By Natasha Friedman
The Yearning of Spiritual Aspiration
A student goes to his teacher in ancient India. He asks, “When will I reach enlightenment?”
The teacher leads him to a river, takes him out in a rowboat, and asks him to jump overboard. When he does, the teacher thrusts the student’s head under the water and holds him down. When he is choking, about to pass out, the teacher lets him up.
The teacher asks, “What did you feel when you were underwater?”
“Desperation. An agonizing desire for air. Every particle of my being crying out to breathe.”
The teacher says, “When you want the truth as much as you wanted to breathe, that’s when you will get it.”
Do We Really Want to Know the Truth?
For many of us with spiritual aspiration, we actually don’t want the “truth”—at least, not yet. We want to want it. Maybe we want to want it so badly we feel like we could die from wanting. But we don’t die, we can’t die into it… yet. There is still a part of us that thinks happiness lies just around the next turn of the wheel. Maybe it will come from the next retreat, from finding the right guru, living in just the right ashram, from this or that meditation technique, from learning all the secret mantras and mudras.
And so the wheel turns.
I don’t know why I’m on the spiritual path. If you ask me directly, I would probably give you a superficial answer. But, when I look a little deeper into myself I find only bewilderment, a million ideas and impulses and in the center, this not-knowing. Void. Awe.
Beginning the Journey
It started out simple enough. I was 24, lost and alone in my “starving artist” identity bubble, digging myself into a hole searching for something. Finally, that hole went so deep that I popped out the other side. I found myself at a Buddhist center and suddenly I was there every day, meditating.
The thing is, the more answers you look for, the more questions you get. This rabbit hole goes all the way down. Following one clue after another into this ever-expanding labyrinth of chakras and nadis, hidden worlds, laws of karma, and flavors of emptiness, bodhicitta, Shiva and Shakti and Christ-consciousness, and experiences further and further from what your rational mind can understand. Then, at a certain point, you look at all the pieces in your hand and start to wonder what puzzle this is exactly. You realize this turn your life took is part of something so much more vast and unfathomable than you could have imagined.
And then you realize others feel the same. You’re looking for the same thing that people have been looking for since early human existence. It’s the same thing that deep down, everyone, every being on this planet, is seeking. The only difference is you have this itch of aspiration, this crazy drive to know. You won’t be content with anything less than the direct experience, nothing less than union with this something that is beyond everything.
The Courage to Seek
Many people think that spiritual life is some sort of escape, like you can’t deal with the “real world.” I feel that couldn’t be farther from reality. It takes courage to let go of everything you trusted in the world you came from, to stop believing what you’ve always been told and what your mind tries to tell you.
It takes courage to go head-on with your demons. It takes courage to see how high you can fly. It takes courage to come face to face with yourself.
It takes courage to offer it all into the divine fire.
I’ve been on the road for almost a year now. California, Hawaii, Mexico, Israel… The scenery changes but that something in the corner of my eye is always there. I don’t miss having a home or “normal life” or anything, but I feel a fire in my heart, stronger every day. A longing that is so painful and so blissful at the same time.
Finally, I arrive at Hridaya. Again, something cracks open and the light comes in. I do one 10-day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat and go back the next month for the 17-day. It is so sweet, all those mornings when I wake up in the dark and sit alone until the sun peeks over the horizon. Eagles floating up from the beach in the afternoon. Staring at patterns in the bark of a neem tree. Catching my breath at the beauty of every moment, too precious even to hold onto.
In the meditations, I feel myself falling asleep to the outside world. Inside, something is waking up. I am curled up in the womb of the universe and I know nothing, I am nothing, there is nothing to know.
Sahajananda reads poems by Rumi and Hafiz before meditation sessions. There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you? Every night he answers questions that students leave on slips of paper in a glass cup by the altar. One night, someone writes that she is depressed and suicidal. She is alienated from her family and all her friends are drifting away. She says she has lost all her reference points.
“This is a powerful time for you,” he answers. “You can learn from it. If a reference point can be lost, that means it isn’t the ultimate reference point.”
A Magnet in the Heart
There are times when it all snaps into focus, like for the blink of an eye I can almost see the whole picture but it’s just out of reach. I want to cry and I can’t tell if it’s from joy or heartbreak. Where are my reference points? Who put this magnet in my heart that draws me deeper and deeper into the unknown? What set my life to curve around the divine, like the spirals of a plant or a galaxy reaching for the Beloved?
I pray to God to take everything from me so I can be naked and alone with the truth. Take my mind, take my life. Make me a leaf in Your wind. Make me a finger in Your hand to spread Your blessings. Oh Beloved, take away what I want, take away what I do, take away what I need, take away everything that takes me from you…
At the same time my deep, self-preserving ego prays for the opposite. Lord, keep me safe. Lord, give me long life in this body. Lord, give me someone who loves me. Give me money and sex. Make things how I like them.
And the wheel turns.
Maybe it’s all very simple. Whatever you want, God wants to give you. If you only want God, if that’s really all you want with every last drop of your being, that’s what you will get.
I keep praying. I keep meditating, practicing yoga and doing retreats. I study. I do tapas. And I listen for that tiny, precious voice that says, “Listen, child, come closer, let me tell you a secret…”