The following questions and answers are from Swamiji’s book, ‘I Can’t Hear You, I Have A Carrot In My Ear‘. Certainly one aspect of being in lockdown with others is getting along with each other. In this chapter ‘Love and Relationship’ he offers sound advice on how to stay connected to your heart.
Tell the Truth and Don’t Get Angry
Question: Sometimes in my work situation I say yes to things that I really don’t want to, and then after a while I explode and say everything that I wanted to say, but with so much anger that I don’t get heard, and I cause upset everywhere. How can I learn to speak up appropriately?
Swamiji: You are caught in the dichotomy of truth and kindness. In Sanskrit, these are satya and ahimsa, truth and non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi made ahimsa famous. They actually constitute two extremes of a polarity—truth at one end and kindness at the other. They meet in the middle, and when you have truth combined with kindness, you have perfection in communication. Truth without kindness tends to be harsh, grating and tinged with anger and judgment. Kindness without truth is not good either. It makes a person too passive, always finding himself in situations he doesn’t really want to be in. A person with too much truth will be crusty and offensive and people will avoid him. A person with too much kindness will be agreeable, but will carry unconscious negativity and be subject to emotional explosions and physical diseases. Most of us tend to be of one type or the other, and to be whole, we have to develop the quality we lack. People on the truth side have to learn patience and tolerance. People on the kindness side have to learn to speak up for themselves.
The American spiritual teacher, Saniel Bonder, talks about this polarity when he uses the terms fathering and mothering, extending it into the realm of sadhana or spiritual work. Some forms of yoga have what he calls, a ‘hypermasculine dharma’, which means an intense demand for change and growth—a highly critical dissatisfaction with the status quo. Such paths produce change all right, but they also create stress and self-hatred. The opposite extreme is ‘self-mothering’, which means self-acceptance just as you are. It is a defensible spiritual position to work on accepting yourself as you are here and now. Of course, the danger is complacency and lack of effort. Self-fathering is spiritual discipline and the sharp blade of truth. Self-mothering is love and self- acceptance, and it is kindness. Just as Shiva and Shakti exist, just as yin and yang exist, so truth and kindness, father and mother, are eternal pairs. Both must be present in equal measure in Self-realisation.
I have wandered into a bit of a discourse here, but your issue is precisely about truth and kindness. You should learn to speak up right away. You have to learn to distinguish inwardly between strength and anger. For some people, strength feels like anger, but it isn’t anger, it is appropriate strength. So one of my favourite aphorisms in the whole realm of spirituality covers your situation exactly: Tell the truth and don’t get angry. Make that your watchword. When you speak the truth, you will definitely feel strong inside yourself, but that is not anger.
In some situations, telling the truth seems like it requires an inner effort and it may bring up feelings of hopelessness and despair. Don’t shrink from making that effort. Let your being rise up to the demand of the situation. If you do the tapasya of telling the truth now, you won’t have to explode later.
I’ll give you a practical tip. In these highly charged situations, it is sometimes better to write a letter than have a conversation.
Then you can edit out your anger and move the expression towards the meeting point of truth and kindness. Begin with your most fierce statement, then refine it and calm it down. I could publish a book of my first drafts of letters that would curl your hair. Mostly they were directed at great beings. Maybe I’ll put them in my posthumous papers.
Question: ‘Tell the truth and don’t get angry’ seems to be a theme in your talks. Could you elaborate this teaching for me?
Swamiji: Truth is an intellectual quality and therefore stands for the thinking function. Not getting angry is kindness and that has to do with the feeling function. When I say, ‘Tell the truth and don’t get angry’, I am really saying bring the mind and the heart together in a perfect way. Inquiry shows us that when the mind moves without regard to feeling, it goes off track, and similarly when the emotions move without any intellect, things get distorted.
In Shiva Process work the point of real insight and power is where thought and feeling are brought together. We seek a clear mind and a clean heart. A clear mind is uncontaminated by dogma, mechanical thinking or confusion. A clean heart is untroubled by negative emotions and desire. Keep your mind and heart in a good state. When things go off, inquire whether you need to bring more truth to the situation by speaking up, or more kindness to the situation by practising tolerance. This unacceptable universe must be loved with your whole heart and the unspeakable word that hides in your heart must be spoken.
Being in Relationship
Q: Relationships. I wonder what is the point of them. The feeling of together- ness with another in an intimate sexual relationship—I don’t understand it.
S: They are a wonderful instrument of torture, don’t we love them? Aren’t we endlessly fascinated by them? You know it is one of the strongest illusions in this world to believe that we can somehow find nirvana in another. Yet, relationships are a terrific form of spiritual progress, spiritual sadhana, because the other person becomes a mirror to us—sometimes an extremely unpleasant one.
