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Opportunity

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

Shiva showers grace without any restraint,
thus there is always the presence of the supreme reality, anuttara.

–Abhinavagupta

These are some of my favorite lines from the incomparable Abhinavagupta, the 11th century Mahasiddha and philosopher who articulated the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism. Why do I call him “incomparable?” Because he was truly a philosopher of non-philosophy and a yogi of no yoga. He constantly moves beyond himself and his own concepts into the unknowable. My kinda “Look Ma! No hands!” guy.

But back to the quote.

Paramahamsa Niranjanananda reportedly describes us humans as coke bottles with the caps screwed on too tight. It takes a lot of effort to pop us open. Shiva may be showering grace without restraint at every moment, but we just ain’t getting it.

What we have here is your basic opportunity meets the resistance of karma situation. Let me attempt to explain via a personal example. Going back multiple generations, and spreading out like a toxic sludge in all directions, my family has karmic issues with travel. Many of us hardly leave home, or confine ourselves to a single neighborhood or city. Others incessantly plan trips they never take, or begin trips they abort in midstream. Those few of us who actually travel do so with undue anxiety about disease, air crashes, and leaving irons and ovens on back at home. Not surprisingly, a travel episode involving my mother ended up being the central trauma of my childhood. Then there are the repetitive dreams about traveling.

Fast forward and you’ll find a series of incidents in which I missed opportunities to receive teachings due to the resistance pattern of this history expressing itself in my life. There was the time I missed out on a rockin’ teaching in New York with my diksha Guru because it started a day after I was to return to Chicago from a long weekend in San Francisco. My reasons for not going to New York had little to do with finances. In my way of thinking, flying out to somewhere else when you had just gotten back was “impossible.” Don’t worry, this only makes sense if you know the karmic context.

Then there was the time when I said to my teacher “I would love to meet Namkhai Norbu.” My teacher answered “He’s in Los Angeles teaching right now. Why don’t you go down there?”

I don’t know what happened to this suggestion. I didn’t even register it. And thus, I missed receiving face-to-face transmission from one of the greatest teachers of this century or any other. It only takes six hours by car to get to L.A. One hour ten minutes by plane.

When you think of the hardships that other sadhikas have endured to receive teachings, you have to wonder.

We are always in the flow of grace. We are always being showered with opportunities to learn and grow. We just don’t recognize them. And even if we do, karmic resistance often acts like a strange drug that keeps us from acknowledging or receiving what we are being offered.

As I’ve written before, karmic patterns have momentum. Karma is conditioned activity, and you have to add some new energy into the system in order to overcome karmic conditioning. That energy is the energy of clarity, commitment, and kriya.

In order to release ourselves from karmic conditioning, we must achieve a certain level of clarity about our real situation. We must be able to discriminate when we are being dragged off in the wrong direction by karmic momentum. If we can’t even see clearly what is happening, there is no chance we will choose differently. This is where the insights of our teachers, friends, family, fellow practitioners, and insights we gain through sadhana are invaluable.

Then, we must keep committing ourselves to letting go of karmic tensions. This is the decision that we must keep making: to relax and let go when we are in the grip of a compulsive pattern. We can use formal vows to assist in this process.

Finally, we must listen to the situation with clarity and commitment so that we can participate appropriately when the time comes for a change. Appropriate participation is kriya, or spontaneous, unbound activity. Kriya is activity that does not reinforce karma. Kriya is in tune with Nature and tending toward moksha (liberation). Kriya creates more relaxation. Karma promotes more tension and compulsion. Kriya opens us to a sense of natural effortlessness. Karmic activity feels laborious or “sludge-y” or overwhelmingly pushy.

We all pass up opportunities for growth. And we often feel undernourished. In order to receive the abundance that is our constant inheritance, we must work to increase our capacity to receive. This is upsetting because those who feel lack of opportunity and nourishment do not generally want to open up to receive what they fear is not there. Why be vulnerable and put oneself in line for yet more disappointment and sadness?

You can stockpile a little more courage and confidence in the world by looking honestly at the gifts you have already been given and cultivating gratitude. The gift that always shakes me out of my self pity is the gift of being on this path. What more could I ask for?

It really is a matter of changing your perspectival habits.

Last night, I dreamt that I was doing puja for a very large group of people. I arrived and found I had no cups or plate, no lamp, no incense, no flowers, no food. It was one of those performance anxiety situations. But then, someone brought me the needed materials. And a woman in the audience placed a beautiful plate of fruit on the altar. I started to speak to the gathering about the nature of deities in the tradition, but there were so many people, and my voice was so weak, no one could hear me. One woman in particular was speaking to her friends quite loudly. I went up to her and explained the situation and asked her to lower her voice. Then, once again, a mysterious someone volunteered to find me a microphone.

When I woke up, I felt rather depressed and anxious. But then I thought more about the dream and noticed that assistance had been offered at every turn. I also noticed that I had spoken in a kind and calm way to the loud woman. I decided it was a good dream after all.

OM Shanti,
Shambhavi

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