– The Fundamental Mood –
Reverence is an essential mind state for inner growth. It continually raises us to higher states of being.
Just recall the last time you saw the Milky Way, or the last time you sat in a sacred place, or stood in the presence of an extraordinary being. What impact did it have on you? Did it inspire in you awe, humility, and devotion? Did it push you to seek understanding?
All inner development starts from this basic mood of the soul, from reverence – the feeling that we have much to learn from the world, from life, from experience.
Can you imagine what your life would look like, what it would be like, if you lived with an abundance of reverence? How would it feel if you looked at all things, if you looked at all experience, with humility, respect, awe, and wonder?
The cultivation of reverence begins in the same way each of our practices begin – with a motivation and intention. Our motivation and intention set up our entire quest. They are what give us both an aim and the fuel to get there.
So, as always, understand your motivation and intention behind your practice. And then once you have it, connect to it directly. Remember, it’s not enough to just know it conceptually. You must feel it directly. Sink into it. Allow it to take hold of the innermost part of your being.
1. Cultivating Reverence Toward Your Thoughts.
I invite you to bring reverence into your thought life, to grow an increasing reverence toward your thoughts. Every time you become aware of an irreverent thought – a disrespectful, disparaging, or unskillful thought, note it, watch what happens to it, and then try to fill your mind with reverence toward the power of thought, fill your mind with reverence toward the thinking mind. Hold awe, admiration, and respect for thought and the entire world it encompasses. Practice reverence in your thinking at all times and in all places.
This is, of course, something you’ll have to see for yourself, but I think, as you practice this exercise, you’ll find that it will awaken in you forces or faculties you didn’t know you had. Filling your consciousness in this way will open your spiritual eyes. It will allow you to begin to see the world in a much fuller and more beautiful way.
The key to the outer world’s beauty is in you, it is in how you hold it. A person rich in reverence who passes through a beautiful landscape will have a very different experience from one who has a poor inner life. To develop a meaningful relationship with the outer world, you first have to learn to work with your own thoughts and feelings. The world around us is filled with endless amazement and beauty, but we have to experience the divine in us before we can find it in our surroundings. And that’s why we practice.
2. Gaining a Higher Perspective: Pick something to do every day that lasts about five minutes. And while you do it, put away all self-concern. Try to look at everything you are doing from a higher perspective – judge your own experiences and actions as if they belonged to someone else, someone truly noble and wise.
You can even imagine your higher ‘self’ sitting on the moon or something observing your every move and intention.
3. Cosmic Sounds: Pay attention to the world of sounds, in your practice and in your life, and then try to notice the different feelings associated:
- (a) Inanimate or material objects (such as motors, falling objects, bells, rings, and musical instruments) and
- (b) Sounds that come from living beings, whether animals or people.
And, at the beginning of this practice, note with each sound the inward feeling associated with the sound (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral). But as you progress, with living things, begin to turn your focus not only to how it evokes an inner association in yourself but also how it reveals the animal’s inner experience – its pleasure or pain. Let your goal be to come to feel, to sink into, and t0 relate to the whole of Life in this way.
4. Mineral, Plant, & Animal Realms: For anywhere from 2-10 minutes, compare with your thoughts and feelings the difference between a stone and an animal. Allow the thoughts you form in making these comparisons to pass through your soul with living feelings. And pay close attention to these feelings. Get to know the subtleties between them.
At first, you probably won’t notice the feelings much at all. But as you progress a little, the feelings will grow and might last about as long as you hold the thought. Later, though, I think you’ll find that they’ll continue to work in you and impact you for some time after the practice is over. And, eventually, the hope is that these feelings will become something that remains in your soul – a new faculty of sorts.
At a later time, whenever it feels appropriate to you, add to this exercise the contemplation of a plant.
5. The Power of Seeds: Place a seed in front of you and really pay attention to what you are noticing with your senses – the form, the color, the texture, the smell, and any other properties it has.
