Doing the Donkey-Work
It is the last few hours before sunrise. The alarm clock buzzes, or perhaps it is now our natural habit to wake then. Perhaps even it is the soul’s whisper that stirs us. No matter. It is His will that we awaken.
A morning chill hangs in the air, while the bed is warm and comforting. A split second of hesitation, our eyes are heavy. The pillow smothers our good intentions; the blanket becomes too heavy to throw off. The mind says, just one minute more; its lure is to drag us down to deep slumber again.
The donkey-work begins.
The heart that brims with love for the Lord must learn to love the donkey-work. So we grab hold of the donkey’s mane and with one determined effort we hoist ourselves out of our beds to a standing position, ready to approach our meditation. Through this gift of grace perhaps we remember what Rumi knew:
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
The Essential Rumi, rendered by Coleman Barks
There is a yearning which must gain strength now in this moment of perfect obedience. As we stumble to our seat, the hand at our back is divine; its push is grace. Left to us, the Lord says, we would never sit, even for five minutes. That famously, stubborn donkey yields only to the hand of its master. So, we sit and begin our meditation.
Mere minutes pass and already the head bobs. Concentration rises to where it left off in our dreams, at the throat centre. Maharaj Charan Singh gives us guidance in Quest for Light:
So when sleep comes, please take advantage of the automatic withdrawal of the attention from the senses and try to concentrate it at the eye focus. Take care that you neither go to sleep nor get fully awake. If you succeed in this, you will find it of great help in meditation.
The mind rebels. So we keep our seat steadfastly as the donkey bucks and threatens to bolt. We hold fast and persist as we’re told we must. Sometimes there is nothing more difficult than to continue, for it takes strength, the strength to endure and keep going. And so we remain in our meditation, stay alert and vigilant, and repeat and repeat and repeat. We sometimes become so adept at this repeating that we find we can automatically repeat our simran and still carry on a separate line of thinking. As Hazur Maharaj Ji tells us in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II:
Your mind should merge in those words. Your mind should become part and parcel of that simran. It is not that the words you repeat are different than your mind. Your mind should become part and parcel of that simran. It should merge in those words - only then does concentration come. If you are repeating those words in your mind and thinking about all the activities and problems of the world, concentration will not be there. The mind must merge into the words. You should be in the words.
Be in those words, and with a firm hand bring the donkey to a standstill. Endure through all the tears and fears and fidgets. And then wait some more, for the road on which the donkey travels is the journey of a lifetime. It is no easy thing, this love journey. How difficult is it? Ask one who knows. Maharaj Charan Singh, in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, says:
I don’t think there is anything more difficult than meditation. Meditation is the most difficult. It looks so simple, and yet it is so difficult to attend to it. Sant Mat is very simple, but difficult to practise…. When we put it into practice, many obstacles come in the way. To live that way is a great problem. It’s a constant struggle to live the teachings.
Do it anyway. There will be signposts to spur us on. The Master explains:
Almost every satsangi gets some glimpses here and there, just to keep us on the path, so that we may continue in that faith, continue on that path. But we have to earn those experiences by our regular meditation.
Daily we must attend to the difficult donkey-work. It’s no cup of tea at our auntie’s house; that we already know. But, as Maharaj Charan Singh says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II:
We are all struggling souls, but those who have struggled enough and have reached beyond the realm of struggle, they’re the real disciples.
In the last few hours before sunrise, the Master’s disciples must do the donkey-work of love.
We must learn how to let His will prevail. We must understand that our faith is not only our concern but also His; that more important than our will to believe is His will that we believe. It is not easy to attain faith. A decision of the will, the desire to believe, will not secure it. All the days of our lives we must continue to deepen our sense of mystery in order to be worthy of attaining faith. Callousness to the mystery is our greatest obstacle.
A.J. Heschel, God in Search of Man
Love and devotion will come gradually and slowly as meditation will develop. We start on a very low level by simply loving the Master as someone who knows more than we do and who has given us the gift of Nam. This gratitude in itself is a form of love. If you do your duty daily, meditation will produce increasing love and devotion.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Quest for Light