The Importance of Being Active
The Active Mode
There is an old axiom that if we want to learn how to play the piano, we had better play the piano. It will not help to stare out the window, gather daisies, manicure the dog, or take a nap. Only by practicing the piano can we learn to play it.
Likewise, if we want to increase our wisdom, talent, courage, or goodwill, we need to practice expressing these qualities in our life. We cannot just believe in the goodness of these elements of life, nor is it helpful to gather poems about them into a scrapbook, or surrender blissfully to God. We must activate and give life to wisdom, talent, courage, and goodwill in all we do.
The core activity of meditation lies in our interaction with the life of the Higher Self. As we seek invite it to move through us, it awakens us, increases our talents and understanding, enriches our life, and prods us to transcend our pettiness.
This activity is an inherent principle of life; it can be observed in nature, in groups, in civilization, in atoms, and in universes. While the forms of life can come to rest, growth always occurs in the active mode.
Accomplishment occurs in the active mode. Enlightenment occurs in the active mode.
We must appreciate that the wisdom, love, and power of the Higher Self are dynamic energies and forces. They will not let us sit quietly and just observe them; if we are sitting quietly, then we are observing something other than the Higher Self.
As these forces and qualities move through us, they move us to action. New ideas burst into our awareness, and with them comes the dynamic motivation and support which enables us to act effectively.
Becoming active, either in meditation or in life, is not something which is as simple as drawing a straight line connecting two dots. There are strong forces within the subconscious and unconscious of each of us which resist enlightened activity. These are the forces of the status quo, primarily laziness, stubbornness, and fear of change.
The lure of laziness is very seductive. People tend to be fascinated by the enchanting idea that they may be able to get more by doing less. Consequently, there are many who are all too willing to capitalize on this basic laziness and feed and encourage it.
Over the years, the “virtues” of inactivity and mental deadness have been carefully promoted and enshrined, to the point where many of our religions, philosophies, and traditions have been vandalized by apathy.
We must realize that laziness and apathy are dangerous to our health, especially our mental and spiritual health. Because mental laziness is so seductive, it is sometimes difficult to keep this perspective in mind.
It is commonly believed, for example, that hard work, particularly mental work, leads to strain and stress. The average person would say that no one ever died of relaxation, but many people succumb to excessive work. But this is just not true.
Productive work actually leads to greater contentment, fulfillment, and comfort, not stress and strain. And the most common cause of declining health in older people is inactivity and boredom, not work.
Despite this fact, these fictions persist.
One of the reasons why these false ideas endure is the fact that growth, either in consciousness or in form, always involves leaving something behind, or even destroying it. As children grow, they must leave behind old clothing, less mature behavior, favorite games, and many childish habits and attitudes. As adults grow, they must leave behind comfortable conditions, outmoded habits, and sometimes even friendships.
A healthy approach to growth always emphasizes that genuine improvements in life should strike a balance between the old and the new. Rather than rejecting the old as undesirable, the primary endeavor is to update it and make it more ideal.
Nonetheless, it is easy to become obsessed with and blinded by the presence of imperfection in ourselves and in life, to the point where we start spending more time fighting off the old than we do in building the new and better.
The results can be disastrous: we can become consumed by our struggle to overcome our anger or depression or anxiety until we become exhausted.
At such a point, we are ripe to be plucked by a smooth talking, charismatic peddler of simplistic solutions. They will entice us to “let go” of our struggle by blanking the mind or by “believing” in God’s love. It sounds good, but we often forget that “letting go” is just a thinly disguised version of laziness and apathy.
It is possible to achieve a simulacrum of peace by letting go, or “blissing out”. However, these practices work only by suppressing our awareness of conflict, misery, and mistakes. We purchase peace by giving away some of our humanity rather than through genuine growth in goodwill or strength. We have done nothing but trade our difficulties for indifference.
The danger in these simple, enticing practices is that what we “released” to nothingness tends to resurrect itself. When our irritation, discouragement, or anxiety is reborn, it can reappear in a more subtle form that may be more difficult to overcome. Symptoms such as free- floating anxiety, indifference, and low initiative can obscure detection of the underlying problems.
