Learning to Follow Wisdom and the Futility of Blame

February 8, 2023

Shambhavi and the Jaya Kula community gather for satsang and get real about all the questions we humans want answered. Intimate, courageous, heartfelt spiritual talk about pretty much everything. So happy you are here! A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I'd just like to hear you talk about the difference between a calling and a compulsion.

Well, I don't really know what it means in the context of Christianity to have a calling. I would guess from just little tidbits I've heard over the years that there are some specific signs of that or specific discourses around what that means and how that's validated.

For instance, nuns and priests often talk about being called. I don't think it's anything super general, I think the little I understand it's something very specific.

Do you think that there's something like that in this tradition? Like when you talk about non-returners, is that like a calling?

Well, I think it's literally calling. So you've heard me say a lot of times that we live in a call and response situation and we are calling. We are not just being called. We are calling. Or this alive aware reality is calling from within us in the shape of our longing. So we have longing, we have yearning. This is just so characterized as human life.

And we long and yearn for different things, of course, wildly different things. But the way that it goes is those things that we long for are generally either not satisfying or only satisfying for a short time. We could use the word compulsion, but that's a little strong.

I mean, obviously we can have compulsion, but let's think of it in a more neutral way that there are patterns of consciousness and energy that are going in a certain direction. Basically, our desire is wrapped up in that.

So for instance, if we have a very strong desire to own a house and to have a certain kind of life in that house and to stockpile a certain amount of money, then we might not call that a compulsion because of where we live. But it's definitely a habit pattern of desire that sort of instructs us from within to desire those very limited things.

And so the point is that even if we get that house and we get that car and we get that partner, we're still going to feel all that longing.

It's going to just keep generating. It's going to keep speaking to us. It's going to keep calling until that desire, or unless that desire finds its proper object, which is self-knowledge.

So we express that desire for self-knowledge also in many, many, many different ways. We like to talk about ourselves. We like to explain ourselves. We practice. We go to self-help things. We have therapy. We talk to our friends to try to understand more about ourselves.

We read books about human life and try to understand ourselves that way. We have questions about ourselves that we're always trying to answer. So all of this is part of that same longing.

And when we get to that point where we're asking a lot of questions about who am I, what should I be doing? We're already sort of getting into the zone of the continuum of desire is more obvious, between that and the desire for the ultimate self-knowledge, it's just a little bit stepped back.

So anything that is not recognizing itself as a desire for that knowledge, which after we have it, causes us to feel contentment, actual contentment, anything that stepped back from that is an aspect of karma and it's part of samskaras, our patterning. So we could call that compulsion. But it seems like maybe we shouldn't pathologize that in that way, right?

I mean, it's just how things are and how things move and how that continuum of desire, either under tension or less tension, more or less tension, expresses itself.

So the way that we can tell the difference in ourselves is actually pretty easy.

When we have certain kinds of desires or certain kinds of longings, they have a feeling of a kind of an engine chugging, something that's a little bit out of our control, causing us to repeat in a way that feels stale, even to us, the trajectory that we're on to try to find a way to relieve ourselves of that chugging engine of desire through all these different things food, entertainment, hiding, sex, talking, buying, all these different ways, working, that we try to relieve ourselves of that anxiety or somehow run it out, get to the end of it.

And as a friend of mine once said, very brilliantly, I don't even know that he knew how brilliant this was, but he was somebody who was just constantly planning, constantly anxious about getting things done, constantly chunking time into these little manageable bits.

And I once asked him, Why are you doing all this? And he said, Because I want to have done everything. I want it to be done. And what he was really saying was he wanted off the merry-go-round that just keeps going around and around, having to do the same thing over and over again.

But he had this erroneous idea that if he just finished everything on his list, then he would be done. He didn't realize that it was the list that was the problem. Like that that was an erroneous view of what would actually give him contentment. So once we get off of the merry-go-round and get off of the list, then we have a different feeling inside.

The feeling when we're on the merry-go-round is a feeling like a hamster. It's more like a hamster running. This is just never going to end. I want it to end. When is this going to end? When am I going to get what I want? When am I going to get it all done?

But when we're on the track of more liberated desire, we get in touch with that feeling of our own goodness. There's a feeling of the settling and rightness of it. There's no longer a feeling of running to catch up with something. There may be despair, there may be fear, there may be lots of emotions that are felt.

But what's not felt is this sense of I have to get this done.

Anytime we feel I have to get this done like this, then we're experiencing desire under tension. It's very easy to identify because it's actually a feeling and a texture and a condition that we get into. And once we can identify that, it's very easy to feel when that's happening, unless it's happening all the time, then it's harder.

But when we're following that wisdom, when we finally identified that there's this wisdom here and if we want to feel contentment, if we want to find out about ourselves for reals, we have to follow that wisdom.

There's lots of obstacles and we're having difficulty still but there's not the sense anymore that I have to do this, I have to do this all my own. I have to get this done, I have to get this thing, I have to get this person. There's more of a sense of I'm following something, and that's just what I need to keep doing, and it's not all up to me.

