of cookies, or without lots of steak. This belief disconnects us from the glory and power of our inner selves, and makes us more dependent on something outside ourselves for our happiness and survival. In time, such a belief leads to overweight and health problems, which further limit our easy expression of the infinite source.
How much of the need to eat is the belief in the need to eat? How much of it is bad habit? The good thing is that by withdrawing ourselves from constantly indulging in pleasurable tastes, we can break the dependence. By eating less, by rejecting the option of eating certain delightful bites of food, we step back into ourselves, the power of our spirituality, and out of the illusion of the need to constantly taste.
Eating takes the life away from something else, from the entity we are eating. I often think the need to eat is the essential flaw in the universe. It has us dependent on taking the life of others in order to live ourselves, when in fact, being made of infinite energy, we should – in theory – be able to survive just fine on our own inner infinite power supply. Because we don’t know how to do that, we all are engaged in stealing or destroying the life of other things in order to prolong our own. Surely the Infinite, in creating the world, had a better idea in mind. Surely we’ve gotten lost somewhere. Spiritual adulthood surely must include learning to live on the light of God within rather than constantly needing to take life from others. The door to learning how to live on God’s light is surely approached by choosing to eat less compulsively, less automatically, less mindlessly. By saying no a lot of the time to pleasant taste experiences, just to develop our spiritual muscle. To break the powerful connection between ourselves and our food, the deep conviction that we must take life in order to survive. It seems to me that by withdrawing from unnecessary food, we should be able to slowly build up the power to live without taking life.
It would be stupid, of course, to suddenly stop eating. To withdraw from the support of food without first building up our skill in sustaining ourselves on the infinite energy supply within – that would kill most if not all of us. I say “most” because I’ve heard of people who claim to have done it, but why risk your life finding out if it’s possible, when you can find out safely by making gradual, healthy changes in your eating habits? Research shows that most permanent improvements in lifestyle are made not by radical reversals but by gradual introduction of better habits. That certainly would be a wiser approach to dietary change than something extreme and potentially life-threatening. Our lives are precious, and it’s wrong to carelessly gamble with them. I’ve added this paragraph for any reader who might get the idea that Bronte thinks it’s good to just stop eating in order to develop spiritual power. That’s nonsense. You can’t do much with your spiritual power in this world if you’re dead.
But I do think pulling back from the excesses of eating, and sometimes withdrawing from the pleasures of taste for a period, redirects the mind to remember and connect with its spiritual source. It’s a valid practice, just as is the kind of genuine meditation that simply focuses the attention back on itself, attaining the primordial state of alert, serene stillness. By consciously experiencing our inner nature through meditation, we naturally start acting from that deep, powerful level in our daily life. This is spiritual empowerment, and the secret of success in the world.
© Bronte Baxter 2010 – all rights reserved.