Written by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur in 2013
I moved to Espanola, New Mexico when I was 30 years old. The Siri Singh Sahib, Yogi Bhajan, was still alive then. I consider it an extraordinary blessing that I had a chance to work for him in the last years of his life. As a teacher, Yogi Bhajan would sometimes put his students in challenging situations, as a way to help them evolve. Anyone can smile and be nice when the environments are easy. But it is a far more difficult task under pressure. Yogi Bhajan loved creating the kind of pressure that forced your mask to break; that made you see all the baggage you carried.
I used to joke that I never had a temper until I moved to Espanola. But my friends who knew me in my 20’s just laughed. “Oh, you had a temper!” they teased. Honestly, I never realized it before. I was blind to it. Only when Yogiji created pressure in my life did my anger became visible to my conscious mind. Then, I saw it. It was a humbling experience.
Sometimes, the PR around spiritual paths can paint a false picture. There are so many spiritual memes on Facebook, implying that if we all meditated, heaven would come to earth. There is truth in that. But one has to read the fine print and not get lost in the fantasy. A spiritual discipline will reveal the vastness of your soul to you. It will show you how Infinity moves. At the same time, it will turn on the lights so you see all the dirt clouding your subconscious mind. A spiritual discipline gives you an awareness of what is inside that blocks you; what limits your own soul from realizing its full potential.
There is a great quote by Yogi Bhajan that I deeply appreciate on this subject. The reason I appreciate it is that we have somehow been trained to be ashamed of our weaknesses: to hide them from others and to deny them to ourselves. But life is a play of polarities. Light and shadow. Night and day. Strengths and weaknesses. You don’t have one without the other.
“One who does not recognize his weakness can never be strong. There is no way to progress and grow other than to first find out the lowest point of you. Then you can start going towards the highest.”
– Yogi Bhajan. March 25, 1990.
What I honor about this quote is something very simple. True spiritual discipline leads you to the depth before it takes you to the height. At the start, of course, there is a sense of openness and wonder – the honeymoon period. You love the practice. How it makes you feel. The possibilities it reveals. But sooner or later, if you stay committed, your spiritual practice will kick your butt. Because no one can become their very best outside until they have faced the worst of themselves inside.
Guru Nanak talks about this poetically in the 38th Pauree of Japji Sahib. The 38th Pauree uses the metaphor of the goldsmith’s workshop to explain the process of spiritual growth. You are the gold. Through your practice, under Guru’s guidance, you melt, refine and shape that gold into the coin of Truth. It is hard work that you must do on yourself.
When gold gets heated, some impurities begin to rise to the surface, and it is fairly easy to remove them. But other impurities need much higher heat for a longer period of time before they will finally surface. Before they can be purified. A spiritually committed life works the same way. When we begin a spiritual path, some shadows and weaknesses reveal themselves early on. And we feel how wonderful the practice is, that we can face these issues and have a chance to heal them. But other shadows may take years, decades or even lifetimes to become visible to the conscious mind. The heat of the practice may need to be applied for a very, very long time before deeply ingrained negative aspects of our personalities are ready to transform.
That is why the first and last law of Dharma is compassion. Compassion for ourselves. Compassion for others. Guru Naanak says in Japji that kindness gives birth to the bull of Dharma, which carries the weight of the entire Universe on its shoulders. The Dharmic path has tremendous strength and power. But it comes from compassion. The play is never ending. Our evolution never stops. Therefore, every time we have an opportunity to expand to new heights, the first thing that will happen is that the Universe will take us to the lowest point, to clear out another level of garbage, so that the highest point can be realized.
Practically speaking, what does this look like? It means not judging others. It means not judging ourselves. It means understanding the spiritual life as a continuous school of learning. It means not believing our own “PR.” No matter how great someone becomes in his or her practice there is always the chance he or she will slip tomorrow. And it also means never giving up on ourselves or anyone else, because sometimes the slip is the perfect lesson. A slip may be nothing but the heaviest impurities rising to the surface, making themselves visible so they can be removed.
If we ever think we are “done” in our spiritual progress, it is not the truth. Guruji describes the Divine as Endless: beyond our ability to record It or understand It. There is never a finish line. There are times we progress quickly. Times we move slowly. Times we back track. And times we take a break. But the journey goes on. This is why the bottom line is never how “good” we are or how “bad” we are. The bottom line is how committed we are to keeping up with our spiritual practice every day. As long as the fires of our spiritual discipline are being stoked with the fear of the Divine, it really does not matter how pure or impure we are. The Guru will stand with us and cover us. Until that day comes when, by his Grace, the karmas will clear completely and we live in the truth of our Divine Identity.
With Divine Light,
Ek Ong Kaar Kaur