From Worry to Serenity
Unless a man is insane or super-sane, he must be subject to worries, anxieties, grief, agitation and so forth. These are the stages on the way to lead a man from sanity to super-sanity, that is, spiritual wisdom...Our worries and anxieties can be made footstools towards the higher life of truth, beauty and liberation for all mankind—like the love of the Buddha for all living beings.
Hari Prasad Shastri
Worries are natural for humankind, faced with the many challenges of this complicated and unpredictable world. Even small children often appear to be overshadowed by concerns they cannot express, so that the compassionate mother hugs the child and says: ‘But darling, what are you worried about?’ As adults, we may have outgrown the insecurity of childhood, yet it is likely that our faces are visited many times a day by a worried expression.
We say to each other, ‘Don’t worry’, but this kind of hand-squeeze rarely changes our mood. The mind goes on worrying just the same. More to the point would be to say to our would-be comforter: ‘OK, I won’t worry if you will kindly share with me your method for stopping worries.’
It is wholesome to be reminded that worry and anxiety signify stages of mental growth. They afflict the sensitive person far more than the easy-going companion, and sensitivity is a precious human quality. Worries are often associated with a quickened conscience, or with heightened powers of reasoning and imagination. The worried mind is not sunk in indolence or sloth. It is thinking, thinking, and its ruminations are often creative.
But, as human beings, we also have an urge to progress, to move onwards and upwards. The trouble with worrying is that it is often circular and repetitive, taking its toll on our energy and stamina, and distracting us from the task in hand. Our worry-thoughts fail to show the way to anything higher or enlightening, and can inhibit us from achieving anything worth while.
In contrast, the Yoga of Self-knowledge is based on two great positive facts about human nature. The first is that our innermost being is divine. It is changeless consciousness and bliss. Our innermost Self transcends worries and anxieties, even while our mind may be worried and anxious. It subsists as the ultimate light of subtle awareness that reveals to us what is happening in our mind, yet never entering into those happenings. Free and transcendent, one Self pervades all.
Worry causes forgetfulness of our higher nature and puts us in a false position, where our feeling of identity, of ‘this I am’, is held in the finite—the mind—whereas its source is the infinite, the Self. The higher Yoga enables us to transcend not just worries and anxieties, but all mental activities and restrictions, and know ourselves as perfect peace and freedom.
The next great positive fact about human nature is that our mind can be transformed into peace and light. This means that our life can be guided in such a way that more and more of the light of our divine source, the real Self, is reflected in our mind. There is a meditation text that enshrines this principle:
OM. TAKE UP THE MIRROR OF YOUR STILLED HEART
AND LOOK AT THE REFLECTION OF INFINITY IN IT.
THIS IS WISDOM. THIS IS PEACE. OM.
There is no magic or superstition involved in this transformation. It is brought about by training—essentially a voluntary self-training, while guidance is available if we are serious about it.
During this self-training we get to know the powers and limitations of our mind, much as a teacher discerns the strengths and tendencies of a pupil. We discover that our mind functions on two different levels. First there is the level of casual, undirected mental activity. The mind goes on murmuring and mumbling, almost like a radio in the background. This is the level of our mental life that responds to outer stimuli, and that comes up with feelings like: ‘That’s good—how pleasant’ or ‘I don’t like that, I won’t look’. All these impressions and reactions, involving attraction and aversion, serve as fuel to sustain our endless, aimless, internal discourse with ourselves. For most of us, worries and anxieties function on this level of our mental life, and, for purposes of analysis, we may call it the lower mind, or manas in Sanskrit.
But manas does not exhaust our mental range, or determine our inner quality. Within the mind there is a superior, sage-like function of authority and insight that we may refer to as the higher mind. It operates when we consciously use our intellect, and when we deliberately apply our will.
The intellect does not ‘take turns’ with the lower mind. It is a subtler phase of the inner life that pervades the lower mind at all times. It always knows what manas is producing. Similarly, our will is omnipresent in manas, as another aspect of that superior function, and can be evoked at any moment to influence the thought stream.
For example, the intellect can detect daydreams, and its partner, the will, can lead us back to the point. This often happens when we are trying to learn something, and our attention is meant to be focused on the job. The lower mind wants to go on picking daisies, dreaming of the working day’s end, or speculating about the latest unread text messages, and so on. The higher mind, through intellect, becomes aware of its wanderings, and through will, brings it back to the real-time situation and purpose.
