Faith and Patience

When I was about 20, the world was in a total turmoil of politics and racism. I looked around at America at the time of the Vietnam War and didn’t recognize it as the country that I had been taught it was. I know that might sound strange to some of you now, because you’ve grown up in an age where we’ve been constantly at war in one arena or another. When I was young, we thought war was a very unusual, unfortunate occasion, and that we only engaged in it to defend some higher truth. Now it has turned out that the highest truth war defends is profitability….but that’s another discussion. 

Faith and patience. Faith is letting go of any distress, and looking for and holding that simple good feeling that arises out of connecting to our bodies and our breath. It can be ecstatic at times, but it doesn’t have to be ecstatic and it’s not dramatic—it ’s simple. Breathing into that simple space that is beyond tension, and beyond anxiety and beyond confusion, didn’t cause me to be perfectly clear, because I wasn’t, but I did cease to struggle with my lack of clarity. I stopped wrestling with my confusion. I didn’t get tangled up in my angst. I simply established myself in the nicest, kindest, softest, most good feeling place I could find in myself, and I held that space moment by moment. And patiently, I waited for the fog to dissipate. 

It was my profound good fortune that yoga landed in my life when I was in college. Somehow I actually got the message that I needed to practice it. When I started practicing yoga, I connected with my body for the first time in my life, and it felt good. From that point, I began to understand that I needed to connect to and hold a certain mindset in order to be able to access that good feeling. The simplest way I can express it to you is that I understood that I had to live my life, every day, with a great deal of faith and patience. 

Swami Chetanananda at retreat

Faith and patience are things we all need to cultivate. Faith, of course, sounds a little bit like a religion. You might ask “Faith in what?” Faith arose in me from the experience of the change that happened in my practice. I felt the state of my muscles change; I felt the state of my entire body change; I felt the state of my heart change; I felt the weight on my heart dissolve. As I found my breath, and cultivated that experience, I felt my heart become bigger and bigger and, in the awakening and expansion of my own heart, I found peace and joy. In that state of peace and joy, I started to understand more about who I was, and I started to experience what I was capable of. Opportunities came to me to express my capacity, and I engaged those opportunities with as much faith and patience as I could. I took each opportunity, one moment at a time, step by step, not becoming entangled again in my confusion, or my insecurities, my tensions, or my imaginary fears. I stepped forward, step by step, with faith and patience that the light of my own life, which I experienced within myself unfolding, would lead me to an increasingly finer place. And it has.

 I can say to you, with total conviction, that it has. As I moved forward in the expression of my capacities, faith and patience allowed me to find respect for my fellow humans, even people whom I disagree with completely. I developed respect for humanity and the ability to see living in people that same light that is alive in me. That gave me the opportunity to stop trying to impose my ideas about the world on my own life and on everybody else’s life, and to start to allow myself to appreciate and learn from all the experiences that I was having—which, of course, I would have never had if I hadn’t had some faith and patience in the first place. That respect has matured into love, and that love has grown very deep into a kind of cooperation and sharing that endures over decades and is increasingly beautiful. How amazing! 

Even now, I don’t have any answers for anything…and I don’t want to have any answers for anything. I feel like the need to have answers is the need to limit the possibility that you’re living with. Because, as soon as you have an answer, then you impose it on your environment and that becomes the story. Well, the story is always bullshit.

 If we could hold the space of faith and patience, and walk with that openness with one another, step by step, respecting the people we walk with, what an amazing world this would be. If we could see the light of the divine shining in everyone, and see and experience our total our total interconnectedness with everyone, it would completely transform our view of the world. Our simple effort to reel our minds back from all their confusion and anxiety into a simple place of faith and patience, and a simple willingness to share, becomes a profound transformation in our vision of who we are and what life is. The simple spark within us becomes a fireworks display. 

Everyday I wake up, and I don’t know if I should read the news or not. Everyday it seems to be more bizarre out there. But I can’t really worry too much about the world; it’s always been a little bit bizarre. And there’s nothing I can do about it. But I can bring peace and joy to my own heart and extend to the people with whom I share my life, the simple peace and joy that I find within myself that has transformed me over and over and over and over again, from Bloomington, Indiana, to here, to wherever is next. 

