People like me, people into yoga and meditation, will tell you that the Universe is always for you, never against you. I used to struggle with this when I'd see a flattened raccoon on the side of the road and think, "Doesn't look like the Universe was for him." I’d struggle further when I would read reports of the horrors going on around the world–so much suffering. It’s a question asked age after age, if the Universe is consciousness, and that consciousness is benevolent, then what is the point of all this suffering?
The relative world as “maya”
The other night my daughter woke up from a nightmare and was afraid to go back to sleep. I tried the normal comforting hugs and phrases, but nothing seemed to calm her. Then, without thinking, I said, “You are made of light, and nothing can hurt the light.” The moment I finished the sentence, she was instantly slumbering. The truth I touched upon was that the relative world is “maya” or illusion. That’s not to say that everything is not real. It is, it’s just not the whole reality. Everything we see is one consciousness shaped different ways pretending it’s separate in order to experience itself. This one consciousness can never be against itself. Your true self is not relative and therefore has no reason to fear. You are not your body any more than you are your latest haircut.
“Pain is a prod to remembrance”
The Universe is Unity (“Uni-“) and Diversity (“-verse”) at once. Why does this Unity diversify in the first place? The One consciousness bifurcates in order to experience itself, and then realizes the joy of remembering it’s One, returning to a singularity. The two states are vacillating all the time within the greater relative matrix. Spirituality is simply a description for the many, many roads to this remembrance, remembering the true self. It is the proactive route to remembrance. There is another route however, and this is where suffering comes in. The great 20th century master Yogananda wrote, “If joy were ceaseless in this world, would man ever desire another? Without suffering, he scarcely cares to recall that he has forsaken his eternal home. Pain is a prod to remembrance.” The suffering we experience creates a pressure to act for progressive change and the remembrance of Unity.
The Big Picture
All this higher knowledge is fascinating, but is not always practical and at times can seem insensitive if you or a loved one is experiencing some real, visceral suffering. Believe me, if a friend has just lost a loved one or is going through a serious illness, I don’t break in with, “It’s all maya” or “At higher states of consciousness, there is no suffering.” To the individual, suffering is very real and even the notion that there is a purpose to it can feel cruel. If you or someone close to you is going through suffering, I find it helps to take a higher vantage point and remember another time when you experienced suffering and what came from it. For me personally, the darkest times in my life paved the way for the lightest. The pain I felt shattered irrelevant patterns and drastically sped up my personal evolution. There are always lessons imbedded in the suffering, lessons that light the way to a more evolved version of yourself. You might be questioning, what about those who lose their lives and don’t get the chance to experience the lessons? From the yogic perspective, death is part of maya, it is an illusion. The soul does not die but travels a path that experiences birth and death many times. There is a stage near the end of that path, close to enlightenment, when one remembers all these lifetimes and can see the greater story arc.
“We have a serious responsibility not to be serious”
It is easy to feel guilty about experiencing joy when so much of the world is experiencing suffering. This misconception has been reinforced by certain religions. However, no one suffers in isolation, so it is irresponsible to perpetuate one's suffering out of guilt. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi used to say, “We have a serious responsibility not to be serious.” By experiencing joy, we lift up others. Happy people don’t hurt others. Happy people don’t need drugs. Happy people don’t cause wars. Don’t ever feel that it is wrong to feel happiness or that happiness is selfish, by feeling happy you are the light to another’s darkness. If you are experiencing suffering, don’t feel guilty either. Remember it is a tool, look for the lesson and use the suffering to propel yourself and others to the light.
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My daughter, not exactly suffering, but don't tell her that.