It’s a great mistake to try to reduce stress and tension by avoiding challenges and difficulties. There are some people who never do anything, and they’re always relaxed. Such lives may be pleasant, but they don’t advance you spiritually.
You do not attain peace merely by escaping responsibility. You attain it by discharging your responsibilities and winning on the battlefield of life, and by winning in the true sense. Success in life doesn’t necessarily mean winning in an outward way or even doing a good job. It means learning an important life lesson.
A step toward infinite freedom
Years ago I was invited by the Peace Corps to teach a group of young men who were going to India, and I accepted the job for two reasons. It paid very well, which helped me get Ananda started. The other reason was that I felt I could help these young men appreciate India in the deepest sense.
But they weren’t interested in what I had to say. They didn’t want to learn about Indian philosophy; they wanted to learn about five-year plans, village rehabilitation, and those kinds of things. I tried everything I could think of to arouse their interest but finally I had to admit to myself that I had failed.
Suddenly, in accepting that failure, I felt great victory because I realized that the failure didn’t really matter. I’d always been nonattached to the fruits of my actions, but this experience helped to drive that thought more deeply into my consciousness: I had done my best; the results were purely in God’s hands. And I realized that true success is different from what we normally consider success.
True success means taking a step toward infinite freedom because we’ve learned an important life lesson that we no longer need to repeat. Only that kind of success gives true peace. We can relax about these lessons once we have learned them. As long as there’s any fear — fear of the test, fear of being drawn into the karma, fear of failure, or even fear of success, then there is still karma to be worked out.
There is book by Joan Grant which makes a similar point. She tells us in the book that she remembered a past incarnation in which she had been in a bullfight on Crete. She later realized she’d been born into that life only to develop the courage to be able to face that bull. Whether she was killed or not didn’t matter. Her victory was in being able muster the courage to face that bull in a life or death struggle. Finding that level of courage was her success.
The pull of unwillingness
Most people are pulled in two directions. While they’re doing something, they’re wishing they weren’t doing it. For your spiritual growth, don’t try to reduce stress by avoiding what you’ve been given to do. Troubles and difficulties are your opportunity for growth.
I used to wish that I could be a hermit. I used to wish I didn’t have to teach. I constantly was wishing that I didn’t have to think about money and practical things. Despite my reluctance, I did what I had to do. That was important, but it would have been better still if I’d been able to say, “Oh, joy, let me do it!” It was only after I learned to accept what I had to do as my dharma, that I was able to put out the level of energy and creativity that enabled God’s grace to flow. Until then it was a standoff between the two sides of my nature.
We need to think, “As long as I’ve got to do this, let me enjoy doing it and learn that the true enjoyment is doing it for God.” When we give what we’re doing to God, we find that there is a great joy and even great relaxation in the process.
Learn to act from within outward
One of the most important ways to be relaxed is not to care what other people think about what you should, or should not, be doing. When I was young my father took the family to Capri. We took a tour bus up to Villa Tiberius, where the Emperor Tiberius had his villa, and the view from there was stupendous. However, after about five minutes, the tour guide and the bus conductor said, “All right, let’s go.” But my father hadn’t finished enjoying the view, and he wasn’t going to let the conductor rush him.
Everybody else was in the bus. The bus driver was honking and the tour guide was saying, “Come on, come on.” My father just quietly stood there and enjoyed the view, and when he was finished, he got on the bus. There was no need to rush. If we’d come to enjoy the view, why not do what we came for?
The teachings of yoga say we should be centered in ourselves. My father was not a yogi but he was non-attached and very centered. If you can reach that level of being centered in yourself, and of acting from within outward, then you will have that degree of poise and relaxation to turn left or right as the circumstances dictate.
Yogis often use a cat to illustrate the kind of relaxation that is needed. When you pick up a cat that’s relaxing, it’s completely limp, absolutely relaxed. But if you threaten it in any way, instantly it’s on its feet. So we need to be completely relaxed, centered in ourselves but ready at a moment’s notice to go one way or another.
Work on developing an attitude of non-attachment to the fruits of your actions. A person who knows he is doing his best isn’t going to waste energy thinking about the results. People with that attitude will have the degree of relaxation needed to work without tension or fear, and even if they fail, they are able to rise again.
“I am ever the same”
Fear is one of the main things that prevent people from having the kind of centeredness and relaxation that leads to true success: fear of failure, fear of unforeseen obstacles, fear of death.
It’s very helpful to visualize the fear actually being fulfilled, to visualize the worst possible results of whatever you’re doing, because the anticipation is almost always greater than the realization. Once you’ve accept a certain possibility, you can then put all of your energy into the constructive action necessary for success.
To overcome fear, try also to remember that you are not the body. Sometimes in the expiation of bad karma the body is subjected to terrible tortures. People do terrible things to one another. Then there are the prophecies of horrible things that might happen globally, of continents being submerged. And we don’t know what our fate is.
But it will help you if in your mind you can say, “I’m not this body. I don’t need it. I’m not affected by the changes that take place in this body.” When you go to bed at night, give everything, including your body, back to God. Learn to say, as Anandamoyi Ma did, “Whatever happens to this body, I am ever the same.”
Perfect love casts out fear
In the Bible we read that perfect love casts out fear. When you love God deeply enough there is nothing to fear because you know He’s always with you.
We find that level of courage in saints. They don’t have fear. They don’t even think of themselves as doing something courageous. All they know is that they’ve placed themselves completely in God’s hands. Their courage is based on the kind of total faith and total self-offering that says, “Nothing matters. It’s all God.”
It’s important to work toward attaining that level of courage. If in the process you sometimes feel anxiety about something, don’t pull back. Just call on God to support you in whatever you have to do. The time will come when you will be victorious over that fear.
Remember also that our thoughts send out a kind of magnetism that draws to us whatever is expressive of that thought. Fear, in other words, attracts the very thing that we’re afraid of. People who undergo a disaster of a certain kind in some way have put out a call for that disaster. It’s usually a subconscious call but it’s nonetheless in the aura.
If you have fear, it behooves you to overcome the fear, if only because that fear may attract to you the very thing you’re afraid of. You can overcome fear by strong positive thoughts. That positive attitude will strengthen your aura and protect you. You can also meditate and harmonize the vibrations in the heart, and then consciously send out those vibrations in all directions. This practice also strengthens the aura and protects you. Live in the thought of being surrounded by an aura of God’s light.
Conditions are neutral
Paramhansa Yogananda said, “Conditions are always neutral.” They seem good or bad according to the positive or negative attitude of the mind. We can make the best of even the worst circumstances. We have to be practical, but the most important thing is to have faith in God and to live in the thought that God is with you always. Faith in God will give you the level of relaxation you need to fight the battles of life most effectively.
Excerpted from the talk, How to Overcome Stress and Fear.
Related reading: Ananda Yoga for Higher Awareness by Swami Kriyananda