We kind of get relieved of that part of the burden, that somehow this is something, if we just did it fast enough, the right way, threaded the needle the right way, we would get what we wanted, orchestrate our lives in the way that we wanted them to be orchestrated. We're relieved of that burden of believing that.

What that looks like in the midst of life where there's still a lot of compulsion happening, but kind of a moment of following?

Spiritual life is very subtle. And you have to be listening inside. It's not just listening with your ears, it's feeling with your senses too. There is wisdom in us that is perfect wisdom.

And it's obscured by limited patterns of body, energy, and mind. So what you're really talking about is, how can I follow that wisdom? Which means, how can I find that wisdom even in the midst of all of this other stuff that's going on in me? So it's about catching the moment when that wisdom arises, feeling it, hearing it like a kind of an upsurge of knowing and following that.

It's something that you don't think about. It's something that you feel. And most people can feel it sometimes, but for some people, it's very, very difficult. For other people they feel it, but they don't follow it because the minute they feel it, then the mind kicks in with, let me rationalize this, justify this, explain this, explain it away, ignore it if it's not convenient, that kind of a thing.

So what you can practice doing because you have to develop this skill, and this is actually one of the very first things I ever learned, and I consider it to be very fortunate, but the first teacher that I ever had, a lot of what she taught was about identifying this upsurge of knowledge or wisdom and following it.

It's not like you have it or you don't. Everybody has that wisdom. Everybody has that wisdom equally, but it's not available equally. And it's not just about I feel it and someone else doesn't feel it as much. You can actually train to feel it, and then you can do that, but then you have to find the courage to follow it.

So if you're used to following your intellectual mind, or you think, even if it's difficult to decide what you think about something or make a choice with your mind, you still think it's your mind, your ordinary mind, that's going to give you the solution, that makes it harder to follow the wisdom when it upsurges. So you have to just start doing that.

You kind of have to do that— it's sort of like jumping across a creek. You're not quite sure if you have a wide enough stride to get to the other side of the creek without falling in. So you have to take that kind of a risk that circumvents your ordinary mind, which you're not used to doing, most people.

So in the moment when you're first trying to decide something, there is an upsurge of an answer, and we can locate that in the heart space. But it's just kind of a feeling. There's an answer that comes when you first are thinking about a question before you have beaten it to death with your mind.

Chögyam Trungpa called this first thought, best thought. It has a freshness to it, and it has a definiteness to it. So you can just do this kind of inner divination. Should I go to the movies tonight with Bart? Just ask yourself. And there's a feeling of yes or no. And then you don't think about it anymore. You just do that.

Now, there are specific techniques you can use. One of them is, this is what my first teacher taught me, and believe me, there's students I've taught this to who really becomes like their tool of inner divination and it can be very effective for circumventing your mind if you can practice this enough.

One is that you close your eyes and you imagine that there's a little needle here just behind your third eye in the darkness of chidakasha, the space of consciousness. And you just ask yourself a yes no question. Left is yes and right is no. Whichever way the needle moves, that's what you do.

The other technique that she taught us was the two roads meditation. You imagine yourself at a fork in a road. One going to the left, one going to the right, and along the left path is one decision, and along the right path is the other decision. Am I going to go to Hawaii? And I'm not going to go to Hawaii.

So you go on one path, am I going to go to Hawaii? And you imagine yourself walking that path with all the things you think you might encounter in your trip to Hawaii. And you see how your body feels, see how your mind feels, how your body feels.

And then you do the other decision, again, imagining all the things along that decision path. I don't go to Hawaii, so I'm going to be staying home and what I'm going to be doing at home. And you see how your body feels on that path, whatever path you feel more relaxed and right about in your body, that's what you do.

So these were very effective techniques for me when I was in my 20s, basically, when I learned them. And they gave me so much confidence in this wisdom that was within, and it's without, too, but they gave me a lot of confidence.

The other thing I'll say is that we live immersed in wisdom. And it doesn't matter if you make a mistake. It matters that you follow with sincerity.

So even if you make a mistake, wisdom is going to hold you because you followed with sincerity. You did your best. That's all that's required of you. It is not required of you to always make the perfect decision. That is not required. What's required is sincerity. Honesty and sincerity.

So even if you're like, okay, blah, blah, blah, yes or no, okay, it goes that way, but then it goes that. Just choose where it went first. Hope for the best, right? So you just choose wherever it goes first. And you start like that. Just start like that.

Because this is a cumulative process where with each little step that you take, it becomes more easy to access over time and gives you more confidence over time.

The two roads meditation is much more accessible, I think, for beginners, because most of us have a sense of how our body feels and it's not so dependent on visualization, which a lot of people have trouble with. I found that two roads meditation hugely helpful when I was younger.

It just really just trained me to pay attention to subtle input from my energy and from my body and to just live that way. One of my big questions was at some point I had gone back to school. So I was 27 when I started with this teacher who told me these things. She also taught other things like sort of going inside and using the chakras as divination also.

And then when I was in my early 30s, so maybe like five or six years later, I went back to school, graduate school, and I had a big question like, could I have a spiritual life and be in graduate school at the same time? Like, was this a possible project? And then one day I just realized, oh, I have a spiritual life. I realized that I was completely immersed in these practices.