I encourage you to think about faith and patience. Within each of us there is Unimaginable Possibility, and the first step and the next 20 steps to the realization of that Unimaginable Possibility begin with faith and patience. Have faith in the good feeling you find within yourself and patience that you will be guided from within yourself to the finest possible place you can be. 

Distinguishing Connections from Relationships

The relationships we bump into as we move in our life that have powerful, strong chemistries are guaranteed to be past-life relationships that in one way or another represent some uncompleted part of ourselves, some pattern of tension we have built within ourselves that has become a part of the structure of us, which we have to be able to engage and transcend. When I say “transcend,” that does not suggest any particular outcome to that experience.

In these kinds of very strong experiences of connectedness that we have, you have to understand: it’s not about relationship, it’s about connection. This is especially true when you have a spiritual teacher.  What most people do not understand about these very powerful relationships that have tremendous energy in them for us is that it’s about connection; it’s not about relationship. This is true everywhere in our life. And so, when you have a connection that requires you to suspend all of the “accounting” features of your relationship, you have to bring a deeper part of you to connect to a deeper part of your experience of whatever person this is in your life, and you have to have the capacity to connect to and participate in that energy without getting tangled up in who’s doing what to whom, and why, and so on.

The thing is, in strong relationships where there’s strong chemistry—whether it’s strong positive chemistry or strong negative chemistry—that strong chemistry automatically is going to evoke tensions.  It’s going to evoke tensions because any encounter with strong energy is going to change you; and when it changes you, your mind and your ego start grasping for anything they can to hold on to some certainty. But in the dimension beyond time and space, where these past-life relationships endure, there is absolutely no certainty and nothing to hang on to.  There’s nothing to hang on to. And your only point of reference is going to be flow, or love.

It’s not about what you think is right or wrong; it’s not about what you want or you don’t want; it’s not about your idea of anything.  It’s about flow. And that flow can be described as love. The ultimate reality manifesting itself as individual currents of creative energy between human beings is love. It is that fine energy that has the power to dissolve all structure, to dissolve everything that magnetizes you to the ordinary dimensions of your life, so that you’re able to really open yourself profoundly, deeply, and be in contact with that simple, natural vibrancy and abundance that you are—the abundance that is present right here, right now.

So much of the time, whether in our spiritual work, in our lives, or in our search for nourishment and for growth and self-improvement, we become confused about the issue of relationship versus connection. Think of it this way: relationship is structure; connection is nourishment. With careful discipline, cultivating these powerful connections in our life will nourish us deeply and release us from the tyranny of our ego and the disappointments of our ancestors.

How to Become the Love You Say You Want to Be

Being human is a challenge. Every single day, as we deal with ourselves and the world around us, we have so many experiences that give us the opportunities to close our minds and our hearts and give power to the tensions and the judgments within ourselves. Each day we have many chances to embrace the mistakes, embrace the misunderstandings, close our hearts and minds and become judgmental and reinforce the polarity that exists between us and others.

On the other hand, we also have the opportunity every day, day after day, to hold open our hearts and minds and reach into ourselves to discover there a dimension of sweetness and beauty and, ultimately, love. That love is something that each of us has experienced before and searches for in every experience that we engage, even though that sweetness and beauty and love is only and forever found within ourselves.

The only way that we can experience healing on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level is to continually release tension and allow our creative energy to flow, dissolving every crystallization and rigidity, and restoring to us the full range of motion that is available to us in our body, our mind, our heart and our soul. We need to see each person we meet with an open heart and an open mind, understanding that that human being is a miracle that has emerged out of the singularity that is life on earth. We should grateful for the opportunity to connect with and experience whatever alignment might be available in that moment with that person and the flow between us that speaks to the miracle of the unity of life.

