Toxic Positivity

Can positivity ever be considered negative? Simple answer is YES! I know, wait a second, let’s understand what I have just answered. Am I saying that it can be negative to be positive? Yes, I am exactly saying that. What are my reasons? Well, let’s dwell on this.

Have you ever faced a time in your life where you feel sad? Or you are going through a traumatic time with an illness? Or you feel trapped in a relationship? Just had a break up? Lost your job and been out of work for months? Got bad grades? You decide to tell somebody about it because you want to be listened to, you want to be heard. What is the response? You may have had the following responses:

  • There must be something good in your life?
  • Don’t worry, you will get better, be positive.
  • Be positive, at least you are in a relationship.
  • Look, there are more guys/girls out there.
  • Don’t worry, you will find a new job, stay positive and keep applying.
  • You can ace the next exam, be positive and keep working hard.

I know that I have said the above to people in the past and it is only recently, that I realized that maybe I am not being helpful to people when I say such things. Okay, I may not be in the ‘stay positive’ or ‘positive vibes only’ crowd but I am guilty for sometimes saying something uplifting when someone only wants to talk. They just want me to listen to them deeply, without judging, without thinking about what to say, just being absolutely present with them.

The most powerful responses I have ever received have come from people who stay quiet for a good, few minutes and then they offer some advice or sometimes they just give me a hug. Sometimes, that is all we need or someone else needs. We don’t have to coat our every advice with positive statements or affirmations, we can sometimes just state things as they are and deal with it as it is. We can advice according to the situation and work out together how best to deal with the situation.

The toxic positivity crowd has grown with social media. We now have social media personalities who spew out how positivity is everything and if you aren’t having a good life, it is because you are not positive enough. They talk big but life shows that it delivers flatly. Trust me, I have read my fair share of self-help books, followed self-help gurus on social media, followed their advice somewhat and realized I haven’t been helped at all. Everything I am doing is based on my circumstances and my analysis of my circumstances. I take time to look at what I am going through and meditate on what the best response is. Yes, it may not be the approach of anyone that wants fast results but sometimes, being slow and steady helps us to address the problem or issue fully. It is best if you allow that feeling of positivity to arise within you naturally.

Sometimes, we are told that we aren’t grateful enough and that gratitude is the best attitude. But if I am feeling stressed, I am not going to be grateful for anything else. Am I to be grateful for my stress? How does that make any sense? So this is what it goes back to, we have to face what we are dealing with and really look into it. See the root of it and observe the root of it. We need to spend time on what disturbs us, and then we can direct our minds to find ways out of it. We need to allow each thought, positive or negative, to flower completely, to travel with the thought so it can express itself completely. If we end up cutting that thought short, we may be repressing emotions or thoughts that may lead to a greater sadness or depression later on.

Tomorrow, you may listen to some positive thought and it helps you tremendously. And a few days later, you face a situation and to overcome it, you use that same positive thought and it doesn’t help anymore. Don’t ever put yourself down if that positive thought isn’t working. Whatever you are going through has become bigger than that positive thought. Life gives us situations so that we evolve, so we see the deeper truths of life and if we mask it with positivity, it is still a veil. Therefore, find new ways of dealing with issues or problems, most of all, try to understand the problem.

What I want to emphasize is that if you feel sad, I am here to look at the sadness with you. If you are happy, I am here to look at the happiness with you. Whatever you are feeling, whatever you are going through, I am here to go through it with you.

I believe we should look at our thoughts and our emotions as they are and deal with them as they are. Yes, some thoughts will be painful to look into but sometimes it is that looking, that observing that helps us to drop that thought. This is what has helped me in my life.

Motivational quotes and sayings may be nice to look at and nice to hear but do they transform us? Do they really make you get up to conquer the world? How about we aim more locally and look to conquer our minds. This can only be done, if we spend time and go through the process with our undivided attention.

Ultimate Reality

The highest wisdom known is to understand the Ultimate Reality. This Ultimate Reality has no form, no shape, no color, no dimension, no sound, no space, no time, indivisible etc. The biggest question is whether we can call this God, especially when a personal god is more or less invoked in the traditional aspects of religion?

The personal god is not just in traditional religions but has found its place in spiritual circles. You may call it the universe, it is still the personal god. To this god, we place our faith, our devotion as long as whatever we want is received. If it isn’t then there are two options. One is that we lose faith and become atheist sand settle in the belief that there is no god, or second is that we say we don’t have enough faith and that is why god didn’t give it to us. In fact, we make god into a transactional deity where He, the patriarch dishes out rewards and punishments. Why do some get more or less? Well, build up your faith is always the clarion call!

So back to the original question, can we call this Ultimate Reality – God? I don’t think we can. It is interesting that in Hinduism, they see the need for the personal God so this is called Ishwar or Saguna Brahman. The Hindu mystics were smart enough to understand that the majority will not have time to contemplate, to wonder, to pay attention and to focus on what Reality is but in fact, they are drawn to their primal fears and desires – therefore, Ishwar or Saguna Brahman deliver this. But remember – Sat Chit Ananda (Truth Consciousness Bliss) – cannot be experienced here! The Truth or the Reality experienced is only a part – it isn’t the whole. Saguna Brahman is also subject to destruction as it is part of the Universe. Consciousness is experienced by all, but here we are talking about Pure Indivisible Consciousness as the Ultimate Reality. This is only partly experienced. Therefore, bliss cannot be attained with the completeness of Truth and Consciousness. We can experience happiness, extreme happiness but not bliss.

So the ones who contemplate on this Ultimate Reality, who wonder about it, who want to see it as it is, without our interpretation, without our thoughts, without our emotions, we find that they experience Sat Chit Ananda. This Ultimate Reality is referred to as Nirguna Brahman and this means Brahman without attributes. This is the Purest of the Pure. Right now, I can feel It’s presence that seems infused into everything, yet distinct from everything too. I can feel that there is bliss and if I must use the analogy of the ocean, I am only at the shore, and haven’t gone to it’s depths yet. Some of you, may have gone there and are there right now and can feel the uncreated, unbreakable, undiluted bliss. This Ultimate Reality cannot belong to any religion and can only be personally experienced, therefore a spiritual group or organization will not be able to contain such a Force. It’s impossible because once the spiritual group loses focus on this Ultimate Reality, which it inevitably will because people are too attached to primal fears and desires, they will lose focus on where to direct their contemplation. This Ultimate Reality doesn’t care for praise or criticism – therefore It doesn’t negotiate. So we cannot win this like we can do with the personal god. This Ultimate Reality is always here, within us, we just need wake up to it. It doesn’t need to do anything, we need to discover it by contemplation, by inquiry, by discussion and by meditation.

So, after discussing this with you, I find that Nirguna Brahman cannot be referred to as god because that will give it unrealistic expectations that It will not follow. This can only be referred to as the Ultimate Reality and is literally defined as having no form, no shape, no color, no dimension, no sound, no space, no time, indivisible etc. If we are to truly experience the essence of spirituality, it is only with understanding and knowing this Ultimate Reality without any duality within us – the observer.

Measuring my spirituality

The older I get, the more I analyze my spirituality. 10 years back, I was probably in a ‘honeymoon phase’ with my spiritual journey and today, I seem to reflect that I honestly don’t know how much I have achieved spiritually speaking. It’s easier to guess how successful you are materialistically, you can look at your wealth in your bank balances, the cars you own, properties, investments etc. But with spirituality, there are no milestones, it is not like you can be a quarter enlightened, half enlightened or almost enlightened. Either you are enlightened or you are not. How do we measure things like peace, bliss and joy? Is it shown through our values? Is it presented through the vibes that we give out? Is it the way we speak to others? All of these things can be subjective and projected through someone else’s perception and life experiences.

Spirituality is completely a gray area and it is obvious that spirituality isn’t a game of words or proclamations. Announcing to the world that you are enlightened is not enough. If I heard that, my spiritual sense would be telling me that something is rotten here and that I must observe the other person with little or no bias of my own. But how do I attain that sort of perception where there is no personal bias? It is by observing my own self diligently and with absolute honesty. Have I been able to get rid of my own prejudices? Do I get swayed like a pendulum in terms of opinions and views? Do I react instead of respond. Do I get offended by criticism and get carried away when praised? Even though some may say this level of balance may be difficult but the swaying isn’t healthy either. A balance has to strike otherwise, the ego really will always win and the efforts to dissolve the ego is futile. Therefore, a balanced mind is necessary and somehow I find that speaks volumes once you speak to someone. You can guess it by the attention they give, the words they say, the facial expressions and body language. It is only by fully knowing our own self that we can know others.

Therefore, if I do not know myself, is it right for me to pass judgment on others as how can I know them. Well, there are always tell-tale signs of anyone that is a spiritual delinquent. You know if someone is dishonest, or they cheat others, or they have a short temper. Sometimes, we can see the political motives of others and you don’t have to know yourself to see this. It is evident through actions and a sharp mind.

It’s hard to know where I am spiritually today. Sometimes, I feel that there is progress and sometimes it feels like nothing is happening but I trust the process completely. Maybe that is all that matters. Trusting the process that eventually I will know where I am spiritually and I can be at peace with that. All I know is that I am not at peace with myself spiritually. I feel there is a lot more that I can do and can achieve. Sometimes, I ask myself if it is worth it? It just seems so lonely at the top or maybe aloneness is the true oneness with all.

Whirling into Stillness

When we are looking for stability in our spiritual journey, the example of a sufi whirling comes to mind. I used to do the sufi whirling meditation and I remember the times when I would be whirling and feel an incredible sense of stillness, of absolute stability within my mind.

Those few moments of an empty mind was enough to convince me that meditation is the way forward if we want to have stability. In the midst of movement, of the daily hustle and bustle, I was to function from that stillness. However, to stabilize in this practice, you need to do it diligently everyday, otherwise it is was very easy to lose such progress.

Nourishing an element of inner awareness is the simplest thing to do but the most difficult to maintain. Hence, true spiritual attainment is available only for the few that are willing to give their all to the practice.

A Traveling Thought

The presence of a thought appeared this morning, 
Fresh and crisp as if it was ironed out completely, 
I wonder how this thought came into my psyche, 
When the thought went away, I was in mourning. 

This thought appeared initially dusty and worn, 
As if lying somewhere completely old and withdrawn, 
It was from the dark mind of insidious scorn, 
Today the mind decided it was to be re-born. 

So back to the same old thought I travelled again,  
On this trip I went on the journey with the thought, 
And then I came to clarity in a flash of zazen, 
Stillness and stability of mind that I finally caught. 

Is your Teacher the Best?

Since yesterday’s post on Critical Spirituality had a lot to digest, I thought it would be nice to share this Zen joke that I read on Psychology Today.

One Zen student said, “My teacher is the best. He can go days without eating.”

The second said, “My teacher has so much self-control, he can go days without sleep.”

The third said, “My teacher is so wise that he eats when he’s hungry and sleeps when he’s tired.”

Spirituality has to be grounded in common sense and needs to be practical. Although, I am a huge fan of reading ancient scriptures from the East, I do analyze teachings to see if they apply today. There is no need to follow something that doesn’t make sense to follow in this day and age. We have to use our critical thinking to understand this.

Going to the joke, it is rather simple to understand. A True Teacher, as I mentioned yesterday, would make every attempt to have the disciple excel in their spirituality and to become independent with complete realization. If not, we have to ask whether the Teacher we have has the qualifications to bring us to enlightenment. If they don’t, then should we still follow them. If they do, isn’t it best to adhere to their words based on Truth? Therefore, the True Teacher will tell you to eat if you are hungry, drink water if you are thirsty and will understand the needs that you or I have. They will not guide us to do the opposite.

The other take is don’t compare the greatness of your Teacher with anyone else. Let others discover it themselves. You can surely let people know about the Teacher and how much they have helped you. However, the moment we compare that our Teacher is better than someone else’s teacher then we are entering into foolishness.

I remember reading a book by Osho, where he said very beautifully that Spiritual Masters have no problems with each other, it is the disciples who have problems because they compare and bicker with one another.

Every Teacher may not be qualified to guide someone to the Ultimate Truth, but at least a Teacher can guide someone to walk a few steps forward. Even that is good enough.

Critical Spirituality

Today I read an article published by the Vice on Conspirituality and how the Wellness Industry has become a loudspeaker for QAnon and misinformation about Covid-19, the US election, the Covid vaccine is thriving, along with its boundless support for Trump, who is seen as the Messiah. It is worth a read and I recommend that we all take some time out to read this.

I regularly listen to a podcast called Conspirituality, where a lot of the conspiracy theories that are infiltrating the Spiritual scene is debunked with facts, evidence and reputable studies. I recommend that we listen to these podcasts to take our critical thinking to a higher level.

I have seen smart and/or spiritual people on my social media feed fall to conspiratorial thinking. It has definitely shocked me enough to write about this. For quite some time, I thought only I was seeing this from people on my social media feed. When I started seeing people fall in love with Trump, then share their ideas about 5G radiation, even Pizzagate, I was wondering how did it all get to this? This is where the Conspirituality podcast really helped me and some amazing people on Facebook openly spoke about the rise of conspirituality. It shocked them and they had to address it.

For me, spirituality has to be one that is balanced with facts based on science and personal experience. It is understanding the fine line before we end up going towards wacky thinking or fantasy. Science has been a boon, most of the time, for the upliftment of society. Science has helped us understand our place in the universe, it has helped us understand the laws of Nature. Then there is the spiritual journey, where we seek to find God or Truth through whatever means, this shouldn’t interfere with the material world. This seeking should purely be kept to spiritual development alone. Yes, it is true that our spirituality will seep through to our material life, it will shape our views and will be the foundation to how we interact with the world, however, it should never get in the way of absolute truth. For example and this may make my point more clear, my spiritual views should never interfere with the fact that the Earth is a sphere.

Even when it comes to spirituality itself, how many of look at our journey with a critical eye? How many of us are just happy to go along with whatever the crowd is saying? If the crowd repeats a quote, slogan, or a story, how many of us just repeat it without thinking of the deeper philosophies behind such stories, slogans or quotes? How many of us inquire within to see how much time do we live in the awareness of a deity or our true Self? How many of us are willing to call out our our laziness in practicing spiritual values like compassion, love, honesty, understanding etc? Until we start becoming more critical about our own spiritual progress, then the collective spirituality will always be at a loss.

If you truly want to be your best self, then you have to understand that the whole crux of spirituality is understanding that there is no-self. In fact, what we call God is something beyond self and non-self. This is difficult for me to express and people may disagree with me here. New-age movements with there emphasis for a great ‘you’, really isn’t about ascending your true self to something higher. It may help to give you self-esteem but its just giving you another layer of ego, another layer of identity and can even create a narcissistic mentality. Why do I say this? It’s because I have gone through it myself. I have experience how these self-help books only expanded my ego and it didn’t help me attain a higher degree of spirituality.

I feel that people like Tony Robbins are not great people to follow either. Many people I know have attended his events and they feel fired up in the beginning and I appreciate that he gives people confidence. But how long does that confidence last? Not long. I haven’t seen anyone who followed Tony Robbins become an equal to him, forget exceeding him.

This is also applicable to Spiritual Gurus too. If you cannot help your disciples be equal or better than you then how effective is your teaching? Many people follow popular Spiritual Gurus with their catchy clickbait titles on YouTube and not one person who has watched all their videos has achieved enlightenment. In fact, most of it is ran like multi level marketing (MLM). If you liked the video and want to go deeper in spirituality, then buy this course. You buy that course then you are told this isn’t enough, you need to do this other practice so you make that purchase, only to be told once you completed that course that there is a 7 month program that you guarantees success and you end up in a cycle that will never end until you find your bank account has gone slim or your credit cards are maxed out. Of course, it is the whole carrot and stick analogy. The main question I want to pose in this section is where are our Swami Vivekananda’s today?

We can say that maybe we aren’t being decent disciples and not committing ourselves to practice so something has to change. Either disciples understand discipline or Gurus separate the wheat from the chaff (and the wheat isn’t the highest bidder). We have to take spirituality seriously, if we are to save it from entering a territory that Great Teachers like J Krishnamurti and Alan Watts never expected.

Let me know what you think in the comments because maybe I need to add more context behind something I have written and I can dedicate a post to it. We all have to be critical to our spirituality, if we are to evolve our respective Gurus or religious/spiritual organizations.

Elevate your Self

Following from yesterday’s post, I wanted to continue with discussing Allama Iqbal’s poetry, specifically from the poem ‘Dayar-e-Ishq’.

Khudhi Ko Ker Buland Itna Ke Har Taqdeer Se Pehle
Khuda Bande Se Khud Pochay Bata Teri Raza Kya Hai
Elevate your Self to such great heights that before issuing every decree of destiny, 
That God should ask you, 'Tell me, what is your wish?' 

Here Iqbal is really instructing his son on what to do. The best thing to do in life is to elevate your Self. What is this Self? Who is it? Where does this Self reside? In the some of the Upanishads, they didn’t see the soul and God as two different things but called it the Self, obviously with the capital ‘S’. This was to make us, the listener/reader understand that the true Self is not our ego but the limitless, indivisible, formless existence that witnesses through our senses. Here Iqbal is referring to this true Self. Before I go on, I want to make sure that I clarify what I term as the ego in a quick sentence. The ego is the accumulation of everything that I think is ‘me’ like ‘I am my body’, ‘I am my mind’ or anything subject to change, decay or death. As I have established what the ego is and what the true Self is, the poem further expresses to reach great heights. There is nothing higher than living an awakened life that is in awareness of our true Self.

In fact, here Iqbal really sets an interesting tone that by reaching such great heights that whenever destiny has to be written, or shall we say the results of our karma is to be issued, that God has to ask us what our wish is, what our desire is, what will satisfy us. It’s such delicate poetry that it can be interpreted in many ways. From the point of view that I look at it from, is that once there is oneness with the Formless, then you are literally writing your destiny. This isn’t some new-agey nonsense that whatever you wish for will be manifested. As you are the Self, the Formless, you will be honest in the result of your own karma. Also, anyone who reaches such great heights, most likely will not make mistakes. But sometimes, we do make subtle mistakes and an elevated Self will notice this and will be fair in its outcome.

This line just stood out to me because it contains oneness with one Self – which is the same as oneness with God. How many of us can attain to such heights? Who knows? But one sure thing is that we need to practice. Simply saying nice words, thinking nice thoughts will never be enough but sincere concentration and meditation on the Formless will elevate us. We can do it and it all depends on how important it is for us to reach that life-transforming moment.

In the Realm of Love

This past Sunday, I decided to listen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan after a long time. I don’t know what made me do it but I put on a song that he had performed. The lyrics are by a great poet by the name of Allama Iqbal.

Dayar E Ishq Mein Apna Maqaam Paida Ker
In the realm of love, build your place.

This is a powerful line when we think about it. If we considered this Earth to be the realm of love, the dimension of love and built our life around that, then there would be peace, contentment and prosperity all around. In fact, to be established in love is the closest way to experiencing the Truth.

We often make decisions without even consulting that place of love that is within us. Normally, we react with anger, jealousy or envy. When we understand that the realm of love is all around us, when we are more aware of it then our response to life and its happenings would be completely different. Once we have built our place, made our mark, established ourselves firmly in love then we live a more awakened living, a more truthful living, an honest and simple living.

When Nusrat sings this poem, he emphasizes on ‘Apna Maqaam Paida Kar’ and when I was listening to this I was thinking about the Formless, about Nirankar. I was wondering about how can I get established in this place of the Ultimate Reality? How can I build my place? Then all I really could do abide in silence and the building of awareness was occuring by itself.

Tomorrow, I will share some other lines that I liked from this great poem.

Approaching the Great Teacher

Earlier in the morning I was reading a book on J Krishnamurti and came across some beautiful lines:

Awake, arise, having approached the great teacher, learn.

The road is difficult, the crossing is as the sharp edge of a razor.

Katha Upanishad III

These words had an impact this morning. Some of us are fortunate to have a Living Spiritual Master, some of us are fortunate to have had a Spiritual Master in the past. We approach a Spiritual Master to learn something new, to gain some wisdom, to learn the practice of Spirituality that could lead to awakening or enlightenment. When we approach the Spiritual Master or the Great Teacher, do we simply just regurgitate what we have learned without seeing the implications of practice? Therefore, our repetition isn’t a sign of wisdom or understanding. The real words of the Spiritual Master is when practice defines and becomes the foundation of wisdom. This means our failures, obstructions, confusions, doubts all have a part in what is constituted as wisdom.

The attitude to learn is one where we are happy to admit that we do not know and acknowledging the long path ahead of us. As the lines of the Upanishad guides us further that the road is difficult. If we simply think that we are in a state of bliss because we have received a teaching, then that isn’t bliss but inspiration. We can feel inspired and sometimes we mistake this as bliss. Feeling inspired gives us a high that dies down after a couple of days and bliss is a continuous and unbreakable high according to the Sages of the East. Therefore, when we recognize the difference between the two, we can get closer to what is considered to be bliss. We must use that inspiration to move us forward fearlessly.

The crossing is as sharp as the edge of a razor. Do we truly feel this? That one wrong turn then we could be back to square one in our spiritual journey or we come to realize we didn’t move as far ahead as we thought we had. Do we understand that when we cross from knowledge to a practical application that it could destroy everything we know about ourselves. The body that we thought we were, the thoughts and memories that made us who we were, suddenly holds little value in life as we find ourselves at the pinnacle of true understanding. When we practice and realize that we are formless beings and are nothing but a manifestation of the Formless, are we happy to live by this wisdom? Can we live by this wisdom 24/7? These are questions to really ponder about.

Are we ready to arise and awake? Are we ready to approach the Great Teachers and admit we need to know more and that we need wisdom to awaken us? Are we aware of the difficulties that our mind will face once we receive knowledge from the Great Teachers? And can we confidently cross the ocean of materialism unscathed by the sharp edge of the razor called the ego?