When Guru Teg Bahadur points out our attachment to all kinds of mental entanglements and relationship dramas, do we recognize it, see our participation, or do we wonder if the Guru would even understand the realities of our lives in the modern world, what we have to “put up with”? It’s sadly ironic to consider how we think our lives are so important, complicated, busy, that we don’t have time for the simple practices the gurus taught. Weren’t their lives busy, too? Are our obstacles really more challenging than those faced by the people of their times? Their very lives were threatened, their political situation extremely unstable, money was hard to come by, work unrelenting. Yet somehow there were those who found a way to remember God, to sing and to love. What did Guru Teg Bahadur see then, what would he see now?
Most of us live in relative comfort now, without the constant life-or-death struggle for survival. Our surroundings are actually more conducive to the peaceful, spiritual life. But then, as now, the gurus saw that the problem is not the external habitat that keeps us from the state of peaceful union, but the internal one. It might be easy to notice all the other people’s failure at being peaceful and loving, how they upset their own equilibrium, and how they upset ours. We think our own lack of peacefulness is based on an external reality that someone else is responsible for. In reality, however, we are influenced most by our own internal reality and that in turn influences our external reality far more than we realize.
Guru Teg Bahadur refers to “sin from fear”. Guru Nanak names fearlessness as a quality of God-ness in mul mantra. Does that mean if we are feeling fear then we are not feeling God? How many of the five errors are caused by fear? Do they all originate from a fear of some imagined danger, a fear of lack, fear of discomfort, fear of losing control, fear of insignificance, fear of loss, fear of exposure, fear of isolation, fear of love?
The information coming in from the outside through our senses, gets filtered by our emotions and beliefs, and then it becomes a perception. Our perceptions are always worth exploring and cannot be assumed to be the Truth. Just like visual information coming in through the filter of dark glasses, giving us the perception that the sky is brown, doesn’t mean that the sky actually is that color. Brown is an illusion. If we remember to take off the glasses we’ll see the sky is still blue. If we examine our perceptions of reality we may find evidence of other “glasses” that we are wearing. Getting to truth means becoming dis-illusioned. Facing the fantasies takes courage.
Our emotions fill our minds with thoughts and put us in a reactive state. The stories we tell ourselves and the worlds we create in our heads may include some accurate elements, but they rarely ring with complete truthfulness. We have to remember that our perceptions are colored by our beliefs and our emotions. Just as loving, hopeful emotions can paint too rosy of a picture that blinds us to potential problems, so angry and fearful emotions can exaggerate danger and hide the truth of a situation. We idealize some people and situations and we demonize others. When we realize our idols are not as perfect as we imagined, we’re disappointed and we blame them. When we realize the ones we demonized are not entirely lacking in virtue, we may look for someone else to blame. Instead of learning from our mistakes and dwelling on solutions, blame keeps us in a dark spiral of faults, problems, and accusations. Sometimes the blaming gets turned inward and then guilt gets added to the sludge. Are these the mind games, the incorrect thinking the guru is talking about?
We react to the stories we tell ourselves instead of taking the time to discover the truth. Once we have reacted, we have to reinforce our own story to justify our actions, and we make sure other people hear it. The story takes on a life of its own and becomes a sort of “truth” if enough people believe it. (It’s human nature and the media certainly uses this strategy!) We have our minds made up and we can’t be bothered with the facts. Controlling the emotions, slowing down in the moment, applying patience, asking questions, sorting out the truth, looking for reality, wisely choosing a response, these are the habits of effective people who can accomplish what they want to accomplish in the world. Reactive people tend to keep shooting themselves in the foot, creating dramas that distract them from their own goals, plans and intentions. Guru Nanak wrote, “winning the mind is winning the world.” Taking control of our internal stories, and managing our own responses to the world are the first steps to winning in the world.
Because we have to protect our stories, we portray ourselves in certain ways and go to great lengths to protect the character we have created. We begin to believe this character is our real identity and become quite attached. We like to be with people who believe our story. If we are around people or situations that challenge our story we will probably blame them and the results can be explosive. All the energy that goes into the care and feeding of our story keeps us self-involved, unable to really see and serve others. Even giving can take on a self-centered quality when it is motivated by a need to support the image.
We can’t know someone else’s insides based on our outsides. Assumptions are a natural product of the uncontrolled mind. We see a person or a situation and immediately the mind starts to interpret, judge, put a story together. Then we believe it, because we thought it. (Don’t believe everything you think!) The story comes from our previous experience, beliefs, and emotions. Sometimes the story gets the facts straight, sometimes it doesn’t. We begin to fill in the blanks, imagine the missing facts, assign intentions to other people’s actions, and the mind begins to believe that all of this information, which is coming from itself rather than from an actual reality, is true. The mind creates its own reality and we believe it. We make assumptions. And we all know that when we assume we make an ass out of u-and-me.
Fear is often the originator of this dark tale. Fear is a powerful emotion, worry and anxiety are somewhat lesser manifestations of it. Instead of focussing on realities of the present moment, fear creates terrifying stories about potential future outcomes. In the state of fear we are living in an imagined future and we are not in full awareness of what is real right here, right now. When we are looking through fear glasses we cannot see the good, the God, we cannot see love. We cannot perceive the helpful options available to us and we choose a reaction that feeds problems. Faith is the opposite of fear. Remembrance opens a window that reveals a universe of possibility.
There may be many things we can’t control but we can choose our responses to them. Many of us spin our wheels, seeing problems and giving them our energy. We can choose to look for what’s wrong, try to change people, try to fix the world. Or we can choose to see possibilities, to see people like ourselves and to love them. Then we will see that the world is full of people like ourselves, conduits with a capacity to channel much good, human beings who are also susceptible to error and capable of making a big mess. When we see people instead of problems, and focus on the good that is possible, instead of dwelling on the faults, we can put our energy and support into helping things go right.
How do you cultivate the virtues of a peaceful mind: patience and curiosity to listen, see and understand what’s true; creativity to see the possibilities; receptivity to see the good people standing next to you; acceptance to love what is; generosity to share your gifts; positive will to pursue a vision; fearlessness to get real; faith in the grace of God, trust in the merciful doer and gratitude for the gifts already given to live a life of peace, love and fulfillment?
How do you manage the mind’s fascination with fantasy, wishful thinking, worry, fear, reactivity, assumptions, accusations, blame and rush to judgement? Guru Teg Bahadur suggests, “Nanak, why not sing God’s praises and get rid of this misguided way of thinking?”