When the Beloved Feels Far Away
Of all human experiences, feeling close to our Master is potentially the most fulfilling and significant experience we could have. Yet at times we may feel distant from him. With our attempts to reach him, we may experience what we perceive as stony silence – a silence so deafening it drowns out every thought but this: The Master has abandoned me. We talk to him, and it seems that no one is listening. We feel anxious, confused, bereft.
But could we simply be making a mistake in our expectations of what it should feel like to be in touch with our Master? Experiencing the Master in our lives might occasionally coincide with a warm gooey feeling or some other emotion, but the moment we begin to expect certain feelings and emotions to coincide with spiritual reality, we may be headed for disappointment. In both physical and spiritual matters, emotions and reality don’t always line up.
For instance, if someone handed us a million-dollar cheque, we could throw it away simply because we don’t believe it is real. Similarly, we could also disregard a unique opportunity to be with our Master just because we don’t believe it is real. In other words, what we feel is irrelevant. What matters is objective fact, not feelings.
In Living Meditation we read: “Emotion, rightly directed, becomes devotion.” In the same book the author quotes Maharaj Charan Singh:
Emotions are all right if they lead you to devotion, but they should be channelled. If you let loose your emotions, they become a nuisance. If the river flows within its banks, only then it is useful. But when the river floods, it overflows its banks and creates devastation everywhere.
As we travel on the path, we will receive more and more evidence that we really are in contact with our Master, but growing such awareness takes time. Much of Master’s work is not immediately obvious. Everyone has times when they feel nothing, because Master wants us to learn to trust him rather than our emotions. He wants us to learn that whatever else changes, he remains rock solid – totally dependable.
When we go from a valley to a mountain top we may feel very different, but nothing in us has actually changed. All that happens is that we can see farther. When we become conscious of our Master’s love for us or we feel his presence, it is not that the Master has suddenly become more loving nor that we have become more lovable; it is just that from a spiritual mountain top we see reality more clearly. We can look back and see – to our great surprise – the progress we have made. We see how, when it seemed that our Master had deserted us, he must have still been directing us, because we took exactly the right route. We feel different when we can see farther. Then too, when our life seems dark, it feels as if nothing has changed. But it is just that we cannot see or feel our Master’s love and closeness at those times.
Regular meditation is our lifeline to the Master. If we neglect meditation, it actually compounds the sense of distance from the Master. So it is not the Master abandoning us – it is we who are drifting away from him. We need to make an effort to meditate even if we don’t always feel like it. Maharaj Charan Singh used to say that were it not for his grace, we would never even think of our separation from him, nor would we desire to return home.
In our relationship with the Master we want to feel close to him, but perhaps we do not take the time to seek him through meditation. So then if we feel far from the Master, guess who has moved! He does not change. He will not love us one day and reject us the next. He will not hear our prayers in the morning and ignore us in the afternoon. Nor will he be close to us at satsang but deny us intimacy during the routine of life.
If we want a good and close relationship with our spouse and children, we need to work at it. We need to make time for them, speak to them, listen to them, play with them, and we do this even if there are times when we don’t feel like it, because we recognize how important it is. Without this effort, we would soon become strangers and drift apart. The same is true of our relationship with the Master.
So when we experience times of spiritual barrenness, how should we respond? With meditation. Times of spiritual dryness and barrenness can be times of growth. A tree growing in an arid landscape needs to put down deep roots in order to reach water. In the same way, periods of spiritual dryness can encourage us to develop deeper spiritual roots. We will come to realize how we have grown only after the time of spiritual dryness has passed.
There comes a stage of spiritual dryness in the life of every satsangi. We are aiming to achieve something very high and it is not easily attainable. We get disheartened, lose confidence in ourselves, and many times we lose confidence in the Master and his teachings. When we don’t achieve anything spiritually – after putting in a lot of effort – it breaks our heart. These moods keep coming and going. We feel very happy one moment and then downhearted the next.
The problem is that we have lost interest in this world, lost all our old moorings, our old shelters and our old faith. They no longer sustain us and we have nothing new to hold on to. Our goal is still far away and we’re still struggling. We have not yet achieved anything spiritually but we have lost our taste for this life, and we have not yet gained a taste of another life. We are still struggling souls and we don’t have much to show for our efforts. We are getting older and our face does not reflect any bliss, any contentment.
Still, we would never trade our anguish for the pleasures of this world. We need to learn the value of this pain of separation, even the struggling, because as a result of these our entire concept of life has changed.
We don’t know what lies ahead – with our limited vision we cannot see. We don’t know what mansions are being built for us within, or what our Master is doing for us in those regions. He has not given us an empty promise. While we are meditating here, we are building our future there. But it is concealed from us – and it should be concealed from us because we are not yet ready to see the results.
If we could see the results, we would be self-satisfied, our ego would come creeping in and we would rest on our laurels. We would get lazy, and we would forget our goal. We would have no use for the Lord anymore. We can’t rest our oars while we are in stormy seas.
As long as we keep a chocolate away from our children, they will run after it. But once they get it, they might just eat a piece and not even finish it. So it is better if our chocolate is kept far away from us – because otherwise, with our mind as our guide, it would become very difficult for us to get release from this sense of self-satisfaction. If the results are hidden from us, then the pace with which we can progress will quicken. It is enough that the Master assures us that there are results, that we will not come back – even if it takes several lifetimes.
The day he initiates us, he assures us that from that day on we are free – we are insured, as it were – all we have to do is carry on paying the premiums in the form of meditation. When we die we will get our lump sum. If we have faith in the insurers of this world, does our Master’s assurance not carry any weight for us? The soul has full faith in the Master, but it is overpowered by the very vocal, loud mind. The only way to quieten it is through simran, the language that the mind understands.
The journey to Sach Khand is a long one. We are not journeying to the first plane, or the second or the third – our destination is much farther. If this world is a hindrance to our spiritual journey, then the other spiritual planes will be far greater hindrances, as their temptations are much greater. We need to keep our attention focused on the goal and not give up.
When troubles come to us and break our egos and our old habits, we must not weep over them. If we lose something, we should be very happy that we are rid of this bit of debris. We have useless things collecting in our homes and there is no place for anything new and fresh. Our slate is full of old impressions. We need to wipe them off because they are useless. All our wisdom and knowledge is just good enough to earn us a decent living and material comforts. They don’t have any spiritual value. We are connected to everyone else and to God, but we’ve allowed our fears and ego to edge us away from God.
Our goal of reaching Sach Khand should shine before us. If in the stormy seas of life we are tossed around by the raging waves, we must not lose hope. Our Master is the captain of the ship; he knows every part of this ocean, every current, every rock. He has been through it himself. He has taken ship-loads of people across. This journey may be long and dangerous, but every journey has an end, and we are safe in our Master’s care, so we mustn’t lose heart.
O friend, do not despair;
I will show you this side and the other side of the creation.
I will raise your soul above the current
and with Shabd I will ferry your boat across.
Soami Ji Maharaj, in Voice of the Heart