The issues our civilization is currently facing are not monetary or technological. They are ‘awareness’ problems. This is so because happiness is the goal of all our goals, and we need awareness or spiritual awareness not only to create happiness but also to feel it.
When a sudden power outage leaves us groping in the dark, the likelihood of our physical bodies unintentionally colliding with those of others or against walls and other objects increases.
Spiritual intelligence, conscious awareness, or the state of being awake is like light. When we lack these, we increase our chances of creating more suffering for ourselves and others. Most of the issues our civilization is currently facing are not monetary or technological in nature. They are ‘awareness’ problems. This is so because happiness is the goal of all our goals, and we need awareness not only to create happiness but also to feel it.
The Hebrew root for the word sin means ‘missing the aim’ or ‘not being consciously present’. Indeed, living absentmindedly is the original sin from which all suffering results.
We can start our spiritual journey only from where we currently are—not from a place we would like to pretend we are. We become more and more spiritually awake when we become more and more aware of all that is not so spiritual in our lives. For example, awareness of our arrogance makes us a little humbler, and awareness of our dishonest acts makes us a little more honest. In contrast, when we pretend that we are pursuing and doing all the good things, it is the best time for our unconscious mind to do all that is forbidden; it knows that you are looking elsewhere.
But what should we observe in ourselves and be aware of to raise our spiritual intelligence?
Here are seven A.W.E.S.O.M.E distinctions (AWESOME is the acronym to remember these). I suggest that you observe your behaviour against these distinctions whenever you can or whenever you remember to do so. It is not important to pass the test. Just observe that you failed and in which of these seven areas you failed (if you failed). And that’s it. If you pass, do the same thing—just notice it. Nothing more. Well, if you want to pat your back, pat not when you pass the test but when you could test yourself against these distinctions more often than the previous day. The more frequently you observe whether you passed or failed, the more you will get better in the game.
Ability to understand the need of the moment
Every moment brings to us a need to respond to. When we bring all of ourselves to observe, understand and respond to it, we grow in awareness.
Have you seen how a sculptor steps back, now, and then, to have an overview of the work in progress, and then returns to correct what was supposed to be corrected? He keeps doing this until the statue becomes exactly like the one he had in his mind.
Like a sculptor, we also can go on reducing the gap between what we know and what we do, between our values and our behavior, and keep progressing towards becoming our best version.
When we have this attitude, we seek to optimally fulfil the authentic needs of the self, the other person, and society. Once while living in an ashram, I had a first-hand experience of this interdependence. As per the ashram rules, we were to wash, clean and wipe dry our plates after eating every meal so that the plates we would find for our next meal were already washed and cleaned.
One day when I went to wash my plate under the tap water, it was so cold that I felt as if a stream of acid was piercing through my hands. I heard myself thinking, “Irrespective of anything, I am not going to subject myself to this torture.” I looked at the person standing next to me, and I felt as if he was washing the very plate I would be using the next day. So, I looked over my shoulder and said, “Even if it hurts, we must do it with perfection.” Having said so, I felt the compulsion of being an example myself and began to clean my plate to perfection. When I noticed that he, too, was doing so despite the discomfort, tears began to well up in my eyes.
Remember, whatever and whenever we give, we give to no one else but to ourselves.
Eschew relative superiority
Give up the need to prove your relative superiority. Keep yourself from the temptation to find others’ shortcomings or to get into and win arguments. Also, whenever you catch yourself thinking that you are superior to someone, touch your ears and make a correction immediately by whispering to yourself, “I may be more fortunate, but not superior to him/her”. Deep down, we are not our knowledge, thoughts, emotions, or anything else. More knowledge in a certain area makes us more suitable for a certain role; it does not make us superior to others as a human. For example, we are not superior to someone illiterate, poorer, or even one who is in prison now. With the same journey behind us, we would be them. All that we are, have, and can do is received from somewhere. Inside us, there is nothing that we can truly call our own. So, what is there to feel superior about? Gratitude is all that we can feel.
Starve your ‘reaction’ muscle and grow your ‘observer’ muscle
It was July 1983, and I was in New Delhi on vacation to spend some time with my parents when I received a telegram that my house in Rourkela in eastern India was burgled. All kinds of distressing thoughts began to crowd my mind. It was at this moment a voice from within commanded: “Be so completely with ‘what is’ that there is no space for memory or imagination of anything to compare it with. If you still observe a movement of thought, just observe and let it pass without offering any reactions to it. Do not worry about the solutions because they are hidden in the problems only. They will surface automatically if you look at the problem intently”.
This immediately made me recover from the shock and helped me to realize what I needed to do instead. The way it worked for me encouraged me to try it out whenever I was about to get stuck in emotionally charged negative reactions.
Overcome spiritual myopia
Practice invoking the willingness and commitment to undergo pain in the present moment for the sake of your future comfort. The more we practice this farsightedness in our responses, the more our awareness grows.
Depending on our attitude towards pain and comfort, our response at any given moment could stem from any of the following two combinations:
- Instant comfort – distant pain
(Example: There is an instant comfort in sticking to the habit of smoking, but by doing so you are inviting a distant pain)
- Instant pain – distant comfort
(Example: There is an instant pain in giving up an addiction but by doing so you are investing in a distant comfort in your life)
As my awareness expanded over the years, I have seen my myopic ‘A’ kind of response transforming into a farsighted ‘B’ kind on its own. We can make this shift in all spheres of our lives with practice.
Mind your mistakes
Air travel today has become safer than driving or even crossing a street. It wasn’t always so. After a few first jetliners crashed in 1953-54, crash investigator David Warren proposed to install a near-indestructible flight data recorder (now known as the black box) in every flight. The thousands of pieces of data along with conversations between pilots that it records enables investigators to later determine the real cause of a crash. Thanks to the black box, learning points accrued from every air crash contribute to improved processes, protocols, and practices that in turn ensure progressively improving safety for future flights.
When we develop a habit of using mistakes and failures as a resource for learning and do everything possible to ensure that we never make that mistake again we are following a principle called BBT or black box thinking (a term coined by Matthew Syed). BBT is a spiritual principle because it raises our awareness progressively and proactively saves us from creating more misery for ourselves and others.
Embrace the ordinary
Bored with the familiar and ordinary, many of us unknowingly seek an escape from it into something “out of the world”. Paradoxically, we can experience the “extraordinary”, “sacred”, or “spiritual” only by embracing the “ordinary”. The experience of the extraordinary is not in the things per se, but in the intensity of innocence, attention, and gratitude with which we meet them. Brushing our teeth, taking bath, polishing our shoes, listening to others, drinking water, and eating our food are all extraordinary experiences that we degrade into ordinary by not paying attention to.
Real spirituality is not looking out for miracles and believing comforting lies but seeing the sacred in the ordinary and embracing it so tightly, moment after moment, that the experiencer, the experience, and the experienced merge into a seamless oneness.
I wish you an awesome spiritual awakening.
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