Follow Your Sacred Longing
Let me take the opportunity of the upcoming calendar year to first thank you for reading this New Year’s message. You and I are together here connecting through these words, and it’s my great honor to meet such sincere spiritual aspirants. I hope in the future we will have many more opportunities to meet and share realizations – and not only in cyberspace.
Lately I’ve been asking myself what’s stopping us from living the life we long for, and I’ve had to conclude that we’re usually our own worst enemies. Instead of living fully, we allow fear, selfishness, and anger to govern us, standing passively by despite their tyrannical rule. We throw ourselves into our own prison! Someone once told me, “There are as many ways to sabotage yourself as there are people in the world.”
Even saints have the ability to sabotage themselves. Have you ever wondered what Prahlad Maharaja, Nelson Mandela, Buddha, Mother Teresa, and Jesus have in common? Despite their foibles, they’ve each managed to rise above their inner weaknesses – or at least they’ve tried very hard to do so.
In the old days, Indian warriors who could afford them bought their warhorses in Afghanistan. To decide which horse could withstand the pressures of warfare, the warriors designed a test. They would lead a horse into a corral. Then, at various intervals, they’d have a man enter the corral, shout aggressively, and threaten the horse with a stick. The stronger horses always leapt the corral’s fence to escape. They wouldn’t tolerate the threat. The weaker horses, however, were easily broken. When a horse leapt the fence, the warriors knew they’d found a horse they could rely on in combat.
Our lives are full of unacceptable threats. Some of those threats come from outside us, like the man with the stick, and some are interior – fear, anger, greed, frustration. What can we do to overcome these threats and “leap the fence”?
To overcome weakness and self-sabotage, we have no other resort but to draw on our innate spiritual strength. Please don’t doubt that you have such strength. You were born with it.
WE LIVE IN AN AGE OF MASS-DISTRACTION
Spiritual strength can help us overcome the greatest obstruction in the pursuit of our own self-interest: distraction, or thinking other things more interesting or more important than self-realization. These other subjects are often related to the petty gratification of the senses, which binds us with the rope of attachment to a life of spiritual and material compromise.
FOLLOW YOUR LONGING
My own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, clearly expressed the need for the sacred dimension: “The need of the spirit soul is that he wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill his desire for complete freedom. He wants to see the free light and the spirit. That complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is dormant affection for God within everyone; spiritual existence is manifested through the gross body and mind in the form of perverted affection for gross and subtle matter. Therefore we have to engage ourselves in occupational engagements that will evoke our divine consciousness.” SB 1.2.8, purport
We all have desires, but to long for the spiritual means to desire something beyond what this world offers. Spiritual longing is native to the soul. The word’s earlier roots hint at the lengthening of hope, or what we call aspiration. Spiritual longing broadens the heart while softening it with a sweet kind of pain. Fear of that pain is why we often suppress our spiritual longings and allow them to turn into the shackles of material attachment. Sacred longing then turns into longing for things that can’t satisfy the soul.
We should know that suppressing sacred longing never destroys it. To long is part of the human condition. Rather, suppressed spiritual longings still rise to the surface of our consciousness, but focus themselves wherever we’re open and vulnerable – often on our attachments. These misfocused longings even draw us into various sorts of addiction. We all know about addiction. It tends to focus on a need for position, success, affection, friendship, or some other emotional comfort, and it often begins its expression through small moments of gratification, perhaps as insignificant as eating a chocolate bar when we’re lonely. Often, before we know it, we’ve grown into habits we can’t seem to shake, habits that go against our integrity.
We should know that our material attachments, serious or not, are really a suppressed longing for the sacred dimension, where we can find perfect love. We long for something to touch us to the core, to love us so completely that we will do anything – and let go of anything – to stay in contact.
But we have to do our part to dig deep, so part of the work of spiritual practice is to shift our focus back to the sacred at every opportunity and allow spiritual, not material, longing to fill us.
If you want to feel alive with spiritual longing, you need to come in contact with the sacred dimension in your life and to remain in that awareness as much as possible. You’ll know when you’ve touched that dimension because you’ll feel yourself escaping the confines of matter; the bird of your soul will take to the free air.
Here’s a small meditation to help you find your sacred longing:
Take some time away from your busy life to sit where you won’t be disturbed. Allow the sounds that usually fill your life to sink into the quiet. Then ask yourself, “Do I feel my connection with the Lord?” Listen in silence for the answer.
Are you in contact with the Supreme, or have you lost touch? Are you only thinking about spiritual realization or actually living it? Is your Krishna consciousness alive or dry and theoretical?
These kinds of questions and their honest answers can awaken the voice of your own longing – one you may be ignoring or have been putting off until you have more time to listen. Allow that voice to sing louder and reach your ear. Then follow it.
A tip: Once you’ve come in contact with your spiritual longing, strengthen it with spiritual practice. Let your spiritual practices support whatever changes you feel you need to make in your life so that you can follow your longing with inner strength.
Here is an inspiring message from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura on the topic of longing:
O fishlike soul,
why do you become repeatedly entangled in Maya’s net,
being allured by insignificant pleasures?
When you are thus trapped in the network of illusion
you remain in a spiritually weakened condition.
Please serve the Lord of your heart,
and with the strength gained by bhakti (devotion)
swim freely in the ocean of love for Krishna.”
Dear readers, I pray each of us will successfully find and follow our sacred longing this year. I’m confident that if you do so, this new year will be your best ever and a steppingstone to a more fulfilling life. In closing, let me say how honored I am to share this message with you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be of some small service to you.