This higher faculty of the mind, this source of judgement and will-power, turns out to be the key faculty that is evoked, developed and purified in our training for enlightenment. It is stronger, more inward, more fundamentally ‘us’, than the worrying level. With insight, this higher functioning of our nature can be activated to such a degree that it can guide and direct the mental life from within, throw off slavery to aimless thinking, and lead one forward on the path to illumination.
This potential for illumination is based on the central fact that the higher part of our mind has a spiritual element in it. Intellect-will itself has a higher phase, still more inward, still closer to our true spiritual Self, and this higher phase becomes operative through our continued spiritual training.
Everyone contains within themselves the secret of life and of liberation, and it is concealed as a potentiality for expansion and transcendence within our higher mind. When this higher part of our mind is weaned from selfish preoccupations and is steeped in goodwill to all, it becomes purified and naturally begins to seek to transcend itself. It starts to have intuitive knowledge of the realm of inner freedom, infinitude, perfect peace, and self-bliss, and responds ever more willingly and lovingly to the pull of the higher life.
One way of indicating this development is to say that when our inner being becomes purified, it reflects the innermost light of our spiritual nature, the central sun of our personality, to a greater and greater degree. Then we know in our own higher experience that there is no greater good we can do to ourselves than to ‘take up the mirror of our stilled heart and look at the reflection of infinity in it’. As a Japanese spiritual author has said: ‘The brightest mirror is not on the wall.’ The brightest mirror is the human heart itself when it is tranquillized and charged with peace and goodwill to all.
There is nothing wrong with the lower kind of mental activity, as long as it is happening according to our will and conscious choice. We have to respond to life, we have to evaluate our experience with goods and bads. Our self-preservation demands that we heed the natural selectivity of the lower mind, for example, to choose what is ripe and avoid what is stale, because it helps us to survive, and is based on a wonderful practical wisdom. But the way of inner progress to enlightenment is that our mind should move according to our choice, and not as an independent or imprisoning force. This principle is suggested in the saying of the Chinese sage Mencius: ‘I spend a lifetime in careful thought, but not a moment in worry.’
What is the difference between careful thought and worry? Careful thought is a conscious process. It is ruled and guided by that higher part of our mind, our intellect and will. Careful thought means using the mind, not being used by it. Worry is largely a case of unconscious thinking. The worries are never consciously invited, but somehow manage to ambush our attention without warning.
In order to help us appreciate and practise some of the Yoga teachings on banishing worries, let us look briefly at some basic everyday strategies for dealing with worries.
1. End the outer causes of the worries, e.g. acquire a vast amount of money.
2. Escape from the environment that reminds you of your worries, e.g. take a holiday.
3. Attend to your worries at certain well-defined times; at other times, ‘they do not exist’!
4. Look at the phenomenon of worry itself, and deal with the problem from within.
1. The attempt to bring to an end the outer causes of our worries, by wealth, and so on, is most difficult. That is precisely why these worries persist. Even if we have wealth, new worries will emerge, we can be sure. There is the old story of the snares of 99.
A poor, but contented, couple, shared a simple hut and were very happy together. A rich neighbour envied their peace and joy, and craftily threw 99 rupees through the window. The next day he discovered that in the hut, the fire had not been lit, there was no smell of cooking—in fact the little hut seemed shrouded in gloom. It happened that the couple had spent the whole night counting and recounting the 99 rupees, and then searching every nook, for they felt sure it must have been a hundred—and where was the missing rupee?
No doubt many of their material needs would have been satisfied by the windfall, but instead, something in the mind had been aroused that caused fret and worrying, though there was no justification. Is it not the same in our business world today, where the wealthiest companies are ever restless and thirsty for acquisitions, and our targets are always being revised on the basis of more, more... more is best? This is called manufacturing worries out of nothing, or creating waves where there is no wind!
2. The next strategy for banishing worries is to escape from the surroundings that remind you of your troubles—to disappear for the weekend or longer, and perhaps allow your mind to be numbed by the effects of drink or drugs. Even a child can see that this is not a solution but a postponement; there is no easy escape from coming back to ‘face the music’.
3. The third strategy is to give our worries a particular time-slot, when they receive our full attention, but to give them no thought at other times. This is bordering on the higher Yoga, for it is nothing less than the careful thought recommended by Mencius. Where this is our strategy, the so-called worries no longer deserve the name; they have become challenges. We are not ruled by them. They have become practical matters demanding our attention, and need not depress us with sticky personal feelings of fear or inadequacy—feelings that go far beyond the time-slot we have given to these particular problems.
