Nine Tips for a Crisis
By Eknath Easwaran
By Eknath Easwaran
When you are afraid, repeat the mantram; it has the power to change fear into fearlessness. For people who claim that fear is not a problem for them, I simply ask if they have any worries. The usual answer is, “More than I can count.” Worries are simply little fears; put a hundred worries together and you have one big fear. When your vitality leaks out through a hundred little worries, it is no wonder that you feel inadequate to the challenges of the day. So repeat the mantram when you are worried, and it will change worry into confidence.
When you are sick or suffering any physical discomfort, the mantram is of great value. As more attention goes to the mantram, there is less attention for the physical sensations of discomfort or pain.
If you are really ill, instead of lying in bed watching television or solving crossword puzzles or just staring at the cracks in the ceiling, you can put this time to much better use by repeating the mantram. It will not only comfort you and take your mind off the pain; it can release curative forces from deep within.
There is nothing occult about this. A good deal of the suffering involved in illness comes from dwelling on the symptoms, from worrying about how serious the illness is and when you will recover and how you will manage to carry on. This anxiety impedes your recovery, and you can use the mantram to keep such worries from clouding your mind.
The more we slow down the thinking process, the more control we have over our lives. That is why Meher Baba says a mind that is slow is sound. When your mind stops racing, it is naturally concentrated rather than distracted, naturally kind instead of rude, naturally loving instead of selfish. That is simply the dynamics of the mind.
People who don’t easily get provoked, even when there is cause for provocation, don’t “fly off the handle.” It’s difficult to upset them, difficult to speed up their minds. They can stay calm in the midst of pressure, remain sensitive to the needs of all involved, see clearly, and act decisively.
During a crisis – from a minor emergency at the office to a major earthquake – such people help everyone else to stay clearheaded. They are protecting not only themselves from danger, but those around them too.
As a boy, when I was feeling sorry for myself because of difficulties in school or with someone in the village, my grandmother used to tell me gently, “This is not sorrow; this is self-pity. Self-pity weakens, but sorrow for others strengthens and ennobles human nature.”
This is a distinction worth remembering, particularly in times of distress. Whenever we feel life has been hard on us, instead of going off to our bedroom and locking the door, that is the ideal time for turning our grief outward and putting it to work as compassion for the sorrows of others. After all, everyone faces misfortunes in life – now and again, severe ones.
If, in the midst of our own troubles, we can go to a grieving neighbor or to someone sick and offer help, we will find that while we are lifting their spirits, we are lifting our own as well. This is a perfect recipe both for nipping depression in the bud and for spreading consolation.
Every one of us has an aching need for a goal worthy of our complete dedication, for an ideal so lofty that we can keep our eyes on it no matter what circumstances come our way.
Much of our boredom and restlessness comes from not having a direction in life; we are like someone all dressed up on a Saturday night with nowhere to go. If I may say so, most of what we call goals are not real goals at all, because they give us no all-encompassing sense of purpose in life.
But when we have an overriding goal, we find that many of our problems fall away of their own accord. Everything falls into perspective: we know what to do with our time, what to do with our energy, and it is easier to see all the little choices that confront us every day.
Shall I eat what appeals to the taste buds, or what conduces to sound health? Shall I spend time doing my own thing, or doing work which benefits all those around me? Shall I move away from people just because their ways are not my ways, or shall I try to live in harmony with everyone around me?
When we have our eyes on the goal of life we see these choices everywhere, all the time, and we begin to cultivate the will and wisdom to make the choices which will help us to grow to our full stature. Thus we gradually wake up to our true nature, which is ever pure, ever perfect.
A wandering mind gets bored easily, so it likes to combine a task like brushing teeth with reading the Wall Street Journal or listening to a lesson on learning Italian. “Why waste time on your teeth?” the mind wants to know. “Why not do something interesting at the same time?”
Actually, it is doing two things at once that truly wastes time. All we are doing in such cases is teaching the mind to do whatever it chooses.
The problem with this is not found in moments of dental hygiene. It is discovered in times of crisis, when we can’t stop thinking about something painful or oppressive no matter how much we desire to. Just when we most need some control over our attention, we are helpless.
Years ago, in San Francisco, Christine and I saw Rodin’s statue The Thinker. A tourist next to us asked the inevitable question: “I wonder what he’s thinking about.”
I wanted to say, “I know. He’s thinking, ‘How can I stop thinking?’ ”
Most of us have asked that question when the turmoil of the mind won’t let us rest. At such times, we’d give anything to shut down the frantic thought-factory in our heads for just one healing hour. It took years for me to learn the simple answer: to train attention at every opportunity, even in little things, so the capacity is there when we need it.
