by Lyn Kriegler
Care more for the cleanliness of your mind and intellect than for the external body. Subject yourself to vigilant scrutiny; understand yourself well, and correct your own faults. Do not be like the dancer who blamed the drummer for her wrong steps.
~Sathya Sai Baba
“Careful, careful...” intoned my mother's gently reproving voice. As a teenage girl growing up in southern America, I would spend long periods of time looking in the mirror: adjusting a curl, trying on one pair of earrings after another into my recently pierced ears: pearl drops or gold studs? Crystal hearts or tiny ivory daisies? And forever fussing over my freckles. Why could they not have all amalgamated somehow into one, infinitely more desirable, perfectly proportioned beauty spot, preferably on my lower left cheek? “Take the juice of a lemon; apply three times a day to bleach out unwanted freckles...” I would dab furiously at the galaxy of brown flecks, unmindful of my mother in the doorway of my bedroom, “You should be happy with what God gave you...”
I frowned, and consulted the mirror for the umpteenth time. The lemon juice treatment was not working.
Forty-five years later. My friend Peppi is playing an improve-your-life self-help CD as we drive to a local swimming pool. “What is careful?” intones a cultured, schoolmarmish female voice. “Our mothers always told us to be careful. Careful not to fall, careful not to go out with the wrong kind of boy, careful of our weight, our diet, our complexions. The word careful once had a positive meaning, but now it engenders a more negative vibration, implying that we should be fearful...”
I snorted, and asked Peppi to put on some music instead. Understand yourself well. I thought back to a quiet moment in Bhagavan's inner room, that simple, hallowed space in the mandir in the precincts of Prasanthi Nilayam, where so many life-changing conversations took place. Swami had called a girl forward and with a quick movement of His hand, materialised two gold ear-wires, like sleepers. He held them up for all to see.
Pure gold, He said. He snapped His fingers, rolled them around the girl's right ear and pierced it with one of the sleepers; and then did the same to her left ear. All the ladies in the room gasped. But He was not finished. Circling His hand in the air several times, out came two perfect earrings made of glowing pearls and sparkling jewels. The pearls were at least an inch long; perfect pear-shaped droplets of light. They were surrounded with diamonds, rubies and emeralds: priceless, magnificent, and fit for a princess. He held them up and said, Very, very expensive, very valuable.
“Yes, Swami”, replied a venerable old lady in the group, “but Your verbal spiritual gems are priceless.”
He smiled sweetly. I know, I know, He replied.
I thought at the time, He is always letting us choose. Do we want the fleeting, transient objects and conditions of this world -- jewels, bodily health and beauty, an expensive sari or dress, a pretty home, a perfect husband, a stunning career, all of which we will have to let go of one day -- or do we want His timeless spiritual gifts, those that give us the opportunity of transforming and beautifying our inner self?
I was jolted out of my reverie. Swami had not finished; not by a long shot. He circled His hand again, and produced a large, magnificent silver watch. There was a group of men gathered on His left, clustered close to His Feet. Swami dangled the watch in front of a big, important-looking man who had jostled ahead of the others and was holding up his left hand, pleading for the watch. Very expensive, Swami announced.
Then, to everyone's astonishment, He called to the man's diminutive wife, who had been seated the farthest away, up against the wall at the back. Calling her forward, He lovingly fastened the watch around her trembling wrist. It was a perfect fit. At the same time He shot a glance at her husband, who was staring dumbfounded at the sudden turn of events. Jealous? He asked the man, quizzically. The man was open-mouthed, speechless; his wife; radiant. Swami always gives extra meaning in His actions to the word care. He is careful to teach the most appropriate lesson to the person concerned, as well as demonstrate His allcaring-ness to the one who needs it most.
Careful or care-full? The word care has so many nuances of meaning. Its many facets take up an entire column in a good dictionary. The word carries every kind of meaning: complete indifference, serious attention, caution, worries, desires, help, protection, comfort, total love and concern. The way we use it or express it is a gauge of our spiritual treasury.
Fast forward. I was still mulling the double entendre -- careful or care-full? -- long after I had returned from my swim and was watching yet another orange sun sink into the brilliant blue ocean. Swami would give me the key, I knew. I just had to make the effort to find it. He had told me many times, I will help. That is why He has come, that is why He is here -- to help effect our spiritual transformation, with His priceless jewels of wisdom, of clarification of the deeper meanings of all these words we toss around like so many different-colored pieces of confetti, not divining the powerful lessons they carry through the medium of sound and vibration. What I have to do is follow these inner promptings, to do the hard yards of enquiry, using whatever is to hand. Research it, read about it, write about it, practice it; reflect, react, resound...
First of all, we have to eliminate the feeling of ego. Ego, or ahamkara, is misinterpreted as arrogance, pride or carelessness. This is not the correct meaning. Aham means I -- I am this body. Considering the body as the self is real ego. You have to destroy this feeling. When people behave in an arrogant or careless way it shows their animal nature but does not mean ego.