The Victorian Prime Minister, William Gladstone, was equipped with this power of inner management. His biographer and colleague, Morley, records that when Gladstone returned home from the House of Commons, while removing his hat and cloak, he would say: ‘Now I lay aside all my political business. Now that I am home, I am in a new sphere, with my family and with my studies.’ And it is said that even on the day he lost the Premiership, he returned home as normal, removing his hat and cloak, without discussing the matter, until the truth came out much later that day.
We said this application of controlled thought to one’s troubles and difficulties, is a kind of Yoga. And we can expand on this by quoting some words of Shri Dada of Aligarh:
The mind not only thinks, but has the power to choose what to think. Let it decide to think what is good, what is beneficial to all, and not what is at the time alluring but ultimately leads to suffering. I do not let my mind think what it likes. I keep it busy with thoughts of God, Yoga and benevolence.
This is an example of bringing into operation that higher part of our mind, consisting of intellect and will, and which has a spiritual element in it. In the Yoga classics, it has the Sanskrit name, buddhi.
4. The last strategy for dealing with our worries is to look more closely at the worrying process itself, and see what can be done on the inner plane. As we have implied earlier, worry is a name for a certain kind of thinking activity, useful if conducted with controls, but painful if left to its own devices. It is painful because it makes us feel restricted, small, impotent. The dictionary definition of worry bears this out: ‘Worry: a troubled state of mind arising from the frets and cares of life; harassing anxiety or solicitude.’
We may say: ‘Some people enjoy worrying. Some people need something to worry about.’ But this is to view human beings superficially. Our deeper urge is for inner freedom, bliss and perfection, and if our so-called obsessive worriers were convincingly shown the prospect of higher states, it would surely strike a chord in their being.
The other point about the limitations of worry—the first was that it can be classed as painful state of consciousness—is that the mist of worries hides from our inner eyes our deeper spiritual nature.
Those familiar with Yoga will say: ‘This is nothing new. All thought does that. Thinking itself is a veil that keeps us hypnotised by its motions, so that we cannot see more deeply into ourselves.’
It is true that restless mental activity that has no spiritual content and is concerned with our life in the world, tends to hide the connection of our consciousness with our innermost essence. But when we are worrying, as opposed to just thinking idly, or daydreaming, we introduce a further degree of alienation: worries tend to make us feel small, dwarfed by events, weak and powerless before the problems of life. This is a serious matter, because it amounts to a repudiation of our godly nature that is always within us at the deepest level and is there to be discovered, if we wish. So we have every right to be worried about being worried, and to join in the old chorus:
Begone, dull care!
I prithee begone from me;
Begone dull care!
Thou and I can never agree.
How can we end this life of inner restriction, that is, rise above it, transcend it, and realize the higher truth about our divine nature? Let us be practical. First, we need action on the inner plane. Moses parted the waves of the Red Sea by raising his rod. Thought-waves can, with practice, be influenced more easily than sea-waves, by applying the inner power of the spiritual practices. We need above all a strong practice that will induce us to sit still for a short while, and replace the present train of thoughts with something potent and beneficial.
We are invited to do our first practice to banish worries—that is, to end the tyranny of unconscious thinking. The practice is to sit still and serene, and, after a few deep breaths, to make a little picture as we are breathing. The picture is: As we are breathing in, preferably through the nostrils, to imagine that we are drawing the breath slowly up a central path in the body, which begins with the navel, and passes up through the heart region, neck and face, to reach its end point at the spot between our eyebrows.
Make this picture, or feel in imagination this motion, on your in-breath, that is, drawing the breath up as if through a central path, beginning at the navel and ending at the spot between the brows. Then, with the out-breath, just release it gently, normally, with no mental picture.
This practice will calm the mind, and set up a current that is strong and pure. First it will be felt alongside the aimless thoughts, and then, with practice, this central region of our being will draw those thoughts into itself, and render them silent and harmless. Let us try this now for eleven times.
The clouds hide the sun. It is strange how a small cloud can obstruct the light of the sun and even mitigate its heat. If we are on a beach, and a cloud passes, we may need to cover ourselves for a moment because of the chill. How mighty and great is the sun! How thin, evanescent, puny is the cloud!
The cloud of thoughts may be similarly compared to the might and splendour of the divine Sun within. Thoughts do not mar the glory of our true Self. What is more transient than a thought? Do we recall our thoughts of even one minute ago? And yet, these ever-changing thought forms seem to have a hypnotic effect over us, while the true centre of force and attraction within our being, the centre of bliss and light, seems to be non-existent.
