Ram Dass asked his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, about enlightenment: “What can I do to get enlightened?” and Maharajji replied, “Love everybody and tell the truth.” So Ram Dass, taking what his guru said in earnest, tried this practice. But after a couple of days he came back to Maharajji and said, “I tried it and found out that the truth is that I don’t love everybody.”
That kind of truth that Ram Dass was talking about is the lie — the lie that lies between you and your enlightenment: identifying with your negative emotions, believing that your anger, disappointment, hatred, aversion or sadness is the truth. Even making statements like, “I am angry” or “I am disappointed” or “I am sad” is a way that we use to convince ourselves — to lie to ourselves about who we really are. Most of us do not have training that helps us to understand where negative emotions come from or that we could choose to feel them or not — that they are an option not a given. But nonetheless, because of our conditioning and our own reinforcement of that conditioning through habit, when they do arise within us we actually do feel them, and at that moment they do seem pretty real. Their presence is so strong that it is not easy to ignore them. As with a person who is aggressively coming at you, the classic bully, for example, it is difficult to ignore them and walk away, because you get caught in the web of their energetic vibrations — you feel their anger and it makes you feel afraid. So as bullies identify with a negative emotion like anger, you, while in their presence, can also identify with a negative emotion like anger or fear. Emotions can be contagious and can influence the way others feel about themselves.
Why are negative emotions so popular? Because they feel satisfying — at least they provide a temporary feeling of satisfaction in that they cause you to feel alive. This is one reason why they can become so addictive. You become addicted to anger because it pumps you up. There is a corresponding chemical release of adrenalin, your hearts beats faster, blood circulates and you feel empowered. Sounds good, eh? Well not for someone who is searching for enlightenment, the realization of the Oneness of being, because that empowerment also feeds your sense of isolation as it gives validity to your separateness. Negative emotions always affect you psychologically by intensifying feelings of separateness and isolation from others.
Most of us are brought up to feel disempowered: “It’s me against them,” “I need all the strength I can get to fight against the odds — the whole world is against me.” And as with most addictions you build up tolerance, so that you need more and more stimulation to feel the rush — it is a downward pulling spiral. Anger can lead to disappointment, which can lead to frustration, which can lead to sadness, which can lead to depression, and on and on it goes. With each downward spiraling you train your mind, your body, and your endocrine and nervous systems to meet the requirements of your craving, and eventually you are caught in a dark place of confusion, self-absorption and self-loathing — the antithesis to enlightened awareness, which is typified by freedom, serenity and ease of being.
Anger and other negative emotions may feel right and justified at the time, but Ram Dass eventually realized, as he continued to practice what his guru had suggested, “It was more interesting to be free than it was to be right.”
Spiritual practice is about letting the sun shine in — or shedding some light into the darkness — or expanding that which before appeared narrow and constricting. This growing into wholeness will be difficult as new ways of reacting to situations are tried — growing pains tend to be painful. The goal of spiritual practice is mind expansion — or cosmic consciousness — where your sense of self becomes so large that it incorporates all of existence — dissolving boundaries between self and other. Deep in our hearts we all basically want the same thing. It doesn’t matter who you are. You may be temporarily in the body of a human being, or a dog, a cat a bird or a cow, but beyond outer differences, all souls yearn for love. To start to see yourself in others cultivates positive emotions like friendliness and compassion. This will lead to tolerance and the ability to recognize commonality rather than differences, which will bring you to love — the experience of connection. Love will bring us to the real truth — the real truth that we are One.