This was how I was navigating my life now. I had internalized them so much and relied on them and practiced them over those years that that was how I moved in the world. Now I didn't move in the world the way I used to and I realized, oh, I actually already have a spiritual life and here I am in grad school. Okay, question answered. So again, it's like that slow accretion.

You can't give up just because something feels awkward or hard when you first start, that's one of the great obstacles of our time is people are very fragile. They are very fragile about not doing things correctly or well. Very fragile. And this is the death knell of any spiritual practice or apprenticeship or learning in any wisdom tradition or sports or anything.

I mean there's just a lot of disciplines in life that require us to apprentice to them in a very slow, accretive way. And if five minutes go by and we're just feeling ashamed of ourselves because we're not masters, after five minutes of doing something which is barely an exaggeration, we cannot really learn anything worth learning.

So do not get discouraged if it's difficult at first. I'm telling you from vast experience that this is a really worthwhile thing to practice and that's how you tell, that's how you start getting in touch more with that wisdom that's surging up all the time.

Shambhavi, I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about the wisdom seed within blame. Is it similar to anger in kind of magnetizing people and expressing loneliness or do you feel like there's more to it?

Well, everything expresses loneliness. Just everything. All of the, I mean, loneliness relates to anavamala, right, to the root feeling of separation. So every realm vision expresses a feeling of lack. Every realm vision has a little bit of hungry ghost in it and blame relates more to anger. So remember that this has to do with clarity.

So blame, it comes with a story, usually a very specific story. Blame comes with case building. And case building is an aspect of human realm but also a fire element. It's like I'm gonna use this fire to create this extremely logical but actually completely illogical case that doesn't actually get at what I'm really feeling.

And in any case yes, blame is an aspect of hell realm karmic vision. It's just sort of a permutation on anger, right? So it has to do more with fire element and vision and clarity. So the wisdom seed of anger is clarity.

I was also just kind of curious about the difference between accountability and blame. There's a difference in feel for sure.

Yeah. So be accountable for yourself first. And accountability is a fancy word for tell the truth, keep your word. Right? That's accountability. Tell the truth, keep your word. Very simple, human, understandable, don't have to write lots of papers about accountability.

You can't hold other people accountable. It's not possible. You can say you aren't being honest and you broke your word, but you can't hold people accountable. That's an impossible project. It's up to each of us to find the desire to be honest and to keep our word within ourselves.

And of course, even if we have that desire, we still might screw up sometimes. If I didn't keep my word and you came to me and said, you promised this and you didn't keep your word, in my condition, I would say, oh gosh, yeah, I know, I'm really sorry I screwed up. But someone else might argue with you or something.

But you might also come to a person and say, you didn't keep your word! You're not being accountable! You're basically stating the obvious in an angry voice. So you can tell someone you didn't keep your word, and that makes me not want to work with you.

We've had this experience on the board of directors of Jaya Kula many times, people not being accountable, meaning basically they promised to do something, they didn't do it, or they didn't do it thoroughly enough to make it useful for the rest of the board.

So there's no point blaming anyone. There's also no point holding someone accountable. So you can just say what the consequences are of someone not being accountable, meaning not keeping their word and not being honest, you can say this is the effect that this is having on me or on this group or on this process.

But if they don't want to be accountable or they're not capable of being accountable, you can't hold them accountable. You can't make anyone do anything.

And the same goes for when we're working with children. Children come in with a full complement of karmas. They're not as self-aware as adults are in general. They don't understand the consequences of their actions as much. So as many people know who have been around me a lot, I have no place in my view of things for punishment.

And that goes for children also. So if your child says they'll do something, like clean their room or whatever they say they're going to do and they don't do it, you can give them consequences to show them, yeah, when you don't keep your word, here's the consequences. People don't believe you anymore, they're not going to want to work with you, et cetera.

And you can give consequences, but there's really no way that you can make anyone do anything. What you can do is connect with them on a heart level and explain what the consequences are. And it's still up to them, including children, to hear that with their hearts or not. And that's just their capacity. It's not anything to do with you.

So we should share what we're feeling. We should share what the impacts of people's behaviors are when that seems appropriate. I mean, it's not always appropriate, but when it does, we should share. But we should share with the sense of neutrality and respect for the other person, because it actually is the other person's right to not be accountable.

And then we have to just decide, well, do I want to be around this person or not? We have to decide, how do I want to handle this? If I had a child who was constantly dishonest, how would I handle that? Maybe I'd send them to therapy or whatever, but the desire to be honest is still going to have to come from within them.

Maybe I'm going to sit and do practice with them and try to open their hearts a little bit more. I don't know. But I'm not going to stand around with a stick saying, I'm holding you accountable because it's an impossible project. That's not the way things work.

But I wanted to say something about kids that I didn't say before, which is not everything has to be words. So even if the kid is doing something like having a tantrum or being really stubborn, no, I don't care that I hit that person, something like that, sometimes just holding them without saying anything is also really helpful.


Photo by Jens Lelie


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.