I think The Pathwork gives one of the best analyses. A relationship begins with romance—they call it eros—and this experience of romance is what some of us live for—‘Ecstasy! I’m in love!’ It is an intoxication. And it is a real intoxication—we are actually spiritually uplifted. We become less selfish, we become generous, we show more of our true Self. There is a kind of ecstasy with it, a high. But, as we all know, eros doesn’t last forever. My mother has left the programme so I can tell you a disgusting joke: What is the difference between true love and herpes? Answer: Herpes lasts forever! Isn’t that horrible? Thank God my mother is here to protect me from my lower self!
At that point, you might separate or you might live together like two corpses, fifty years after eros has died, never speaking again. You just watch Seinfeld re-runs. Others become addicted to eros and they become love addicts, serial erotics. They get into a new romance and stay with it until it dies, and then move on.
The alternative is to go deeper together. It is a kind of inquiry group. Now you are moving towards real love. The nature of God is pure relationship—God is everything in everyone. God’s nature is purely relational. That which is separate is cut off from the light. The more separate a thing is, the further from God it is. A stone is in isolation, but a human being is in relationship. The essence of being a human being, a divine being, is to be open in relationship. A great sage is in relationship with the whole universe.
Baba would greet each person in an open and free way, in an appropriate, open and loving way. There would be a transmission of love. Relationship is a great stretching, growing, groaning process. Certain kinds of yogis try to avoid relationship, to escape from all relationship. They go to a cave or they live on an island. This is beginner’s stuff. We have to be able to be in relationship as well as in the Self. So relationship is a great sadhana, a great spiritual practice, but a difficult one. If I put a percentage on what people complain to me about, relationships are up there. And nothing else is up there. It is the one. It is the hardest one, because it gets you where you live, being face-to-face with another person. Even if you hate relationships, you will be inevitably drawn to one because the soul craves it. We are in a funny situation, human beings, aren’t we?
Q: What are the essential ingredients of a good relationship? I would like to know what one could or should expect from a relationship. What purpose do they serve? Is there only one right person? Are your relationships predestined?
S: A while ago, there was a woman who came for the first time and she told me that she had spent many years in an ashram, and now she was seeking marriage. I understood what she was saying because I have spent many years in an ashram too, and I know what happens in ashrams. She said she wasn’t quite ready for marriage since marriage is such an awesome thing.
The Pathwork says that the essence of a good relationship is ‘mutual self-revelation’. People come together out of eros, an attraction, and if that does not develop into something more, then eros fades, and the relationship usually fades with it. Instead, the couple can move towards mutual self-revelation—you show more of yourself to the other person, you go deeper together. Any context in which you show more of yourself seems like a risk. The ego says, ‘No, no, no. Keep up a facade, pretend, don’t show anything’. But it is also an act of faith and trust. It is a yagna ceremony: you throw something into the fire, you make an offering. You have no guarantee that it will work. When you reveal something, it moves something in the other person. That person moves to reveal something too, and love is refreshed.
In that sense, relationships can be spiritual because what I have described is similar to the spiritual process. The spiritual process is also one of Self-revelation. Spiritually considered, a relationship is a context in which you can go deeper with another person helping you and mirroring you. That is a tremendous use you can make of a relationship. In our culture, many people have the illusion that through a relationship you can attain God: Once you have the right relationship, everything is perfect in heaven and earth. Well, I don’t think so. But a relationship can be used to further your spiritual progress. And if it doesn’t go that way, it goes the opposite way—it can go towards hell very easily. Relationship is a great fire. When you are by yourself, you can fool yourself, but when you are with another person, you can’t.
One of my great teachers, Ben Hogan, used to say, ‘You can’t fool a golf ball’. You hit it a certain way, it goes a certain way. You can’t hit it with a bad stroke and talk it into going right. You can’t argue with it or convince it. The same is true of your mate. Your mate knows you, and your relationship reflects that. You should be stretched in a relationship and challenged. There are tremendous rewards if you practise conscious relationship.
Yes, there is destiny at work here, but don’t get too dewy-eyed about it. Our life course is charted, but what hasn’t been charted is the way we react to what happens. That is where free will is. We can choose to flow with it or be miserable. When we are miserable enough, we are forced to discover that we had better learn the way to flow. So don’t get into a destiny fantasy. Only when something has happened can we say it was destined. But isn’t that a tautology? It doesn’t really tell us anything. Within a broad philosophical determinism, you should act as though you have free will in practical matters. And then you should make good choices.
Love is the Basic Emotion
Q: If it is, as you say, that love is the motivator that propels us into our various situations, why then is there often tension, anxiety and frustration associated with our journey? What is the correlation between life and the negatives that often travel this path together? Are the struggles associated with love actually an expression of love or is it the case that these difficulties prevent the expression of love?
