The Middle Way – for Westerners:
In 1971 this Bill character decided to start practicing Transcendental Meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Bill’s older brother had just died in a car accident and the meaning of life had suddenly shifted. Learning meditation was like a hope and a prayer to move away from old patterns… to find some answers. Bill wasn’t seeing the world with the same naive confidence he had held until his brother’s passing.
The philosophy of the meditation program was to simply practice morning and evening, and life would slowly unfold in more meaningful ways. Well, its true that meditation replaced the drinking, smoking and partying for awhile, however there was something significantly missing in this philosophy of “all one needs to do is ‘meditate and act’….no need to change one’s lifestyle…those things that need to change will naturally occur.” So, for years, Bill kept meditating every day…but spiritual growth just didn’t seem to be happening.
After twenty years of practicing meditation daily, going through two divorces, and still being just as selfish and impatient as the day he started to meditate, Bill decided to travel to India and meet a real SatGuru whom he might have a chance to get close to. Bill had always wished to get close to Maharishi, but even Maharishi had said, “I am here to show the world to meditate. My role is not to act as the Guru.” Maharishi was scattering the seeds across the globe for any who might take up meditation and begin their spiritual awakening. It was not until Bill finally visited the Kerala ashram of Mata Amritananda Mayi Devi in 1993 that he had a chance to ask the Satguru, Ammaji, a significant question.
One evening, after hauling mud to help in the completion of an ashram well, Amma sat with the group of workers while sharing some refreshments. She inquired if there were any questions. Bill immediately spoke up and asked: “Amma, why is it that after 20 years of regular meditation, I am still just as impatient and angry as before?” Amma gazed over the small group of mud-caked helpers and spoke sincerely: “The bliss of meditation is like honey. But your vasanas are like ants which come to eat up that honey. Your vasanas of impatience and anger are like those ants. You must look within and ask “Where are these ants coming from?”.
At the time in 1993, this concept of ‘vasanas’ and self-reflection was not understood by this Bill character. Another twenty years passed before Bill finally started to get a glimpse of what Amma meant when she told him: “Just be a good person.”
In 2015, Bill decided to go to a local men’s group of self-introspection in his hometown on Vancouver Island. It was there in the men’s ‘talking circle’ that he witnessed other men sharing their personal stories of early childhood trauma and ‘shadows’ that began to form out of that trauma. Some men talked of emotional abuse. Some men talked of physical abuse. And some men talked of their sexual abuse from family or community members as a child. The ‘shadow’ or ‘negating belief’ that developed as a result of these earlier challenging experiences stayed with each of them and affected their behavior since. It was here in the safe and confidential atmosphere of a men’s talking circle that these men began to unload the baggage of emotional trauma they had carried their entire life.
Bill witnessed that men who were abused early on in life, were since struggling to prove to the world that they mattered…because underneath it all their belief, their ‘shadow’, was that they didn’t matter. When children are treated without care and consideration they begin to believe they are not important, and that others, even relatives, cannot be trusted. Because of these feeling of unworthiness and distrust, the entire life became ‘shadowed’. The childhood innocence and joy was replaced with a tendency to distrust, to not allow for closeness. Some of those men grew up being shut-down and reactive, while others developed a drive to take center stage in attempts to find the missing recognition and love. It dawned on Bill that ‘shadow’ formation was related to what Amma had called ‘vasanas’ (those ants which eat up the inner bliss).
Within the most recent visit to Amma’s ashram in 2016, Bill awoke early one morning with an epiphany. His sleep gave way to a sudden insight into the mechanics of spiritual growth. He realized that once the vasanas are consciously examined,understood, and released, then the life is no longer ‘shadowed’ by those childhood traumas and negating beliefs. The source of the ants which eat up the honey of bliss is finally discovered and transformed. His thought was: “My God, I’ve had it all wrong. I thought that meditation was all that was necessary for enlightenment! That somehow that was all it would take. But meditation is only a part of the process. Its like flying and only using one wing. But the dove needs more than one wing to gracefully move through the air! Yes, meditation is one wing of that dove, but there is another wing and that is self-reflection!” It was so clear at that moment that without releasing the old negating emotional traumas and the resultant self-destructive beliefs (without discovering where the ants come from) the bliss of meditation and the sweetness of the heart will continue to be ‘eaten up’.
By the Satguru’s grace Bill discovered that man or woman must examine how their vasanas are taking up space in their life. Sharing one’s secrets with others in a confidential and safe talking circle is one way to let go of the baggage and burden of vasanas…those bonds which overshadow the Golden Well within. When the life becomes emptied of shadow and vasana, one’s blissful nature automatically begins to be noticed.
A final insight followed that morning. It is the tail feathers of the dove which guide the flight and keep the bird on the safe path. And those tail feathers are the path of dharma….the path of righteousness…the Middle Way. Bill realized that meditation and self-reflection were the wings of the dove, but that ‘walking the path with good intention’…was the tail feathers. Bill saw that his Satguru’s wish for him to ‘be a good person’ was Her wish for him to walk the razor’s edge of dharma. He must walk with awareness and not get lost in the attachments and passions of sense experience. This is the Middle Way; walking in the world with awareness, living in the world with awareness, but not getting lost to the world of sense experience and body/ identification.
This message is what has been lost to the Western mind. Even Indian nationals are falling off the razor’s edge of dharma in their pursuit for sensual fulfillment. The tail feather has been forgotten. Dharma has been replaced by the opposite of dharma. And “staying in the Middle” is no longer sacred and honored.
If this gift of the Satguru can assist even just one reader to awaken, then this story was worth sharing.