Head to the Open Country
The world is a prison exercise yard.
Head this way, where there’s open country.
Appearances are the prison walls
Which keep out that Reality.
Timothy Freke, Rumi Wisdom
Rumi’s verse is the clarion call of the Masters who take every opportunity to rescue us from our self-made and self-imposed prison yard. The chances are that unless we have come into contact with a perfect Master, we are unlikely to have any inkling that we have imprisoned ourselves in this way.
We blunder along blindly, being pushed from pillar to post, just hoping against hope that everything will turn out to our liking, without giving our souls, our real selves, a second thought. We may think that we can solve every problem life throws at us. Our mind may tell us that we can cope – we may even pride ourselves on our strength and ability to do so. But at some point, we realize that we can’t – a great shock – and we are forced to acknowledge that we are much more vulnerable and much less powerful than we thought.
We may think that we can control events. Our mind may tell us that if we undertake a little preparation, everything will unfold as we plan. But then, how suddenly we are pulled up short when these plans go awry and we’re at a loss as to explain why. We may even start to believe that the world is against us.
Impressed by the never–never land of films and television, we may think that all our dreams will come true – a perfect spouse, a comfortable, happy life. But sooner or later we realize that this is an illusion. How could we have fooled ourselves?
These are the prison walls that we have built for ourselves – keeping the reality out. We shut out the reality of the true nature of the mind, which, unchecked, is only too ready to mislead; and perhaps more sadly, we shut out the reality of the divine nature of our soul within. As a result of the Master’s grace, however, we wake up one day and realize that, miracle of miracles, there has been another possibility all along. “Open country”, the liberation of our soul, is accessible the instant we are ready to ‘let go’ and recognize the power of the Divine over and beyond mind. We only have to change direction, shift our perspective, and relax.
So now, as we listen to the discourses and read the books, we find that there is a science of the soul enabling us to understand the nature of our mind and find our real self. We begin to realize that the very same mind that has been instrumental in keeping us prisoner has to be used to find our freedom. As Maharaj Charan Singh explains in Spiritual Perspectives Vol. 1:
Without the help of the mind, the soul would never be able to go back to the Father at all.
All your emotion, your devotion, your love to begin with are nothing but the outcome of mind. Mind is creating that love and devotion in you, and soul is taking advantage of it. So we have to win the friendship of the mind. From enmity, we have to get friendship.… When the tendency of the mind is upward, when it is full with devotion and love for the Father, then it is our best friend because the soul will become active only when it gets released from the mind.
So, rather than suppressing our mind in the hope that this will lead to freedom, maybe we have to use it more than ever. We could start to be ‘mindful’ – increasing our awareness of what we’re doing, where we’re going, and of our ultimate goal in life. Our intellect, sense of discrimination and ability to reason play an important role here. Maharaj Charan Singh again explains, “The Lord has given us intellect in order for us to know him, to realize him, to find him. That is why this sense of discretion has been given to us.” Elsewhere in the same volume he says, “The intellect is a faculty of the mind, but we have to use it in the right direction.”
By using our mind for the purpose it was meant for, eventually, we come to a second, more profound realization: the mind can take us only so far. It can convince us of a higher reality and identify the actions necessary to take us there, but the only way to make progress towards the open country, towards freedom, is the actual practice of meditation (stilling the mind). The more we practise with focused intent, the more progress we will make. Over time, we realize that various stages in our relationship with the mind are an essential part of our spiritual growing up. Saint Paul describes this process of transcendence most beautifully in his letter to the people of Corinth:
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part,
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child,
I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Bible, I Corinthians 13:9
The mystics have given us a unique opportunity and, to some extent, the rewards are in our own hands. If we are lazy or make excuses, we make it difficult to head to the open country. But if we keep making the effort, little by little we will find that our mind starts to become our best friend and we begin to taste liberation.
As the following verse by Hafiz reminds us, we are the lucky ones who have been invited to travel to the open country:
No one can resist a Divine Invitation.
That narrows down our choices
To just two:
We can come to God Dressed for Dancing,
Be carried on a stretcher To God’s Ward.
Daniel Ladinsky, I Heard God Laughing
How we travel is up to us!
We are bound to each other by karmic strings – we come here to settle our karmic debits and credits. We come to this world as parents and children, as friends and relatives, but as soon as our karmic accounts for this life are settled we depart, each going his own way. This world is like an inn where we all gather together for the night, but at daybreak we all go our different ways. We are like birds that take shelter in a tree in the evening, but with the first light of dawn, each flies off on its own way.
Legacy of Love