Discouragement in Meditation
In one of his letters, the Great Master wrote:
What is the object of our lives? Man is born so that he may merge his soul in its source and not be born a second time in this world. The greatest service one can render is to merge his soul (by freeing it from the attachment of mind and matter) in that ocean of peace and bliss of which it is a particle or drop.1
The path we follow consists of exploring spirituality through a meditation practice designed to help us understand the nature of human existence and experience higher levels of consciousness, to merge our soul in the ocean of peace and bliss.
We are beginners on a long journey. In the process of our seeking, and by great grace and after many lives, we have come to the feet of a spiritual Master. And he has given us a technique for spiritual evolution along with his guidance and support.
Our real identity is soul, and that soul, which is a drop of the ocean of consciousness or God, longs to return to its true home and become one with the supreme Father. The technique of meditation we are taught consists of repetition or simran of five holy names, in order to still, quiet, and purify the mind, followed by bhajan or listening for the inner spiritual Sound. The Masters teach that this Sound, which the saints refer to as Shabd or Nam, is a manifestation of God and creates and sustains the whole creation. It is the Word of the Bible and the logos of Greek philosophy.
The meditation practice is supported by a specific way of life, which includes a lacto-vegetarian diet and abstaining from mind-altering drugs, alcoholic drinks and tobacco products, and leading a clean moral life.
Daily meditation is part of the disciple’s way of life. It is a spiritual discipline. It is not so easy to conquer the mind and ego, which have been used to running out into the world for eons. It can feel like an insurmountable challenge. We have our ups and downs and sometimes we might feel dry and discouraged in our efforts in meditation. Yet it’s something we’ve committed ourselves to pursue, so we need to keep at it.
There is a story about the Devil laying out all his tools on a table. Someone comes along and sees an unusually large, bright tool. “What’s this tool?” “Oh,” the devil says, “this is my best tool! This is discouragement.”
Even though the Masters have stated that there are no failures in Sant Mat, we may sometimes feel like we are failing, or that we are not making any progress.
Having climbed to the top of a mountain, the mountaineer stands at the peak with awe and a great sense of satisfaction and wonder. Looking down, he sees that there is real meaning to his climb, to his journey. But if he had flown to the top of the mountain in a helicopter, he would not feel so much of that meaning, understanding, and awe. It is the journey that makes the destination ever more meaningful. The struggle and effort seem to play a part in our becoming better people and perhaps making us more worthy disciples.
As to your bhajan and simran, progress on the path is not the same pace with everyone; however, progress is always there even though we are not conscious of it. No amount of effort is ever spent in vain. One should continue to persevere lovingly and regularly, without trying to check every week or every month how much he has progressed. This one comes to know automatically only when the path has been sufficiently cleared and one is nearing the eye center or appreciably improving in concentration.2
There is always progress although we may not be conscious of it. Perhaps when we try to assess our efforts we get a sense of discouragement. Perhaps trying to assess our own efforts is a bad move because we cannot see the whole picture.
To discourage or dishearten someone is to deprive him of his courage, hope, or confidence. The prefix dis in discourage means “away,” so discourage means to take away one’s courage. The root of the word “courage” is the French coeur, which means “heart.” To “discourage” is to remove heart, or, as the definition says, to dishearten.
But how do we define courage – what is being taken away? Courage is defined as: spirit, resolution, tenacity; mental or moral strength to resist opposition or hardship. Courage implies firmness of mind and willpower in the face of danger or extreme difficulty. So, as courage applies to our spiritual path, we need tenacity and moral strength to resist opposition and hardship – firmness of mind and willpower in the face of difficulty.
To be a spiritual seeker means having the courage to face one’s own mortality and be drawn to seek answers to the mysteries of life. Looking at our own lives honestly takes courage. Seeking the mysteries of life takes courage.
When we have a long way to go and we are tired, and it seems there is no end in sight, we may feel discouraged or become disheartened. It is human and natural when the road and the distance we have to travel seem long. But whenever the road feels too long, the Master comes and reminds us to take heart.
Stepping back and viewing our circumstances from a higher level can give us a fresh perspective. As Great Master wrote:
Please do not feel disappointed at what you call retrogression. There is no such thing as retrogression on the path, but such spells of dryness and lack of devotion often occur in the life of a devotee. In fact, these spells of depression are in a way to spur us on to greater effort. Otherwise, we are likely to become static and complacent.
There is no reason to feel disheartened on this path. Go on attending to your meditation daily with love and devotion, leaving all else in His hands. He knows His duty and will not fail to pay the wages due. Worldly cares will always remain with us in some form or other so long as we are here. Try to rise above them and keep your thoughts in meditation.3
On this journey there are going to be ups and downs. There will be dry times, and even they serve a purpose. They spur us on to greater effort.
Acceptance and understanding of our hardships help give us a bigger picture. There may be some significance in the fact that God has started us on this long and seemingly difficult journey. We are forced to remember that life is difficult and it is an uphill battle. There are no ideal circumstances and we all have struggles.
The Masters encourage us onwards. They say that we know you have challenges and trials but these things will teach you and strengthen you. And so we learn to be better, more loving, and more flexible people. We are working for an ideal, striving for an ideal. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t be here, the Master often says. The Masters accept that and encourage us in this effort to improve. We are all struggling souls trying to improve. None of us is perfect yet.