Judging people, dumping on people, criticizing people, these are the most ordinary things that any person can do. It’s as ordinary as it gets. Anybody can take a dump on someone else (if you’ll pardon my crudity).  It takes a special person to be aware of that urge within themselves, and instead of becoming tangled in our tensions and whatever story is associated with that, to breathe and open and feel and connect and align and flow, which facilitates a change of state that is the dawning of true healing. Our judgments of ourselves and others are only an expression of our ignorance. For us to truly grow, it is essential that we begin to respect and appreciate diversity, see each person in their uniqueness as a miracle, and hold open the space for every living being to unfold their own total wellness from within themselves.  We should not be an obstruction to anyone. Rather, we should be a support.

We practice meditation, first of all, to release tension. Secondly, we do it to find and feel and allow our own creative energy to flow, and, in allowing that flow, we experience a change of state that feels really good. It feels good. Feeling that simple really good feeling makes our day interesting and meaningful. Moving through our day, it makes our contact, alignment and flow with everyone whose life our life touches an uplifting experience.

A Guided Meditation

Here’s a simple meditation practice you can do to promote the flow of your creative energy. (If you’d like to follow along with a video, you can find one here:

First, it’s important to use proper posture. Whether you’re in a chair or on the floor with your legs crossed, sit up straight, thumbs and forefingers together, hands palms up on your thighs. Find the place on your thighs where your hands can be placed and support your posture—not too far forward, not too far back.

Now turn your attention within yourself. First, close your eyes and find your breath. The simplest expression of life and aliveness in each of us is our breath. We take our breathing for granted, but inside our breath there is tremendous energy. So relaxing your body, lift your shoulders to your ears and drop them. Relax your shoulders. Breathing in fully, hold it for a second, and exhaling, relax your chest. Breathing in again, take a deep breath into your abdomen. Pull down from the diaphragm, breathe into your abdomen, expand it and exhaling, relax your abdomen. Tighten your butt, and exhaling, release it. Take a minute to feel and relax your fingers, your palms, your wrists, your forearms, your upper arms, your neck. Going further, feel your thighs, feel your calves, feel the soles of your feet, feel your toes, and relax everything. It feels really good to relax deeply, and the enhanced experience of circulation that we feel in a deep state of relaxation is extremely healthy.

Now you start to pay attention to the energy centers in your body. In our practice, we consider that the human body is the expression of creative energy in the physical world.  The energy body or magnetic field, from which our physical body, our mental body and our emotional body arise, has junction points that are very powerful. These junction points are called chakras. Our sex chakra (in the perineum at the base of our genitals), our heart chakra, and the chakra above the palate behind the eyebrows are considered to be the most powerful chakras in our body.

So, breathing straight into the perineum, the sex chakra, breathe there and relax. Exhale. As you exhale, move your attention up to your heart, and breathing directly into your heart, exhale and relax. As you exhale and relax, move your attention above your palate, behind what we call the third eye chakra, which is really in the middle of your brain. Breathe in, straight up into your brain, and, exhaling, relax your brain.

It’s important to keep your body relaxed when you meditate. A relaxed body facilitates a quiet mind. A quiet mind allows us to see beneath the surface of the thought waves into the vibrancy of life itself within us.  To support your opening these energy chakras and awakening this extraordinary energy within you, which you do simply with the power of your own mind, you use a mantra. Mantras are words that have a strong vibration to help in retuning your state. The basic mantra of the spiritual tradition that I have trained in and practice is is 6 syllables: Om Namah Shivaya.  Om Namah on the inbreath; Shivaya on the outbreath. It’s repeated silently.

First, you breathe into the sex chakra, Om Namah, and exhaling, Shivaya, having your attention land in your heart. And then Om Namah, breathing straight into your heart, exhaling Shivaya, your attention lands in the middle of your brain. Then with Om Namah, you breathe directly into your brain, and with Shivaya, feel that breath rise out the top of your head.

It’s natural that your mind will wander during the course of this practice, and it’s not a problem at all. When you discover that your mind has wandered, just connect to your breath, and begin again to repeat the mantra and move your awareness within the chakras.

