Practicing with Heart

By Swami Chetanananda

There is one simple thing we need to understand, and it’s this: we’re in this world to grow. Every living thing in this world is here for that one reason. We’re here to grow.

Growing, however, has nothing at all to do with getting what we think we want. Growing has to do with taking in energy from every circumstance and circulating it to release our boundaries. This allows for the expansion of the respiratory process that is the essence of what we are. Take away this respiratory process and you are…dust.

All the desires, fears and worries that we have are only expressions of our limitations, our limited ability to see and do. It’s when we begin to make contact with that respiratory process that is the essence of what we are, which is most simply experienced as our breath, that we can experience a new alignment take place from within.

This alignment connects us ever more completely to The Earth, as well as to Heaven. We can discover that realignment just by tuning into ourself and feeling, not thinking. Thinking is useless. Instead we have to feel our breath, deeply. A new alignment will automatically emerge from within us if we just hold that contact.  As this alignment emerges, it will express itself in a reorganization of the flow pattern in our energy and all the patterns of our energy. Our mind, our emotions, our desires, our tensions will all be changed, released and refined.

This isn’t rocket science; it’s not complicated.  But here’s the trick: we have to want it, because inside us there are millennia of strain and trauma that we are packaged in, that we inherit from our ancestors. It has nothing to do with us at all. It’s only the wrapping that we come in. If we don’t want it, if we can’t stay focused on the feeling and hold that feeling through the unwrapping of all of those layers of trauma that we have inherited from our ancestors, then we end up stuck.

Wanting to grow, generating a feeling in ourself of longing to connect to the deepest and finest place within ourselves, is not unique to my teaching. This is the methodology of the Sufis, this is the methodology of all of the Bhakta tradition, this is the methodology of the Christian mystics. We generate a feeling within ourselves and hold and deepen that feeling, sustaining us as we are taking in energy and expanding its circulation in the form of respiratory process. The ultimate result of that is to discover a quiet and a sweetness and a joy inside ourself that is packed with a million miracles.

There is beauty in every human heart. There is beauty in each of our hearts that has the potential to change our world and the world we connect to profoundly. That process begins with understanding we are in this world to grow and making the commitment that is appropriate to accomplishing our purpose here.

Understanding that we’re in this world to grow puts an end to being lost and wandering. Understanding that we’re in this world to grow puts an end to every kind of negativity, because we can at that point begin to understand that every experience - positive, negative, pleasant, unpleasant, painful, whatever – is energy to grow from. Instead of spinning in our patterns of tension, we can breathe and open and circulate every experience inside us and become profoundly strong and profoundly clear. In that clarity, we experience the emergence of a beauty and the power that we call love. This transforms us and everything the breath of our life touches.

Put your heart into your practice and you will discover a treasure in your chest that is richer than all the bankers in New York. But you have to put your heart into it. For the most part what we do, especially here in America where we live in constant fear, is go through our life building walls around our heart thinking we’re protecting ourselves from pain and thinking that’s a good thing. In fact, there’s no protecting ourselves from pain. It’s only when we understand to take everything in as energy and digest it that we become strong enough to hold a space of true love. To discover that space and live in it is the purpose of our life. 

Commitment is Crucial

By Swami Chetanananda

I talk a lot about unimaginable possibility, but I don't talk enough about the fact that realizing  an unimaginable possibility within our own individual lives is work and that it requires commitment.

Commitment is the center of gravity around which your own energy field can begin to reorganize itself as it sheds pathology and builds or takes on new structure.  Without that center of gravity, we are constantly shedding old pathology and taking on new pathology, and basically swirling around in the same intellectual, psychological, and emotional toilet bowl that we’ve been swimming in since we were kids. That’s a long-winded explanation of my term, disappointments of our ancestors.

Commitment is really, really powerful. And if you have any value for the quality of your own life, there has to be commitment. When I started out in practice, I could  look around both in myself and around me and understand what the quality of my own life wasn’t.  Understanding what your life is not is a really good place to start. Beginning to reach inside yourself beyond your tensions and your pain to a deeper place inside you that you can experience as beautiful, and developing and cultivating within yourself the capacity to hold that space, is a beginning of a transformation of your whole mind and your whole experience of your life.