Detachment from our emotions is important even to survive in today’s world of stress, but it is essential for anyone who wants to try to do some good in the world. Only a detached person can jump into a crisis and help; an attached person just gets sucked in.
When we have learned to drop attachment to getting what we want while working hard and selflessly for a great cause, we can work without anxiety, with confidence and peace of mind. Reverses will come, but they will only drive us deeper into our consciousness.
We like to think that we make big decisions and carry terrible responsibilities on our shoulders. Our shoulders are bent, our back gives us problems, and we are too tired to stand on our feet because of the weighty burdens we try to bear. Few of us realize there is somebody standing with arms outstretched, just waiting to carry our burdens for us.
In Kerala, the state in South India from which I come, there are stone parapets along the roadside the height of a man’s head. When people need to rest from carrying heavy loads of rice or fruit on their heads, they stand next to the parapet and shift their load onto it. For us the Lord is the perennial parapet, standing at exactly the right height for each one of us. For those of us who are very selfish, he stands very tall to support an awesome load; for those of us who are average in selfishness, he stands about six feet high; and for the selfless, the parapet can hardly be seen because the burden is so light that almost no support is needed.
Through the practice of meditation, we can gradually learn to shift our load into the Lord’s mighty arms. By developing this blessed capacity, we will be able to face the greatest of challenges, terrifying even to national leaders, with ease and equanimity.
Nutritionists remind us that before we eat something, we should ask, “Do I want this to be part of my body?” Similarly, we should remind ourselves every time we go out for entertainment or switch on the TV, “This experience is going to become part of me. Will I be better for it? Will it leave me calmer, or will it agitate me? Will it make me more compassionate, or will it stir up anger or leave me depressed?”
In other words, I am talking about reclaiming the power to choose what goes into your mind. After all, don’t you like to choose the food you eat? It is the same with what you feed your mind.
When you practice detachment continuously – at home, at work, among friends, and especially with difficult people – you will find how much security it brings you in your relationships. A spiritually detached person, which to me means a very loving person, will never allow relationships to degenerate to stimulus and response.
The test is simple: even if you are angry with me, can I stay calm and loving with you and help you overcome your anger? If you persist in disliking me, can I continue to like you? For it is when you dislike me that I have all the more reason to be loyal to you, to show you what loyalty really means.
After all, when your partner is being especially nice to you, it’s easy to be pleasant in return. It is when she goes out of her way to offend you that you should not walk out. That is just the time to sit by her side and for every unkind word she utters, as Jesus says, give her seven words that are kind. For every shove she gives you, try to move that much closer.
I am the first to admit that it takes a lot of endurance to mend a relationship, especially when your efforts seem to be met with indifference. When you start giving another person your best, especially in an emotionally entangled relationship, he may not notice it for weeks. This kind of indifference can really sting. You want to go up to him, tap him on the shoulder, and say, “Hello, Thomas, I’ve just been kind to you.” Thomas would say, “Oh, thank you, I didn’t even know it” – not because he was trying to be rude, but because he was preoccupied with himself.
To be patient and go on giving your best, you can’t have expectations about how other people are going to respond. You can’t afford to ask, “Does he like me? Does he even care?” What does it matter? You’re growing. You’re learning how to rub off the edges and corners that make human relationships difficult. You are becoming the kind of person that everyone wants to be with, that everyone admires and feels comfortable with.
In meditation you can go into a vast treasure-house inside. You have a kind of latchkey: you can go in anytime and draw out as much as you like. The manager, the Lord, sits there behind his big desk and says, “Go in and help yourself. Stuff your pockets. Only make sure you go back and use it all for others.”
That is the agreement, which he has got in writing, so to say, sealed with your very life. Thus meditation works miracles: it recharges your enthusiasm and restores a robust optimism for life. It is the supreme education.
Living on the surface of life as we do, we don’t suspect what a treasure trove of love and wisdom we have within. If I knew of a simple, painless way of unlocking this treasure, I would be the first to give it. But as far as I know, there is no way to enter and make use of these untold riches except by practicing meditation and integrating its allied disciplines into our daily life. There is no shortcut around the travail of this journey into consciousness, and those who have traversed it testify that it is the ultimate test of human endurance.
Yet this is the very challenge that appeals to people. It banishes boredom and brings the dew of freshness to every day. There can be no failure in this effort: for as you go deeper and deeper into your consciousness, you discover that you have vast resources of which you never dreamed: resources with which to help yourself, to help your family and community, to contribute to your society, to change the very world for the better.
The unending miracle of these resources is that they are there within every one of us. We have only to dive deep to discover them.
This article is from the Summer 2020 Blue Mountain Journal titled “Wisdom and Compassion in a Global Crisis.”