The Power of Attitude in Noticing the Miraculous
There are many inspirational books which recount the
miraculous events of “ordinary” unsuspecting people which positively changed their lives by giving them faith in God’s or angelic protection by Divine intersession, a new opportunity, or a way out of a great difficulty. Some of them point out that these “miraculous” occurrences may occur in small everyday events, if seen differently from a new, broader vantage point. (My wife and I have taken the theme of finding the gems in misfortune, and applied it to experiences of devotees in a book we are working on.)
For the purposes of this blog I thought I would focus on how a negative self deprecating attitude causes unnecessary suffering and a certain spiritual blindness to seeing Krishna’s mercy, and conversely how having a spiritually positive attitude toward our life opens the door to appreciating the miraculous things all around us. Such a positive—actually realistic—attitude is not harshly reactionary or based on childhood strategies for survival, but is an empowering way of relating to life which allows us to make the most of every situation—whether “good” or “bad” on the surface.
Part of spiritual life is knowing where we are on the material and spiritual map, and adopting a strategy and attitude appropriate for our level of advancement. Though we can’t imitate the humility or attachment to Krishna of the great devotees of the past or present, we can pray to obtain their level of advancement, and to know how to apply their teachings and instructions. We must also consult with senior devotees and see how they have understood Krishna conscious practice in their different stages of spiritual advancement.
Many of have to learn to “smell the roses” hidden right before our eyes or nose, while also seeing the value of identifying our anarthas so we can gradually retire them. Part of Krishna consciousness is becoming conscious, or aware, and then taking appropriate action. From a more broad view everything about life is miraculous if we connect it to Krishna and have an attitude of gratitude which we apply to all of life.
Our attitude colors our perception of reality so powerfully, that even if one’s difficult life situation doesn’t change externally, by learning to see it differently—spiritually—we can be satisfied, even uplifted in any circumstance (at least in time). What brings happiness is not situations or possessions. Rather, it is seeing the hand of Krishna working in our life and through our efforts, and in our making progress in serving, loving and remembering him.
If external changes are required, the only way to accomplish them is by such a positive, spiritual vision—believing in the possible (not defeating ourself in advance) yet leaving it up to Krishna (dependence on him, and thus detachment to the result), while aspiring for the blessings of Shri Guru, the Vaishnavas and Lord Gauranga. We do our best to determine a course of action or respond to a situation, and then, carrying a plan through, we endeavor to trust Krishna, knowing that the outcome is all up to him.
What the different factors of action constitute [see the 18th chapter of the Gita], or exactly why something happens is a large discussion, but my point here is that whether our external circumstances remain unchanged, we receive some “lucky” break, or calamities come our way, to deal with them successfully we require a spiritual, philosophical perspective along with “grace from above”. Any situation or occurrence may be good or bad depending on our level of spiritual advancement, or degree of material attachment, and our corresponding attitude, goal, or world view.
The soul has many deficits and types of skewed vision living in the material world. We become limited and restricted by a body and the mind’s ideas and conceptions of many varieties based on the false ego’s all-pervading cement we seem rooted in, that we are a product of matter. So much of how we see life is unconscious habit brought about through conditioning and physical or psychological survival strategies.
The Gita teaches us that the function of the mind is to accept or reject based on our view and feeling about what gives us pleasure—what we want—or gives us pain—what we avoid. Interestingly (since the soul is pleasure seeking by nature) psychological studies indicate that people endeavor more to avoid pain then to experience pleasure—apparently as a survival strategy. This is testimony to the fact that we are in a miserable place where we struggle to get rid of distress (an unnatural spiritual condition), and search for our true blissful nature (albeit in ignorance of where to find it). Material depression or dissatisfaction is often a call to take action, though we often don't listen.
Adding to our bewilderment and ignorance, the soul's subtle body of mind/emotions/intelligence/ego is often negatively scarred by unfortunate, traumatic conditions of upbringing, which through further suffering, disappointment and so many unfulfilling conditions bring depression and frustration. (Of course in a broad sense any material birth whether deva or bug is a bad bargain, though some situations are more or less favorable for taking up spiritual life.)