Sit and practice for about 20 minutes using this technique. When you are finished, take a deep breath, breathing in, exhale, and drop your chin to your chest. Inhaling, lift your chin. Exhale. Inhaling again, lift your shoulders to your ears, clench your fist and release and wiggle your fingers. Flex your butt muscles, move side to side, and feel the circulation in your legs.

As you practice, train yourself to take your awareness more and more deeply into the experience of the chakras and the flow. This will awaken in you a profound change of state which will, if you keep practicing, dissolve every tension in you, provide in your life every imaginable and unimaginable possibility and present for you, and everyone whose life your life touches, profound abundance.

Tension is the expression of unawakened energy. Love is conscious energy, and love doesn’t occur accidentally. It occurs consciously.  We choose it. Choose to be awakened, choose to rise above the tensions and the judgments, and become the love you say you want to be.

Growing and Inner Knowing

There’s a topic that is fundamental to our humanity.  It’s simple; it’s the most basic understanding you have to have as a human being to have any kind of life at all.  It is this: You have to understand that every human being is in this world for one reason and one reason only, and that is to grow.  We are in this world to grow, just like every other living thing on this earth.

By now, after forty some years of practice, I have a pretty good idea about what that means.  If I were going to make it simple, I would say we are in this world to grow love. The process is actually a bit more complicated than that, but let’s just say that if we really understand about growing love, and we try to practice that, then the rest of the understanding is going to come to us. That is an understanding that allows us to make contact with and grow in the awareness of what is absolutely essential about our existence—the part that is infinite and eternal and never goes away.  In that experience of what is infinite and eternal, what never goes away, you will find such peace and such strength and such richness in your life that it will, on a regular basis, blow your mind.

Swami Chetanananda with Pat Shoemaker, his mother

That was the experience I had with my mother, who passed away a couple of years ago.  My mother was a fundamentalist Catholic, and my upbringing was all about “us” and “them.”  My mother lived the last six months of her life in my ashram, and when she passed, she was completely beyond any notion of us and them. She had come to really understand that life was very simply and essentially about one thing, and that is love.  My mother!  A Catholic!  While she held to the religious model she was operating in to the very end, she also completely transcended it by understanding that anybody who could really open their heart was going to find a complete release from tension and an endless renewal of the richness in their life. She came to understand that that kind of aliveness is what the term “saved” refers to.  That’s so amazing.  I never expected it to happen.

When you understand that you’re in this world to grow, and you’re really trying, your primary value is not to get a job, it’s not to get a relationship, it’s not to make a family, it’s not whatever it is most people do.  Also, if you do those things and you are growing, there’s something deeper than that that you have to be doing in yourself to make them rich and meaningful experiences.  Unless you are focused on growing, it’s all just a struggle. 

Sometimes people will say, “I don’t know what it means,” or  “I don’t understand how to do it, how to grow.”  All I can say in response is that there is a place inside you that knows.  There’s a place inside everybody that knows.  Just as nobody had to explain to the sperm and the egg that came together in your mother what they had to do.  Nobody had to tell them, “You’ve got to become this person.”  Nobody ever had to tell a seed, “Oh, you’ve got to become a tree and this is how you’ve got to do it.  There’s a manual over here.  How to become a tree — all seeds must read.”  Right?  I don’t think so.  Rather, there is a place in everybody, a place deep in your heart, in your real heart, that just knows.

The work we do here is the work of peeling away tensions and self-doubt. We are peeling away all of the struggle and coming into connection with that place in our heart, that place deeply inside us that knows what it needs to do.  This knowing is not an intellectual knowing.  It’s not like you’re going to suddenly have an answer—that you  open your heart and read the book in there.  This isn’t something you will ever be able to intellectualize. It is, in fact, a knowing that is energetic, and it will guide you.

