Amma tells us the mind will steal away your faith and your devotion. Can you believe after nearly 30 years with Amma that I could have even a moment of forgetting? Every day during guided meditation on Amma live, Amma reminds us not to let the mind wander. And every day I find my mind wandering.
She advises us to not go after the glittering seashells that may shine like diamonds but are not valuable. I was aware that this meant not to go after worldly objects, but my mind recalled my daily walks on the beach where I'd been thoroughly examining the seashells, most of them broken and white. None were glittering like diamonds. From a metaphorical standpoint, I thought that if I could only find these and pay them no mind, I'll have succeeded in keeping my focus on Amma alone.
A distracted mind and a reactive mind chase away devotion and the search for Liberation or moksha. The challenge for me in avoiding jumping into action, is that I was born with Aries Ascendant and several planets in Aries, probably the single most reactive sign in the zodiac. Say nothing of arrogance and an "I can do it myself" nature. Aries element is fire, and the planet is Mars. Volatility and clear focus are the negative and positive potentials for Aries. We have the capability of a warrior or an athlete for instantaneous action or response. I could often return a tennis ball no matter where it landed, catch just about anything thrown at me in surprise, return a volleyball slammed towards the corner.
In other words, I was capable of being quick on the draw before the warrior on the opposing side stood much of a chance. Translated into normal everyday life, I lacked the natural ability to wait before acting. For a spiritual seeker, such a reactive nature, coupled with arrogance, is a tormenting problem. For me to develop the ability to stop and wait, often felt like a losing battle. But I kept trying.
For some odd reason, a few years ago, I'd stopped a daily practice of the IAM Integrated Amrita Meditation given to us by Amma. Instead, I practiced another form of meditation. Astonishing as it was, I had given up on the meditation my Guru had given me, without asking her if it was alright to give it up. I gave it up, because I thought I knew best.
Then about a year ago, some health issues came up, and I could not stop clearing my throat or falling asleep during meditation, so the simple form of meditation I was practicing was no longer was possible, though I still got up every day at 4:00 AM to attempt it. Then one day I received an email about Amma's disciple Swamiji Atmananda's ongoing day-long Mantra I Meditation retreat. That was a game-changer for me—if I fell asleep, I'd drop my japa beads and wake up, and clearing my throat did not interrupt mantra meditation. Then Swamiji Dayamritananda Puri invited me to the streaming of Amma live daily. Oh, what a blessing that was. He must have known I needed saving at that point.
What Grace to be with Amma for four hours every day and on Pacific Coast time that meant 3:30 standard time or 4:30 AM daylight time. During the four hours Amma leads the MaOm meditation and White Flowers of Peace. Then an ashram resident or swami gives a spiritual talk. Then Amma leads Bhajans for an hour and a half. After that there is discussion about topics Amma has asked us to contemplate, usually from a scriptural verse. Things were looking up. And my throat was starting to clear up, too.
Simultaneously, I joined Swami Atmananda's Bhakti II retreat. Maybe he could help me transmute my reactionary nature and desire to win, into a longing for devotion. It was not a hard reach, as I've always had a devotional nature along with the warrior nature, and from the start I had an interest in the goal of Self Realization or Liberation.
My other reason to take the Bhakti retreat was to get some guidance about an experience I'd had. On Amma live we had been discussing Maya (Goddess of Illusion or Creation) for over a month, daily. The passage Amma wanted us to study and reflect upon, was from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7, verse 14, in which Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, Verily, this Divine Illusion (Maya) of Mine, made up of the three qualities of Nature, is difficult to cross over; those who take refuge in Me alone, cross over this Illusion (of Mine).
You may notice the paradox in the passage: that Krishna is saying He created Maya and if you focus on Him (Krishna), you can cross over this difficult and perplexing creation of His. Different ones, including children, would stand and give their take on it. As a result, we all were contemplating the concept of Maya on a daily basis as an intense inner study.
