“Intrinsic in every soul is the ability to rise in course of time.” — Bhaktivinoda Thakura
This opportunity to unlimitedly improve ourselves and refine our consciousness is what brings excitement to life. In any aspect of life (work, study, relationships, practices, and so on) complacency breeds discouragement. We have an inherent desire to feel of sense of upward movement and improvement. In other words, we need to feel encouraged in order to be aligned with and excited to pursue deeper purpose. Discouragement or moroseness due to complacency puts a lock on the door that leads to progress.
Encouragement literally means the act of instilling courage within someone. And the word courage comes from the Latin root cor, which means the heart. So courage literally means the quality of heart which empowers us to greet dangers and troubles without fear.
As perennial yoga wisdom declares in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (10.14.58), padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadāṁ. The material world is that place where there is danger at every step. Nothing is guaranteed. In a moment a disaster can happen that completely changes one’s life. Even our bodies are on loan… and we don’t know how long the loan term is.
One who avoids introspection and prefers the “luxury” of not thinking may not be so conscious of this fact. But everyone, whether consciously or subconsciously, is driven to seek security to cope with the prospect of death.
As my great grandfather guru said, “Every human being is knowingly or unknowingly struggling to eliminate the dualities which interfere with direct experience of eternity.” — Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati
How do we (healthily) cope with the danger and stress of the material world?
The answer is given in that same Śrīmad Bhāgavatam verse (10.14.58). It says that for one who takes shelter of Divinity and Divine principles, the treacherous ocean of material existence is reduced to a puddle the size of a calf’s footprint, making it easy and natural to cross over and attain the state where there are no miseries.
And how do we take practically take shelter of God in a way that we can tangibly experience empowerment and strength?
The following are 5 A’s to Alignment — keys that unlock the quality of heart which allows us to feel encouraged and continually rise.
Have you ever had knowledge of something but refused to acknowledge it? I know my stubborn and conditioned mind has a tendency to repress things that seem like they may pose a threat to my sense of peace and security if I acknowledge them. To acknowledge means to admit or to show one’s knowledge, even if it is painful or inconvenient. This is a concept elaborated upon in psychology in regards to overcoming addictions. Unless and until one’s fully admits that they have a problem, there will not be movement towards a solution.
Regular introspection, journaling, confiding in trusted mentors, and so on are crucial pre-requisites to spiritual alignment because these practices empower us to actually bring conscious awareness to and acknowledge the ways in which we are out of alignment with our values. Acknowledgement is the initial spark of transformation.
As conscious beings, our greatest asset is our ability to strategically place and invest our attention. This is the gift of free will. And the more we invest our attention in places that uplift us, the more effectively we are able to utilize the gift of free will. Otherwise, excessive absorption in petty activities, gossip, degrading sounds, and selfish desires conditions us more and more strongly to be impelled to act on subconscious urges rather than on deliberate spiritual intelligence.
What is the best investment of our attention?
The great bhakti saint Rupa Goswami answers this question in his book Sri Upadesamrita (“The Nectar of Instruction”). In verse 8, he says that the essence of all advice in regarding to spiritual upliftment is to organize one’s life around the principle of integrating spiritual sound into one’s mind and heart.
Sound carries consciousness. Whatever types of sound we take in through what we hear, speak, and read (subtle sound) gets packed into the container of our consciousness. The quality of that content determines our level of contentment.
By deliberately arranging our lives to prioritize hearing spiritual talks and lectures, spiritual music, reciting mantras, reading sacred texts, and conversing about all of these topics, the spark of inspiration gets fanned. And the more it gets fanned and expands, the more we develop a taste for spiritual pleasure or intrinsic, sustainable satisfaction — not the type of material satisfaction that is dependent upon a particular outcome or reward.
In other words, by proper usage of our attention we gain a higher taste and therefore gradually lose the lower tastes. As Srila Prabhupada wrote, “One’s spiritual vision develops proportionately to one’s giving up the debased mentality of unnecessarily enjoying matter” (Caitanya Caritamrita Adi-lila, 5.20). By experiencing the higher pleasure of self-refinement and spiritual alignment we have more capacity to serve and love because the urges put forth by the conditioned mind and senses to try to selfishly enjoy or exploit become weakened.
Appreciation is the antithesis of envy. Envy is the inability to tolerate another person’s greatness. To appreciate is to acknowledge and feel happy in observing the exalted qualities of another.
Envy leads to spiritual constipation. It leaves us stuck and uncomfortable with our own state of being. But appreciation strengthens our spiritual digestion. By focusing on finding and remedying our own faults we can curb our propensity to find faults in others. Then, by actively finding the good in others and letting them know what we appreciate in them, we become empowered to begin to absorb and assimilate some of those good qualities and strengths.
By making a mission of expanding our appreciating capacity and going out of our way to encourage others, we ourselves will also feel encouraged because appreciation softens and opens the heart of the appreciated, and the beautiful contents begin to flow outwards into the heart of the appreciator. Whatever you appreciate, appreciates; it grows in your own life and propels you forward.
“If you understand that everything that happens to me is for my purification, you’ll never be disappointed.” — Vaisesika Dasa
This quintessential attitude that fuels advancement is chronicled in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (10.14.8). It is said that those who see life as a cosmic classroom and cultivate the attitude of searching out the lesson in everything and appreciating that everything (even the challenges and suffering) is under the personal, benevolent control of the Supreme become eligible to elevate their consciousness to the most refined level.
Instead of cultivating victim consciousness and asking “Why me? I don’t deserve this”, an alignment attitude is where we ask “What is the lesson in all of this? How can I grow through this experience?”
Another aspect of a growth attitude is encapsulated by my teacher’s saying “Assume it Can be Done.”
We should assume and feel confident that we can overcome adversity, achieve greatness, and become advanced in spiritual realization. We just need to make sure that assumption is based on the right axiom. It’s not a matter of our own strength or ability that warrants this attitude, but a matter of Divine strength and empowerment that we become receptive to when we’re properly aligned. We can daily write a Declaration of Dependence on God to help cultivate and maintain this attitude.
In line with this concept, we should think: “Let me not tell God how big my problems are. Rather, let me tell my problems how big God is.”
As the Bhagavad Gita (4.11) states, “God perfectly reciprocates with everyone.” The doubts of the cynic are self-fulfilling just as the optimism and confidence of the believer are also self-fulfilling.
Association is what ties together the other four A’s of alignment. We should pray for the company of those who are self-aware and acknowledge (and don’t repress) reality, who are attentive to their spiritual practice, who actively appreciate others, and who have a growth attitude. By building friendships and mentorship relationships with such people who are advanced in living these principles, we naturally and organically become more inclined and empowered to abide by them ourselves.
The five A’s of Alignment (Acknowledgment, Attention, Appreciation, Attitude, and Association) are keys to transcending the pettiness of the material world. It’s not that by aligning ourselves in this way all the difficulties of life will disappear. But, it is the case that we will feel encouraged and inspired to continually rise internally no matter what type of external stress we may be subject to. And the more we experience proper alignment, the more natural it will become to catch ourselves drifting and continuously make adjustments to re-align ourselves.
So grateful for the friends and teachers in my life who exemplify spiritual alignment and hold me accountable to follow in their footsteps.
Aspiring in your service,