We live in a time in which the scientific world view we are educated in takes us away form our innate (as a soul) spiritual perspective. The only meaning from this perspective is survival of the fittest—and for only a painfully brief span of life, which is considered the end of our identity. The spiritual view is seen as superstitious and backward, yet we often see that without it, many people become hopeless and unable listen to their natural understanding of a purposeful world with God behind it.
So it is no wonder that even people who come to Krishna to revive their continuing spiritual journey to Krishna, are also affected by this negative conditioning, low self-esteem, and doubt in their capabilities. These views are quite typical conditioning of the less then ideal circumstances of Kali-yuga, and are the opposite of spiritual understanding. The basic "ABC's" of spiritual life are that we are the eternal soul, not the body. Although as devotees we may believe and like the idea, we still act as a body to a large degree. Such bodily concepts cause, for the most part the difficulties in devotee relationships. Actually, these relationship frictions or problems can be with all types of people—with our very self, people in general, devotees, and even with our guru, and ultimately with Krishna and our worshippable Deities.
What does knowing that "we are not the body" meaning practically? For this discussion, I would like to say that knowing we are not the body or even theoretically applying it, means knowing we are not our "story" or the sad drama of our past or current life. This is important to consider because often our identification with our sad story or “drama” gives us our negative self talk, doubt or at worse—self hatred—or give us the impression that we can’t change. Devotees may come with this negative, even self denying attitude. Although in the beginning this may be spiritually favorable by helping us see the miseries of material life and seek spiritual solutions, later on, it confounds our long term spiritual practices, relationships, and being able to live in the world while remaining devotees.
Though we naturally have to maintain our body by eating, sleeping, exercise, etc, I am speaking more of how our dysfunctional, chaotic, unhappy, spiritually unfavorable psychology creates problems for our Krishna conscious practices and relationships. Everyone brings mental “baggage” or outmoded survival habits to spiritual life from lifetimes of materialistic conceptions and conditioning.
Here is an interesting quote by Prabhupada to illustrate the importance in our inner life: "We work not with our body, actually, but with our mind and intelligence. So if the intelligence and the mind are always engaged in the thought of the Supreme Lord, then naturally the senses are also engaged in His service. Superficially, at least, the activities of the senses remain the same, but the consciousness is changed." Remembering Krishna sounds easy enough, yet our negative conditioning make this easy task difficult. How much so, depends on our spiritual advancement.
Very important in our progressive spiritual life and in our relationships to ourself and others is our self image and self talk. Ideally we would build the structure of Krishna consciousness on the foundation of a healthy psychology. Most devotees in my experience have a psychology somewhere between healthy and unhealthy. In extreme cases, one’s unhealthy psychology is so intertwined in their K.C. that is very difficult to separate them out. People do what seems to work for them or what is familiar even if it is causing them problems. Such statements of bodily identity such as “it is just the way I am” are sometimes heard when a devotee is presented evidence that their ways of dealing with others are inappropriate or problematic.
Change is hard work and can seem frightening since it involves unraveling core conditioning or knee-jerk ways of relating. However, real spiritual life is about change, and change for the better. Therefore, we have to be ready to challenge our conditioning, our ideas of who we “think we are”, and what we think we are capable of accomplishing. In a higher sense, through spiritual practice we uncover our true self and pure nature as part of Krishna. In a psychological sense we become introspective to look at our “anarthas’ or ways of dealing with our self or others which are not spiritually harmonious or favorable. Considering how long we have been in the material world—basically forever—to make progress in these two areas is miraculous.
The more we uncover our dormant Krishna consciousness the more miraculous we will see life and the happier we will become. As part of Krishna our nature is to be joyful and have all good qualities. As Krishna is lovable so are we. Isn’t it utterly fantastic to not be our material sad or even partially happy story of life, but a wonder beyond wonder to be on the path of becoming part of Krishna’s never ending, completely happy story? Only time separates us from realizing this. That calls for a constant celebration.