If the ego is intent on getting its way, the deep voice of wisdom can’t and won’t stop it.
The ego will find all sorts of ways to justify getting what it want. It will tell us things like “it will just be this once”, or “no one will find out”, or “you need a reward.”
The ego dangles this beautiful carrot in front of us, convincing us to chase it and put ourselves and our own pleasure and interests above everyone else’s. When we get there, though, it’s never like we imagine it to be. Then there’s the voice of regret, “yeah, I should have known better.” We see that our actions have brought about temporary satisfaction, but left us short of the deeper peace we truly long for.
This can be a beautiful opportunity for new resolutions and commitments, but the moment of repentance also has its own dangers. The initial feeling of regret can easily spin into a spiral of self-recrimination. If it is a mistake we have made several times, if we have failed to heed the guidance in the past, then it’s easy to beat yourself up. “How could you do such a thing! You knew that this wouldn’t bring you anywhere and you still did it. You’re a fool! Weak willed! Pathetic.”
This is still ego, pride working in reverse.
But making mistakes is how we learn. You sometimes have to deviate from the path in order to know where it is.
The good news is that no matter how many times we fall down, no matter how many times we get lost, we will find the support we need to get back up- if only we have the humility to ask. We don’t have to ask anyone else but ourselves, our own inner guidence and wisdom that flows like a stream that will nourish us beyond measure, if only we would open our hearts and drink.
Although they can help point the way, no priest or guru can find this voice for you. They can alert you to the fact that it’s something that’s closer to you than your jugular vein, that you’ve been overlooking it your whole life, a secret hidden in plain sight.
They can tell you have the capacity to forgive your own sins, but you have to do it. Others can tell you about the potential that you have lurking within you, but you have to live it. They can show you that have the capacity to distinguish right from wrong, as well as that in reality there is no such thing as right and wrong, but it’s up to you to apply these lessons.
Naturally, there are things you can do to facilitate this process. If you want a seed to grow, you have to give it water, soil, and sunlight. Under the right conditions, it’s inevitable that a seed will become a flower or a tree. It’s just what seeds do.
Similarly, if you give this inner dimension of yourself- whatever you want to call it- the chance to bloom, by taking care of it and nourishing it with practices and a community, then it will emerge. You don’t have to do anything except step back and let the process happen on its own. You can’t force a seed to grow- when the time is right, it will become what it always has had the potential to become.
Consecrate some time in your day or in your week where you cease to be the center of attention. Normally, we spent every waking moment thinking about ourselves- what we need to do, where we need to go, what we need to buy. This is all necessary for our practical functioning in the material world. But if our consciousness is never given the chance to expand itself beyond these constraints, then it’s like thinking the foam on the waves is all there is to the sea.
“A madman is not someone who has lost his reason but someone who has lost everything but his reason.” (GK Chesterton).
This aspect of rational mind, with which we normally identify ourselves exclusively, is only one mode in which the human being can be. It happens to be the one that our culture values above all others, the one around which everything is built. The substances which facilitate or do not interfere with it are sanctioned and legal. Those that bring about other states of consciousness- intuitive, shamanic- are demonized and forbidden.
By diving down deep, underneath categorizing, calculating, plotting, and planning of the rational mind, we find the source of what’s driving our behavior. Through prayer, meditation, and introspection, we come to enounter the deeply rooted demons. But we also find the innate, inexahuastible wakefulness that dissolves demons on contact.
When people ask me why I have faith, I say to them: I know the light is stronger than the darkness. The way I know this is that no matter how much I endulge or get lost in the darkness, the light will always return. The darkness does not have independent existence; it is merely the absence of light.
It is tough to keep this awareness when feeling lost and confused. But that is why we have the teachings and the community: to remind us that there is more to us than our crazy thoughts. To remind us that there is an entire ocean of wisdom waiting for us, provided we clear away the foam on the surface.