S: That is complex, but a very good question. I will throw out the question and talk about it generally. Where we have gone in our lives, what we have done is a demonstration of what has drawn our love and interest. It is quite true that it is not always pure love that motivates us. Sometimes it is hatred. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations because of anger or denial or hatred. But all of that is only love trying to express itself. Whenever we feel strong hatred, it is because love has been thwarted in some way. There has been a hurt. I think it is worth while to look at our life this way. What is the love behind our actions? What is the motivation behind them? And it is quite true that, looking at it from a yogic perspective, love is the basic emotion.
Let’s take a naive look at the world and say that everyone is motivated by love. Where they are not motivated by love, the distortion comes about because of fear or anger or something like that. The generic term is ignorance: we lose touch with the truth and descend into paranoia or rage. But who we really are, is love. I like this view of humanity. Our basic nature is good, but it gets distorted. As we defend our ego, we become caught in various distortions.
But it is possible through inner work, through Self-awareness, to come back to that experience of wholeness and love. When you are motivated by revenge, fear or some base emotion, you have no peace. If you are out for revenge against your ‘ex’, say, if you actually act out of that, how much satisfaction do you get? Sometimes a lot. [Laughter.] Yes, you always pay a price, but sometimes it may be worth it!
So let’s not be dogmatic here. I have a deep allergy to dogma. I am not saying dogmatically that your life is only an expression or distortion of love. I am saying, use it as a lens, use it as a possibility. Look at your life as expressions of love or distortions of love, and see if that gives you new insight.
I love spiritual ideas, I will read any tradition and I will get a new angle from it. I love to read other traditions. Shaivism looks at things a certain way. Zen comes from way over there and has a whole different perspective. Wherever there have been human beings, there have been sages, people who have practised the path of wisdom. They have worked on themselves to purify their vision, to purify their hearts. Those people have something worthy to say, whatever their tradition. When you work on yourself, when you pay that price, when you do the tapasya, then you arrive at wisdom. Whatever those sages say is worthy of being listened to, and treated with respect and taken on as a possibility.
Sometimes the pursuit of knowledge is like detective fiction— which I have always loved—where things are never as they seem. But you go deeper and get rid of layers of illusion. When we do Self-inquiry, it is always looking for a deeper truth. What seems obviously true is often not the case. I won’t say it is never the case, but it is often not the case. And there is always a deeper motive.
In fiction, a character may say something but have a motive behind it. The audience senses that motive: the wicked man says nice things, but he has murder on his mind. So there are layers and layers to investigate—this is called inquiry. It is always worth while to inquire into things and you can use a lens, what we used to call in the university a heuristic device, a method of learning. Investigate and discover the blocks to your love and remove them. Then your love will flow. Love wants to express itself, but you should not beat your head against a brick wall.
Assume that you are where you are in your life because love has brought you there. You have always followed your love. Unfortunately, it has sometimes been love of the ego or love of appearances. You might see that you haven’t allowed the full expression of your love. There are areas that you haven’t allowed because of limitations that you impose on yourself, or because of your culture, or your worrying about what other people think. You have limited your love.
Take the case of the great saint Akka Mahadevi. When she fully expressed her love, she wandered around naked and insane shrieking for Shiva. So normally, we want to stop short of that. A few of you in this room might get to that extreme. We will chain you down and give you a couple of pills first.
It is good to look at your life as reflecting where your love has brought you. And you can also contemplate where it would go if you let your love flow. But remember this: your impure love can put you in bad situations. So during sadhana, while love is being strengthened and purified, not acting on will and impulse can be wise.
Q: If love is my true nature, precisely what is it that clouds my experience of love? If I can’t get in touch with love, how can I at least come to peace with that fact?
S: That is why we meditate. We meditate simply to get to the underlying truth. What stops love? Fear stops love, anger stops love. There is conditional love and there is unconditional love. Whenever we fall in love, whenever we feel love for anything, there is real love there, there is the germ of true love. Then our tendency comes up. It might be the tendency to get angry or the tendency to want quid pro quo, or as Baba would say, to make it into a ‘marketplace thing’, a deal: I want something back. An element of selfishness comes up, an element of possessiveness that obstructs the love. When that arises, it makes us feel terrible.
The key here is to continually go back to the love, to re-find the original love. For that, we have to do yoga, we have to grapple with the obscuring tendencies within. We do that through meditation and through wisdom. Two methods. One is through insight and the other is through meditating, going deeper than our tendencies, down to the inner Self. Everyone has this struggle with love. That is why the path of love is such a great practice, such a great sadhana. Don’t settle for less. You will certainly discover your love by means of your sadhana.
Carrot (as we commonly call it) is a manual on daily life. Swamiji answers questions about every aspect of life and with wisdom, humour and insight and addresses each person’s issue. It is available from the Ashram bookshop.