Some people would insist that altering our perceptions in these ways does represent a legitimate solution. This claim, however, does not hold up in the light of common sense.
Ignoring the dirt on our clothing does not make it disappear. Spiritual apathy and passiveness can create a mood of dreamy peacefulness, but it only distracts us from noticing the immature aspects that remain in our personality.
Our efforts to grow, meditatively and otherwise, are frequently sabotaged by laziness and apathy. Strong currents in mass consciousness encourage us to hope that difficult conditions will just take care of themselves without any activity on our part.
Any time we adopt a passive meditative or spiritual practice, we are, in essence, giving silent approval to the strong forces of resistance within us. We are slowing down our potential for growth. This does not make sense to someone who wishes to grow in competence, wisdom, and goodwill.
It is important to realize that the apologists of apathy will not give up. They will be quick to point out, for example, that the active but unskilled mind is often rather destructive. This is true, but the solution does not lie in making such a mind passive; it lies in developing its skills and wisdom. They will warn that many people who are active are quite selfish and harmful. Once again, this is true, but the solution to the problem hardly lies in everyone becoming passive! That will merely let the selfish and harmful people manipulate us all the more easily.
The traditional meditative techniques designed to lull us into passiveness and laziness are all very simple.
The more common varieties include:
- The repetition of a mantra which has no real meaning. Concentrating on this mantra absorbs our attention while the rest of our thoughts and associations float away.
- The passive observation of our subconscious thoughts, feelings, and images with studied indifference.
- Staring at a symbol or object while ignoring everything else, especially the content of the subconscious and the activities of the mind.
- The constant affirmation that we can do anything we want, anytime and anywhere, and it will be all right.
At best, some of these techniques may help us to focus our attention. Nonetheless, they pose a genuine threat to spiritual growth.
They do this through suppressing awareness of ordinary thought and feeling by a) dissociating from them and b) damaging our associative mechanism so that we cannot connect with old problems and unresolved conflicts.
If practiced long enough, these techniques can actually lead to a type of artificially induced schizophrenia which is very difficult to remedy.
The signs are:
- Forgetfulness and the inability to remember items readily.
- The inability to work creatively or deal with symbolic and abstract thought.
- A pleasant blandness of all feelings, without any strong sentiment, either negative or positive.
- Difficulty in concentrating.
- Irritability when out in public.
These conditions do not resemble enlightenment or genuine transcendence in any way whatsoever. They are just the fruits of militant and concentrated spiritual laziness.
On Our Knees
The second major reason why many meditative and spiritual practices are passive is because of the traditional awe and fear of God. For far too many, the thought of approaching an infinitely powerful and all knowing, divine force is intimidating. The ideal approach to God and the Higher Self is one of intelligent and loving cooperation, but this is something which many good people have not yet learned.
Of course, there are many misguided individuals who are all too eager to remind us of our “obligation” to crawl on our knees to God, and then stay on our knees while dealing with them.
These people wrap themselves pompously in robes of righteousness as they remind us that God knows all about our dirty little sins and is busily judging us. In return, most of us respond by feeling terribly guilty and insignificant. We forget that we are of God and that God is within us, within our Higher Self. Proclaiming how unworthy and wretched we are is not a proper way to honor this fact.
Mass consciousness is severely polluted by this notion, even if some of us have managed to escape it individually. As a result, many advocates of meditation and other spiritual practices insist that everyone should approach the presence of our Higher Self only in the attitude of abject surrender. Their philosophy of “we are nothing and God is everything” has done much harm to individuals and to civilization. Nowhere is this harm more obvious than in the common practices of meditation.
To be sure, the Higher Self is more wise, loving, powerful, and skillful than the personality, but this does not mean that the personality is wretched and unworthy. It does not mean that the personality must adopt a passive attitude of “I surrender” in order to please the Higher Self.
Quite the contrary: we should approach the Higher Self as though we were a dutiful son or daughter of wealthy business people, seeking to be trained by our parents so that we will be able to take over the family business. We would not learn much about their wisdom and management skills if we simply cowered in the corner, afraid to act.
