Some advice on finding encouragement when life gets us down.
By Mathura Vasi Devi Dasi
Guidance from Krishna’s teachings and His pure devotees can help us use challenging situations for our ultimate benefit.
When I received a voice message from an old high school friend, I was overjoyed to hear from her after two decades. My glee was short-lived, however. When I returned her call, she gradually shared with me information about the many negative circumstances surrounding her. Clearly they had adversely molded her thoughts into detrimental self-limiting beliefs. Such obstructive concerns, which usually stem from dark trepidations, had been consuming her for the past few months. I was overwhelmed to witness her drowning in a well of negativity towards people, circumstances, and her own life.
Her case is not unique. At some time in our life most of us face moments when we perceive things in a negative way, when we let apprehensions and doubts cloud our minds and lead us to irrational judgment. Many of us may occasionally think ourselves unworthy or engage in negative self-talk. In my experience, the moment we begin to feel resentment and hatred towards others or towards the way our own lives are shaping up, we must quickly seek bona fide guidance from wise, self-realized souls.
I wanted to give my friend an anchor and a direction. I wanted to tell her something that would stimulate her to shed her negative mindset and radically transform her vision of events, people, and circumstances. So I told her a little story:
Most of us have a fierce battle going on inside us between two cats. One is evil – filled with anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and egotism. The other is good – filled with joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
Which cat will win?
The answer is simple: The one we feed.
What is the food? The food is the decision we make, the choice we opt for. Which voice within my mind am I going to nourish and accommodate? Every choice makes one cat stronger and the other weaker. Every time we make a bad choice, we become more addicted to immorality because the bad cat becomes stronger and the good cat becomes weaker. Every time we make an ethically right choice, we come closer to liberation.
If our default mindset is toward negativity, we’ll always see things in a bad way. The moment we become conscious of our choices and shift our focus from darkness to light, from despair to hope, we can start feeding the good cat. Then we can find the silver linings and live accordingly. Foundational beliefs and spiritual values are important. They keep us composed, allowing us to appreciate and celebrate the good and to process trials knowing they shall pass soon.
As with most things, there are exceptions to this phenomenon. Elevated souls who have been practicing Krishna consciousness for a long time will be purified of many of the effects of the lower modes of material nature, which inspire a host of negative qualities. Their purification occurs due to their conscious choice to sincerely practice the path of devotion, which illuminates their lives with unending bliss. Such pure devotees should be our role models. They can inspire us to be humble, and they can help us focus on the bright colors in the large canvas of life.
Tap the Source
The Bhagavad-gita aptly describes the mind as restless and turbulent. It must be controlled to achieve the highest perfection. The Vedic scriptures caution us not to succumb to the mind’s myopic urge to seek instant pleasures, which many of us may be doing consciously or subconsciously. But if we do, we will frequently find ourselves trapped in a cage of pessimism, because situations get out of control, things go wrong, people behave unreasonably, and our mind tends to stick on the negativity around us.
The mind can make heaven out of hell and hell out of heaven. The state of our mind determines the quality of our life. Our mind is the root of all thoughts and actions. It navigates our life. So it is crucial for us to learn to harness the power of the mind for our benefit. We need to critically evaluate its plans, which are often detrimental to our long-term self-interest. The mind proposes its ideas, desires, and views so subtly and irresistibly, however, that we rashly consider them to be our own and impulsively act on them. Only when hit with the consequences do we regret our imprudent decisions and behavior. When we consciously monitor our mind, we can judiciously reject the negative or complacent thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
When the demon Ravana kidnapped Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s servitor Hanumanji set out to look for her. He searched in all directions without success, but he did not lose hope or let frustration creep into his efforts. He was persistent. And with complete faith in God, while maintaining a positive outlook, he eventually succeeded in his endeavor.
In another pivotal incident, the mighty warrior prince Arjuna became confused, bewildered, and filled with miserable thoughts before the epic Battle of Kurukshetra. When he completely surrendered to the Supreme Lord Krishna, however, he was enlightened with real spiritual knowledge. As soon as he took shelter of God, all negativity vanished and the illuminating light of positivity flooded his soul. He received the highest transcendental knowledge and experienced newfound bliss.
A classic example of optimism is King Bali. He did not feel dejected when the Lord assumed the form of Vamanadeva to test him. He willingly offered himself and surrendered at God’s lotus feet. Pleased by his positive attitude and virtues, the Lord granted Him benedictions.
We can cultivate positive thinking. When we comprehend the purpose of our existence, positive thinking eventually becomes natural. We are all souls, spiritual beings, the beloved children of God, and are meant to rejoice in eternal loving exchanges with Him. When we train ourselves to see all events in our life as expressions of God’s love for us, and to make all our actions expressions of our love for Him, we tap our latent positive spiritual energy. Hence love of God is the source and essence of all positivity.
The Highest Test
Maharaja Parikshit, a great saintly monarch, faced the highest test: a brahmana boy cursed him to die. The king knew he had only seven days to live. Now, this news did not cause him to grapple with fear, or to whimper, complain, or become morose. Rather he gracefully accepted it as the will of the Lord, as an opportunity to understand the purpose of his life. He renounced all his worldly opulences to nourish his soul by absorbing himself in hearing the glories of the Lord. He passed the greatest of tests and at the time of death attained His ultimate destination – he went back to Godhead in the spiritual world.
The soul is an eternal spiritual person with a full existence beyond this temporary world. To attain our original identity, we must awaken the love for God that is always present in our hearts but now covered by illusion. Through patient and submissive service to the Lord, we can rekindle that sublime love. We can most easily and effectively experience God’s love for us and express our love for Him by chanting His holy names and associating with His pure devotees. Being omnipotent, God is fully present in His names, and by chanting them we gain the strength to reject negative thoughts.
My Friend’s Relief
My talk with my distressed friend encouraged her to begin her spiritual journey in earnest. A month later, by the Lord’s mercy she had overcome her discomposure to a significant degree, owing to the magical potency of the holy name. Her example increases my faith in the principle that we can perfect the art of staying positive when we sincerely practice unalloyed devotion. Through our earnest attempt to use even unfavorable circumstances to purify our consciousness, we experience showers of love, peace, joy, and wisdom that wash away all the negativity from the mind. Our resulting expression of gratitude uplifts us to a higher realm, filled with the vibrant colors of success, positivity, and eternal bliss.