What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted?
The music, poetry, art and literature of every culture throughout history tell stories of loss, separation and desolation of some sort or another. Often these stories end with redemption. They’re stories about the loss of love, mourning for its loss and coming through that experience transformed. They’re stories of being human, being separated from love and longing for its return.
Artists, musicians and dancers tell these stories. But only mystics can tell us the story behind the story: why we feel separate and alone, how we got that way and how we can return to the love we have lost – to return not to all our substitutions for love but to our one true love, the Lord of our soul. Only mystics can show us the road to redemption, the road to return and union.
They tell us that the most basic part of us is not the cells or molecules or DNA that make up our bodies, but something more lasting, more real, although the senses can’t perceive it. The core of what we are is the soul.
Mystics have noted that the soul is not something we have, but something we are. It is of the same essence as God, the dynamic power, the loving intelligence that created all that exists. Another name for this power is Shabd or Nam.
Every soul, by its nature, longs to be reunited with the power that created it: this Shabd, this Lord. Actually, the soul is part and parcel of the Lord already, but in our current state we feel separation, not union.
Maharaj Charan Singh explains in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, that the Lord “himself implants in us his devotion or his yearning or his longing for himself.… No possible logical explanation can prove the existence of the Lord.”
But he gives his own proof when he creates that loneliness within us, and we find that this feeling of loneliness doesn’t leave us, no matter what we may achieve in this world. That is actually the inclination of the soul towards its own origin. It will not rest unless it goes back to its own source, its own origin. So the very soul in the body proves the existence of the Lord.
So this loneliness, this longing that we feel, is nothing but the soul wanting to return to its source, and it is the essential human experience that makes its way into every song, story and religion of mankind. An American gospel song says:
Lord I feel like going home.
I tried and failed and I’m tired and weary.
Everything I ever done was wrong,
And I feel like going home.
Charlie Rich, “Feel Like Going Home”
“I tried and failed and I’m tired and weary. Everything I ever done was wrong.” That pretty much sums up how many of us feel a lot of the time. We’re tired and we’re weary – of the bright lights and loud music of this world, and the false promises the world hands out like lottery tickets.
The mind and senses trick us into believing that we can find love and satisfaction and contentment here, but our hearts get broken over and over in this world, no matter how hard we try to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. A pop song from the 1960s captures this feeling:
But happiness is just an illusion
Filled with sadness and confusion.
What becomes of the broken-hearted
Who had love that’s now departed?
Jimmy Ruffin, “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted”
Sooner or later, we just want to go home. But even then, we get it wrong. What is a soul to do? Maharaj Charan Singh explains in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II:
We are all blind, groping in the dark. He is the only one who
can show us the light out of this darkness. And he has his own
ways and means to show that light to us.… We are just helpless.
We wonder why we feel like such failures, why we feel, as it says in the gospel song, that everything we do is wrong. Maybe the answer is that this is the nature of any process that involves growth and ascending to higher levels. Sometimes when you climb a mountain, if it’s really steep, you can’t go straight up. You go on switchbacks to reduce the steepness. It means the trail zig-zags to reduce the incline. On a switchback trail, sometimes it seems that you’re going back toward where you came from, even though you’re always heading upward.
In the same way, in any difficult endeavour, this appearance of going backward is necessary to go forward. When you see manuscripts of famous songwriters and poets and novelists (if they write in longhand), you see that their paper is filled with cross-outs. Gymnasts miss their mark. Athletes fall. Think of learning to ride a skateboard, or surf or ice skate. You have to fall over and over and over to get the feel of the board or the skates, to learn how to balance your weight. Designers and engineers have to be free to fail in order to refine their computer code and designs. It’s only when you make mistakes that you can see how to improve your design, your painting, your poem, your dance routine.
There is no endeavour – no skill, no craft, no job – in which you can get it right without first getting it wrong, over and over. Getting it wrong, failing, falling, is part of how we grow and learn. So much of our sense of failure is just a false perception. We mistakenly believe that we don’t have what it takes to follow this path. But the Masters tell us that there are no failures in Sant Mat.
Hazur always used the example of learning to walk to show us the proper attitude toward our discipleship. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, he says:
The mother wants the child to learn to walk, but the child falls. He has scratches and bruises, but he gets up again. Again he tries to learn.… So similarly, we also have our own human failings when we are on the path, but if we get up again, and again are steadfast in trying to succeed, we may fall again, but again we try to succeed. Naturally those failures are an attempt to go forward, not backward.
And failing keeps us humble. We would never become aware of the mercy of the Master if our lives were smooth sailing. Our so-called failures are a window through which we can get a peek at the Lord’s mercy. How else would we realize our own helplessness? Without a sense of our own helplessness, when all our efforts fail, how else would we realize that we are completely dependent on the grace of the Lord?
Maybe we have to fail a lot before we can admit that we can’t achieve spiritual liberation on our own. We humans naturally try to achieve our goals through our effort and control, and this is just as true in our meditation as it is in digging a ditch or writing a report. Gerald G. May, a psychiatrist and spiritual counselor, writes in The Dark Night of the Soul:
We may yearn to “let go and let God”, but it usually doesn’t happen until we have exhausted our own efforts. There is a relentless willfulness in us that seldom ceases until we have been brought to our knees by incapacity and failure.
And then he says, “God’s grace flows through the ruins of our failed attempts, softens our willfulness and takes us where we could not go on our own.” So all our own imperfections and failed attempts to do what the Master asks of us are part of our road home, part of our liberation. Leonard Cohen, poet-musician, wrote in the song “Anthem”:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
The light that gets through the cracks in everything is the Master’s grace. That light, not some mythical perfection of ours – forever beyond our reach – is what pulls us to him.
By focusing on what is divine and perfect, that is, the Master and the Lord who sent him, and by strengthening the relationship between him and what is divine and perfect within us – our soul – we are doing all that is within our power to do.
We implement this focus, this process of bridging the gap between our own imperfection and the perfection of the Master, simply by obeying his instructions: meditating to the best of our ability and following the four vows we take at the time of initiation.
Of course the irony is that once we begin this process in earnest, once we dedicate ourselves to this way of life, we realize how wide the gap is between our imperfection and his perfection. We realize that the only way out of this dilemma – no matter how sincere and disciplined our effort, no matter how strong our desire – is the Master’s grace. And then our journey becomes one not of failure but of gratitude. The gratitude we then feel makes us realize that it’s not that we are small, but that he is great.
Were my whole body festooned with eyes,
I would gaze at my Master with untiring zeal.
O, how I wish that every pore of my body
would turn into a million eyes –
then, as some closed to blink,
others would open to see!
But even then my thirst to see him
might remain unquenched.
What else am I to do?
To me, O Bahu, a glimpse of my Master
is worth millions of pilgrimages to the holy Ka’ba!