And then sit with the thought, “If this seed is planted, it will grow into a complex plant.” Then, visualize the plant growing from the seed. Try to really make it come alive in you. Build it up in your imagination.
Next, think to yourself, “What I am visualizing – this growth – will be molded by the forces of the sun and earth out of this little seed. But if this were an artificial seed, a copy so perfect that my eyes could not distinguish it from a real seed, then the sun and earth’s forces couldn’t mold such a plant from it.”
Finally, if you can clearly form this thought and bring it to life within you, next form the thought: “This seed already has concealed in it – as the living force of the whole plant – what will later grow out of it. An artificial copy of the seed has no such force. Therefore, the real seed contains something invisible that is absent in the copy.“
Now let your awareness turn to this invisible reality. Try to focus on it. Imagine that this invisible force will, in time, change into a visible plant. Hold the thought, “The invisible will become visible. If I were unable to think, then what later becomes visible could not announce itself to me now.“
And, remember, with these thoughts, it’s important to also bring into awareness the feelings associated with your thoughts.
6. Birth, Growth, Decay, Death: Place a plant in front of you and immerse yourself in the thought, “There will come a time when this plant withers and decays. Everything I see now will no longer exist. But the plant will have produced seeds, and these will become new plants.“
Next, consider that you will have become aware of something you can’t see that is hidden in what you can see.
Finally, inspire in yourself the thought, “Soon, the plant form with all its colors will no longer be there. But knowing that the plant produces seeds teaches me that it will not disappear into nothingness. I cannot see what preserves the plant from disappearing, anymore than I could see the future plant in the seed. It follows, then, that something else is in the plant that I cannot see with my eyes. If I let this thought live in me, and if the appropriate feelings unite with it, then after a while, a new force will grow in my soul and become a new perception.“
7. Listening to Humans: While listening to people, learn to silence your entire inner being and, instead, sink into the person across from you, and empty from yourself your own judgments and biases.
Often, when someone gives an opinion, right away we form some kind of agreement or disagreement, some kind of judgment towards the opinion and the person who holds it. And we often feel compelled to express our own opinion, especially if we disagree. But this obscures us from really understanding the person talking, and so it prevents us from our own growth.
While listening, then, learn to silence this automatic reactivity – learn to silence any agreement or disagreement, any judgments or biases – and instead remain open and receptive to the opinion. Merge yourself entirely with the human across from you. And if disagreement or an impulse to respond still remains after letting it sit, go ahead and respond to the speaker at a later time with kindness, compassion, and understanding.
8. Selfless Wishings: Find stillness, an inner calm, and then visualize a person you have seen or who you know is wishing for something. Direct all your awareness to this desire, to this wish. Try to really get behind the strength of this wish at a time this person didn’t know whether he or she would satisfy it.
Then, surrender to this picture – dedicate yourself entirely to what you can observe in your memory. Try your best to ignore everything else going on around you. And, above all, pay close attention to any feeling that is provoked.
9. The Neutral Judge: Reflect on a single encounter you had recently and judge this encounter from a neutral standpoint – face yourself with the inner tranquility of a judge, completely independent of the circumstances and conditions of your particular life.
If you achieve this, your experiences will reveal themselves in a new light. As long as you are still woven into your experiences and stand within them, you will remain biased and your judgment will be obscured. But once you attain the inner peace of the overview, the non-essential will separate itself from the essential.
Sorrow and joy, every thought, and every decision will look different when you face yourself in this way. As you progress in this direction, you will increasingly be able to control the way impressions from the outer world affect you.
You will, for example, be able to take the sting out of hurtful comments before they bleed into your inner being. Or, as another example, when you realize from the place of a neutral judge that impatience, say, is futile, then, whenever you feel impatience creeping in, the time you may have wasted in expressions of this feeling of impatience can instead be filled with useful observations or meditative practices while you wait.