Whatever you live, you give.
I once started a lecture by mentioning that if you come here thinking I already know everything you will talk about, you won’t be able to learn well. A friend of mine wanted me to write something about it.
In this article, I decided not to write about how this impedes our ability to learn, but to write about something more important: how thinking we know something often blocks our ability to become conscious of any of our attitudes or actions that are out of alignment with our with our beliefs. The goal of any person wanting to uplift their consciousness is to become in action what they believe in their heart to be the right way to think , behave and live. This starts by becoming aware of actions that oppose our values – something that often goes unnoticed to ourselves (but not to others).
Alignment is a big challenge and an important topic. I hope this article helps you become more aware of any misalignment between your beliefs and actions, and how important it is – on every level – for us to be ideal examples of what we believe. After all, our actions, despite our beliefs, is what affects those around us.
Yamuna Devi, a long time practitioner of bhakti yoga, said in the film Women of Bhakti (www.womenofbhakti.com), “When you live bhakti (devotion), you give bhakti.” It’s true. What you live is what you give.
I once attended a workshop facilitation training in which we were taught that many people will come to our trainings with the mindset of “I already know that.” They explained that they might know of it, about it, have heard it, or are familiar with it, but they don’t know it unless they live it. So they might say “I know how to do that,” but if they have never done it, or done it well, how can they say they really know it.
In the training I took we learned that if our audience thinks they already know what we will be teaching, the learning process will shut down for them. So we were taught to joke with the audience by saying, “The three worse words in the English language for learning are, “I know that.”
The point of this article is to see how this relates to us.
I am not the body. I am the soul within the body. We are not material beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a material experience. I’ve heard these truths hundreds of times. I know that.
Or do I?
Spiritually, as a soul, my nature is to serve. I won’t be happy trying to serve my selfish interests. I won’t be happy trying to rise to the top. “The last will be first in the kingdom of God.” I know that too. But do I always feel like being a servant?
I should also know that whatever happens is my karma, that whatever comes to me is a result of past actions, and this is for my ultimate good. That’s is clearly what karma is all about, and I can’t deny this truth.
But sometimes I can’t accept this.
Unfortunately, I don’t know as much as I think I know. If everything happens for a reason, why do I get upset when I get what I deserve from someone who delivered it in ways, well, I don’t think I deserve?
If I know I am not the body, why do I still think I am an American male. And why do I like some bodies more than other bodies, to the point of judging them or discriminating against them, or being suspicious or resentful of certain bodies that are the “wrong” color?
The simple answer, of course, is “I don’t know that”. And the reason I don’t know that is because I am a conditioned soul; very conditioned. I am so much the way I am that I often don’t even realize the way I am.
We are so conditioned that we often don’t realize when we are out of alignment with our beliefs and values. It is said that we notice our motives more than our actions. So if I feel I am a good person, that my motives for actions are good, then even if I do something not so good, I will still see it as good. After all, a good person wouldn’t do something that isn’t good. (Extend this far enough and you can kill in the name of God, thinking since I am religious my killing is justified).
This is called cognitive dissonance, i.e. you don’t notice activities that don’t align with your beliefs. This often happens when we are mostly good but not always good. For example, there was a girl who thought she was the poster child of green and eco-friendly. She would make her own natural packaging and buy in bulk so she wouldn’t have to use plastic. And it bothered her to no end seeing people drinking and eating out of plastic containers.
One day something amazing happened: she noticed, for the first time, that there were plastic containers in her fridge. What’s so amazing is how she never noticed the plastic before. And since those plastic containers didn’t just walk into the fridge, it’s even more amazing that she put them there without even realizing what she was doing.
I can relate this to my life. Sometimes I am not as kind as I should be. Sometimes I am not as self-controlled as I should be. Sometimes I am not as tolerant, sweet, considerate, or humble as a person striving to be spiritual should be.
But this is not the real problem. The real problem is that I don’t even notice that anything is wrong when I am like this. This is how cognitive dissonance affects me.
Let’s do some bad math. A religious or spiritual person is good. I am a religious and spiritual person. Therefore I am good. If I am good, how can I do anything bad?
Someone achieves more than I do and gets more honor than I deserve. Am I happy? Not always. Sometimes I am envious. Sometimes I don’t like that they are successful. I should at least think, “Wait a minute. I shouldn’t be thinking like this.” But often I don’t. Or sometimes I do notice my envy but I shrug it off as, “This is just how I am.”
Humility means to notice when I am not aligned with what I believe. I should be noticing and I should be doing something about what I am noticing. I should be trying to go from “I know that” to becoming what I know.
If we think, “Should I be humble?” “Should I forgive?” “Is it okay to get back at a person who mistreats me?” we have not yet become what we believe. We want to become humble, forgiving, kind, people, not decide if we should be humble, forgiving and kind depending on which way the wind blows.
It is essential we become good exemplars, not only people who know. People who hear what we believe wonder, “Do they really follow what they say?” Who we are speaks louder than what we say.
There are many stories in Yamuna Devi’s biography (krishnamagic.com) about how she transformed the lives of others, but one story stands out for me. There was a musician who was a little familiar with kirtan (chanting of mantras). Wanting to inspire him Yamuma Devi invited him to her home for kirtan. She chanted some ancient prayers for ten minutes, and in those ten minutes his life turned around. For the first time he really understood kirtan, prayer, and what pure devotion really is. That one kirtan sparked a revolution in his heart. He took that inspiration out to the world and is now inspiring thousands of others to chant divine mantras. This all happened from hearing ten minutes of pure chanting.
What we live is what we give. It works both for us and against us.
For a more in-depth discussion of how to be in alignment with our values, listen to this presentation by Mahatma Das: