Someone has asked why he still experiences negative moods–such as depression, resentment, feelings of worthlessness–even though he has been on the spiritual path for some time. I think this is a question most of us can relate to. When we begin on the spiritual path, we have tremendous enthusiasm, and we think our efforts are now going to be easier; then we are surprised to find that matters don’t improve overnight.
Paramahansa Yogananda spoke of this very thing. He said, “When I started on the spiritual path I supposed that only good would happen to me; but I found that many difficult experiences also came. Then I reasoned; ‘Because I love God so deeply, I have expected too much from Him. From now on I will say, “Lord, let Thy will be done.”‘ Severe trials came. But I held to the thought, ‘Let Thy will be done.’ I wanted to accept whatever He sent my way. And He always showed me how to be victorious in every test.”
There is a valuable lesson for us here. You notice that the Guru did not complain abut the difficult tests. He changed his attitude; he accepted whatever came to him as coming from God. This is the perspective we all have to attain, because the truth is, it is very difficult to persevere in the search for God if we do not develop the right attitude.
When we enter the spiritual path, we are in effect asking God and Guru to help us grow out of the bad habits of thought and action that keep us tied to mortal consciousness. They respond with Their blessings in working with the karmic pattern of our lives to put us in situations that bring us face to face with our imperfections, so that we can see them clearly and strive to overcome them. Most of us find out quickly that this confrontation takes a great deal of courage and inner discipline.
We find ourselves in intense combat: On one side is our ego-consciousness, ruled by material desires, habits, moods, and attachments–the forces that keep us bound to the material world. On the other side is the soul–with its “soldiers” of peace, self-control, discrimination—trying to take us toward God. We are in the middle of this tug-of-war, the psychological battle spoken of allegorically in the Bhagavad Gita. And like Arjuna in the Gita, we become depressed when faced with the prospect of slaying the dear “relatives” of our ego that have been with us for so long. …
That Dangerous Middle Ground
We will be susceptible to negative moods as long as we are in that dangerous middle ground, as long as we are working to form good spiritual habits but are not completely willing to renounce our old habits. The basic cause of all our moods is suppressed or unfulfilled desires arising from these bad habits. As Swami Sri Yukteswar says, “Wrath springs from thwarted desires.” Not just wrath, but depression, jealousy, and all other negative moods.
It is useless to think we can “have our cake and eat it too.” On the one hand we ask God to speed up our evolution—we want liberation from the irksome bondage to the ego. Then, just as soon as things get a little difficult, we say, “Wait a minute! That’s too much! I didn’t mean I wanted to give up this!”
No wonder we get into moods–we are holding on to mutually incompatible desires: those of the soul and those of the ego. When we indulge our lower nature, our spiritual conscience makes us feel bad; and when we try to renounce those harmful traits, the ego makes us feel worse! The way to overcome this precarious situation is to consciously choose between the soul and the ego, realizing that there can never be “peaceful coexistence” between the two. The true spiritual warrior does not try to escape the inevitable battle. He comes face to face with himself, and fights to remove whatever bad habits and desires he perceives in his character. …
Pray for Understanding
The moment you start to feel sorry for yourself, or to indulge in any other kind of negative thinking, that is the time to pray for understanding. Whatever is upsetting you is a spiritual test, representing the next step you need to take in your progress. As long as you indulge in self-pity, or any such negation, you are missing the point. Don’t put off the effort to overcome it. When you start to feel upset, that is the time to introspect, face the issue, and learn the lesson. If you do this, you will grow happier and more peaceful.
Ask yourself, “Why was my peace disturbed?” If you go deeply enough into the problem, analyzing it objectively and praying for understanding, you will always find the answer: “I had a thwarted desire.” It may have been a good desire, in which case you need to put forth more effort to fulfill it. Or it may have been a harmful desire. Perhaps you expected something from another person that you didn’t get. Or maybe your ego wanted attention and was ignored. …
Two Antidotes for Moods
One of the best and most practical methods of overcoming moods is to throw yourself creatively into your duties. Then your mind will automatically be concentrated on constructive accomplishment in the present. Of course, this is not easy. We don’t feel like working hard when we’re in a mood, so we have to put forth extra effort.
Another key is to concentrate on the practice of the Self-Realization techniques of meditation and concentration. Master said that if we meditate and pray fervently to God to help us when we are trying sincerely to overcome a mood or any negative condition, He listens and helps us even more than when things are going well. Why? Because God knows how difficult it is for us at those times.
The effort we make when things are really tough counts more than effort made when everything is going smoothly. So when you see yourself slipping into a mood, make a diligent effort toward more creativity in your work, and toward longer and deeper concentration in practicing the meditation techniques. This will help you to gain control of your mind and your emotions. …
A Personal Example
In my early years on the spiritual path, I was experiencing negative moods. When I heard the Self-Realization ministers talk on this subject, I made up my mind to learn to control my moods. I decided that I would not allow any mood to last over half a day. That was a big undertaking for me, because normally my moods could go on for a week or more! I began by inwardly monitoring my feelings, and as soon as I would become aware that I had slipped into a mood, I would start telling myself, “It’s going to be gone by noon. Everything is going to be better, and by noon I will see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel.'” And sure enough, it worked.
Then I thought, “Why should I let it go for half a day? Two hours should be long enough to feel sorry for myself.” So I cut down the lifespan of my moods to two hours; then to just ten minutes. Now I am convinced that there is no need to stay in a mood for more than just a few minutes. Yes, the feeling of depression will come over you occasionally, but the length of time you carry it around is entirely up to you. If you are a victim of moods, I challenge you to try this method. You will find that you can take control of your life.
from Self-Realization Magazine, Fall 2016 (excerpts)
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