The work itself is actually not that complicated. The way I would describe it is: every day we have to become present with our own pain and our own disappointment. We have to separate that sensation from the story, because the story is always bullshit; not just sometimes, but all the time. The story is bullshit. 

The work is coming into the present with your pain and your disappointments and confusion, and simply holding that sensation until it dissolves. Using the simple tidal motion of your breath to dissolve it brings about a release of all of that accumulated and suppressed pathology and transforms it and releases it into what it essentially is anyway, which is creative energy—which then becomes available for you, for your system, to create new structure from.

Holding that space over and over and over again makes us very much more capable of holding the experience of the sensation and releasing the trauma, and in developing that capacity, slowly we shift into the experience of the movement of the breath inside of us. That sensation—how good it feels to actually breathe—becomes available to us, and from that experience of the breath within us, the awakening of our creative energy begins to be expressed in a whole different dimension, and it goes on from there.

Fundamentally, all growth requires commitment. When I lived in New York with Rudi, I used to sleep by the door of the meditation room on an air mattress. I used the only pair of pants I owned as a pillow, so that when Rudi peeked his head in the door early in the morning, I just whipped my pants on and got dressed, and we’d go for a walk.  We used to walk down in the West Village.  This was at a time when SoHo had potholes in it that were 8 feet across and 4 feet deep and bricks were falling off the sides of buildings as you walked by.  It really looked like Berlin in 1945.  We’re walking along one day, and I wasn’t long out of Indiana, so this was my first urban experience.  We used to walk, and Rudi wouldn’t say much during these walks, we just walked.  One day we’re walking along and Rudi looks over and says to me, “You can’t want it one day and not want it the next and ever get anywhere.”  That’s all he said to me the whole walk. Maybe that’s all he said to me the whole week.  But I understood very well what he meant.

There is an unimaginable possibility available within every single living person. No matter what your disagreements or differences with anybody, that’s a very good reason to respect them. The realization of that unimaginable possibility that it’s available to you—it’s available, it’s not free.  It doesn’t cost you anything; it requires a commitment and a consistent, simple effort. That commitment and consistent simple effort will awaken and release in you a creative energy that is more powerful than 100 atom bombs. It has the capacity to completely transform you and in the process, not kill you but make you even more alive. And reveal to you the simple and profound intelligence that underlies all of creation.

Forty-five years ago I committed myself to the realization of an unimaginable possibility. I’m still totally, totally committed. Whatever else I’ve done, popular or not, for the last 45 years, every single day I have made contact, aligned myself in and generated a flow from that unimaginable possibility, which has transformed not only my life, but a lot of other lives as well. So it’s good to think about the finest thing you could possibly hope for from your life and commit yourself to its realization in some way. 

THE BEST PLACE TO BE IS WITHIN YOURSELF

By Swami Chetanananda

Within and around us, Life is. Life is self-organizing, self-motivating, self-knowing, self-expressing. It is not that I am anything; this body is only a reflection of the creative capacity that is present in Life Itself. To begin to live from this understanding gives rise within us to a state of total well-being that is beyond the stresses and strains of ordinary living. Our whole understanding of time and space is completely rearranged, because no longer are we limited by the superficial boundaries that arise and subside through the action of the creative power implicit in Life.

            To give you an analogy, the ocean has lots of different currents and pressures functioning in it, but is itself a consistent medium. It’s all water, all the way through, but because of the various pressures functioning within and around that event, all kinds of different wave patterns and current patterns and tide patterns are articulated. Those boundaries--current boundaries, tidal boundaries, wave patterns--are all superficial. We can notice them and think they’re interesting, but we understand that fundamentally it is all water, it is all one.

            Life is also One. That understanding changes our concern for our own material and physical well-being; we don’t have the same paranoia about it. We can allow for the natural creative power of Life Itself to flow within us and around us. In this we discover an extended benefit which totally transcends our human idea of desires and wants and needs. We understand even in the beginning of this experience that Life Itself has no problem.

