This is a tricky topic…one that I’ve wanted to write about for sometime, but don’t want to come across judgmental of myself or others. The topic is discrimination. Not the sort of discrimination that is synonymous with prejudice. Instead, spiritual discrimination is the act of choosing to surround one’s self with spiritually uplifting people, ideas and things. Swami Kriyananda puts it this way in Affirmations for Self-Healing, “As the science judges the relative speed of any object by one constant, the speed of light, so the devotee judges the relative merit of any idea by the one constant, God…discrimination asks, “Is this wisdom? Is this of God?”
Putting it another way, one could ask, “does this make me feel joyful?” Not just momentarily pleased, but that sort of happiness that rises in your heart and simultaneously feels peaceful.
For me, the journey towards understanding and, more importantly, living by Paramhansa Yogananda’s strong advice to use spiritual discrimination in all matters of life has been a long and winding one. It began in earnest in the fall of 2001, when I first took discipleship vows to my guru. I was a bright-eyed 20 year old living in southern California and finishing my bachelors degree. I loved to be social and especially to dance the night away, so my life included lots of nights out on the town with friends. Bars and night clubs were a frequent meet-up place for me. I loved music and art that had both beauty and gritty “realism” to them – especially when both were displayed at once. I found Ananda, the cooperative spiritual community where I was raised, quaint and sweet, but a little cheesy.
While dedicated with every fiber of my being to Yogananda as my guru, I did not want to apply his teachings on spiritual discrimination to every facet of my life. I love variety. I love people. I love new experiences. And, in Yogananda’s own words, “rules break the spirit.” Thus, I despised anything that smacked of rules or limitations. So, I went about my business of experimenting with life and loving every moment for a solid 10 years.
The climax of my experimentation came with a trip to Burning Man in 2010. I was excited to have this experience of my generations’ cultural expression – sort of like the Millennial’s version of Woodstock. Or at least, that’s what I thought. For me though, Burning Man turned out to be one GIANT nine-day rave in the desert with no running water, pounding heat and a half-hearted attempt at “community.” This may sound harsh. In fact, I enjoyed some of my experience because I love seeing life in action. But, “community” it is not. Not in the way that I understand community – people living together, dedicated to shared ideals and serving a purpose higher than themselves together. There was some of that, but mostly it was a big loud party. (sorry to all my beloved friends who enjoy Burning Man)
I’ve written a bit before about my journey back home to Ananda. Even in that major step, I have maintained the desire for what I like to consider, “freedom of choice.” It’s an interesting issue; balancing the need for a sense of freedom with the wisdom of the guru’s teachings. Accepting a guru means committing to a path; relinquishing the little self into the big Self; attuning yourself ever-increasingly to the vibration of the Master. All in the pursuit of realizing your true divinity. Not a bad aspiration to make a few meager “sacrifices” of sense pleasures for, right? Yet, developing spiritual discrimination is something best done through daily meditation rather than self-deprivation, which can break down the spirit.
The game changer in my life arrived as a 6lb 15oz bundle of joy named Tulsi Anabelle…my daughter. Through the act of becoming a mother and the experience of caring for a new soul on this planet, I have found myself far more sensitive to the energies around us. Movies, music, social gatherings – my sensitivity is heightened to anything that smacks of disharmony.
Just the other night, I settled Tulsi down for bedtime and myself down for an much-relished episode of Downton Abbey. Part-way through the episode, a scene unfolded that was brutally violent; something quite out of character for the show. I found myself deeply disturbed and turned the TV off. When Tulsi awoke, I regretted watching such a brutal scene because the images and sounds of it haunted me as I tried to rock her gently back to sleep.
I am so grateful to finally feel, on a soul-level, the conviction to be spiritually discriminating. This is yet another blessing that has come through the experience of motherhood. For all my friends who are dealing with a sense of conflict over following the guru’s teachings and enjoying the freedom of choice, just remember to be patient, compassionate with yourself, and honor your journey as it unfolds. Divine Mother will bring to you the experiences that you need to grow – trust the process.