The Masters have told us that we are always making progress whether we realize it or not. Trying to assess ourselves is a bad idea because we cannot do so accurately. He has his own timeline and he knows when it is safe to increase our love. In A Wake-Up Call we read:
The only thing we can say with certainty is that each of us has been placed in the precise circumstances that are in our best interest, where we can best clear our karmas, where we can best live out our destiny for this life and fulfill our duties at the same time.4
We may have read the story of the King of Bokhara, who asked Sant Kabir for initiation and Kabir said, “No, you are not ready.” Then Kabir asked his wife Mai Loi to dump the house sweepings on the king’s head as he stood in the courtyard. The king reacted strongly and arrogantly. Some years passed, and when Kabir again asked his wife to throw the sweepings on the king’s head, this time the king responded humbly, “May you, the doer of this, live long. This mind was still full of ego and self. It had to be treated this way.”5
This is symbolic of what we have to go through in life. We are paying back the results of our own actions. The king finally was humbled through his service to Kabir and accepted the sweepings being dumped on his head. So we become humble when we accept the events of our life with understanding. The Master advises us to go through it all and stay cheerful. Keep going. And stay upbeat. Be encouraged! Have courage!
Keep a positive outlook, the Master always advises us. Although we have obstacles, struggles, and hardships to overcome, we will be given the strength and wisdom to meet those obstacles. We will be given the understanding that these experiences are the result of our own actions, and we will gain the ability to learn from these experiences. We become stronger and better people.
We have to be patient and keep working. It is all in His hands. He is not going to pluck the fruit off the tree before it ripens. The Masters often remind us that they know when it is the right time to increase their love in our hearts.
This path has been described as a “school of practical mysticism.” It’s a school. We enroll. We attend classes (meditation, satsang). It is a step-by-step process. A kindergartener cannot earn a PhD degree overnight. But we attend school every day, and slowly and slowly we grow and learn.
No matter how much we may feel that we are failing in our meditation, all that matters is the effort – our intention, our desire to try to make effort. If we have expectations about results, we are missing the big picture. The Master is aware of our efforts and will give us results when he knows we are ready to experience and digest them. He also wants us to go through our karmas and fulfill our responsibilities. Our effort in itself is a wonderful thing. It plays an important part in this great evolutionary process we are going through. Hazur Maharaj Ji wrote in letter to a disciple:
Even in the face of seeming failure, one should continue the practice with faith and devotion. The mind has been going out for countless ages, and each time it has become more scattered. The object is to collect the mind at the point of concentration, contact Shabd, and begin our homeward journey. The first step is the most difficult of all and takes a long time – the length of time depending on the results of our own previous actions plus the sincerity and amount of steady effort we put forth in following His instructions. Effort and grace go hand in hand. The more effort we make, the more grace we receive to make more effort until the goal is reached.6
A parent loves to watch her little child try to do something that is beyond his abilities – perhaps to lift a heavy rock or climb a ladder. It is not possible for the child to do this alone. But the parent smiles lovingly as the child tries. She holds out her protective arms to catch the child in case he falls. So the supreme Father is pleased with our efforts. And Master tells us that progress is always there, even though we can’t perceive it.
It is the Master’s grace that has pulled us to the path and has given us this meditation practice. Without his grace we would not even be interested in spirituality. We wouldn’t be discouraged about our meditation practice because we wouldn’t even be trying to meditate. It is all the Lord’s grace. It has all been initiated by the Lord. As Hazur Maharaj Ji says in Die to Live:
Who makes us yearn? It’s not our meditation. It is the Father himself. He uproots us from here and takes us to his own level. Practically we do nothing. You can take credit that you sit for two or three hours, but there is something which makes you sit. It’s not you. Left to you, you would never sit, even for five minutes. So if you see this from the higher point of view, it is definitely the Father who is pulling us up to his own level. It’s not our efforts at all.7
So although we all have struggles, his grace is behind all our efforts and our ups and downs. The struggle becomes meaningful when we get to the top of the mountain. Thomas Merton, a Trappist Catholic monk, spoke of our profound shortcomings as we attempt God-realization in times of discouragement. He says:
Prayer and love are really learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart turns to stone…..You would profit much by patiently resisting distractions and learning something of your own helplessness and incapacity. No matter how distracted you may be, pray by peaceful, even perhaps inarticulate efforts to center your heart upon God, who is present to you in spite of all that is going on in your mind. His presence does not depend on your thoughts of Him. He is unfailingly there: If He were not, you could not even exist. The memory of His unfailing presence is the surest anchor for our minds and hearts in the storms of distraction and temptation by which we are purified.8
Now that we have established the fact all this is due to the Lord’s grace, we can turn our attention to following his instructions without expectations or judgment.
Yes, we have obstacles and difficulties. But at the same time, we have that sense of wonder and grace as we go through our lives. We are striving to get closer to God. In our everyday lives, the divine presence is there. The river of love and peace is flowing through our lives if we but take the time to look for it, listen for it, and experience it. We may have difficulties but at the same time we have the sense of a spiritual presence, the Shabd, the grace of the Master. As we keep on striving to follow the path, it is His grace that gives us the courage and inspiration to keep going.
- Spiritual Gems, Letter 150
- Light On Sant Mat, Letter 338
- Quest for Light, Letter 365
- Wake-Up Call, p. 66
- Tales of the Mystic East (ed. 2017), “The King of Bokhara,” p. 22
- Light On Sant Mat, Letter 260
- Die To Live, p. 351
- Thomas Merton, New Seeds Of Contemplation, NY: New Directions, 2007; pp. 221, 222, 224