Conscious uncoupling may seem an odd term to apply to Sant Mat. After all, it is more appropriately used in a worldly context as a way of dealing with the break-up of a relationship. But isn’t that what we as initiates are attempting to do – to consciously uncouple from the bonds of the physical world, both in our relationships and with our possessions?
We tend to approach a break-up in an aggressive and extremely negative way. All our worst traits appear, such as anger, greed, attachment and vanity. Suddenly we are not the person we thought we were. In a sense we go back to being children – we throw tantrums and act out our perceived hurt, anger and rejection. Not only do we hurt ourselves and our partner, but family and friends are hurt in the process as well. Albert Einstein said: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the former.”
Conscious uncoupling, however, is about something quite different. The basic approach is love. It means that we remove our ego from our actions and try and look at a situation objectively. This means we act without anger, rejection or possessiveness. It means shifting our perception away from blaming someone else for everything we feel. It means taking responsibility for ourselves and our own actions, which means we have to start acting consciously rather than reacting unconsciously. We need to look inwards to where we already have the answers, rather than outwards.
It means growing up very fast! Moving from child to adult in one step. The child in us is the one who throws the tantrums – who shouts and screams and wants its way no matter what the situation. The parent in us is the judgmental part, the part that wants to tell someone else what to do and how to do it; while the adult, on the other hand, stands aside from the situation and looks at everything objectively and compassionately.
So what is the point of all this? Believe it or not, we as satsangis are actually busy with a very similar process. We are in the process of detaching from the world and attaching ourselves to something else. In other words, we are uncoupling from the world – from everything we think is so important to us – and we are trying to attach ourselves to the Shabd within.
Unfortunately we are often unconscious of this inner process as we allow the events in our lives to take up our time. We may be trying to focus our consciousness during our meditation, but during the rest of our day our consciousness is scattered in the world. Conscious uncoupling, on the other hand, means that we start taking responsibility for our thinking and consciously look at every action, every experience, every interaction.
There is also an element of conscious decision-making in which we decide how to react to a person or situation. The more we make this a conscious process, the more we will be aware of what we are doing or how we are reacting. It means being totally honest with ourselves.
However, we should bear in mind that it is only by attaching ourselves to something more powerful that we begin to become detached and start to uncouple from the things of the world. When, through our meditation, we reach that exalted state where we are consciously attached to the Shabd, that attachment will automatically release us from worldly attachments.
Uncoupling is an exceedingly slow process and we only accomplish it with the grace of our Master and the effort of our meditation. Meditation – without our even being aware of it – is the great ‘uncoupler’. It helps us to gently loosen the bonds and soften the blows. At the same time it creates love and humility in us. As the Masters have often said: satsangis should become better parents, better husbands, wives and citizens. This means loving without attachment, without expectation. And the only way to do that is to be consciously uncoupled from the processes and actions taking place. It is to be fully aware, fully conscious every moment.
There is a huge amount of literature about living consciously. After all, the Buddhists have been advocating this for thousands of years – they call it ‘mindfulness’.
The first step in this uncoupling process is clear thinking. Clear thinking sounds deceptively simple, but it isn’t. Looking at ourselves objectively, can we really say that we are rational, clear-thinking beings or are we more likely to fall into Einstein’s category of ‘human stupidity’?
Clear thinking can be applied to every aspect of our lives. All it takes is to stop a thought or action and think about what is being said or done and the resultant consequences. Doing so can stop arguments and unpleasant situations. It means looking at ourselves, our actions and our behaviour dispassionately – but with compassion. Clear thinking is about honesty – perhaps that is why we often don’t want to practise it. It ignites the clear, clean light of reason.
In a spiritual sense it means that we should stop for a moment and ask ourselves: “Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?” We often get caught up in everyday life and we forget that we are here for a very different reason – our spiritual growth. We need to stop for a moment and look at ourselves and our loved ones and see everything for the illusion it is.
Clear thinking leads us to understanding, which makes us realize that things are not as they seem. We see things as we want to see them and not as they are. We need to understand how our thinking and false concepts have led us to behave. Clear thinking allows us to be aware of how our actions and words may affect others – not only human beings but all of life. Understanding brings us to the point where we know that we ourselves are the architects of our lives. For as Mirdad, the spiritual teacher in The Book of Mirdad, says:
You choose your birth and death, their time and place and their manner as well despite your wayward memory which is a mesh of falsehoods with glaring holes and gaps. … There are no accidents in time and space. But all things are ordered by the Omni-will which neither errs in anything, nor overlooks a thing.
From understanding comes responsibility – which can often be uncomfortable to accept. The more we realize that we are responsible for everything that happens to us, the less we will be inclined to blame others for our misfortunes. It means that when someone wrongs us, we take responsibility for that wrong. Is that possible? Again we refer to Mirdad who said:
Aye, man invites his own calamities and then protests against the irksome guests, having forgotten how and when and where he penned and sent out the invitations.
Through the theory of karma we learn that what happens to us is never random – we always have a part to play. Every account has to be settled, and when it gets settled we go our different ways. So it is with relationships, friends, family and even our possessions. Taking responsibility for our actions can be a humbling experience and helps us accept outcomes with equanimity. We can also take the responsibility not to act. In other words – not to retaliate and instead work towards stopping the cycle of action and reaction.
Karma is a vast encompassing theory. It refers not only to our actions but also to the seeds we plant for our future. What is stored in our karma will, over time, direct our lives in a particular direction. Whether we plant seeds of good actions or seeds of bad actions, they will have the effect of bringing us back into the creation. Therefore the challenge we face is not to plant seeds of ill will or revenge but instead to plant seeds of goodwill and generosity.
We have sole responsibility for our thoughts and actions – nobody owes us anything. We should also be aware that life will take its course and we cannot interfere, no matter how much we may want to. When we truly understand this we will let things happen as they should. The Sufi poet Hafiz says:
Even after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
‘You owe me.’
Look what happens with
A love like that.
It lights the whole sky.
Understanding leads us to the practice of meditation. But practice also means the way we live our lives. It is both living the path and doing our meditation. Living the path means living according to the Masters’ principles that guide us on our spiritual path. Through this practice and our meditation we learn to harness our faculty of clear thinking, using it to guide our actions so that we live according to the highest moral standards. It means understanding the result of every thought, word and action. By understanding that we ourselves are responsible for everything that happens to us, we learn to live without expectations – to simply flow within the stream of life without getting hurt or hurting others.
The purpose of meditation, especially our simran, is to lull the mind to sleep. Just as the poet says in the Robe of Glory:
And I began to charm him,
The terrible loud-breathing serpent.
I hushed him to sleep and lulled him to slumber
By naming the name of my Father upon him.
The loud-breathing serpent represents the restless mind which is hushed by our repetition. Then, when the mind becomes still, we enter the inner chamber in the awareness of our soul – at this stage nothing else matters.
The result of conscious uncoupling from the world and coupling with the inner path is the start of our journey to our true home. Only the perfect Masters who have travelled the journey can show us the way – they walk with us and light our way. Without them we would be lost forever.
He who thinks of evil has no purity. For how can a heart be pure in a man who is defiled by unclean thoughts, as a mirror is dimmed by dust?
Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart