This is the fifth teaching in the Cafh course "Nuances of Prayer." In our prayers we invoke the divine presence, which we traditionally call the Divine Mother, and we give a very wide scope to the term prayer. It embraces not only words, but also practices and our effort or asceticism to unfold and deepen all our relationships. The teaching opens with a quotation from a message addressed to members of Cafh:
We need to recognize when we are strengthening our acquired personality1 and when we are opening new avenues in our unfolding.
Many centuries ago, Socrates taught: "Know thyself." He also said, "I only know that I know nothing." With these very simple assertions, he set forth a way of freedom, self-control, and a love for truth and knowledge. It is very important to note that he didn't say, "Know others," "Judge others," or "Others know nothing." The first-mentioned focus leads us to wisdom. Practice of the others would lead to arrogance and ignorance.
Freedom is the most precious thing we have as human beings. All other rights are based on the right to freedom. The more advanced a society is, the more it guarantees individual freedom. However, society can only guarantee exterior freedom. The way we use that exterior freedom and whether we achieve inner freedom depend on us.
In order to exercise our freedom, we have to have mastery over our will, know our inner strength and cultivate it, know our limitations and make the effort to overcome them. We also need to know how to respect the freedom of others. This is not an easy task, since it presupposes self-knowledge, the desire to learn and to know, and the development of our sense of responsibility.
There are many things which constantly restrict our freedom: our instincts, desires, the things we don't know, the things we think we know, ambition, selfishness, and all the passions which dominate and control us generally. Our ordinary upbringing prepares us for a certain degree of self-control which allows us to function in society: we control laziness to go to work; we sit to study for hours at a time; we clean the house instead of going out to have fun, because we care about what others think of us. Even so, these acts of self-control don't make us feel freer. We repeatedly complain about the burden of life in society and in a family, about all the sacrifices we have to make to fulfill the obligations of daily living.
The self-control which liberates us is based on self-knowledge, not the knowledge that comes from repressing natural tendencies in order to respond to society's demands. The latter sort of self-control takes place at the same level as our passions, so it generates inner struggles and emotional problems: since we identify with the passions we are combating, we feel that by controlling ourselves we are attacking ourselves. This puts us in a vicious circle of triumphs and failures. We triumph and fail simultaneously-triumphing by achieving self-control, but failing in our effort to attain a freedom we are never able to understand. So we sometimes find ourselves wanting to change the past, wishing we were adolescents again, or wanting to go back to childhood, or change our family situation, or any other escape to heal the wounds which result from what wasn't-or isn't-how we would have liked things to be. In this state of consciousness, freedom is an illusion. In order to rise above this situation we need to change our point of view.
The foundations for self-knowledge are: the understanding of our life and our particular circumstances, the recognition that we "don't know," the desire to know, the need to love with our whole heart. If we practice asceticism, it is not so that we will get something (keep our job, get a degree, clean the house, be better people, be perfect). It is so that we can know ourselves and thus exercise our freedom, the highest goal of which is the freedom to unite with the Divine Mother. That is, we transform what we previously thought was a goal (working our way up in our profession, or having an attractive house, for example) into a means. And we create a new goal: to know ourselves and achieve the inner freedom which will allow us to unite with the Divine Mother. From this perspective, every act of the day, every thought, every feeling is a means to realization.
This change in perspective has very broad and deep ramifications, and it affects our whole life. What was previously an obligation becomes a liberating experience. What was previously a repression becomes self-mastery. What previously made us feel suffocated becomes a labor of love. The habit of looking outward and criticizing is exchanged for a habit of self-knowledge and acceptance. The law of renouncement2 is our law; we embrace it with awareness and joy. We learn to open our hands and give instead of keeping a low profile and hoping that life will not notice us, not take away all that we hoard as if it were ours.
Perhaps the secret of liberating asceticism lies in the fact that it frames experiences within the law of renouncement and the way that law is lived; our aim being Substantial Union with the Divine Mother. Our means are: accepting our human condition and fulfilling our possibilities. This focus leads us to be diligent in working on ourselves and in accepting others without wanting to change them; without criticism, but with a reverent and generous love. How can we talk of spiritual unfolding if we are continuously looking outside ourselves at what others are supposed to be doing? The spiritual unfolding we are able to generate is in our own lives. Our possibility to create a better world is to do the work we have come to this earth to do: unfold as egoent3 individuals. The way to help one another is to learn to love each person without judgments, without prejudices, to accept all just as they are, and to place an emphasis on our own change. It is learning how to dialogue so that we can share what we think and feel, and learning to receive feedback so that we can have a fuller appreciation of the way we are.
The course "Nuances of Prayer" is available in its entirety on the Cafh website in both English and Spanish: www.cafh.org. The teaching published here has been adapted slightly for the purpose of serving as a Feature on the Seeds site. Other chapters from the course published on the Seeds site are: The Importance of Prayer, Hallow the Day, Unfolding as an Objective, Exterior Discipline and Inclination to Prayer.
1. Acquired personality: Our identity, our way of thinking and feeling that is a product of our times and place, and the habits we have picked up-all these make up what we call our acquired personality. The acquired personality defines our state of consciousness. (See Spiritual Life, p. 8 by clicking on www.cafh.org/english/publications/SPIRITUAL_LIFE.pdf).
2. Renouncement: In the Teaching of Cafh, Renouncement is considered to be the law of life. When we renounce, we accept that our small life is part of Life itself, that we are an integral part of the whole. We gain perspective on the ups and downs of our daily lives and also on periods of great difficulties. The spirit of Renouncement helps us to visualize our strengths and weaknesses objectively and awakens in us a deep sense of participation and love for everyone and everything.
3. Egoent: Egoence means perfect individuality identified with the cosmic consciousness. Egoence has nothing to do with the development of a super-personality. On the contrary, to be egoent is to transform oneself into pure nothingness, in order to identify with the universal consciousness, with the Divine Mother.