Nor would we learn much by limiting our self to passive adoration of the mightiness of our father. Instead, we must work cooperatively with them, performing the duties that they would have us do, until we had acquired adequate skills and competence.
Active interaction with our mentors is required. Active experience in managing the affairs of the business is a necessity.
The same principle applies in Active Meditation. Even if we are not the type to grovel, we should beware that fear of the Higher Self can often be very subtle and adversely influence our thoughts and activity. It is of great importance to the success of meditation to cultivate a healthy, realistic view of the Higher Self and the divine forces of life.
Problems in Receptivity
The problem of passiveness in meditation is complicated by two other factors as well. The first is the need to be quiet in order to be receptive to the wisdom, will, and love of the Higher Self.
It is easy to confuse this state of quiet alertness with passiveness; indeed, many teachers admonish us to become passive and still. Nonetheless, when correctly practiced, this state of quiet receptivity is far from passive: it is a highly refined state of intelligent alertness.
The truly passive person would not be able to hear or comprehend a thing. He or she would be like the individual who appears to be listening to what we are saying, but actually is not paying attention.
Genuine listening of any kind requires poise and alertness, whether it is to a friend or to the still, small voice of the Higher Self. We need the ability to hear and digest what is being communicated.
The Higher Self has no intention of filling us with wisdom and love in the same manner as pouring soup into a bowl.
We have the responsibility to interact actively with its ideas and forces and learn to do something useful with them.
We have the obligation to be alert, not passive.
The second reason for the excessive passiveness in traditional meditation stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of the Higher Self.
Many people presume that the love, wisdom, beauty, dignity, and courage of the Higher Self already exists in concrete form, ready to be tapped. The assumption is that these qualities are acquired in the same way we might pick up a loaf of bread at the grocery store.
They believe the reason they do not have these qualities and forces themselves is that they are somehow prevented from receiving them. If they could just remove the blocks and impediments, they would suddenly become fully loving, wise, gracious, and courageous.
There is an element of truth to this notion; we often do let bad habits impede the good within us. But we must also understand that the good within us is abstract. It does not exist in prepackaged, ready to use form.
In this sense, the treasures of the Higher Self are more like an abundant resource of wheat, ready to be made into bread, not the loaf of bread itself. We must learn to bake the bread, and that is an active process.
Just removing some belief or habit that might oppose cheerfulness or kindness is not enough.
after all, are hostile because they lack sufficient goodwill, not because their
goodwill is blocked.
Most people are afraid and anxious because they lack common sense and self-discipline, not because it is blocked.
Most people are ignorant because they lack intelligence, not because it is blocked.
They have not accepted the challenge of interacting with the treasures of the Higher Self and forming them into noble expressions and skills. They have remained passive.
Life continually summons us to grow in wisdom, talent, and love; it challenges us to be active. We are reminded, both in subtle and in obvious ways, of our frailties, deficiencies, and flaws. This is not done to embarrass us, but to inspire us to cooperate more fully with the life of the Higher Self.
This challenge cannot be met with laziness, for we are meant to be productive.
It cannot be met with surrender and fear, for we are meant to participate in the work of the Higher Self.
It cannot be met with silence, for we are meant to improve and increase our self-expression.
It cannot be met just by eliminating that which hinders us, for we are meant to build and create.
Effective meditation is a means of building a superstructure in consciousness that will provide us with real access to the life of spirit. This connection provides the means for bringing the riches we discover into active expression in our needs and work.
It is only through intelligent and constructive activity that we can add to our stature and strength. The problems of living are to be met by actively overwhelming them with the enriching life of the Higher Self, not by blissfully hoping the problems will go away. Retreating from our problems is a regressive move which dulls us to the evocative challenge of life. It strips us of one of the fundamental virtues of our humanity.
We are designed to work as a partner with the Higher Self. It summons us to the activity of its labor and plan. In the process, we frequently find that we must summon it to assist us and heal or strengthen aspects of the personality which are inadequate for the tasks at hand.
It is in this dynamic interaction between the Higher Self and the personality that the work of evolution is accomplished. This does not happen if we passively wait for God to rescue us.