One morning, maybe nearly a month into the probing of the nature of Maya, while opening my refrigerator, Goddess Maya revealed herself in all her glory. All of a sudden the whole world glimmered and shone with a brilliance and vibrancy that was holy beyond holiness, bright like the birthing stars of a supernova. I began to bow down before everything. The almond milk, my porridge, the bowl, the floor, the coffee—everything took on the magnificence of the Creatrix, in constant motion and whirling around me like the Milky Way. This went on for some time and then my body/mind didn't seem to know how or what, and the experience gradually faded.
In the Bhakti II class, I asked Swamiji Atmananda about this refrigerator experience, and how could I learn to contain it. He said I needed to take Bhakti III. I had a laugh over that answer and so did he. No need to go into the contents of Bhakti III here, because all it did was to give me the intellectual understanding that my experience fell into the category of Spontaneous Devotion.
But this intellectual knowledge offered no advice or guidance on how to contain the energy I had experienced. But I was relentless. After the Amrita Silent Retreat Monthlong, I took Swamiji Atmananda's Nava Sadhana class (nine spiritual practices). The least I could do with the no-answer-to-my-question, was to dive more deeply than ever before into my sadhana, and most particularly surrendering my heart into Devotion.
During Swamiji Atmananda's nine sadhanas class, I was amazed to learn that my reactionary nature would arise because of desire and that the IAM meditation was the necessary practice to dissolve negative desires. Astonishing information.
I'd struggled for most of my life to get at the root of my anger tendency. Now I got it that my cravings lay at the bottom of any reactive surge which invariably manifested as anger, and sometimes jealousy and other negative passions. To learn that desire was at the root, after all these 50 years on the path, literally blew me away. So simple.
At this stage in my life, I'm not talking about gross or passionate yearnings like relationship, or sexual urges, or even big professional desires, but more subtle urges, that could have simply to do with wanting my way while trying to get past Bank of America phone robot, or reacting to criticism, or disagreeing with someone about something not really all that important. I wanted to be done with all of it, as I continued to feel unrest over my emotional reactions, no matter how small or large. By large, I'm referring to my earlier years when I would erupt into angry outbursts. I live in fear that this potential might still be alive in me.
That said, I have now resumed a daily IAM meditation practice. My arrogance tamed for the moment. And I'm paying close attention to the ways that my desires get in the way of a peaceful mind. Sometimes I list these negative uprisings, no matter how subtle, into a journal. Keeping track raises awareness. Amma often asks us to make such lists daily.
Now, let me back up to remind you about the glittering seashells and me continuing to be perplexed by the use of this metaphor during the MaOm guided meditation every morning on Amma Live Streaming. I was clear we're not to go after worldly desires. But, still, I like it when a metaphor works. I want to be able to say, "Oh yeah, look at all those fake diamonds in the glittering seashells." However, this was not what I saw every day as I walked on the beach.
But, on the very morning after I'd resumed IAM, I was drawn to head out early for my walk on the beach, just after Amma live-stream had ended. It had been raining. Everything was wet. The air chilly and moist. The sun low on the eastern horizon. I was walking into the sun, noting the wavelets shining and sunlight shimmering on the swells. Then, lo and behold, I looked down onto the sandy, shell-strewn beach. You won't believe what I saw there—the rainwater on the seashells was glittering like diamonds. Diamonds all over the place. Glittering seashells. I'd found the fake diamonds of Amma's metaphor which were of an extraordinary splendor like the Creatrix Herself. Maya in all its sublime expression. Sparkling. I knew not to go after them. I stood in awe of them as phenomenon of Creation—the Shakti, the active and creative principle of the Goddess Maya that is forever changing. Shiva, the deep stillness that pervades all, and Shakti, the active exquisite beauty and ugliness of the entire range of Creation. Om Shiva shaktyai kai rupinyai namah—I bow down to the form of the Union of Shiva and Shakti within and without, in all Creation.