~Sathya Sai Baba
I gazed at this word, 'ahamkara'. For a Westerner, finding the meanings of these ancient, sacred words is like a spiritual treasure hunt. Thumbing a Sanskrit dictionary, there is the second half of the word: kara. Uh-oh: Kara: Prison; to hand in. The ego is a prison -- very true. Perhaps it is something we can also hand in, get rid of. But carelessness --returning to Swami's definition, shows animal nature, not ego, as the true meaning of carelessness.
The human form is unique in that the Divine force is as much as eighty percent present. In the animal, only about fifteen per cent. Man can raise himself to union with God, whereas the animal can never be free of his natural state. The body of man is necessary because it is able to reveal the unseen God withinmake Love your Life-breath. With the love of God in their hearts, the ancient sages could transform even the wild animals in the forest.
So: care-ful or care-full? The words came to have a fuller meaning for me as the days passed. Be more careful with my words when I speak to others. Tell not an unpleasant truth, nor a pleasant untruth. Work on filling my heart with more love and care for others, and a little less attention on my own needs and wants. Be less full of cares: do not worry so much. Pay more attention to the way I carry out everyday chores -- do everything with a bit more mindfulness -- even the dishes and housework, which I rush through at times. Which I really would rather not do. Instead of throwing everything in the closet, or under the bed, think of how much time I will save if things are a bit more neat and orderly. Imagine the room is my spiritual heart, the true “me”...
As the weeks passed, I was still not satisfied. Being a tidier, more mindful person was helping, true. I wasted a lot less time looking for things like keys and glasses. Most of my self-improvements were centered on my life in the outer world; the inner world of my thoughts was quite a different matter. I had not gone deep enough within, tackling a more elusive form of carelessness. I began to sense what was indeed the root of my carelessness: my thoughts.
One day, a dear friend reminded me how Bhagavan often teaches using acronyms. Watch your ABC's. Always Be Careful. Watch your Words, Actions, Thoughts, Character, Heart. I would be happily cleaning my closet, but the whole while my mind was racing. I remembered with a start how, eight years before, Swami had cautioned me in an interview, Your mind is in the marketplace. Your mind is sometimes like a monkey...
I had not realised at the time that a Divine hint is also a command.
Years later, I still had not stopped spending hours thinking about shopping, new furnishings, new gourmet food items I wanted to try. I was constantly redecorating (if only in my mind), agonising over my family and friends' ups and downs, pondering what bills needed paying, how much money was in the bank. Then discontent and worry would kick in. My thoughts had triumphed over me once again. And desires. I want that new rug, I need new jeans, I need to lose ten pounds, and why does my sister not email me more often? Isthere something wrong with me? Did I say something wrong? Speculation, self-centeredness, worry, worry, worry... Why did I do it? Why could I not keep redirecting my thoughts to more noble heights?
Then it occurred to me: This is self-examination. This is watching my words, thoughts, my actions, my character, my heart. And this is what Swami asks us to do. It is the first step in the dance, the first step towards getting rid of these bad habits: you have to recognise them when you see them and turn yourself around -- pull yourself up onto the dance floor once again.
There are also inborn tendencies (vasanas) to consider. What are vasanas? Tendencies, traits, qualities, features brought forward from past lives. Vasanas lie latent; hidden deep within us until the right situation crops up; then they jump up out our behaviours, our words, actions, thoughts, character, our hearts. A noted speaker in Swami's ashram recalled that Sri Ramakrishna compared vasanas to the springs in a comfortable sofa. You sit on the sofa, the springs lie coiled beneath you. As soon as you get up, sproing!They spring up. Vasanas are like that.
This was more news to me. As a Westerner, whoever hears of 'vasanas'? Maybe they go by some other name, like “character flaws” or “shortcomings.” But I was surely never aware, growing up, that I might have lived before; had past lives which created these tendencies we carry with us. It just did not enter the equation: that what was inside me was responsible for every shortcoming in my character, including my carelessness.
The long journey of learning continues, of understanding why I do the things I do, of relentless self-enquiry, of constantly striving to overcome my missteps. It has always been too easy to blame the drummer when I could not do the dance. Just when I think I have well and truly laid one bad trait to rest, another springs up. So why bother at all? No one can say life is comfortable, like a well-cushioned sofa. Life is always ready to spring: bumps and jumps. What do I do next?
Here is my remedy:
When I become aware that my words, actions thoughts, character, heart are becoming careless, not up to standard, think of His Divine Lotus Feet. This is truly being careful, not care-full. He will take away the cares. He will help us correct our faults. He will always care for us. He has always promised us this, if we will only relinquish our burdens to Him. He reminds us our cares are like the baggage we carry onto a train. Why continue to carry it on our heads once we are on the train? He is the Divine Engine, the locomotive. Sit on the seat, enjoy the scenery by all means, and think of Him alone.
If you but care, it can be all one smooth level. You label something as loss and something else as gain. You crave for a thing and when you get it you call it joy; when you don't get it you call it grief. Cut the craving off; there will be no more swinging from joy to grief.
~Sathya Sai Baba