            It’s only because of our limited understanding and our attachment to the forms of experience that we have no access to the substance of experience--the vast creative vitality that is implicit in all experience and the universal power from which experience itself arises. Consequently we worry, we suffer, we strain, we anguish, and we die. We must, in earnest and with great dedication, pursue our understanding of and our direct connection to authentic living, and do this through the process of growing. We must make the effort to take down the walls, to dissolve the tensions, break the patterns, extend our awareness throughout the whole field of our creative awareness. Only then do we begin to live and die for a real reason.

            That reason is the experience of authenticity and an understanding of the vastness of Life Itself, which removes us immediately from the realm of suffering. If we understand that Life is infinite, that what is alive is alive and that things that are alive don’t die--by definition--then fear, insecurity, and suffering no longer have any hold on us. We are able to completely relax and, with virtue and generosity and patience and sustained effort, cultivate within ourselves the capacity for contemplative attention and discriminative awareness. These allow us to recognize, extend, and dissolve the superficial boundaries that are limitations to our awareness; further, they allow us to participate completely in the experience of authentic living.

Whatever we’re doing in this world is only fulfilling, ultimately, within the context of our effort to grow and to connect to the infinite creative capacity implicit in authentic living. Any work we do, any form of life we have, is meaningful and enriching. Don’t think you need any other kind of life than the life you have, and don’t think there’s any possibility someplace else that does not exist where you are at this moment. Though the process of growing may take you through many different types of scenery, though you may play many different roles and have many different jobs, the place to be is within yourself. Participate in the total flow of creative energy available to you in each moment; watch, with discrimination and careful attention, the process by which this creative energy structures itself as a pattern and is expressed in the field of your everyday experience. In this way you are structuring, layer-by-layer and stage-by-stage, the endless possibility for renewal and recreativity that is possible in life, sharing that recreativity with all the different people you interact with.

Engaging the Creative Process

By Swami Chetanananda

The creative process comes from the need within ourselves to find a better way in our life.  For me, the creative process began after I'd suffered a fair amount, even though I was young.  I said to myself, "There's got to be a better way!"  In searching for that better way, an enormous creative process unfolded. 

The first step in that process is thinking there has to be a better way, and thinking about what that better way might look like, and the second step is thinking about how you might get there.  You have to think about who you are, what you want to do, what you can do, and who you want to do it for or to.  Then it's a process of taking in information and giving, and adjusting your action, and then taking in information again, and adjusting your action, and making whatever it is you're trying to do a learning experience for you. In the process of learning about whatever it is—people, food, books, art, music, iPhone apps, whatever—you're continuously learning about you and learning about whatever other thing you choose to focus on.  There is a flow that happens that is a creative flow, as long as you are continuing to take in the feedback and change yourself from it, and the limits of that creative process are distant. 

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The only issue really in it is how much you're willing to change, or conversely, how much resistance you have to it.  Along the way there are some painful moments and some difficult times, but all of that pain and difficulty has a great deal more to do with changes that are trying to happen in us than it does with any external circumstances that we might be called on to endure.  If you hold onto that creative flow, it finds a way to attract to itself its own audience and its own requirement for self-sufficiency.  This is my experience.  In the creative process money is never the issue, the issue is commitment and your willingness to change.  Those are the issues.

In spiritual texts, there is a lot of discussion about liberation.  What is it that we should be liberated from?  Our past!  Being liberated from the past also liberates us from the future, but we have to be liberated from our past, and it is that liberation that we experience in the creative process.  But you have to be willing to let go of your past when you enter into the creative process. Otherwise, what are you doing except bringing the wet blanket of your past and throwing it on the fire of whatever creative process is trying to take off, trying to happen for you?  Our past is always the wet blanket on the fire of life and love burning within us!

In entering into a creative process it doesn't matter who you were and it doesn't matter who you weren't. Nothing matters except that you're here now and what are you going to do about it?  What do you want to do about it really?  If you have a feeling to do something, opportunities come, doors open, you walk in, there is something to be done.  It's either a noble endeavor or it isn't.  You can engage in it or you don't.  Whatever you choose. As long as we have a body life goes on.  If you choose to do something, you can do it lovingly but dispassionately at the same time.  Being a parent is a good example of that.  You have to be loving but very dispassionate, detached.

Ultimately in any creative process what gets burned up is us.  What we sacrifice is who we were.  That's a good thing.