Taking out the Trash
In households across the world, there is a chore that is performed without hesitation and on a regular basis. Since the beginning of civilization, mankind has performed this task intuitively. Come rain or shine, whether we are rich or poor, or live in a mansion or a hut, we all take out the trash. The accumulation of rubbish leads to rotting stenches, unwelcome pests and sometimes even the formation of hazardous bacteria. Therefore, the fouler the trash, the quicker we are to get rid of it.
Unfortunately though, there is some trash that often gets left behind week after week, year after year, and sometimes even lifetime after lifetime. It’s the trash that we allow to accumulate in our hearts.
What really is the ‘trash’ in our hearts? Each one of us has a heap full of hurtful memories, feelings of bitterness, anger or regret from the past that we have not been able to let go of. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just stuff all these negative emotions into a hefty trash bag and leave it at the curb with the rest of the rubbish for the garbage man to collect? How much lighter we would feel!
So how do we unburden our souls? How do we lighten our load? How do we take out the trash that has encumbered our hearts for years?
There are two methods of maintaining a neat and tidy heart. The first is not to allow any new rubbish to pile up and the second is to work hard at scrubbing away any grime that has already accumulated.
As for the first, the solution is quite simple: don’t react. The Master has often told us that when we react, we are giving the other person exactly what he or she wants. By reacting, we make a much bigger mess of the situation and allow our emotions to spill out in an uncontrolled manner, soiling our tongues and minds. Once Maharaj Charan Singh humorously explained that one fool under one roof is enough! On another occasion, he gave similar advice to a wife who questioned how she should react when her husband lost his temper:
I think you should react lovingly. You shouldn’t react as he’s acting; but you should respond lovingly to whatever he says, and smilingly try to answer his questions; try to satisfy him. And, if even then he’s not satisfied, you shouldn’t become angry like him. It’s sufficient to have one angry person under one roof rather than two under the same roof. So you should always try to handle such situations tactfully, lovingly and smilingly.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
Love is the best weapon with which to fight anger. It leaves your opponent dumbfounded and surprised. After all, they were expecting and hoping you would react. If in the heat of the moment we are unable to draw the sword of love, it is still much better to turn to our simran, keep silent, and let the storm pass. We will notice that once all has blown over, there is a much smaller mess to clean up.
As for the second problem, how do we deal with old stains – with previous wounds inflicted upon our heart that we just cannot seem to dust off? The answer is also simple: let go. The truth is that while no doubt the karmic events we faced were definitely hurtful, they are now in the past. The pain we feel in the present is often self-created -we only add to our own misery by feeling sorry for ourselves and replaying certain events in our minds over and over again. By doing this, we keep our pain fresh and alive.
For instance, when we have anger or hatred towards a person, there is less likelihood of it developing to a very intense degree if we leave it unattended. However, if we think about the projected injustices done to us, the ways in which we have been unfairly treated, and we keep on thinking of them over and over, then that feeds the hatred. It makes the hatred very powerful and intense.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, The Art of Happiness
Essentially, instead of cleaning up the mess, we add fuel to the fire. We are all just actors playing our part in this karmic play. Holding on to our bitterness until the end of our days puts us at risk of carrying these karmas over to the next life. The Masters have warned us that we go where our attachments are. If we constantly contemplate upon those whom we feel have wronged us, we will be pulled back to them again and again.
We should not be so involved and obsessed with each other, nor so attached to each other, that we forget this is a part given to us to play on a stage which we have to leave one day. For we become so attached to each other that we forget we are playing a part and this attachment pulls us back to this world again and again.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
The only way to break this cycle is to let go of our past pain and regrets. How do we let go? The best detergent for the soul is forgiveness. Nothing in this world is as liberating as forgiveness, which helps the forgiver more than anyone else. Once we forgive, we tend to forget; automatically the reruns of our painful memories stop playing in our minds and our hurt gets washed away. Sometimes, it isn’t even a particular person that we need to forgive – we feel that destiny itself has wronged us. In such cases, we need to take a deep breath and forgive our destiny. After all, clearing these karmas here and now is taking us closer to our true home.
When our house is untidy, we clean it. When our body is dirty, we wash it. Even when we get an e-mail that is no longer useful to us, we delete it. It is a basic human instinct to discard waste. Feelings of bitterness, hatred, anger and regret are not only useless, but they are also harmful to us. If left unattended, just like trash, they will rot, turn venomous and become hazardous to our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. After all, that is why they say “cleanliness is next to godliness”! So let’s make it a daily task to take out the trash and keep our hearts clean.
All of us have a keen desire to see God and wish that he may make our hearts the seat of his throne. But where should he sit, when our hearts are so full of worldly desires and impure cravings that practically no room is left for the Deity? Unless the heart, the place which we want him to grace with his presence, is thoroughly cleansed, and all the dirt and filth is absolutely removed from the inside, how can he occupy it?… God’s light penetrates only a pure and holy heart.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Light on Sant Mat