There is nothing wrong with this aspiration. Anyone who has no dream of superiority, success or fulfilment is dead to the world and this is due either to a defective body riddled with pain or a mind incapable of more than the simplest actions, due to say, malnutrition or lack of nurturing and plain education.

     We are all on various rungs of a ladder that reaches the stars. We all are obliged to start somewhere and the various imperfect dreams and aspirations we hold dear are stepping stones.

     So where do we start?

     We start at the beginning. We start at the simplest possible level. We begin to slowly but surely clean up our lives on every possible level: physical, emotional and mental.

     There is no quote more apt than that by William Balke in his poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

     “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”

     We live in a room that is chaotic, dirty and soul-destroying. The first thing we do is pick up the easiest, most trivial piece of garbage and put it in the rubbish bin. And then we pick up the next easiest, and then the next.

     In our minds, we attempt to stop the flow of destructive thoughts. In our hearts, we thwart the sense of smug satisfaction that we are better than others. At first, we will not succeed but with patience and perseverance, a crack will open up in our carefully constructed shell that denies the possibility of light and freedom from the corrosive fears that eat us up.

     Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching “Who Am I?’ is invaluable. Each time a thought arises ask yourself to whom does it arise? We are not obligated to accept and believe every thought or emotion that arises in our consciousness. We are free to accept or negate.

     None of this is easy, but all of this is essential. However, it does become easier with time and practice.

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Letter # 9 - The Next Step

     So, where to go from here once the initiation becomes evident?

     The Buddha spoke about one of the key moments in one’s life and that is, hearing the good news that there is a path trodden by others which is effective.There is a higher power. There is Grace. There is a guiding presence which aids us. There is a way out of the cycle of pain and suffering. The word Gospel means ‘good news’.

     With this epiphany, we know we are not alone and a new optimism explodes inside us.

     Then what?

     After the initial euphoria of discovering what you always wanted, a sense of certainty and safe harbour, there seems to be a vacuum where the anxiety which was lurking in the back of your mind, reappears with, it seems added force and urgency.

     Unfortunately, the next step is usually taken as a fall from grace. Doubt, ennui, frustration that the mountaintop is no longer in view. The shadows of despair cover that shining light we briefly witnessed and subsequently coveted.

     Where is it now? Now is the time for questions. The empathic declarations that this is it, are a memory and so-called hard unforgiving reality smothers all aspirations in a haze of doubt.

     Could I have been wrong?

     No, we are not wrong but the past tendencies rear up like a nasty snake and bite us with their insistence that we pay them attention just as we did before. This is the house cleaning period where it is somewhat dull, but necessary if we are to grow.

     It is a calling to account and an acceptance of responsibility for all the various misdeeds and acts of omission that preceded this new chapter. At times it may seem even worse than what we experienced before the revelation.

     It is a slow methodical grind clearing up our delusions and wrong actions. I remember in the first days of this new life hearing from a couple who diligently practised hatha yoga for years, and were advised by a senior swami in the Swami Sivananda lineage who told them to focus their efforts on yama and niyama. They were perplexed by this pedantic instruction as if they had not already corrected their own lives and in any case what had that to do with higher teachings? In another anecdote, someone told me about new arrivals at Dharmsala eager to learn the higher teachings of Tibetan Buddhism that they would go straight to the advanced tantric section of books in the monastery library much to the amusement of senior monks.

     When we finally reluctantly conclude that these teachers are right not because we see the wisdom of their instruction but because after the initial euphoria, we hit an intractable wall. To employ a commercial analogy, we are financially broke. All our savings have gone into a giant blowout. Thought is energy, emotion is energy, and physical action is energy. We require energy to function. In sleep, our bodies and minds rest and it is possible to generate energy for the forthcoming day. But that energy can be quickly dissipated by negative thoughts and emotions and useless behaviour.

     Consider the following analogy. You walk or drive past a sign for a fast-food restaurant chain that touts fried chicken and chips. You pass a restaurant that makes fresh salads and healthy dishes. Which is better for us? We know the answer and yet many, many people stop at the oily, nutrient-poor fried chicken. Why? Because there is instant gratification. The carbohydrates, salt and sugar give us an instant high. For a moment we feel on top of our small world. Soon afterwards, there is the inevitable blowback of feeling empty and strangely out of sorts. It is a psychological mini-depression as the body tries to absorb the recalcitrant fats that refuse to dissolve. They linger like a bad smell and we can become irritated.

     Again, what we think we become, what we eat we become. Does anyone wish to become a battery chicken? Obviously not. We want to become the best in the world, the most famous; the genius who is finally recognised for all our worth. The most beautiful, the richest, the most intelligent. We all have similar dreams, the difference is one of form and degree for each individual, but not principle which is one and the same.