You will be guided, as you do your inner work, and you open your heart and you cultivate in yourself all the qualities of a loving person, as you experience the sweetness in yourself and the joy in yourself that is there every single day. You’ll find it is dependent on nothing except you knocking and opening that door.  As that extraordinary fineness comes out of you, it will lead you into all the things you need to do to unwind your tensions, to complete yourself, and to be released from all of the tensions and all of the limitations of your family life.  You will be able to draw to yourself all the nourishment that your parents never had to give you, that their parents never had to give them, that their parents never has to give them, all the way back to the beginning of time.  You will transcend the limitations, the disappointments of your ancestors.

Your life has a life of its own that it wants to express through you.  It has nothing to do with anything that your parents ever taught you. When you make contact with your own heart and that place in you that knows what it wants to do and you have the courage to hold that space of love, then your life will become what I call an unimaginable possibility.  It will be unimaginably rich and unimaginably beautiful.   

Take It Where It Is, Not Where You Think It Ought to Be

Rudi with Swami Chetanananda

My teacher, Rudi, used stories to illustrate some of his teachings. I think my favorite story is the one where the architect and the wise man were wandering the world together. As they traveled, the wise man was entertained by the company of the architect, who was looking at everything and saying, “This tree ought to be like this,” and “That rock ought to be over here,” and “This thing ought to be this way,” and “That thing ought to be that way.” One day they had traveled a long time without eating, and they came over a hill to a meadow where there was a flock of goats. As they approached the goats to milk one, the architect said, “This goat’s tits ought to be 6” higher.” The wise man went to the goat’s udder and the architect went 6” higher. The moral of the story is: take it where it is and not where you think it ought to be.

What we think about how it ought to be, about how anything ought to be, it is only our ego talking. It is absolutely useless. If I were going to describe, in the simplest way I could, our spiritual practice, I’d say we practice contact, alignment, and flow. We practice contact, alignment and flow in our bodies, which activate the deepest healing capacity of the body to express itself in its broadest range of motion. We practice contact, alignment and flow in our hearts to realize our own self in the deepest possible way that we can and to flow from our own source through this body into this field of experience, ever in alignment. We’re also practicing contact, alignment and flow between ourself and the entire universe. It is contact, alignment and flow in every dimension of our life that wakes up our own creative resource and facilitates its expression through the field of our life.

This contact, this connecting, is connecting with what is, not what we think ought to be.

The second day I was in New York with Rudi, I was sweeping the stairs outside his brownstone on 10th Street before class because I noticed it had gotten a little dirty out there. While I was sweeping a guy named Hans, who was ostensibly a student of Rudi’s, came up to me and said, “Oh, you’re new here,” and I said, “Yeah, I am.” Then he said “How can you study with Rudi?–he’s so fat.” I said “Really, I didn’t notice. All I’ve ever seen when I looked at him was love.” I guess Hans thought Rudi ought to be thinner, and some people thought he ought not to be in business. Everybody has thoughts about something that we ought to be letting go of in order to extend our capacity to connect.

When I was a young person just starting to teach, I thought there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Now I think the fact that anything ever gets done is a miracle, and each and every day that I wake up and start to express myself, I establish contact and flow within me, and the rest of it is an experiment. Maybe in the linear world how it ought to be is a straight line, and easy to say. Sometimes I wish we lived in a linear world. It would be a lot simpler. But we don’t. So, quieting our minds and then feeling into our hearts, we let go of our ego and all of the ways in which we think it ought to be to connect to the reality of our own self and the reality of each other. We begin to hold, without any kind of judgment, a completely open and loving space from within ourselves for everyone that we share our life with. Be the wise person and, if you’re hungry, take it where it’s at. Don’t go eating where you think it ought to be. Because it ain’t there.

We have to constantly wake up the energy that is this body and, with our own personal gentle awareness, by feeling and feeling and feeling, bring the body into total alignment with itself and its resources and its creative flow. Then everything else happens on its own. It will happen not like we think it ought to be, because that is the limitation of anybody’s creative expression. It will happen as an unimaginable possibility that is beyond anything that this crazy brain of ours can wrap itself around.

The story of the architect and the wise man and other teaching stories appear in Rudi’s book
Spiritual Cannibalism,  published by Rudra Press.