The next practice is one that will strengthen us in the midst of worries, help to banish them, and eventually give us power to end the worrying habit. In this practice we learn to assert our innate superiority to the passing thoughts, by taking our stand on the reality of our true being.
Once again take a few deep breaths, and become aware of the movement of the thoughts. Know what you are thinking. Observe the pictures forming and fading in your mind. But also know: These pictures, these forms, this internal chatter, is different from me, who sees all. They are no better than passing illusions. Therefore, when the thought pictures come up, we say:
OM. It is an illusion. I do not want it. OM
When we have had a little experience of this practice, we will find ourselves more vividly aware of our mental processes, and more empowered to give a direction to our thoughts, and later, our feelings. We will reach a higher degree of awareness, a step towards real inner freedom. Devote five minutes to this exercise, aiming at sufficient mental calm and clarity that you are able to discern the thought’s rise and presence, and the will and courage to negate it. If something important arises, it will not be forgotten and can be dealt with after—not during—our practice.
Worries and anxieties come from two fundamental sources. First, we are troubled by outer events and affairs. But then, even when outer things are not pressing us, we still sometimes find ourselves in a discontented, troubled state of mind. So there are certain worries that seem to ooze through from the depths of our being, and they are often related to our unfulfilled desires.
In Yoga, what we are constantly desiring is significant, and it is part of self-knowledge to know ourselves in this frank, undisguised way. But we are then taught to be connoisseurs of life, gourmets in the question of what we desire, and to desire the highest: Self-realization, or its synonym, God-realization—for our true Self turns out to be non-different from the supreme reality, the Self of all.
There is no substitute for this goal, and it is the absolute desire lurking behind all our relative desires, albeit unrecognised by the majority. All want lasting joy, knowledge that confers on us fulfilment, but if we expect this in the material world, we are looking in the wrong place. Happiness abides in God, and it is the nature of God within us. So we find in Yoga there is a whole department devoted to tutoring us in good thoughts and good feelings as regards the spiritual reality.
There is divine poetry in the higher wisdom, that will fill our minds with spiritually dynamic thoughts. There is a practical philosophy that confronts the great questions in life, meeting them with clear reasoning, and leading us to discover certainty of meaning in ourselves. And we have practices that are graded and adjusted to what we are and where we are spiritually, and that will help us on to the next step.
Now we offer a meditation text, once given at a public meeting by Hari Prasad Shastri:
OM. I AM YOUR MASTER, O MY MIND.
IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU SHOULD OBEY ME.
BE STILL. YOUR REAL HOME AND SUPPORT
IS GOD WITHIN ME. OM.
This is the final phase of our education, the last learning curve: to tutor the mind so that it knows its place in the hierarchy of our being. The destiny of the mind is not that is should rule us, or throw us down. In itself it is no guide. It is too fickle and confused to do us good in its own right.
We invoke first of all the power of that higher part of the mind, which drives the affirmation: ‘I am your master, O my mind. It is imperative that you should obey me.’ But this is not all. We want mastery because when the mind is made calm, something of our deeper spiritual nature will shine through. We need not be anxious about this. It may not happen immediately. Deep changes in human nature often first occur in the mind’s inmost recesses, and they are introduced into our conscious mind slowly, almost imperceptibly. But what is certain is that if we pursue this meditation and self-culture, the mists will clear, when we are ready for them to clear.
It is the testimony of the sages that our infinite nature will be revealed when the lower activities of the mind have been brought to quiescence, and the mind rests in a loving and expectant inward stillness. The word ‘loving’ is apt, because we have within ourselves the source of all love and joy, the treasure of the universe, the divine spirit. In this meditation text it is called ‘God within’. We might call it by some other name, but the meaning is perfection, power, the most refined intelligence, waveless, full bliss. This is our home. Swami Rama Tirtha writes:
What you thought to be your home
Was the cause of your forgetting your real home.
Oblivious of your spiritual home
You made your home in illusion...
What wonder that you lost your sovereignty.
Our sovereignty has not really been lost. We have just acquired habits of not noticing it. Through savouring these meditation texts, the lost memory, the inattentiveness, will be stirred and healed. Something not of this world will shine through, and show us how laughable it was to think we were confined in that little body and mind that was dominated and pressed by worry and anxiety.
Shortly before the coming of spring, if we look closely at the trees and shrubs, we can see countless buds appearing as tiny tips, seeking expansion. They will have to wait a little, but the life is there. So too in us, the spiritual life is here, and it will be revealed and manifested if we take the steps towards its unfoldment. Awakened men and women are people like us, who decided to give time, priority and attention to this supreme quest for illumination, and gained the reward—liberation.